February 21, 2016 - The crane and access industries are both highly specialised, and dare I say it - somewhat incestuous, which can make the job of choosing a new leader for a large company in the sector challenging, to say the least. Out of the two the crane business is probably the hardest in that it is very particular.
The majority of crane rental company owners, or senior managers around the world have been in the industry since they left school and a good many have followed in family footsteps - it is that type of business.
They also tend to be very passionate about their equipment, to the point of sometimes being ready to overlook a machine’s actual potential to turn a profit. All of this makes it quite a challenge for those coming into the industry later in life, particularly at a senior level. It is not impossible to enter the crane market at a more mature age - it just requires a great deal of listening, learning, filtering facts from fiction and adapting - to make a real go of it, and be inducted as a ‘crane man’.
A senior manager at a leading crane and access rental company recently commented that evidence suggested that crane companies that recruited internally - either from within the company or from within the industry - have fared far better than those that have recruited from outside. He likened it to choosing a manager for a major football club/team, saying who would even consider appointing a non-football person to run a major league team? I am not quite sure I buy that analogy but can see what he is saying.
While the concept that insiders always do better than outsiders might at first glance have something to it - check out the major manufacturers and big American rental companies - the whole thing is a lot more complex than that. Things such as public or private ownership makes a difference for example, along with large or small, strong culture or not etc.…. It also depends on the outsider themselves, are they people-persons? Do they have an accounting or sales/commercial background? Big ego or more modest?
The current state of the company is also a factor - is it losing money hand over fist? Is it loaded with debt and ready to crash, or is the hand over being done when the market is dire or during times of plenty?
Ownership is probably the biggest factor, Is it family owned or public? Is it owned by a private equity firm looking to make a quick buck? Or one that is looking to build a leading business over the longer term? If public there are huge variations, depending on the size - larger public companies are subject to scrutiny by major investment companies, activist investors etc all of which can unsettle all but the very strongest leaders who are also ‘city savvy’.
To try and draw some conclusions I thought that taking a look at a few examples of insiders and outsiders might provide a clear answer, but on further investigation I found that a key example of an outsider who has done really well had been with the company for years prior to taking over - so by the time he took over he was almost an insider!. I also found plenty examples of insiders screwing up first class businesses, so that exercise proved fruitless.
What was more interesting was comparing leaders with a sales or commercial background compared to accounting or administrative backgrounds. Yes sales and marketing do seem to do better- but there again I also found some good examples of accountants that had worked wonders and salesmen that had taken a wrong turn? And of course we have engineers - but that’s easy if they are sales/customer focused engineers they can be very good, if not they are generally a disaster at leading a company.
What is clear is that the best leader is someone that inspired, passionate, open, honest and knows that the customer holds the real power held - rather than the investor/analyst or management, has their ego under control, is secure and confident and respects their employees. Obvious I guess - but easier to write than to find.
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We appear to be sliding into an era where truth and facts are seen as disruptive irritations, not only by outspoken ‘populist’ politicians, but increasingly of large companies and industry associations.
The Vertikal Guide to Conexpo 2017
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February 27, 2017
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