Over the past half-century, there is no question Kim Foley has left an indelible imprint on the company’s past, its present and its future.
"Time is relative; its only worth depends on what we do as it is passing."
Fifty years is a considerable amount of time. When measured as time spent in pursuit of a professional career, it is truly remarkable. In the summer of 1971, Kim Foley began his career at Foley Incorporated. Over the past half-century, there is no question he has left an indelible imprint on the company's past, its present and its future.
Learning Honor, Leadership
In the United States, there are approximately 40 Caterpillar dealerships, all of them family-owned and operated. Some are in their third and fourth generations, and Foley Inc. is proud to be among them.
In the 1960s, while the second generation of the Foley family entrepreneurs, Ed Jr., was leading Foley Machinery, the third generation, Kim, was learning about leadership in a very different operation. He was sent to Vietnam and served in the First Marine Division as a platoon and company commander, and later in the commanding general's First Marine Division's staff.
"As it turned out, I worked with and served with some of the most talented people," he said. "I had the privilege of being a Marine officer. I had the privilege of leading them into combat and it was a remarkable experience. Suffice it to say, I came out unscathed, which for a second lieutenant in the Marines in Vietnam was a miracle. I was very lucky, and I attribute that to the great people I worked with."
When Kim began working full-time at the company in 1971, his first job was as a truck engine account manager, responsible for setting up a network of truck dealers for the company that would sell parts and provide service for Caterpillar-powered trucks, a role he held for a year and a half.
During the next four-and-a-half years, Kim worked in various departments in the company.
"I did the whole array of functions in the business and just did whatever I was told to do," Kim recalled. "It was like, ‘OK, this is your new job — go do it.' My father probably had a piece of paper with everything mapped out for me, but he never shared it with me. I'm sure somewhere written on the bathroom wall was ‘Kim Foley can't hold a full-time job' because they were moving me around so much."
Lessons in Leadership
When President Jack Hunkele retired in 1979, Kim took over the reins of the company as its new president. In 1984, Ed Jr. retired, selling the business to Kim. He served as CEO for 25 years until 2009, when he handed the baton to his son, Jamie. Today, Kim serves as the chairman of the board.
Along the way, Kim managed the company through both boom times and economic recessions. He had to make difficult decisions, as well as several strategic choices that would set the company on a path for success for years to come.
"Good business practice means keeping an eye not only on competition but also the state of the economy." Kim said.
He recalled the 1959 recession and a magazine cover showing the chairman of Caterpillar sitting in a sea of yellow created by unsold D8 tractors in the yard at Peoria as far as the eye could see.
"We're happy to ride the booms, but we also have to be aware that these businesses do have cycles to them, and you have to be prepared."
Perhaps of all his contributions, his decision to embark upon implementing a Values-Based Leadership model at Foley Inc. in the late 1990s was the most critical. After he and Susan Connolly, Foley Inc.'s chief operating officer, made a visit to talk with Jim DeSpain at Caterpillar, they both knew this was the path that Foley needed to follow. DeSpain ran the Track-Type Tractor Division at Caterpillar in the 1990s and realized breakthrough achievement by establishing a core set of values that would guide the way the company's employees interacted with one another.
"DeSpain shared his story of changing his previous command and control management style to focus instead on the culture through Values Based Leadership," Connolly said. "The improvements this new focus fostered in both the division's financial performance and employee satisfaction were unparalleled at Caterpillar.
"Kim had the foresight to have us develop and use our own values as the basis for decision making at Foley Inc. Those values have been a blueprint for creating a work environment that drives success, because they provide people a context for their decisions, broad boundaries for their ideas and more freedom to make a difference. Our values have fueled our growth ever since."
Positioned for Growth
As the company experienced record growth during the 2004-2006 time frame, it also had to weather the storm yet again during the 2008 financial crisis. But the lessons that had been passed from Ed Jr. to Kim to Jamie with regards to striking a balance between taking calculated risks and preserving a strong balance sheet, enabled the company not only to survive a difficult stretch, but to thrive once the business activity rebounded.
"That three-year run starting in 2009 was no walk in the park," recalled Jamie. "But the conservative approach that Foley Inc. had over the generations was key. Dad had instilled in me a deep understanding that the integrity of the balance sheet was mission critical, and because of that, we were in position to grow and meet our customers' needs once the business environment bounced back."
Buoyed by the resilience of exceptional employees, a strong balance sheet and the Foley Company Values as the backbone of their success, the Foley team was well-prepared to take on the challenges of additional opportunity, which arrived with the acquisition of Ransome CAT in February 2018.
"When we acquired the assets of Ransome, we knew on day one that it was imperative for us to create an environment of ‘One Company. One Culture. One Team,'" said Ryan Foley, president of Foley Inc. "Many days were spent on the floor of our shops and out in the territory to ensure our new customers and employees understood that the Foleys care, and that our values will help us lead the way. I truly believe our work force is a cohesive and powerful group of individuals that get the job done. Take care of your people and they will take care of your business."
A People Business
During Kim's tenure at the company, Foley Inc. has no doubt experienced incredible growth, and he views this achievement as due in part to the fact that military and business operations share some common denominators.
"If you surround yourself with well-trained, well-motivated people, you can do anything," he said. "When I was in the Marines, I was 23 years old and I had a tremendous amount of responsibility for the lives of 50 men, as well as all their material, equipment and weapons. Then, I jumped from that to my first job in the truck engine business. It was very different, but it became quickly apparent that you weren't going to get anything done unless you were able to motivate people and inspire them and have them motivate you."
"Your people are your greatest asset. This was the greatest lesson I learned from my father at the start of my time with Foley Inc as a teenager during summer jobs," Ryan said.
Kim believes a key component in the company's success is that all the Foleys have acknowledged being a partner involves not only partnering with employees but also with customers and suppliers.
The average tenure of Foley's nearly 700 employees is approximately 15 years. As Kim observed, "That's pretty remarkable in this day and age when job hopping is a kind of art form. I think that comes out of people enjoying working with one another, and that they're motivated, talented. Our technicians receive hundreds of hours of training each year in keeping them current in their skills and abilities. We work very hard at that."
Cat Dealers — Sharing Best Practices
Along with cultivating relationships with customers, employees and Caterpillar, the relationships that Kim developed with other Caterpillar dealers were essential to his success. Those long-lasting friendships have been meaningful to Kim on many levels. In talking to other Cat dealers, it's clear that Kim had an impact on them as well.
"I enjoyed the time I got to spend with Kim during his 13 years in Dealer 12," said John Harnish of Harnish Group. "Kim was a very positive contributor to the group. He would share with us his best practices and add a little humor to the presentation. I always appreciated the high level of values that Kim demonstrated."
There were times where Caterpillar and the dealers didn't always see eye-to-eye on the best path for success. In those instances, it was clear that Kim could play a key role in finding common ground.
"One thing that stands out is his uncanny ability to carry a sense of humor into a serious conversation," said Duane Doyle, CEO of Peterson CAT. "It is truly a gift to be able to communicate the truth or the unwelcome facts of an issue with a calm humor that disarms a difficult situation. I witnessed him do this with Cat executives on more than one occasion."
A Privilege Serving Customers
Kim Foley regards the successes of Foley's customers as also being the successes of the company.
"I can think immediately of dozens of families and what they've built in this state in a very challenging environment," he said. "They've got to feel a tremendous amount of pride. We've been privileged to be a part of it. To be accepted by them, to have our products and people accepted by them, is truly a privilege. And we're going to work hard to continue to earn their trust."
There are countless customers that Kim has developed a strong bond and considers close friends, perhaps none more so than George Harms. The George Harms Construction company was formed in 1960 and is regarded by many as one of the leading construction companies in the state of New Jersey.
"I've known Kim for over 50 years," Harms said. "We've been through thick and thin together. I can absolutely say you will not find a more compassionate, caring, honest and upstanding individual than him."
A Leader in the Community
Kim has always regarded community service as instilled in part of one's upbringing.
"My dad was always involved in the community," Kim recalled. "He was part of the town council, planning board and the local hospital. We've all done that throughout the years. Along with the success, we have had comes a responsibility for giving back."
When Jamie and Ryan took over the business 12 years ago, that provided Kim the opportunity to put his focus on giving back to others. While over the years he's served as the board chair at two different schools and has presided over a multitude of successful capital campaigns, perhaps his greatest contribution has come with the Semper Fi Fund.
Semper Fi Fund is one of America's highest rated charities, dedicated to providing urgently needed resources and support for combat wounded, critically ill and catastrophically injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. As of early 2021, Semper Fi has provided nearly $250 million in assistance to more than 25,000 service members and their families.
General Joseph F. Dunford Jr. is the current chairman of the board for Semper Fi. The general served our country as the 36th Commandant of the Marine Corps and the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2015-2019. When asked about Kim, he had high praise.
"Kim Foley is a Marine's Marine and the epitome of our motto — Semper Fidelis. For more than a decade, as a member of the board and generous supporter, he has been a driving force behind the success of the Semper Fi and America's Fund. His leadership, commitment and passion for taking care of our wounded, ill, injured and their families has also inspired countless others to join the cause. Kim Foley is a man of character and conviction who truly cares. I'm proud to call him a friend."
Foley and The Future
Kim Foley's recipe for Foley's success is simple: "We've been blessed with having terrific people here at Foley, a terrific business partner in Caterpillar, but perhaps most importantly our customers. When you put all of this in a pot and stir it together, you get a tremendous result, which we have enjoyed for almost 65 years."
Doug Oberhelman was the chief executive officer of Caterpillar from 2010 until 2016. Kim and Doug forged both a professional relationship and a true friendship during their respective careers.
"The long and very successful partnership of Caterpillar and its dealers is the secret sauce of global leadership in their businesses around the globe," Oberhelman said. "Generational transfer of knowledge and assets, and especially long-term relationships with its valuable customers make Cat dealers the absolute leaders in their respective territories.
"I can think of no one that better exemplifies this long-term thinking, put in place with deeply planned actions than Kim Foley. With decades in the planning stage and relentless goals to ensure that his sons would carry on and improve the business that he built, he's accomplished that many times over.
"He's so committed to customers, his dealer relationship with Caterpillar, and to years of developing Jamie and Ryan so that a seamless and effective transition to them would happen. And it did. Kim deserves the credit that comes with this success."
Jamie Foley is equally emphatic about Kim's role in setting the stage for the future of the company.
"It's really terrific to look back on where we have been as an organization, but what's really exciting is to think about what's to come. There's no question that we are where we are today in no small part because of those that came before us. My grandfather started something special back in 1957, and in so many ways Dad put both Ryan and me in a terrific position to succeed.
"I am grateful that he instilled in me a deep sense of stewardship of this company, the people who work here, and the customers we serve. My youngest heads off to college in less than two years. My hope is that, at some point, the kids have an interest in coming into the business. Then it's my turn to try and do as good a job preparing them for the ride ahead."
(Caitlyn Foley is a student at Villanova University, class of 2024, where she plans to major in English. She is the daughter of Jamie Foley, CEO of Foley Inc.)
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