After a unanimous election by United Rentals’ board, the company last week named Michael Kneeland president, CEO and a director of the company. Kneeland has served as interim CEO since June 2007 when Wayland Hicks retired.
Kneeland joined United Rentals as a district manager in 1998 when United acquired aerial powerhouse Equipment Supply, where Kneeland worked in a senior management capacity. Kneeland became vice president-aerial operations with United Rentals, and then vice president-Southeast region. From 2003 to 2007, Kneeland served as executive vice president of operations and was named chief operating officer in 2007. Kneeland is a 30-year veteran of the rental industry who served in a number of senior management positions with Equipment Supply and, before that, Freestate Industries.
“Following a thorough search process, it became clear that Michael is the ideal executive to lead United Rentals into the future,” said Jenny Britell, United Rentals chairman of the board. “Michael is a seasoned executive with exceptional knowledge of the rental industry, gained through his successful 30-year career. He has demonstrated strong leadership and extensive operating skill throughout his tenure, especially during a challenging period in the company’s history. We are confident that, under his guidance, United Rentals will continue to achieve its growth objectives, enhance operating efficiency and create long-term shareholder value.”
Kneeland is the first CEO of United Rentals to have a rental industry background. Founder and first CEO Brad Jacobs came to rentals from the waste industry, and Hicks from a senior management position at Xerox Corp. who worked for several years in senior management at United Rentals before becoming CEO.
Kneeland is widely credited by sources close to the company of maintaining morale and focus at United Rentals after private equity buyer Cerberus backed out of an agreement to acquire the company the week the deal was scheduled to close in November 2007. The deal’s collapse caused the value of the company’s stock to be sliced in half. Any hope of recovery was soon dashed by economic difficulties that have brought about a soft construction market. Forced to trim headcount substantially, cut back on new equipment purchases and close nearly 30 branches, Kneeland avoided greater cuts by helping institute other measures to cut back on expenses and improve efficiencies.
Based in Greenwich, Conn., United Rentals is North America’s largest rental company, No. 1 on the RER 100.