Wayne Hunt, President
Years with Organization: 30
Role: “Every company’s got to have a dreamer. I’m probably the biggest dreamer of the company. You can probably tell that just walking around here. I still track everything. As loose as I am on some things, I’m a perfectionist on others. I want it done and done right. Then, I like to see people grow. I like to see young people grow, particularly. Work ethic means a lot to me. If you have a good work ethic and a good attitude, then you’ve got great opportunities in this company. And I’m focused on customer satisfaction.”
Upon first meeting Wayne Hunt, it’s clear he has a story to tell and wisdom to share, yet he describes himself as “just plain Wayne.” What isn’t as immediately obvious, though, is his drive and competitive nature that has spearheaded H&R Agri-Power’s incredible growth over the last 2 decades.
At 76 years old, Hunt remains president of the dealership but has passed along a lot of the day-to-date management to others on the leadership team. But, don’t think that means he plays a passive role in this operation. Instead, Hunt is always looking to improve — personally and professionally — and describes himself as the biggest dreamer in the company. He proves that, as we’re told as children, if you put your mind to it, you can do anything.
Letting go of some of that day-to-day control has been challenging, but has been an important step. “It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve faced. You sit at the head of the table and listen as plans are made. ‘What are we going to do? What do you think?’ My comment usually is, ‘Well if that’s what ya’ll think.’ That means I might not be totally sold on it, but I’m going to go with it, to let them have the room,” he says. “I wasn’t always right. Somebody made the comment once, ‘Wayne, everything you touch turns to gold.’ My comment was, ‘You don’t know how much we’ve touched. It’s not that way.’ I have been a very blessed individual in my lifetime.”
“If we have a standard operating manual, it’s Dr. Jim Weber’s book. If you do everything in his book, you’re going to make money. That’s pretty hard to do, but it’s right…”
It’s important to Hunt that the rest of the leadership team — and all H&R Agri-Power employees — stand their ground with him. Just because he doesn’t agree, does not mean he’s right, he explains. He might challenge them, but if it’s on something they believe then he wants them to fight for it. “If you think it’s right, stand your ground with me,” he says.
While he’s given up a lot of responsibility, Hunt still has his finger on the pulse of the business. Stacks of monthly reports line his desk, and he’s reviewing them all.
Watching the Numbers
Watching the numbers and knowing what they are is important to Hunt. However, even more important is knowing the numbers are right. For that reason, H&R Agri-Power has always been independently audited, he says.
“I wanted to know the numbers were right. This is what we see. I can make that number anything you want to see on paper. I wanted to know it was right by the standard it’s supposed to be done. We’re still independently audited today. That’s a major process. It’s a major expense, too. But when we need to go to the bank, it not an issue because they know our numbers are right,” he says.
Hunt is regularly looking at the financials for each of H&R’s stores. He starts off looking at the total number, then divides the stores into an upper and a lower group and finally looks at each store individually. In that process, Hunt is looking at store management, shop management and parts management. If the numbers are off, by looking at the numbers for the business as a whole and then in smaller groups and at individual store levels, it makes it easier to identify the source of problems. (For more on H&R Agri-Powers budgeting process and store presentations to the board, click here)
Laser Focus Helps Reduce Aged Used Inventory
H&R Agri-Power President Wayne Hunt’s careful eye and review of the business identified $3 million in aged inventory. Some of that, he says, came through acquisitions but in other cases it was as simple as the dealership ordered 5 units and only sold 3. “We let inventory get too big, used inventory was piling up out there. When we look at something and there’s 1,300 days, can we even find that?” he says.
Once the problem was identified — by looking at how many days it has been in inventory — Hunt says all it took was focus to get things back under control. H&R Agri-Power aims for a 3.75 turn of its inventory, and Hunt says they divided the inventory into 90 days and 180 days. “It’s pretty easy to identify. If we’re 300 days old, how many turns is that piece going to have? That’s why I’ve divided this pile that way [into 90 days and 180 days]. I know how many dollars and in what category and the overall average,” he says.
“But it’s amazing how quick it disappeared too, once you focused on it. It became a focus with me every meeting we had. I said, ‘I want it laying on every store manager’s desk what’s on his lot. Let’s start simple: what’s on your lot today that you’re focused on?’ You can see the whole piece.
“I want it printed, I want a hard copy. If I really want to get into it, you print that out and tell yourself that’s the inventory right here. This is how you hold $90 million in your hand right here. I hold it in my hand. It became a focus. I was kind of amazed at how well it worked, how quick. I took it to [Steve Hunt and Ronnie Barnett] the one day and said, ‘Guess what? $24 left in one of these categories on here.’ It was $666,000 when we started.”
Hunt discovered the inventory issue on July 5, and in three and a half months one category had been completely cleared. “I look at it now and say, ‘Don’t let it get back up there.’ We’ve got a new plan now, we’re going to go looking right here. That’s what I’m talking about building this company though. We haven’t had time to do that and we bought a lot of this old inventory with acquisitions, too.”
Because of the focus put on reducing the aged used equipment inventory, H&R Agri-Power saved $80,000 in interest alone, Hunt says. Now a new protocol is in place to help avoid the problem going forward. H&R Agri-Power’s quoting tool, Power EQ keeps track of how many times a unit has been quoted to a customer.
“If a piece has been quoted 25 times and hasn’t sold, something’s wrong. Is it too high? Are we asking too much? We’ve got an ask price and a take price. Maybe we just knock that ask price down when the telephone rings, try to get the take on it so we don’t lose money. That’s learning how to sell,” Hunt says. “But I said that’s where we’re going now. We’re going to manage it now. We can’t just let it ride because we are busy and not managing our money.”
Twice a year, Dr. Jim Weber, who also sits on the dealership’s board, comes to H&R Agri-Power for training. “If we have a standard operating guide, it’s his book,” Hunt says. “If you do everything in his book, you’re going to make money. That’s pretty hard to do, but the guide is right though. He trains all three sections of the company, sales, parts, and service, including management training.”
Hunt receives call reports for each of the salespeople every week, although he won’t necessarily read through each one. Hunt, along with Steve Hunt and Ronnie Barnett, are copied on all the quotes, and Hunt says he gets 200 emails a day as a result.
If he sees that there was a customer who was interested in a combine and a salesperson had called on him on Monday, but then isn’t on the call list for the next week’s plan, Hunt will question it. “If I see that, I’ll email him and say, Why are you not going to call on this guy who was interested in a combine next week in your plan?’” he says.
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To Hunt, the most important number to watch is profitability. When he gets the store reports, he turns to the back page first to see the profitability. Then, he’ll go back to the first page to see what did and didn’t happen at each store, he says.
“The employee will tell you, ‘Don’t give him anything that you don’t know is right unless you write preliminary on it.’ If you write preliminary on it, then you’ve got preliminary numbers. OK, that’s close,” he says.
Hunt watches for trends and warns that you can’t judge a single month. Instead he watches numbers by two or three months.
For instance, on an operating statement, he’ll look at three numbers: the actual number, the budget number and last year’s number. He reviews them all side-by side. Looking at the trends helps him identify how the business is doing, and allows him to review the total company by the individual stores and work on any solutions that may be necessary.
The most important attributes Hunt says dealers — and all employees — need to possess sounds simple enough. Be what you say you are and answer your phone,” he says. “I’m going to the field with the salesman and I’m going to give them my card when I leave.” It’s a lesson he learned from a former Case IH executive.
“I’ll never forget him. He was touring the area, going to farms and I went around with him. When he went to leave, he gave that farmer his card. He said, ‘This is my personal phone, this is my mobile phone. If you’ve got something I can help you with, you call me. You call, it will ring at my house. My wife will tell you where I am.’ The customer said, ‘You’re the head of Case and you’re going to give me your card?’ He said, ‘I am. I’m going to try to answer it if I can.’ That’s me, too. I’ve done that religiously. Wherever I go, I’m going to give them my card and answer that phone.”
“When you hire young people, you commit to give them a job, give them a place and give them time to learn. They don’t know what they want to do because they don’t know what’s out here…”
Part of “being who you say you are” has meant making the communities where H&R Agri-Power has made acquisitions know the company is dedicated to the territory. Hunt shares the story of making a nearly $2 million sale on the side of a 4-lane highway in a new territory and then learning that customer thought H&R was going to pull out of the territory. “We had just bought those stores, but I could see why they thought that. We rode down [to the store] and we had a sign company there taking down their sign. There wasn’t a sign on the building” he recalls.
The new sign hadn’t been put up, but the customer told Hunt that everyone thought they were pulling out of the territory. “I thought, we’re not pulling out of the territory. I’m down here to ask you, what would you do if you were in my seat?” he says. “Would you combine these two stores? Would you build a new place? What would you do to develop this market? I can tell you, we’re going to develop a relationship with agriculture in your market. I’m going to sit here as long as you want me to sit here. You tell me what I need to do to be a part of that community. I’m fairly good at that. I’m going to go with them. I’m just like a farmer, just plain Wayne. That’s a little different. Then especially when you give them your card and say, ‘If anything don’t suit you, now you call me. I don’t have much influence but I have some bearing on it.’”
That dedication to the community and being responsive translates into strong customer service and customer satisfaction. The business was founded on service, and making sure the customer is satisfied remains a top priority. “We say the customer is always right, even if he’s wrong. And he’s wrong a lot of times. But, we try to get through that best we can,” says Hunt.
H&R Agri-Power sends out customer satisfaction surveys, and Hunt says they get about 17-18% of them back. The surveys ask questions about whether or not the salesperson showed them certain things, offered insurance, etc. But ultimately, Hunt says, every salesperson is responsible for monitoring customer satisfaction. “They’re really the people touching the customer base and so we’ll know if he comes back. I think that personal touch is the best. I like to think that every customer we’ve got today is on somebody’s list,” he says.
Ensuring you have that touchpoint with every customer means having the right people in the right places. For H&R Agri-Power that means investing in the next generation.
“I think that succession is best. You’ve got to know everybody’s got a time. Then to see the business as intense as it is; you’ve got to know people have limits to what they can do,” says Hunt. The dealership hires as many as 6 recent college graduates each year, without specific positions in mind for them. The idea is for each individual to learn the business, fill in wherever they are needed and hopefully discover their specific passion to be a part of the company, explains Hunt. (See “Developing Graduates into Leaders for more details.)
Developing talent goes back to Hunt’s mantra, “Be what you say you are.” He says, “When you hire young people, you commit to give them a job, give them a place and give them time to learn. They don’t know what they want to do because they don’t know what’s out here. When you see it, maybe you’re going to want to do it. Then you might not like it. You’re young enough, don’t do it if you don’t like it either. Pick where you think you want to go and go for it.”
In addition to hiring young people, Hunt believes in giving people second and third chances. “I always say, ‘You can work for me three times.’ Because if you hire a young person, how many young people retire form their first job? Not very many. But one of the best store managers we have, Jim Lancaster, this is his third time,” he says. “I said this is what I’ve stuck to. I’m going to hire you. If that grass is greener on the other side of the fence, you can go to it. I’m going to hire you twice more. That third time you leave, I’m just going to drink coffee and we’re going to be friends. I’m not hiring you anymore.”
Hunt says they have a few “twos and threes” currently on the staff. “They may leave, but did they leave on good terms? Did you take care of them? Did they feel that you gave them more than a chance,” he says. “I think I like that better than anything; to give people a chance to develop themselves and be something.”
While Hunt expects there will be more acquisitions in the future for H&R Agri-Power, he says the need is to focus on growing the territories they’re in. For instance, he says their market share isn’t nearly as high as it should be in some of their territories. “Now we’ve got time to look at that. We’ve got our arm around it all right now. We have to change from a consolidator to an organized company, and we don’t have it staffed where it needs to be. That’s not a quick process. It takes us a couple years probably to get there. But I can see us having some really good internal growth if we just concentrate,” he says.
Hunt shares that they know where they are as a company when it comes to strengths and weaknesses. “When I refer to consolidators, we bought eight operations in one year from six different owners, and six operations from four different owners in one year, five years apart. We have our arms around all of that now,” he says. “We can actually compare numbers by store on a 12 month basis for the total company.”
Part of that internal growth will be spurred by the recent restructuring of the business into 4 regions. “One thing, we [the leadership team] have got too many middle-management people right now for where we are. We need to take that responsibility and push it out to them. Let’s get it off our plate. We’ve got to look at how to get the company going now as a solid company,” says Hunt. “We’re not going to buy $80 million worth of business next year or $90 million worth of business or $30 million worth of business.”
Now, Hunt says the focus needs to be on strengthening the company and becoming more efficient, filling some vacant positions and improving internal training. “I’m proud of what we do and how we do it. But sometimes, I look back and say, “How did we do it? How did we get where we are?” But I think I would have to say numbers.”