Sixty-four years ago in Germany, Hans Liebherr engineered and built an easily assembled and affordable tower crane. It became the foundation of a global company — the Liebherr Group that in 2013 employs a workforce of 38,000 people in 130 company units. A range of products — from the world’s largest truck and most powerful mobile crane to aircraft equipment and household refrigerators — are produced at 40 locations in 17 countries on four continents.
Peter Mayr is president of Liebherr Construction Equipment Co., the U.S. division of the group’s construction equipment entity. He came to the position from previous responsibilities as managing director of Liebherr-Great Britain Ltd. and Liebherr Rental Ltd. He started with the company in Austria where he was responsible for the sales support of dozers and crawler loaders in Spain. He and his family now live in Williamsburg, Va.
Mayr took time out from a busy meet-and-greet campaign within Liebherr U.S. dealers and media to answer some questions for Construction Equipment Guide. The question-and-answer interview follows:
CEG: First, a little clarification: Company news releases don’t specify whether you head Liebherr Construction in North America or worldwide. What are your responsibilities?
Mayr: I am glad you asked that question. It gives me the opportunity to explain how we are organized and provide a better understanding of the Liebherr Group.
The Liebherr Group is a worldwide organization comprised of more than 130 companies that serve a wide variety of industries.
In order to manage the group efficiently and effectively serve the various industries and regions, Liebherr is organized into corporate business units that operate autonomously. For the earthmoving sector, we have an organization based in Germany called EMTec (Earth Moving Technology), which is responsible for the earthmoving and material-handling market worldwide.
The Liebherr Construction Equipment Co. (U.S.A.) operates under the EMtec umbrella and is responsible for the overall sales and service of earthmoving equipment and material handling in the United States. As president of Liebherr Construction Equipment Co., I am responsible for the U.S.
CEG: In public remarks in September, you said it was time for Liebherr to start being an American company doing business in America vs. a European company doing business in America. What does that mean in practical terms?
Mayr: Liebherr was founded in 1949 by Hans Liebherr. Over the years, it has grown to be a leading global company by continuing to develop cutting edge technology that translates into better products across a variety of industries and applications.
In order to be successful in America or in any other place outside the European Union, we have to redefine our marketing and business approach and have a regional perspective. One of the great advantages of being decentralized is that we have the ability to be flexible and adapt to the market and our customer base in each region/country. This flexibility will allow us to continue to tailor our approach to the U.S. market.
We will always be committed to supplying our customers with innovative equipment that meets the highest standards of quality. We have to keep abreast of our customers’ needs and to offer not only the right products and services, but to offer them greater value.
CEG: What is the first step in accomplishing the above transition — rebranding, reorganizing, refocusing?
Mayr: The most important thing is to focus on our customers, including our dealers and Liebherr-owned stores. They play the most important role in the type of equipment and services we offer in the U.S. At the end of the day, our customers are our partners and we work hand-in-hand to ensure that we are all successful.
CEG: In changing this approach, do you have a sales volume number or market share goal in mind?
Mayr: We have a very high market share in the scrap-handling machines in the U.S., which we will strive to maintain or increase. On the dirt machines, we have huge potential to grow our market presence and this will be one of our focuses in the months to come.
CEG: What inspired this subtle change in the company’s approach toward the American market?
Mayr: This may appear a subtle change to many. However, Liebherr has always realized the enormous market potential in the U.S. and has always been committed to this region. Liebherr USA was established in Newport News, Va., in 1970 with the construction of its 300,000-square-foot production facilities. In four decades, it has grown to become the North American headquarters for four operating companies and home to the Liebherr Construction Equipment Co.
Additionally, Liebherr is currently making a significant investment ($45.4 million) in the expansion and enhancement of the Liebherr Mining Plant, where we produce the largest mining trucks in the world. The U.S. market has always been and will always be important to us.
CEG: Are you finding enthusiasm among Liebherr dealers for this growth strategy?
Mayr: In September, we hosted a sales seminar and open house at our facility, which provided us with a great opportunity to connect with our dealers and customers. The attendance far exceeded our expectations and the feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive. We look forward to continuing our strong partnership with our dealers and customers as this will help us to grow in the years ahead.
CEG: When Liebherr is Googled, what comes up first is Liebherr cranes. Is that a perceptual problem to be overcome in respect to marketing Liebherr as an all-round equipment company?
Mayr: There’s no doubt that our crane division is what initially made Liebherr famous and continues to be highly successful. If you look at tower, mobile and harbor cranes that are seen everywhere in the world, Liebherr is certainly a very dominant player in this area.
I don’t feel, however, that there is any problem to overcome, because we hold a very strong position in other sectors such as material handling. We just need to focus more on the dirt side where our product range is comprised of hydraulic excavators, crawler loaders, wheel loaders and dozers.
I believe that these machines with Liebherr-made components such as diesel engines, fuel injection systems, hydraulic cylinders, and engine management control units offer our customers the highest quality machines with low life-cycle costs. This, in turn, allows our customers to improve their operations, increase their productivity, and reduce fuel consumption. It ultimately provides them with incredible value.
CEG: Is the cranes segment currently the biggest one in North America? If so, what is second, or growing fastest?
Mayr: Cranes are very strong in the U.S. but, as mentioned before, we have other products such as the scrap-handling units in a similar market position. The biggest growth potential for us is in our earthmoving machines.
CEG: Is the mining segment a growing one in the U.S.?
Mayr: Demand for mining equipment follows the prices of raw materials, which have declined over the last few months. If you take a long-term view, there is certainly potential for growth in the mining sector.
CEG: As part of this strategy, are you targeting certain market segments with new equipment?
Mayr: Scrap-handling and material-handling in general are good markets for Liebherr because we offer our customers factory-built solutions. Log-handling is another area where we have been very successful as well. We also offer specialized configurations, such as the high-reach demolition machines and, of course, the wide range of earthmoving equipment mentioned before.
CEG: Generally speaking, what does Liebherr bring to the market that distinguishes it from competing manufacturers?
Mayr: Our approach to customers is a long-term one. We provide machines that are of the highest quality, technologically innovative, and very efficient, with low fuel consumption. These qualities translate into low operating costs, fuel savings and higher productivity for our customers. We believe that this is a winning combination that provides our customers with an incredible value. We feel that this value helps them focus on their business and be more successful in the long run. When our customers are satisfied and successful, we can be satisfied with our work.
CEG: Liebherr is a successful construction equipment company. How do you keep such a firm moving ahead, rather than settling into its success and becoming stagnant?
Mayr: The key is innovation. We try to be one step ahead by investing in new technology and engineering innovative machines that benefit our customers. One great example is our Energy Recovery Cylinder on the material-handling excavators. This great innovation provides a very fuel efficient machine, which will save a customer a lot of money over the lifetime of the machine.
CEG: Is avoiding becoming stagnant more or less of a problem in a private, family-owned company versus in a public one?
Mayr: I have never worked for a publicly traded company. I have had the pleasure of working for Liebherr for 11 years and have found it to be a company advantage to be privately held by the family. This allows us to be more responsive to changes in the marketplace. At the same time, the company is able to take the long view and to think strategically into the future since it doesn’t have to respond quarterly to shareholders.
CEG: How many Liebherr dealers are there in the U.S. or North America? Do you expect to grow that number?
Mayr: We are planning on expanding our distribution in the months and years to come. In fact, this is one of the key areas that we will be working on to offer products and service closer to our customers. CEG