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McCann Industries Leader Outlines Goals as AED Chair

Fri February 25, 2011 - Northeast Edition
Kim Phelan

The fact that Dennis Kruepke is the sort of man who keeps a list says a lot about who he is. It’s not a daily task list, it’s not a wish list or a shopping list, and no, it’s not a black list, either. Dennis keeps a list of important goals and accomplishments he is intentional about achieving during his lifetime, and while he’ll occasionally shares what’s been checked off so far, he’ll smile and give you a “no comment” reply if you want to know what’s still on that secret document.

After all, one of the biggies on the list has just been fulfilled, though the job will take him a year to complete: Dennis Kruepke, president and CEO of McCann Industries, the Chicagoland Case dealer- ship based in Addison, Ill., was installed as AED’s 2011 Chairman on Jan. 28 during the AED Summit in Orlando.

“One of my goals in life was to be Chairman of this organization,” said Dennis, “so it didn’t take me long to respond in a positive manner when the opportunity was presented.”

A leader who’s very focused on setting and meeting goals, it wasn’t surprising to those who know Dennis that his warm and genuine speech at the Chairman’s Inaugural Breakfast would be concluded with an outline of four primary goals he has personally laid out for his year as Chairman.

In a nutshell, Dennis intends to: (1.) Keep a continued and forceful focus on AED legislative priorities, which remains the No. 1 directive from members when surveyed; (2.) Find methods to harmonize AED’s workforce development and training programs with manufacturer-designed training, thus supporting manufacturers’ efforts rather than competing against them for distributor training dollars; (3.) Re-evaluate the AED “Tool Box,” identifying the AED products and services that benefit dealer members most, then strengthening them and eliminating those that are inefficient; and (4.) Balance the AED budget, ending 2011 for AED, he said, in a financially responsible and black position.

“My goals cover large dealers and smaller dealers,” said Dennis. “We need to go back to the basics and make sure we have the right tools in the tool box. We need to add value for all dealers — I don’t want members to think that everything is going toward legislative; that’s not the intent here.”

Recovery and Opportunities

Dennis’ career has never deviated from the fine art of marketing and selling equipment, but, unlike the lives of many dealer principals born and raised in a distribution environment, his first 22 years in the industry were shaped in the manufacturing side of the business. It is with those experiences in his own tool box, as well as the perspective of a partner and top executive of a distributor company, that Dennis today assesses the current industry landscape and prospects for dealers.

“The encouraging thing right now is that I am seeing more information, articles, and statements that say the cycle has bottomed out, and that we’re beginning to recover,” Dennis said. “With that in mind, I say congratulations to the people who have been able to survive this; and in some cases, some individuals have even been able to prosper during this time. Many of us have had to make the difficult decision of right-sizing our businesses, and even as the market improves, these challenges are not over. I think we need to properly manage our businesses and continue to work within our means so that as the economy recovers, we can be in a more advantageous position.

“If we properly manage it, we should be able to recover some equity in our businesses that may have been lost, and we should be able to take care of our people, those who have sacrificed for us,” Dennis continued. “A lot of opportunities are going to present themselves — but with less overhead we should be able to respond quickly.”

Seize the Day

Dennis has been quick to act on opportunities his whole life, and he’s the first to admit there have been some great ones. Topping the list (or at least second to meeting and then marrying his middle-school sweetheart Barb 37 years ago) was a phone call in 1995 from his friend Dick McCann. Dick, then sole proprietor of McCann Construction Specialties and once a dealer for Dennis, brought in his long-time friend to be president and partner in a new business venture.

“I always kid him that he called me — I didn’t call him!” Dennis laughs.

Dick was able to buy the Chicago area’s Case company store, and thus McCann Power & Equipment was born. Later in 2000, with the two companies experiencing overlap and redundancies in the customers they called on, Dick and Dennis merged the two operations into McCann Industries, with Dennis serving as president and CEO. Dick is now retired from the business and his son, Jim, vice president of sales and marketing, runs the day-to-day business alongside Glenn Hayward, vice president of operations, and CFO John Schneider.

“I’m very fortunate that I’ve got high caliber people to run this business,” Dennis said. “My job is to lead the company in the right direction.”

And what are the right tools for that job? For starters, a strong work ethic learned from his father — Dennis was raised on a dairy farm in Jackson, Wis., about an hour north of Milwaukee, and though a successful high school athlete, he was taught you always take care of the work at home first. Today, as leader of a seven-branch distributorship that employs 83 people, Dennis also chooses to be guided by a deep and genuine respect for others, a trait he also attributes to his father and saw modeled by Dick McCann. An analytical and thoughtful man, Dennis Kruepke is all about straightforward, transparent leadership. “I believe if you don’t tell people what you expect of them, you won’t get it,” he said.

“My guiding principles include: Always be organized, and always have a plan,” Dennis said. “Also, effective communications are necessary to reduce or eliminate any surprises. Be a leader — lead, but then get out of the way and let people do their work. And for me, although you’ve heard it before, it’s also working on the business, not in the business.”

The Early Days

Having cut his industry teeth in equipment manufacturing kind of gives Dennis the feeling that he has lived two lives in two different worlds, but he greatly values the lessons, opportunities and industry relationships those early years brought into his life. He put a first foot in the door with Gehl Co. while he was still in high school — the connection stemmed from the family’s farm owning some Gehl equipment. While still in his 20s, Dennis rose through the ranks swiftly, however, moving from district sales manager to regional sales manager — with responsibility for a good many people older than himself. The highlight with the company, he recalls, came when co-owner John Gehl personally tapped Dennis to help him develop an industrial market for the business. The rest, as they say, is history.

As part of the launch into industrial, Dennis was instrumental in bringing Gehl’s first cold planer for skid-steer loaders into the United States.

“I’ll never forget, one of my sales guys was doing a demo in Chicago, at the John Hancock building,” Dennis said. “I get a call from him and he says, ’I got a problem.’ I say, ’What is it?’ And he says, ’The customer wants to buy the machine!’” Dennis laughs out loud just thinking about it.

He was making a name for himself in the skid steer loader market, and in 1986 Dennis was recruited by Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. to help that company introduce its own SSL product line to the U.S. market. Eight years of sunny California life, replete with opulent corporate campus amenities, also comprised a special honor: Dennis was selected as one of just six managers per year in the United States to participate in an advanced management training program with Toyota, which involved a five-week trip to Japan, studying the language and culture, and experiencing company products firsthand — even onto the ship that transported them to the West.

As the SSL market grew more competitive, Toyota eventually decided to exit the market, but Dennis was impressed with the company’s strategy and fair treatment of all its dealers.

The next career stop for Dennis was a short one — just two years with Mustang, but he managed, nevertheless, to leave a lasting mark.

“I was involved in putting the horse on the Mustang skid steers,” Dennis laughs modestly. “We did a fair amount of marketing products to European countries, and the Europeans wanted something different. It was very well received!”

While working in the manufacturing arena, Dennis served as vice chair and chair of a Compact Council with the predecessor organization to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. The group handled a variety of machine regulatory standards and performance testing methods, among other issues.

“I’ve always been involved in these types of things,” Dennis said. “When I joined McCann I quickly became involved in various committees with AED; I also became president of the Illinois Equipment Dealers Association in 2004. Over the years I had gotten to know a lot of people and quite a few dealers from my manufacturing days. AED was a natural fit for me.”

His sense of civic duty and volunteerism is like a gravitational force, and this, like many of Dennis’ finer character traits, took shape in formative years at home — in this case, watching his father as mayor of their town for 14 years, as well as serving as a village trustee; both parents, in fact, also served as county commissioners. The family was active in church and community — with six kids in his family, and 11 cousins nearby, there were always plenty of Kruepkes circling the neighborhood. Dennis makes time to give back to industry and community as naturally as some folks make time for the golf course. And, as a matter of fact, he does that very well, too — every opportunity he gets.

Life and Death, and a Harley

Those who experience a brush with death — and live to tell the story — usually look at life a little differently going forward. For Dennis, a “widowmaker” type heart attack on Jan. 3, 2007, had the effect of reinforcing his commitment to the list. You remember. His list. Where this story began.

He was driving home from a night of racquetball at a local hospital-affiliated health club of all places. The chest pain started just a few blocks from home.

“I pulled in the driveway, carried in one of my bags and sat down on the couch,” Dennis recalled. “I told Barb I wasn’t feeling well and asked her to get my other bag from the car. Well, she gave me a look like, ’Go get your own bag,’ but by the time she came back I was starting to get the classic symptoms of a heart attack.”

Barb, who is a nurse, called 911 immediately. It wasn’t comforting, Dennis said, when he overheard one of the paramedics in the ambulance report by radio to the ER: “This has gotten a lot worse.”

“I was praying to the Maker — I said ’I don’t want to die in the back of this ambulance,’” Dennis said.

He was taken into surgery and informed that his left aorta was 100 percent blocked. The doctor also told him he was lucky to be alive.

About three months later, Dennis was driving by the local Harley-Davidson dealership, pulled in, and ordered himself a bike.

“I really didn’t need that thing, but I got it,” he laughed again. “It gives you a different perspective on life once you have something like that happen.”

Yes, that’s right — the Harley on Dennis Kruepke’s life achievement list now has a check beside it.

(This article is reprinted with permission by Construction Equipment Distribution magazine, published by Associated Equipment Distributors (AED).

McCann’s Way to WIN: Focus on What’s Important Now

Dennis Kruepke believes that if you don’t tell people what you expect, you won’t get it. That’s why his company is very transparent in communications with its employees. A weekly internal newsletter that includes a message from Dennis, as well as consistent weekly meetings with his senior management team, clearly articulated goals, and new-employee materials are among the ways McCann Industries’ president and CEO keeps everyone at the company informed.

We were impressed with a nifty little card tucked inside a company orientation packet — it’s McCann’s WIN Card with seven directives for success:

1. Build lasting relationships with customers by exceeding expectations.

2. Communicate your ideas — Be a contributing team member.

3. ThinkSAFELY — Go home from work in the same condition you came.

4. Accept accountability & responsibility.

5. Use technology to continually improve the business.

6. Be positive & promote growth — Look out the windshield, not the rearview mirror.

7. Congratulations — Only good people ride the McCann bus.

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