Pictured Above: Scott Harris, Vice President North America, Case IH Agriculture
In this year’s series, the third such project Farm Equipment (FE) has done since 2006, Scott Harris is the newest exec we’ve sat down with and mic’d up, having just 8 months on the job. In the 14 years our company has operated FE magazine, Case IH has shown the greatest interest of all the major lines in the relationship with FE editors and the publication’s position in the dealer universe. (That isn’t to say the coverage pleased them, but dialog and the ability to pick up the phone with our staff has been important to Case IH).
From three meetings in Racine with the FE and Ag Equipment Intelligence staffs in the second part of 2018, Harris appears poised to continue that open dialog. Each of the four editors he’s met with has gotten the impression that there won’t be sweeping directional moves that can often accompany leadership changes at this level. In fact, Harris’ answers about the strategic direction (covered in a 6-part series with then Case IH Agricultural’s North American Vice President Jim Walker last year) would indicate that those at the January 2019 Dealer Meeting in Columbus, Ohio, will hear only modest refinements to the plan, which will be the first time it’s been shared in a national dealer meeting setting.
Harris was not an unfamiliar face to red equipment dealers upon the news of his appointment last March. He worked at CNH Industrial for 12 years, including the leadership in each of CNH’s divisions in capital, parts and had led the construction division for the last 2 years. That combined body of experience, particularly with credit and then parts/service, looks to be as good of a rounded exposure as one can have walking into the post.
Plus, he’s worn the shoes of the dealer, too. Before moving to Racine in 2006, he’d had a 20-plus year stint in the auto industry, including 6 years as a general manager of a large Chevrolet dealership in Illinois, priming him for an understanding of the dealer side and how to work through issues with the “mother ship.”
On Brand Loyalty, OEM-Dealer Relations Surveys
When it comes to public measuring sticks on performance, Case IH Vice President of North American Agriculture’s Scott Harris was every bit as tuned in to third-party surveys as his predecessor. That is, he gave a “thumbs up” on “Brand Loyalty in the Farm Equipment Business” from Ag Equipment Intelligence (a producer-facing survey in which Case IH fared well). But Farm Equipment’s coverage of the Dealer-Manufacturer Relations Survey by the Equipment Dealers Assn. (the annual rating by Case IH dealers in which the OEM has not been scoring well), well, not so much.
Harris says Case IH reviews the EDA survey as a datapoint. But like was said previously, Case IH doesn’t need, nor relies on a broad survey to tell it where network improvement opportunities exist. “If that’s the case, we’ve got bigger problems. Our dealers will see over time as I spend time with our network, and we’ll talk about the opportunities we have to be better and provide better support for our producers.”
Harris was around for the ag downturn though, so he knows what he signed on for in ag. “Yes, I watched it balloon and went through the unbelievable highs and then watched it crater.”
The Changing of the Guard
Walker’s abrupt retirement last March surprised many dealers, who forwarded FE the news as soon as they received it.
But as surprising as the Walker news was, Harris was a known commodity to many dealers, from his CNH Industrial Capital and parts days. He’d also remained in regular contact with the farm equipment dealers who handled construction as well during his time leading that side of the business.
Harris says his first 8 months have been consistent with the tone he hoped to set upon arriving. He aims to be visible, to listen and to ask a lot of questions as he learns — both internally to the organization and in the field. His travels have taken him to each of the manufacturing plants for plant reviews and to get up to speed on the product’s current position and future. Within Case IH, he’s been spending his time reviewing processes and programs, and asking what’s working and isn’t and searching for the low-hanging fruit improvements.
When visiting dealers, he’s been asking them to arrange producer visits, both with current customers and ones that are either loyal to another brand or left the red colors along the way.
He’s personally connected with several hundred dealer personnel (in-person and on the phone) and would get to all 6 regions again before 2018 was out.
“We’ve come through a challenging cycle — challenging for our producers, for us and our dealers. We’re starting to see that turn and there’s an opportunity for us to be better and a fresh set of eyes and ears.”
Differences in Style
Harris’ predecessor was a polarizing figure, though he had his fans, too. When asked about what his dealers may find different about his style, he counted what he’ll be known for, which starts with “visibility.” Harris views his responsibilities the same as when he led the construction side, and that includes being in the field more than 50% of the time. “Part of that is a function of being new and that I’ve got a strong desire to get to our plants and get to our partners and producers. I don’t see that changing anytime soon; that’s just the way I operate.”
Because the major-line changes top leaders so infrequently in this business, FE shared an observation that dealers respond positively when they see their field general with the boots on, and out and about with them at their stores, shows and industry events.
“That suggests that there’s a regression in that over time,” he interrupts. “That’s something I hope our network will hold me accountable to. Sure, I can keep up on the industry through reports and data, but I’m not going to learn a lot sitting at my desk. The action really happens out in our network.”
When asked how they can hold him accountable, he pulled out his cell phone. “They’ve all got my info, most of them don’t hesitate to call. I’m accessible.”
Talking about communication, he notes that every partnership requires give and take. “I’m going to be visible, and the open and candid communication is important to me. The dealers that know me would tell you I’m transparent.”
“That producer must get up and running that evening and the only option in that situation may be to take the part off another machine. Will the dealer just do it? There’ll be additional cost, and maybe that isn’t exactly ‘policy,’ But if you do the right things for the right reasons it’ll generally be the right decision, and it’ll pay off…” –Scott Harris, Case IH
He has started a quarterly live call to the dealer network, in which he and his team (Melinda Griffin, network development; Ryan Schaefer, sales teams; Tom Dean, commercial marketing; and Kevin Breneman, service) takes questions at the end. Harris believes the quarterly cadence is appropriate for now, but says he’ll change it should dealers want it more frequently.
Another FE observation from the interview. His predecessor did not mince words when making a clarifying point nor worry about telegraphing his thoughts. Harris handled questions differently. For example, a question about where dealers came up short drew this reply: “I’m not going to stick a finger in the eye of one of my dealers.”
The Red Dealer Network
Case IH’s North America dealer locations today are at 770 (277 complexes), a decline in sites by 16% over the last 10 years. And as you’ve seen in FE’s “Dealers on the Move” real-time updates, consolidation continues to be quick (8 Case IH deals were cited in 2018).
Consolidation will continue, says Harris. “Growers are becoming more sophisticated, demanding more from their machines and, more importantly, the technology integrated in them. It requires dealers with size, scale and financial capacity to invest in that technology and the tools, resources, and training to meet the support required by the farmer.”
Harris reiterates that the market will dictate consolidation, not Racine alone. “Succession is an issue in some areas of the network, so that’ll drive some consolidation, too. What matters to me is whether the producer is getting the support he deserves from a dealer who is representing our brand the way it should be represented. It’s about being ‘producer-first.’”
That “producer-first” mentality is how he answered the question on the traits possessed by the very best dealers in his network “It’s those dealers who put producers first who are willing to change in an industry changing faster today than ever because of the pace of technology. Their product support capabilities are critical. They will have invested in the tools, resources, training and people. They are the ones who are proactive about managing the entirety of their business.”
When asked if the highest performing Case IH dealers achieved a certain sales volume threshold from Case IH, Harris says he’s not aware of that metric.
“But if you’re speaking to competitive lines, yes, that’s an issue. Our best dealers are focused on the Case IH brand for most of their business. There’s no issue with complementary lines and some need those revenue streams. But, yes, our best dealers are focused on the Case IH brand. It’s on us to earn that and to continue to build quality products, advance our technologies and invest in technology to provide a compelling value proposition on our equipment. But we’re now a full line provider.”
Takeaway Message to Dealers
Because this article appears prior to Harris’ address at the national dealer meeting in Columbus, he was asked what he hopes every dealer could internalize as a take-home message. He returned to the “producer first” mantra.
“It’s the way I will manage my business and I think it’s true of dealers who manage their businesses this way. If you’re producer-first, you will never get in trouble for doing the right thing for the right reason.”
Take the producer whose combine goes down in the middle of harvest, he says, and his dealer doesn’t have the part. “That producer must get up and running and the only option in that situation may be to take the part off another machine. Will the dealer just do it? There’ll be additional cost, and maybe that isn’t exactly ‘policy,’ But if you do the right things for the right reasons it’ll generally be the right decision,” he says, “and it’ll pay off.”
Questions he wants dealers to ask are ‘Did we make the extra effort? Did we put in the overtime? Did we put in the right inventory? Did we stock the parts that were necessary to provide the level of service that’s required?’ Those are the little questions that, even in difficult times, must be answered.”
One thing different about the dealer meeting this year is the Parts Expo (which has historically been held in concert with the dealer meeting) has been separated and will take place in December 2019. Supply chain challenges made it difficult on everyone, but Case IH didn’t want to delay the national dealer meeting, so the Parts Expo was moved to the end of the year, he says.
Differentiation Is Distribution & Service
A portion of the interview delved into how one major line can differentiate itself from the others nowadays.
“With the advances in technology that we’re seeing today, the differentiation between the iron and the technology is starting to minimize the ability to differentiate on product,” Harris answers. “Our dealer partners are the differentiators. It must be that way because their relationship and ability to support it are what make the difference.”
For More Information
Read the special “Case IH Dealer Network Series Update,” 2017 series, a 6-part Farm Equipment web-only series that stemmed from a meeting Jim Walker and Melinda Griffin requested at Case IH’s headquarters in late summer of 2017.
“How Case IH’s NAFTA Chief Views Dealer & Ag Trends,” September 24, 2018, Ag Equipment Intelligence, www.agequipmentintelligence.com
Major Line Execs: Compilation of Farm Equipment Special Reports 2006-2019 (Case IH’s Frank Anglin and Jim Walker) farm-equipment.com/majors-special-reports
One time Harris did bristle was when the notion that Case IH had the second-best dealer network in the business was brought up. “I don’t buy that statement. We’ve got the best dealer in some areas and others where we aren’t even second. But I am focused on ensuring that it is a differentiator for our future.”
When asked about smartening up Case IH’s goal to win sales vs. green-colored equipment, he points back to the technology introduced at the farm shows over the last few years.
Farmers would stop and say the new technology is interesting but didn’t fully embrace it. “Now, guys are coming and demanding it and have a tremendous willingness and desire for the technology and the solutions available today, and what continues to evolve on the market.
“This is where we differentiate — boots on the ground and going shoulder to shoulder with our dealers and producers to ensure that they’re getting the most out of the machine and the technology that we’re producing today. That’s why we’re continuing to invest in more people in field service and product specialists. We are doing this to ensure our dealers are prepared to help deliver the value proposition that the gear that we’re building today represents.
“Because if the producer’s not getting and optimizing all that’s within this thing, then we — and all the manufacturers — are missing it. That hasn’t been delivered to date, so it’s an opportunity to differentiate.”
Another key differentiator that Harris calls critical surrounds producer choice. “We believe in an open architecture where customers choose their technology partners and who they want to share their data with and who they choose for their agronomy analysis and prescriptions.”
That’s why, he says, Case IH is putting together multiple partners in that space (Case IH’s agreement with Farmer’s Edge was announced just days before the interview). “We’re providing the ecosystem that makes it easy for them to transfer data from their machine, from their other software providers and to whoever they want to help them support their business.”
Innovations Up Next
Harris says he doesn’t know how long it’s been since Racine put as many new products into the market as will be introduced in 2019, but that it’d be at high watermark levels.
Visit www.farm-equipment.com/0119 for these additional web-only articles
Case IH’s Continued Investment in Dealer Resources
Harris Compares & Contrasts Ag & Construction Dealer Worlds
“We’ll have several new product introductions throughout 2019, and we’re going to follow it up with several more next year. The last few years included a lot of R&D investment on building and developing the best and most efficient powertrain in the industry. It’s as good as it gets,” he says.
“Now, we’re pivoting to integrated solutions and the functional autonomy and that’s where we’re spending our R&D dollars and activities today. It’s going to snowball but the path is longer than the next 12 months. You’ll see a continuous cycle of refreshing that equipment and taking advantage of the technology that exists to those machines.”
Among the new products that dealers will see in Columbus — and the rest of the industry shortly thereafter at the National Farm Machinery Show — includes AFS Soil Command, and new iterations of the 2000 series Early Riser planter and Precision Disk 500 double shoot air drill. The livestock producer is an area Case IH intends to address through more and better product.
Noting that skilled labor is a major challenge for producers and dealers alike, Harris talked about the “functional automation” it’s investing in.
The idea, Harris explains, is to allow a new operator to provide the same result as the farmer whose operated the combine for 20 years. “We can get to the same result when the machines provide that level of functional automation. And we’re building that smart technology into our Soil Command, into our planters, our combines and our tractors. They’ll all be connected and you’re going to see all of this play out over the course of the next 18 to 24 months,” he says.
“A smart machine can read the conditions of the soil, the equipment, the crop and make the appropriate adjustments on the fly that take the operator’s manual adjustments largely out of the equation. The producer can decide the output. Is it about getting the highest quality grain? Is it about highest yield? The producer can establish the objective and set the machine accordingly to deliver it.”
The new 250 series combine is where a lot of the initial noise is being made. “The combine is the greatest opportunity for a color conversion sale,” he says, adding that there’s more to add to the dealers’ arsenal coming in 2019.