Kneeland: rental firms can ‘compete through culture’

12 October 2017

United Rentals CEO Michael Kneeland told the Access, Lift & Handlers (ALH) Conference in Miami that rental companies can “compete through culture and values”. He said all rental business will benefit by genuinely listening to staff and by creating an environment where jobs are viewed as “meaningful”.

“There are a lot of ways to engage employees in something bigger than themselves”, Mr Kneeland told the 200 delegates at the event, “Get them involved in activities that make them feel proud. Things they want to tell their kids about when they go home at night. That’s what employees really want from a company culture.

Kneeland pic

Michael Kneeland, CEO of United Rentals, speaking at the 2017 ALH conference.

“We’re in the business of helping people. I’m talking about the entire rental industry, not just United. We’re how things get done. We’re on the frontlines of disaster recovery. We’re a voice for safety on jobsites.

“We’re bringing high tech to construction. Our industry is part of the backbone of the national economy. So I ask you, do your employees fully understand how important they are?”

Mr Kneeland, who has been in the rental business for more than 35 years, told delegates; “If a job is just a job in your company, you’re going to lose good people over time. Today’s employees want to feel part of something bigger. They want to do meaningful work.”

An essential part of United’s culture, he said, was that “we’re willing to listen when someone has a different idea. It’s fair to say that we have instilled a ‘culture of listening’ to our employees. It wasn’t easy. We still work at it every day.”

Mr Kneeland gave the example of its Town Hall style meetings, where senior executives meet staff. The company held 14 Town Halls between May and August, with more than eleven hundred employees taking part.

He said it was important for all rental businesses to get staff together in groups for informal meetings; “even if it’s just four or five employees. It may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how often this simple technique slips through the cracks in a busy rental operation.”

Mr Kneeland concluded; “I’m guessing that relatively few of you have a formal M&A strategy. But everyone, even a local rental business, can compete through culture and values.”

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