Less than 2 years into his stint as vice president of sales and marketing for New Holland Agricultural Equipment in North America, John Stevenson has left the company looking for other challenges. And once again, management turnover at the company leaves New Holland’s dealers wondering where the company is heading.

In an April 8 letter to New Holland dealer s, New Holland President & CEO Barry Engle said that the move would become effective April 12. “During his tenure with New Holland, John implemented a number of strategic initiatives designed to grow the brand’s position in North America. He also developed a stronger partnership with you, our dealers, by establishing more direct lines of communications,” Engle told the dealers.

He indicated that Stevenson’s replacement would be named at a later date. In the meantime, Engle will assume responsibility for the company’s North American business. Engle also mentioned that he would be working closely with the rest of the leadership team, Cleo Franklin, David Greenberg, Ron Shaffer, Chun Yue and Jeff Middleton, “to ensure our strategic direction remains constant. Your voice will continue to be heard and represented within CNH and most importantly we will be successful together going forward.”

Not a ‘Maintenance’ Type. In an exclusive interview with Ag Equipment Intelligence sister publication Farm Equipment in January 2009, Stevenson described himself as the “kind of a guy who likes a challenge, to turn it around, get it as good as it can be and hand it off to somebody else. I’m not a maintenance-type individual.” According to a company spokesperson, “John told us what he was going to do, so his departure wasn’t a surprise.”

In the 2008 Farm Equipment interview, Stevenson said priorities for his new job included “to make sure the company was profitable, that our dealers are profitable and that the franchise value increases.” What New Holland dealers wanted, he said at the time, was stability at the top of the company and to know where the company was headed.

Management Turnover. From the time Bob Crain left for AGCO in January 2006 until they hired Engle and Stevenson to lead the company in August 2008, New Holland turned over 5 top executives.

Rumors swirled around the equipment maker each time a new face was brought in, leading some to believe that the brand would be spun off. Others openly expressed fears of the longer-term consequences of a “brain drain” that they saw taking place.

One New Holland dealer told Ag Equipment Intelligence at the time, “If they’re planning to spin this thing off, they’re not doing themselves any favors with all these changes.” Other dealers said that they were doing their best to insulate their customers from what was happening at the top management levels.

When Engle and Stevenson joined the ag equipment maker in 2008, New Holland dealers hoped they would finally bring stability to leadership of the farm machinery maker and provide some strategic direction they could hang their hats on to make their own plans.

Lousy Timing. Following the announcement of Stevenson’s departure, one New Holland dealer told Ag Equipment Intelligence that the he was surprised to hear that he was leaving, especially when he had just played a significant part in the company’s dealer meeting in March. “He should have dropped out before the meeting or waited longer after the meeting to announce he was leaving,” said the dealer who asked not to be identified.

Reminded that Stevenson said that he wasn’t a “maintenance-type individual” but considered himself a turnaround expert, the dealer replied, “He can’t say things have been turned around here. New Holland has a lot of issues to deal with, including losing market share.

“New Holland is a great company, but until it solves the problem of retaining senior leadership, we don’t have a real direction to follow. Every time this happens, it precludes the company from maintaining a consistent, strategic path and implementing the changes that need to be made,” said the dealer, who owns multiple New Holland stores.

“The next guy to come in will have his own ideas and we’ll end up starting all over. Maybe it would be best if Barry (Engle) maintains the responsibilities for a while to keep things pointed in one direction. It looks as if he and David Greenburg (senior director of marketing) will be the key guys to keep things on track.”

He added, “It’s really difficult for dealers to develop a long-term plan for the business and follow through on it when it’s not at all clear what direction New Holland is heading.”