A giant of the boom truck industry, Marvin Faulk, passed away on the evening of January 29, 2014. Marvin was one of my dearest friends and a 30-year mentor. He was my guide to the equipment business in general and the boom truck business in particular.
During a nearly 50-year career in the crane industry, Marvin was responsible for creating new products and distribution at National Crane and Manitex Crane, which allowed them to become dominant in the oil field industry. He also understood that small, tightly focused and dedicated dealers with strong industry presence created the best pathway for customer needs to be implemented at the manufacturer. This developmental work done by Marvin, and his dealers, was instrumental in beginning the use of boom trucks in oil fields, making work there safer and more efficient. And the most amazing aspect of Marvin’s story was that he first created and dominated this industry for National Crane. When National changed managerial direction and retired him, Marvin then moved to Manitex and took much of the mining and oil field boom truck business with him. Manitex is now one of the leading suppliers of boom trucks to the oil fields, and Marvin is the reason why.
Marvin began his journey in Shelbyville, Tenn., where he was born and raised. He worked as a mechanic, then a crane mechanic, and as an oil field roughneck. He eventually became a mechanic for a construction and equipment company in Los Angeles. When he married his beautiful wife Jan so many years ago, his heart was opened to one of the most wonderful women I have ever known. Jan was the finest thing that ever happened to Marvin and they will be in love together forever.
Around 1984, Marvin Faulk was the regional manager in the Southwest for National Crane and I was working for a truck equipment company in New Mexico. I inquired for my company about becoming the National Crane dealer for New Mexico. Marvin was dispatched to interview me.
I knew almost nothing about cranes, and Marvin could see that the company I worked for wasn’t experienced with boom trucks. I felt as though I had wasted his time. I was young, ignorant, and needed lots of coaching to even begin to become good, let alone be great. But Marvin saw something in me that even I wasn’t sure was there. He took me under his wing, made me his dealer, and began to travel with me to the copper mines, oil fields, power generating plants, utilities and every other potential customer in New Mexico and West Texas.
We then began to sell cranes together. And did we sell some cranes! Hundreds upon hundreds of cranes were sold by the team we formed in the Southwest. Marvin was instrumental in my becoming a crane representative for Mr. Don Wheeler and the Wheeler Cat/ICM/ACM organization. ICM/ACM New Mexico was started in my home in Albuquerque, all because of Marvin Faulk. The copper industry began to use boom trucks in hundreds of new ways, increasing safety and efficiency at every turn. The oil field continued to adopt boom trucks for use in the wire line business, and then utilized them for coil tubing work as well. Marvin Faulk was the single greatest driving force in these developments, and yet almost no one knows of his contributions or what made him so successful.
The keys to Marvin’s success should become a textbook to everyone in our business. He wasted no time and was relentless in his drive to solve customer problems. First, Marvin would meet a customer. He then would discover what problems related to lifting machinery were hindering jobsite safety, efficiency and cost reduction. Marvin realized more clearly than anyone else that if you can help solve customer problems, you are useful in a customer’s life. If a customer needs no help, get out of the way. If help is needed, find out what needs to be done and then move Heaven and Earth to solve the problems.
For decades, boom truck manufacturers thought their salespeople should present their already well-designed and constructed products to end-user customers who would happily buy them. Manufacturers couldn’t understand why customers treated their products as “commodities” where profit was difficult to achieve.
In truth, most manufacturers were, as Marvin would say, “as lost as a ball in tall grass” when it came to understanding the true needs of their customers. Marvin Faulk was a genius in his relentless pursuit to learn exactly what customers needed, and he then maneuvered his manufacturers to do exactly what the customer required. By so doing, he dominated his segment of the business, and he created the relationships that brought huge value to customers and great profit to his dealers and manufacturers. Marvin knew customers were willing to pay more for products and services that were designed to solve their problems.
To many crane manufacturers, this meant a complete change in how they did business. They had preferred to just send out products and tell customers, “Here it is, good luck!” But when Marvin got through with manufacturers, they understood the profound imperative he presented to them. If you change products to meet customer needs, you will own the relationships with customers. And Marvin owned just about every relationship that mattered.
It was great fun to watch Marvin again and again set up small, not very wealthy, highly motivated and energetic dealers to battle with his competitors’ much larger dealer networks. Again and again, Marvin took the market away from the competition. He never stopped, he didn’t rest. He had no doubt. He told the truth, even when it hurt. And his word was his bond. A favorite Marvin saying of mine: “If I tell you a rooster can pull a freight train, bet on the rooster!”
Marvin could drink and fight with the best of them, and I was there for many evenings that included both. I drank with him, fought with him, won with him, learned from him, and trusted him. We very seldom lost. I loved him as a friend and as a brother. I bet on the rooster, and my life was transformed for the better.