Q&A with new Terex president Tim Ford
08 April 2013
For the past seven years, Tim Ford has been a respected leader in the aerial work platform industry. He led the Terex AWP division through an awful economic calamity and the layoff of close to two-thirds of its workforce. But today, Terex’s AWP business segment is strong and growing, and its Genie brand is making impressive market share strides.
So at the first of the year when Terex Corporation announced a reorganization of its upper management team, it wasn’t a huge surprise that Ford was tapped to take on a new challenge as president of Terex Cranes. While he greatly enjoyed the “AWP world,” Ford is primed and ready to take Terex Cranes to a new level of success.
Ford began his career as a salesman for a small, family-owned company that distributed paper and plastic packaging. After a year, he joined General Electric, starting in sales and working into general management roles. After more than 12 years, he went to work for Honeywell, which merged with Allied Signal and kept the Honeywell name. When GE announced its intention to acquire Honeywell, (the deal was later prohibited by the European Commission), rather than go back to work for GE, he had the opportunity to go to work for Toro, a Minneapolis-based lawn and garden equipment manufacturer. In 2006 he was hired by Terex and appointed president of Terex AWP.
“At the time, the AWP division was really just the Genie business,” he explains. “In 2009, Terex went from five segments to four. Terex Utilities was assigned to AWP, so I went from having a portfolio of just Genie to having that and the utility business.”
Ford has experience, instincts and enthusiasm that will serve him well in the crane industry. But in addition to taking on the role as president of Terex Cranes, he will retain oversight of Terex Utilities as well as a new business called Terex Services North America.
“We’re extracting a little bit from Terex Utilities, a little bit from Genie and a little bit from Demag Cranes AG to form a new services business called Terex Services North America,” he says. “I will oversee that and have corporate responsibility for our Latin American operations, which is our geographic team in Latin America for all of Terex’s operations.”
Excited about the challenges of learning a new industry and extremely different types of products, Ford already has ideas for what he wants to do to help the crane segment scale new heights. During his tenure with Terex, he has had ample time to sit in on board meetings and listen to his peers and colleagues talk about Terex Cranes.
“From a distance, I thought about the business with a bit of admiration, but also through a lens knowing that it was put together differently from the Genie business that I was running. Terex Cranes is really an amalgamation of acquisitions, whereas Genie was a business that grew more organically. I always knew the challenges in the cranes segment were different than those I was facing, but it was clear that Cranes had strong brands, great products and terrific people. The leadership before me transformed the company from a series of great brands into one terrific brand with great potential.”
Among Ford’s goals is building on and deepening the relationships Terex Cranes has with customers, strengthening its technologies and developing its people.
“I’m excited about the future for Terex Cranes,” he says. “We have a really, really strong capability. We’ve got a host of new products coming to market as we speak and the team we have in place has put the business in a very strong position. I’m excited.”
Since taking the reins of Terex Cranes in late January, Ford has been traveling around the world getting a crash course in the business of cranes.
“I’ve been on the job six weeks and in that time I’ve haven’t slept in the same bed three nights in a row, including my own,” he says of his schedule. “Hopefully that will change soon.”
In early March, I was able to catch up with Ford to talk about the job, the challenges and how he plans to get done what needs to be done at Terex Cranes.
What are the biggest challenges that you anticipate as president of Terex Cranes?
We have an organization that clearly understands that the customer needs to be at the center of our universe, but we don’t always operate in a way where the customer feels that. One of the things I’m putting a great deal of emphasis on is making sure that when we wake up in the morning, when we have lunch in the middle of the day and then when we go to bed at night, everyone in our organization knows we are there to serve the customer. And another challenge is to leverage our experience, act with speed and help the customer achieve results from everything that we do. I would argue that we are in some ways a factory-centric business today and I want us to become a market-centric organization.
What is it about this new assignment that intrigues you the most?
There are a number of things that are similar to what I was doing as president of Terex AWP, but there are a number of things that are very different as well. What I’m particularly excited about is that the person to whom we sell our cranes, whether a distributor, rental company or end user, is buying a product they use to make money with. It’s great to be in a business where what you sell is vital to that customer’s success. That is actually very intriguing to me personally. In AWP, many of the rental companies have become much larger. With Terex Cranes, we are often dealing with an owner/operator, so they are invested – personally. It’s more of an entrepreneur’s world.
We also have a great opportunity to continue building ‘one Terex Cranes team,’ and that for me is a personal challenge. We’ve broken down many of the functional and factory silos that existed because of our lineage as a bunch of acquisitions, but there’s still more opportunity. I feel strongly about making sure that the customer’s success is our singular focus.
What are your expectations for Bauma 2013 and the market for cranes in general?
This is going to be a very optimistic and upbeat show. The overall environment is improving globally. If you look over the past couple years, Europe has had the hangover of economic and fiscal concerns but seems to be stabilizing, China has gone through a little bit of a trough and North America has been improving ever so slowly, but there has been a whole lot of uncertainty. Put the composite picture together, and the overall outlook is pretty optimistic.
Do you envision any change in the way Terex Cranes rolls out new products?
Changing the way, no. Focusing what we do, yes. We’ve launched a number of new products in the past year, for example. Whether it’s the new QuadStar 1100 rough terrain, the new Superlift 3800 650-metric ton (715-ton) crawler, we’ve rolled out a number of new products over the last year-and-a-half and we have a several more that will be launched this year. It’s important to make sure that your product development strategy is centered around the marketplace, not the factory or the engineering team. We’ve done a pretty good job of ensuring the customer’s voice is built into our new products, but there’s always an opportunity to poke at and pressure our engineering teams to find ways to design our products for lower costs and get them to market more expeditiously.
Have you ever worked in the realm of crane sales? Did you ever envision working in this line of equipment?
I haven’t, but my grandfather was a crane operator at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine where they build ships principally for the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. He was a crane operator for many years and he worked at the Harding plant in Brunswick, where he operated large, fixed cranes. I always looked at him with admiration as a kid. For me in this position, it’s a bit of a family circle being closed.
What experiences from your AWP role can you use in your new position? How would you characterize the transition to your new job?
The opportunities from my AWP experience center more around two different categories: operational opportunity and commercial opportunity. Looking through an operational prism, Genie was more of an organic business. It grew up around itself and the systems, process and structure were all pretty well aligned. There’s an opportunity for us in Cranes to streamline, to make ourselves easier to do business with, to respond more quickly to the customer and build our customer capabilities from an operational standpoint.
From a commercial perspective, the markets are different but there are a lot of similarities. At the end of the day, we source materials, we fabricate them, we assemble them, we paint them, and we sell them to customers. We service them and we provide parts. And the essence of the business is similar, so this is a lot less complex transition for me personally than if I were coming into a new company. I have a big support network here at Terex helping with the transition. My predecessor is just down the hall and many in the company are ready to help where needed. There’s a big comfort knowing you can lean on a capable team that’s been in place for a while.
What is your management philosophy?
I don’t know if I have a philosophy, but there are a few things I feel strongly about. First, if you lose sight of the fact that it’s the customer that pays your bills, that’s the beginning of a bad trend. Any business needs to keep the customer in its crosshairs or it loses its purpose.
Second, you have to run a business that makes money and performs well. It’s hard to invest in the future if you are not performing financially. Managing the near term and the future, keeping a balance between delivering today and investing for tomorrow is something any leader has to keep in mind.
And last, any organization, whether it’s a business, a sports team or a not-for-profit organization, is only as good as the people that do the work. If you can’t create a culture where people want to come to work and feel like they can contribute in a meaningful way, it’s going to be tough to create the right environment to satisfy customers, which ultimately makes it tough to deliver on the financial side.
Reflecting on my six years at Genie, one of the things I am most proud about is that, despite the fact that we experienced an incredibly difficult period with a market down 80 percent and having to take two-thirds of the organization out, when we started hiring again, of the first 1,000 people we hired back, about two-thirds had worked for us before. They wanted to come back to work for us. That tells me we created the right environment, treated people with respect and took care of them even in difficult times.
What do you like to do when you are not working?
I have two daughters who keep my wife and I pretty busy. One is in college and one is in high school. I’m pretty competitive, so I enjoy doing things that challenge me competitively whether it’s running marathons or playing golf. But don’t confuse competitive with good – I’m not so competitive that I will be competing for a U.S. Amateur spot (any time soon).