Chris Watts Prepared Well for Sunstate CEO Role

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Sunstate Equipment has for decades been one of the most admired companies in the equipment rental industry and deservedly so. Often when I interview people in the rental industry I ask them who they most admire in the rental industry, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard Mike Watts and Sunstate mentioned.

Sunstate and Watts are often admired for integrity in the way they treat people who work for them, for strong training programs, for being good and fair competitors. Some might disagree and that’s fine, that’s the way it is in business. Nobody is perfect and I’m not nominating anybody for sainthood. But if you talk to a lot of people you’ll hear that Sunstate is an admired company and Watts an admired leader.

Certainly a major contributor to Sunstate’s success has been Benno Jurgemeyer, who has been CEO for a number of years, with founder Watts as chairman. Benno has served in several management roles, including chief financial officer and eventually CEO. He had a lot to do with the company’s dramatic growth in the ‘90s and ‘00s and developing its financial structure, as well as fleet management, IT, and training.

Benno has worked in managing just about every facet of the business and putting together many of the analytical tools the company uses. He will continue to work with the company on a consulting basis.

Now Chris Watts takes over as CEO and those of you who know Sunstate probably know this wasn’t just a case of Chris being handed the job because he’s the founder’s son. Chris, like many sons of owners of rental companies, grew up around the business, starting by taking out the trash and cutting down weeds. A few years ago when I visited Sunstate, Chris told me how, while still a youngster, he graduated to the paint shop working on a sander 12 hours a day in the middle of the Phoenix summer, and the following summer moved up to the wash rack. As a kid he thought ‘I’m going to go to college and get as far away from this as I can’ and that’s what he did. He got an undergraduate degree and then an MBA and then worked for an environmental consulting firm doing Phase 1 assessments and later Phase 2 and 3, involved in a lot of property transactions. He got valuable experience and proved to himself that he could establish himself in business independently.

Chris wasn’t sure if working in his dad’s business was ultimately the path for him, but when the company needed a full-time environmental compliance manager, he decided to return. He had no promise that someday he would take over his dad’s business. He knew very well he would have to earn every promotion he would get. He oversaw a lot of programs at Sunstate over the nearly 20 years he’s been there full time and I’m confident the company will be in good hands under Chris’ leadership.

And fortunately for the company and this industry, Mike Watts is still around.

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Rent Talk is the premier blog of Rental Equipment Register Magazine

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Michael Roth

Michael Roth has covered the equipment rental industry full time for RER since 1989 and has served as the magazine’s editor in chief since 1994. He has nearly 30 years experience as a...

Gary Stansberry

Gary Stansberry is president of The Stansberry Firm LLC and specializes in business sales, fair market business valuations, operational consulting and positioning businesses to increase their value.
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