Chairman in a Hard Hat

May 1, 2001
Things are going well for JLG Industries, the McConnellsburg, Pa.-based aerial work platform manufacturer, widely acknowledged as the leading supplier

Things are going well for JLG Industries, the McConnellsburg, Pa.-based aerial work platform manufacturer, widely acknowledged as the leading supplier of aerial equipment to the equipment rental industry. Much of JLG's growth occurred under the leadership of former chairman L. David Black, who recently retired. But Black's retirement doesn't signal a decline. New CEO William Lasky joined JLG in December 1999 as president and chief operating officer, became CEO in September and recently assumed the additional role of chairman.

Before joining JLG, Lasky was a senior executive at Dana Corp., last serving as president of its Worldwide Filtration Products Group, which has manufacturing operations on four continents. Lasky, who serves on the board of directors of the Construction Industry Manufacturing Association and the Equipment Manufacturers Institute, recently shared these thoughts with RER.

RER: What potential for growth do you see in the aerial industry?

Lasky: I don't think it's mature and even though there is a lot of product on the streets, there are plenty of future applications to be addressed. I come from the automotive industry, in the component side, where lately if you had 1 percent growth a year, that was a lot. Maybe we won't see 28 or 30 percent annual growth again of aerial in the United States, but we have many years left of, potentially, 5 to 7 percent growth. It's nice to have a product that can help people do a job safer, better, faster and more efficiently.

What will be more important to JLG — fulfilling the needs of the consolidators or the small independents?

Neither. My biggest concern is the end users. The end user is the boss and no one is going to convince me otherwise. If we didn't have the end users, neither the independents nor the consolidated rental companies have a future. I've been in an industry where if you didn't gain the loyalty, the confidence and the understanding of the end user, you couldn't sell your product no matter how good you were. You couldn't give it away.

The independents are equally as important to our future as the consolidated rental companies. Not from a dollar point of view, I don't think it will be 50/50, it may be more like 65-35 or 70-30 in favor of the consolidated rental companies. But we're in, globally, a $2.6 billion market, and 30 percent is a large portion. There's always room for a successful entrepreneur. I saw it in the automotive aftermarket. As long as the independent knows the target it wants to serve, it can survive. The independent has to be able to offer the same opportunities to the user a nationwide consolidator can.

How much effort do you devote to understanding end users' needs?

I have dirty shoes and jeans and a hard hat and I go out on job sites. That's the most fun I get in my job.

About six months ago in Las Vegas, I was down in a hotel lobby and I saw a JLG scissor going through the casino tables, so I started following it. I was amazed by all the stuff [the operator] had hanging off this equipment. I asked him: “What can we do to make this scissor better for you?”

He said, “I do a lot of vacuuming. Every time I go so far, I have to get all the way down and unplug, then I have to move the scissor, then I have to re-plug and go all the way back up. It would really be nice if you have a generator on it.” So if we just ask these people, who know their 25 square feet better than you and I do, then we can make better product.

I was on a job site last month where there were at least 10 booms with wires hanging down and people welding. It was somewhat unsafe because there was a lot of traffic. So our new sky welder has the terminals right in the basket. You just plug into the terminals, and you just move the boom, and you can weld.

What is your impression of the rental industry?

From an asset utilization standpoint, the industry is very intelligent. The industry happened because there was inefficiency in asset utilization with equipment sitting on contractors' lots not being used. The inefficiency was an invitation for rental companies to grow.

How long does it take to design a new product such as the Sky Welder?

It's never too long when you are concerned about the safety aspect, but I think we can get the cycle time down. I look at what [Lee] Iacocca did in that Chrysler plant and how it sped up the cycle. I'd like to get it down to 12 months rather than 18 to 20 months. Not by compromising integrity or safety, but just thinking smarter.

What in your career best prepared you for this job?

To become an executive in the Dana Corporation, you had to be successful in two of four important disciplines: financial, manufacturing or operations, engineering or sales and marketing. You couldn't just be the best salesman in the world and become an officer. You had to be proven in another area. So I had the best university in the world.