Frank Nerenhausen, veteran Oshkosh Corp. executive, was named president of JLG Industries Aug. 1, while continuing as executive vice president of Oshkosh. In this exclusive interview with RER, he talks about how learning the aerial industry, future product development, and how the market is looking.
RER: Perhaps you can tell us a bit about your background? You’ve been with Oshkosh for quite a long time?
Nerenhausen:Yes I’ve been with Oshkosh for 26 years. I started as an intern, a six-week temporary assignment in finance. I started working hard, got my first job in the finance department in accounting, working while going to school. I soon realized that working in a box office with no windows wasn’t for me. I needed to get out into the wilderness where I could generate some value for the company. I got an inside sales position, and from there I got assigned territories and bounced around outside sales. I got my first P&L assignment for our front discharge mixers. I turned that business from a losing business to a profitable business with No. 1 market share, and really learned a tremendous amount during that period about the value of people in a successful business. It’s not just hard iron. People actually make a difference.
The lessons that I learned in that small business then went into running the commercial segment where again, in the depths of the great recession, I got the job to start making money in this thing and we did! By the very same token, to establish a vision, generate a roadmap and a strategy and get a bunch of motivated good folks on your team to execute and we turned the commercial business into profitability. Then I got the very good fortune of being asked to run this business, which now turns my attention from trying to make a business profitable to just managing growth. It’s an exciting industry and I see a lot of parallels between all the time I spent in that vocational market in construction and now in this. The customers are very much the same, driven by the same business metrics. Different fleets obviously but our customers need to make money with good products and they demand service and they demand products that are perfect when they are delivered and ready to go to work, so it’s the same type of thing.
I’m really comfortable with that dynamic. Now I’m learning the industry. I’ve had a lot of good folks help me along the way including our customers and other industry professionals. I’m going to be learning every day until I’ve got one foot in the grave, that’s what we all should be doing.
RER: What are your impressions of the rental industry from what you’ve seen so far?
It’s a great group of customers. It’s a professional industry. It’s the type of industry you would want to invest in. I’m very excited. I’m in a very nascent stage in it, but I plan on being in it for the long haul.
RER: Now you are learning about aerial machines, is there a learning curve there for you?
Yes, certainly. I’m kind of a machine junkie by nature. That comes from my past in rebuilding engines. I pick up products pretty fast and I find these machines to be fascinating. We have a very large investment in new product development engineering and so I spend quite a bit of time in that arena. But I love that because our products are the best in the world.
RER: A few years ago the Liftpod made an impact in the rental industry. Is there anything special coming up in the next few years that might have an impact?
We will be constantly investing in growing our product breadth, both vertically and horizontally. We’ll be investing in new models of small products like the LiftPod2 as well as the upper ranges of our product line. It’s an execution of strategy that we work very hard on. We call it a multi-generation product plan and it covers all these product lines and what we’re going to be doing the next five years. Of course that changes; market dynamics change, you just can’t be staunch in the view of what you’re going to do but we’re going to be investing heavily in new product development and optimization of our machines going forward.
RER: What about the “workstations in the sky” series, like Skypower and Skywelder? Have you maximized those?
I don’t know if we’ve maximized it but we’ve got a full spectrum of offerings there. We continue to look at options all the time; we’ve got people that approach us all the time with ideas and innovations. Our own R&D shop is innovating all the time. Right now we’ve got the core fundamentals covered on our spectrum, but we’re continuing to watch.
RER: What are your hottest markets now, geographically? Is it North America coming out of the recession?
Yeah, I’d say North America is the hottest market. It’s a mature market, but you have that sort of installed base, when it starts heating up it has a pretty big swing. Brazil is really promising. We’ve got a solid installed base there; we’ve been there since the very early stages of adoption of that equipment. So we’re enjoying the benefits of having been in that market a long time. And there are other exciting opportunities around the world. It’s just a matter of working with local governments and customers to speed adoption in those countries. We’re not there to win a 100-meter dash, we’re there to win a marathon and that’s the way to approach some of these markets. You can’t be impatient.
RER: Frank, would you describe yourself as a hands-on type guy or a big-picture guy when it comes to management style?
I’m kind of both. When I’ve got good people on my staff, and I do — I’ve got a lot of them — I want them to run their business. At the same time, because I love the products, I tend to get into the nuts and bolts of some of the product-level discussions. With a background in finance, I’m always involved in that end of it. But as a manager, there’s nothing more rewarding than to watch a good team operating and JLG has got a deep wealth of talent and that’s rewarding to me as well.
RER: I wonder if there are some advantages coming from outside the aerial industry and seeing things with fresh eyes?
Absolutely. You might see opportunities that others haven’t. And I’m willing to share my opinions on those. Right now I’m just humbled by it and just interested in reaching out to industry veterans and having them teach me as much as possible about the industry and what we can do to serve our customers better.