United Rentals co-founder John MilneRER: First let’s catch up a little bit. What have you been doing the past few years?

Milne: Over the last eight or nine years, I’ve been working with private companies, doing consulting work, involved in everything from helping them with strategic acquisitions, capital-raising efforts, helping them build their infrastructure, putting in place systems, processes, financial reporting, really focused on being a strategic advisor to senior management as they’re trying to make their move into the growth phase and build their business. I’ve done that now for about a dozen private companies. 

I’ve covered a lot of new ground since leaving United Rentals. I’ve worked in industries ranging from scaffolding, veterinary hospitals, Internet businesses, for-profit schools, to restaurant businesses. A very diversified group. Over the past 18 months, I’ve re-emphasized my focus back into the rental space as I see more and more companies with great growth opportunities that are looking for assistance and advice in growing their business.


For readers who haven’t been around the industry that long, please tell us about your history with United Rentals, including your role in co-founding the company?

I love talking about United Rentals, it’s a joy every time I walk the streets of any city in North America, to look up on the horizon and see a United Rentals banner and know that the team Brad [Jacobs] and I put in place many years ago has continued to grow and thrive. So to give you a pretty broad history, for the last 25 years I’ve been building industry-leading companies, trying to execute strategically sound acquisition programs, bringing those private companies under the umbrella of a parent entity, integrating them effectively and just really building a strong core business that can then start to experience organic growth. I started with Brad [Jacobs] in the waste industry with United Waste which we grew from nothing to a $3 billion company. 

Then in September of ‘97 a group of us launched United Rentals. We went public in December of ’97 at $13.50 a share with six private companies that we acquired in October of ’97 and then between 1997 and 2001 we acquired roughly 200 companies. It was an amazing time in the industry, there was a lot of consolidation. It was a pretty hectic period. We were doing about one transaction a week for about three years straight. As a result of that and in particular as a result of the merger in 1998 with U.S. Rentals, which brought in about $600 million in revenue and essentially doubled our company at that time, we built what has come to be the largest company in the rental industry. 


Eventually you went on to become CFO.

In 2002 when the acquisition program slowed down, I stepped into the CFO role. There was a lot of integration that needed to be done – a lot of pieces to be pulled together to make sure we had a solid operation that from which we could grow to the next level. The Board asked me to take on that challenge and I really pride myself on how we were able to re-align the role and the definition of what the accounting and financial reporting group was at United Rentals. We re-defined our team to be a partner to the field operations team, helping give them the tools to make the right decisions as a financial partner in the field, as opposed to being just a reporting entity. It was a change in definition of how we ran the business and I think it helped build a stronger business at United Rentals. 


Unfortunately your tenure at United Rentals didn’t end so happily. Anything you’d like to share about that?

It was an unfortunate end that came about at United Rentals. There’s not too much to elaborate on, it’s all public information. I think the most important thing is what we accomplished while I was there and the phenomenal growth of the business we built and more importantly how I am using that total experience to bring perspective and knowledge to my clients today.


Let’s go on to the present. You are working with G.C. Andersen Partners in what capacity?

I’m an independent consultant and I do a number of different things. Some management teams I’ll be working with are not looking for financing, they’re not looking to sell, they’re not looking to buy, they’re merely dealing with the issue of getting control on their growth. They’re trying to get the house in order, putting in place information systems, HR systems, proper compensation plans, etc. So often times I’ll be doing management type consulting. But a lot of times those sorts of roles are leading up to a capital markets transaction. 

And so when companies are looking for financing or M&A advice that involve capital markets transactions, I have a relationship that dates back many years with G.C. Andersen. When there’s a transaction where I need that capital market expertise or at least my client needs that capital market expertise, I’ll often introduce them to G.C. Andersen and help them work together to get the deal done.