Like many in the construction equipment industry, Dale Leppo got his start in the industry in the family business. In 1945, Leppo’s grandparents, Roy and Stella Leppo, started Leppo Equipment in Akron, OH, as an Oliver Farm Equipment dealer.
Then, as the area changed from an agriculture base to residential and industrial, the company changed its focus, and Leppo’s parents, Dick and Thelma Leppo, spent decades building a strong foundation for the company.
In 1976, while studying for his doctorate, Leppo joined the business.
At Leppo Equipment, he was exposed to everything the dealership did — from sweeping floors to assembling equipment.
“My dad made me work in all of the departments,” said Leppo. “I was in parts for a year, service for three years, rental a few years and then I got into sales.”
Leppo rose through the ranks and now serves as the company’s chairman. His brother Glenn is president.
During the late 1970s, Dick Leppo decided Dale could use some additional exposure to the industry, and sent him to an Ohio Equipment Dealer’s Association (OEDA) meeting with the company’s sales manager.
In the early 1980s, Leppo said he missed a meeting and was promptly elected secretary of the organization.
“It was a tough time in our industry in the Rust Belt and Great Lakes region,” he said. “We were losing members at a fast clip.”
Leppo subsequently became vice president and then president of the association and had extended tenure as OEDA president.
During those years, AED Past Presidents Rich Knopke and Dave Giardino visited OEDA twice. Both times, Leppo’s job was to find them food and lodging, and then show them around and introduce them to local AED members and prospects. They traveled around the state and spent a day and a half discussing what was going on in the industry.
“What was neat about those guys,” said Leppo, “is that they were intelligent, articulate, willing to share what they knew, and fun to be around, and they thought about construction equipment distribution as an industry.”
At the time, Leppo was unsure if he wanted to commit himself to the industry. However, the trips with Knopke and Giardino cemented his belief that this is a great industry.
“It was a difficult decision to dedicate myself to the industry,” said Leppo, “but between the two of them they convinced me it was something worth doing.
“We do ’real’ stuff in this industry. We’re not just selling iron, we’re providing all the services we offer. I like knowing our equipment is helping our customers get the job done. I feel like I’m a part of something real.”
In addition, Leppo said he prefers working in an industry where the end result is something tangible.
“The customers and vendors are all ’real’ people,” said Leppo. “They understand why there are chains on machines to push snow … the people in our industry tend to be grounded in reality and share the view of the world I have.”
What AED Means
Prior to being elected 2006 chairman, Dale had a history of service with AED.
He has served on the AED board of directors since 1991, and served on several committees, including Long-Term Investment, Finance & Audit, Product Support Round Table, Rental Round Table, Government Affairs, Future Leaders Task Force and Annual Meeting.
“The most important things I’ve learned have been from other AED members,” said Leppo. “The advantage of networking with other AED members is that we have a set of common experiences. It gives us a common ground and language to start a meaningful discussion.”
As AED chairman, Leppo said he hoped to address the need for the future leadership of the industry.
In May 2005, AED held a Future Leaders Task Force meeting in Colorado, which provided AED feedback on what’s important to the young people who are going to be leading our companies in the future.
This August, AED is holding a Future Leaders Conference that will be based on the observations and recommendations of the task force, and it will be organized to encourage attendees to bring their families.
“The objective” said Leppo “is to bring together the young men and women who are the leaders of tomorrow so they can learn from our presenters and from each other.
“The AED Future Leaders Conference is really important because there is an opportunity with that particular group for AED to address the succession issues this industry is facing today.”
The Future Leaders Conference is aimed at a group that is critical to the long-term success of our industry, he said.
“I feel strongly that the people who are capable of running an equipment distribution company have career options,” said Leppo. “My brother Glenn is a perfect example. He has a master’s degree in chemical engineering and was on a management fast-track at a Fortune 500 company for six years when I realized I needed a succession plan and he could be it.
“I had to convince him a career in construction equipment distribution made sense for him. Part of why I was successful in recruiting him was that I honestly feel this is a wonderful and challenging industry that is full of interesting, intelligent and dedicated people. Young people who are capable have options, and we need to convince them the construction equipment distribution industry is a good career.”
Other industry issues Leppo hoped to help AED address are consolidation and manufacturer/distributor relations.
“Consolidation is driven, at least in part, by the need to spread our overhead over a larger dollar volume,” said Leppo. “AED members need to be aware of what is going on around them and then adapt. AED has done a good job of keeping these issues in front of us and needs to keep doing so, even when it makes members uncomfortable.”
As for manufacturer/distributor relations, Leppo said this issue will never really get resolved, but should continue to be addressed.
“AED does a good job of promoting the authorized independent dealer, and needs to continue to do so,” said Leppo. “But manufacturer/distributor relations is an issue that will never go away because there are always going to be circumstances where what is good for one side is bad for the other.”
For example, he said, the battle over market share vs. margin. There is no answer that is best for both sides, so they need to manage the relationship so both sides get enough of what they need.
“Both the manufacturer and distributor need some degree of ’win’ in areas where their needs are different,” said Leppo.
(This article originally appeared in “Construction Equipment Distribution,” official publication of AED.)
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