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Finding a new leader

Leigh W Sparrow, Publisher
Leigh W Sparrow, Publisher

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.

But you don’t have to accept my conclusion have you say in our new online poll 


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9. April 2016 14:11

Readers take heed and read this editorial perspective, for the future of our industry will always depend on human resources. Mr. Sparrow has a sense and feel for people who make their living in cranes and access equipment, a vast industry covering most of the habitable planet. As civilizations and nations grow and advance that growth depends on people with mental capabilities skill talent and dedication to their trades. The measure of development will always be based on good leaders and good followers who aspire to become leaders some day. Please read my comment on the dedication expressed to Time magazine by Prince Charles about 50-55 years ago...maintaining a courage of conviction was the key ingredient he employed to keep on keeping on. That is the key ingredient for a person to be a leader and then to develop new leaders in younger generations to follow suit.

1. April 2016 15:40

Your editorial of six weeks ago is exemplary and ought to stir up the dust for discussion among folks in our industry about this challenge. I have revisited my two comments weekly to see if I created concurrence or conflict but not one person has posted a vote. I meant to give a thumbs up to my second comment but instead pressed thumbs down - my mistake. Perhaps that might ignite a response from someone "out there" in the WWWeb to speak their mind. Surely there must be leaders and owners who feel perplexed about finding and training their replacements.
As a teen and college student I was being groomed to step into my father's shoes owning and operating a very successful restaurant. I let love sidetrack the goals and married before earning my bachelors of science in business admin. In recent months I have realized how discouraged my father became that I didn't stick to his plans for the future. So the dilemma of finding leaders has struck my heart in a personal way. In my career in corporate management of foodservice and hotels I faced many choices for developing people into promotions and eventual leadership roles. Some worked out surprisingly well and a few were horrible choices.

19. March 2016 06:40

I may have a skewed perspective toward our industries but here is my take on leadership. Every person working in all job titles and job positions has three opportunities to view their role. First is Responsibility for doing every duty well according to established procedural norms aiming for excellence rather than perfection. Second is Honor for being chosen by their employer or as my case is choosing to be self-employed in dangerous specialties to work at height. Last but not least is to be a good example of professional skill to all those around us whom we serve. The danger factor requires us to leave no stone unturned when inspecting teaching and instructing for the reports of accidents and fatalities verify we must be alert at all times. Those who decline to work smarter not harder should find other employment but it will not be as rewarding with challenge.

6. March 2016 05:48

Lee, Your essay is so right, so true and reminds me of Prince Charles and an interview of his life done in the early 1970s by Time Magazine. The interviewer asked "Considering all the training and exposure you are getting for 40 years to prepare yourself for a job you might never get to fulfill what is the most difficult challenge you face?" Charles replied " maintaining my courage of conviction while so many around me let theirs go."
My life in management began by working in,our family restaurant at age 13 then earning a BSBA degree in hotel and restaurant management with a minor in accounting. One year after graduation I made a difficult decision to resign from my father's employment and a dream to franchise our concept. Ever since then in corporate management and some independent privately owned businesses I have been a proverbial student of leadership and observer of management styles.
Earlier today I wrote a Comment about the breakup of Manitowoc from Manitowoc Crane which reminded me of a financial turnaround I did of a large steakhouse in Florida in 1988. No sooner than I got it cleaned up and business increased 22% in just four months it was sold but had a ripple effect most people would not expect. When. The story was in the last paragraph we had company stop by and I lost the entire document. So it will need to be written another time.


Will we ever learn

Leigh W Sparrow, Publisher

Once again we are on the verge of a major trade war as a tariffs and protectionism are promoted as a simple solution a range of complex issues. Will they work? Are they misguided? Or just a simplistic reaction the challenges of change?





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