How to get growth: JLG's new president, Wilson Jones talks to Murray Pollok.

07 December 2010

Wilson Jones, JLG’s  president.

Wilson Jones, JLG’s president.

Just two months into his new post as successor to Craig Paylor at JLG Industries and Wilson Jones already sounds like a convinced access man, talking with enthusiasm to ALH about the enormous growth potential in the developing world and how JLG will exploit the opportunities.

The University of Texas graduate, who spent much of his career in the bus manufacturing sector (with Blue Bird Corp) before joining Oshkosh in 2005, tells ALH that business growth has long been his focus; "That's what I've always been about. I came up on the sales and marketing side - how to get growth."

He was certainly successful at Pierce, the Oshkosh fire fighting apparatus business of which he has been president since 2007, and where in three years he maintained sales through the recession and oversaw a 10% increase in market share to something close to 40%.

Can he do the same thing at JLG? "I don't think that I want to say that", he says quickly, "I'll just say that there are opportunities."

Following a world tour of JLG facilities and customers - accompanied by Mr Paylor - the new president is buzzing about market potential, in particular in Asia, where JLG has just opened a new facility in China, and South America, where a Brazilian factory is on the cards.

"There may be a case for doing some light manufacturing/assembly in Brazil" says Mr Jones, "Everybody is looking at Brazil." He expects to have some form of local production in Brazil within 18 months; "The question is whether we do it on our own or with a partner. That's what we are studying right now."

Whatever the prospects in new access markets, it is the two year slump in North America and Europe that has been causing JLG and others so much pain. However, JLG's recent quarterly result, showing a 77% increase in sales - markedly more than its main competitors - suggests that recovery has finally arrived.

Mr Wilson cautions that the dramatic increase reflects in part the low level of sales a year ago, but acknowledges that it has put JLG's competitors on "high alert". He says it was the result of increased sales both in North America (from nationals and independents) and its developing markets.

"We've seen a nice trickle of orders from big national rental companies in North America", he says, in contrast to Europe, which "is still at the bottom."

He says the investment from the big US renters has been for fleet replacement rather than growth and adds that JLG is not expecting a steep rebound in market demand, but a more gradual recovery.

JLG has been preparing for the recovery by strengthening links to its supply chain - a strategy that Mr Jones has employed at his previous companies. "We believe we are ready with the right capacity for the upturn when it does arrive", he says.

He points to JLG's success in supplying around 3000 M-ATV military vehicles in less than a year for its parent company, Oshkosh, a project he describes as a "dress rehearsal" for recovery; "They did it as close to flawless as it could be done - it was phenomenal."

Mr Jones is well aware that he is replacing a man who is highly regarded in the industry and who was part of the furniture at the company. "Craig is 'Mr JLG' and always will be" says Mr Jones, who is still meeting his predecessor for weekly meetings, "When you talk about someone who is passionate about what they do, a picture of Craig pops into my mind."

Still, the appointment ushers in a new era at JLG. Mr Jones recalls his arrival at Pierce in 2007. It had a big market share when he arrived, and he says one of the things he had to do was "adjust the culture. When a company gets to that market share...they can get into a comfort zone. We had to get people to understand that we had more headlines to make."

He uses these words in the context of a discussion about Pierce, and is not implying that the same situation exists at JLG. However, Mr Jones thinks that a keen focus on customer relationships is something that every business needs. "That's how you sell a fire appliance, and it's the same in access", he says, "Take care of the customer."

As a business credo it's not new, of course. What matters is how well Mr Jones can apply it at JLG.

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