Randy Amosson has found himself in an interesting situation. With a little less than five years of experience with a farm equipment dealership, he’s been given the responsibility as chief executive officer and general manager of overseeing an 8-store John Deere dealership in eastern Iowa. Combined, those dealers did over $100 million in revenues in 2011. And, up until November 1 of last year, it consisted of only five stores.
That’s when Elder Implement’s five locations merged with Farmers Implement, a three-store group owned by three partners. The merged organizations became Precision Equipment.
So, besides overseeing a rapidly growing business — an 89% increase in revenues since 2008 — Amosson must now also meld two dramatically different operating cultures into a single operating unit.
What makes his position particularly interesting is that he’s not a dealer-principal. He has no financial ownership in the dealership. He has no vote on the board of directors.
CEO & General Manager: Randy Amosson
Years with Organization: Nearly 5. Joined Elder Implement in 2007 as aftermarket manager. Promoted to general manager of Elder Implement in 2008, and CEO and general manager of Precision Equipment in November 2011. Previous experience included 30 years with Bandag, a specialist in retreading semi-truck tires, where he served in various positions including director of customer service.
Role: Amosson is a non-
owner CEO and general manager responsible for the overall performance of the eight-store dealership group. He describes his responsibilities as financial, operational and planning, with an emphasis on planning.
Amosson obviously received a vote of confidence from the four members of the board when they named him CEO of the newly merged group.
Prior to the merger, Tom and Chuck Poeltler owned Elder Implement, founded in 1949, and added the John Deere line in 1980. The group had grown to four locations by 2007 when Amosson joined the company as aftermarket manager. As each new location was acquired, they were assimilated into the Poeltlers’ operating structure and renamed Elder Implement to give them a singular identity.
On the other side of the merger were Farmers Implement, Jefferson County Equipment and Mowers and More owned jointly by Ron Farrier, Carl Wulf and Chad Reed.
Unlike the Elder Implement approach of integrating each new store into the larger organization and creating a singular identity, each of these dealers maintained their existing names and operated as separate entities. With the merger, Amosson is tasked with merging four organizations into one entity.
Farrier will maintain an active role as chairman of the board, while Wulf will stay on as a location manager and Reed, who holds a minority ownership share in the group but is a non-voting member of the board, will stay on as a store manager. Amosson believes these will aid in the transition into a more highly structured dealership group.
Choosing a Leader
To many dyed-in-the-wool farm equipment veterans, Amosson is an unlikely choice to run a major dealer group. But it’s clear that Elder Implement ownership saw in him the leadership qualities that would keep the company on a growth path.
Amosson grew up on a farm in central Iowa, played drums in high school and ended up studying electronics in trade school with the aim of becoming a roadie for a rock band. Life had other plans. Shortly after finishing school he was offered a job with Bandag, a company that specialized in retreading semi-truck tires in Muscatine, Iowa.
During a 30-year career there, Amosson grew into positions where he managed the company’s technical services and eventually its IT subsidiary. For much of his career, he worked with Bandag’s dealers. “I was the director of customer service and our customers were dealers,” he says. “That was interesting because we took all the technical calls from the dealerships and then dispatched our local technical reps if needed. So, I’ve been on the corporate side taking care of our dealer’s needs. Now I’m on the other side of the fence.”
When Bandag was sold to Bridgestone Tire in 2006, the company had 300 dealers and 150 owner groups. Following the acquisition, Amosson stayed on for six months to help Bandag transition into the larger organization.
At the same time, he had developed a relationship with Tom and Chuck Poeltler at Elder Implement as he restored older John Deere tractors. “I became a big believer in John Deere equipment, and I got to know the folks at Elder Implement pretty well,” Amosson says.
“One thing led to another, and they asked me to come to join them as the aftermarket manager. A year later, in 2008, Tom and Chuck made it clear they wanted to continue growing the company, but they also wanted to step away from the daily operations. They asked me to become general manager.”
The direction of the company was pointed clearly toward continued growth. Deere had indicated that Elder was one of its “dealers of the future,” and the owners began making the moves needed to head in that direction. Putting Amosson in charge was the first of many moves to come. His job was to plan for the growth that was to come.
Amosson knew what his mission was from the time he was named general manager — to keep the company on an upward trajectory. It would require planning.
“The model for managing a multi-store operation is a lot different than that of an entrepreneur growing and running his business. It can be difficult for them to give up the ‘nuts-and-bolts’ approach that worked for them so well for so long…” – Randy Amosson, CEO & General Manager
In addition to significant organizational changes since 2008, he’s added people in leadership roles with experience in critical disciplines. He believes this Senior Leadership Team underpins the transformation of the company into the dealer juggernaut that its owners envision.
The team includes Amosson, Vice President of Finance/CFO Dave Dahms, Vice President of Sales & Technical Support/COO Pat McCrabb, and Vice President of Marketing, Advertising and Brand Integration/CMO Matt Poeltler.
Some are new to farm equipment retailing, while others are veterans. Nonetheless, each will play a critical role in growing the new organization.
For example, Amosson says, “There’s nobody better than John Deere when it comes to marketing. But as a dealer, we need to focus on marketing Precision Equipment. Matt Poeltler has been put in the position to do for the dealership what Deere does for its equipment.”
Amosson also established an administrative office away from the dealer locations. As an organization grows, he says, long-time owners and managers have a tendency to maintain a “hands-on” approach and get bogged down with the day-to-day details of operating the dealership if they’re close to the action.
“The model for managing a multi-store operation is a lot different than that of an entrepreneur starting and running his business,” Amosson says. “It can be difficult giving up that ‘nuts-and-bolts’ approach that worked for them so well for so long.”
An off-site office also allows the company to centralize most operations “to take advantage of our size and to centrally manage various functions.”
These include billing, AP/AR, human relations, information technology, marketing and other administrative functions. It also gives them a place away from the stores for interviewing and recruiting talent.
“We have offices for the leadership team and a conference area for training. We moved in here 3 years ago, even before we started on our growth path, because we needed to make the organization scalable as we move down the road,” says Amosson. “We wanted to be able to expand these activities and not cause a lot of disruption to employees or customers with back office activities.”
With the senior leadership team in place, the next big organizational move came in November 2010 when location managers were assigned to each store. Responsibility for the performance of each of Elder Implement’s dealerships was placed squarely on each of those individuals.
“That historically wasn’t the case,” says Amosson.
Prior to the appointment of location managers, each department in each store was responsible for its own performance, and each department manager reported back to someone in Muscatine. McCrabb oversaw the parts and service functions, and Poeltler, who was the general sales manager, had all of the store sales managers reporting to him.
“There were a few issues with how this was organized,” Amosson says. “From the customer’s standpoint, they need to know where the buck stops; who they need to talk to get things resolved. When issues came up with employees, it came down to which department would override the other departments.
“We needed to put ownership in one individual and make them accountable for the entire local operation, so we created the position of location manager. They’re responsible for store profitability, community interaction and all of the things that take place at the store level. They’re tasked to not only look out for their individual location’s performance, but how that location is doing relative to the entire company’s performance,” explains Amosson.
“Today, each location manager is given 10 metrics to monitor, and half of those are based on how the company performs. This requires them to interact with each other because, as a group, they’re responsible for the company’s performance,” Amosson says. “They need to rely on and help one another.”
Right People, Right Slots
These store-level appointments weren’t taken lightly. “In our opinion,” Amosson says, “the secret to where we’re heading lies in our individual local leadership.
“We saw the need for location managers 2-3 years ago, but rather than jump into it, we spent a long time working on leadership development. We took the people who are in these slots now, and a lot of others who we see as future leaders, and are putting them through a leadership development program,” Amosson says. “We invested a lot of time and money in naming our location managers.”
The goal was to make clear to new managers the expectations for customer satisfaction and company wide objectives, and to give them the capabilities to execute the tasks required to meet or exceed those expectations. “Each of the location managers have been with the company for a good period of time, and they’re all rallying to the new challenge,” says Amosson.
Defining His Job
In addition to defining the function of the leadership team and new managers and how they contribute to Precision Equipment’s overall performance, Amosson says his part in the organization is clear. He defines his major roles as strategic, operational and financial.
“Our ownership group, obviously, wants a return on its invested capital. This goes without saying. We’re not looking only at the increase in sales dollars, but at the incremental aspects of growth. We work to be proactive to make sure there are no surprises and they know what we’re planning and how we’re moving forward.”
Operationally, Amosson says, his efforts are best directed at getting out of the office and spending as much time as possible with customers and employees to monitor culture and develop the company’s strategic planning.
Communicating financial and operational data will be where Amosson’s job will change most, he says. Previously, he directed his communications directly to the Poeltlers. In the new organization, Farrier (chairman) will be tasked to be the five owners’ link to the senior leadership team.
“This will allow the rest of us to focus on the daily operations of the business,” says Amosson.
Of all his responsibilities, he says planning will remain his highest priority in terms of day-to-day functions. “Probably the one thing that our team gets most annoyed with is my emphasis on planning. That’s the Boy Scout coming out in me, because I always want to be prepared.”
His philosophy might be summed up this way: Any emergency sufficiently planned for will not happen.
“I’m convinced,” Amosson says, “that a problem that crops up today is probably the result of some failure in planning 6 months ago. I see myself looking more down the road. What’s the next step we need to take? How can we continue to improve? What areas are we not hitting on all cylinders? I need to spend a lot of my time prioritizing and planning.”
One example that’s on his mind at the moment, he says, is in the area of precision farming and FarmSight Deere’s AMS (Agricultural Management Solutions) technology and programs.
“This is high on our list of priorities as we get where our customers need us to be. We’re moving forward, but the employee training and investment in infrastructure to get there is big. It’ll take a large investment and, from a cash flow standpoint, we can’t make that investment all at one time. It needs to be planned out.”