When I'm 64

Feb. 1, 2008
After 40 years in the construction equipment business most recently as Wacker's vice president of special projects and before that vice president of marketing

After 40 years in the construction equipment business — most recently as Wacker's vice president of special projects and before that vice president of marketing and product support — Dave Christifulli has announced his retirement from Wacker. That said, you won't go to the World of Concrete, American Rental Association show or ConExpo without seeing him, and he remains as active as ever on a variety of Wacker projects, now as president of Christifulli Consulting Group. A constant worldwide traveler, RER recently managed to catch up with Christifulli and got him to look back at his career. Of course, he couldn't do that without looking ahead at where the industry is going. Here are a few of his thoughts:

RER: Why are you retiring from Wacker?

Christifulli: I'm retiring because I'm 64 1/2. I was going to retire a couple of years ago. My philosophy has always been to go out on top. I want to be the one to choose to go out rather than be asked to go out. And I feel that's the position I'm at here.

Despite this talk of retiring, we keep seeing you around still! What are you working on?

I'll be consulting with Wacker for a year to two years. One of my main projects will be the integration of the compact class product line in the North American market.

Will you be taking any time off?

The majority of my first six months is being used up consulting. But I'll still be able to take more time than I have in the past.

What have been some of your most significant accomplishments in your career with Wacker?

The first major project I came into was to re-evaluate how Wacker took product to the North American market, particularly the U.S. I was able to go to a single-focus, independent-channel strategy, eliminating and phasing out Wacker direct sales, which I believe was in about seven cities. When I started with Wacker in 1982, I did what anybody should do, go out and learn the market. I spent about 75 percent of my time out in the field for the first three or four years. And then I sat down with Klaus Wacker and worked on a single-focus independent-channel strategy and the systematic shutdown elimination of the direct-sales strategy in 1986. We started in 1986 and finished about 1990.

What did you work on next?

In 1990, we saw a need to bring product development, product management into the company, and I was fortunate to be assigned by Klaus to work on that. We brought the product development process into Wacker for the four strategic business fields. Today we have six.

Before then, Wacker was probably like most companies, bringing products to the market based on the emphasis of the leader of the company. For example, if a top executive has an engineering background, that company is probably primarily driven by engineering. Some public-run or private-capital companies are more financially driven. But a customer-driven company needs an effective product management program, that's what we developed. We were more an engineering-driven company back when I joined and we brought in product management and we became more of an application-driven company, with a “best possible solution for the customers' need” process.

We got away from being product-driven and got into what we call a concurrent development process. That started in 1990 and has grown from four to six strategic business fields and has been adapted worldwide.

How did Wacker react to the consolidation of the rental industry?

It started around 1991 with Ira Mendelsohn starting to consolidate the industry. We saw a need to protect our position in the marketplace because you never knew, with the consolidation process, which manufacturer the consolidator had a relationship with. To ensure our market position and enhance it, we developed what we called the pull strategy concept. And that pull strategy was that 85 percent of our field sales force, or organization — that includes field service trainers — call on jobsites developing business, sales and rental service, for our channel partners. That's what we call value added.

Most recently you've been working on the merger with Neuson Kramer?

Yes, and before that I worked on the independent service company that Wacker started in 2004, Equipro. That was something that [CEO] Chris [Barnard] and myself worked on and we had the patents on the business systems process. Then I worked on the Ground Heaters Inc. acquisition and integration. Now I'm working on the integration of the compact class.

How did you begin at Wacker?

I actually had two tenures with Wacker, the first was from 1966 to 1972. I started out in the administrative department. I came from the airlines industry and the airlines at that time were heavily into systems and procedure. When you started with airlines you started from the ground up, so I went from leading systems and procedures to making sure the airlines implemented them. Then when I came to Wacker, one of my first projects was the first systems and procedure manuals, which were needed because we had about seven or eight branches for the company. Then I moved up into sales.

I left Wacker in November of 1972 to become head of the American subsidiary of [another company] and I was with them six years. Then I worked buying and selling businesses in Phoenix until Klaus Wacker contacted me in December of 1981. We sat and we talked about the United States market and he made me an offer I couldn't refuse to come back. I came back in April 1982.

I feel very blessed and very fortunate that things just really went well with me with Wacker. The chemistry is good; it is just a good place to work. For me, the culture fits. I was always comfortable, the people have been great to me, they are excellent business people and they listen to every sound proposal.

Wacker has changed a lot over the past year, merging, becoming public — did the company determine this was necessary to compete in a global marketplace?

I said it many times, you have to find what you're good at, not worry about the guy next to you, and what you do you need to do and do it well. For manufacturers, if you were single line or limited line, some people might say, ‘That's good, they're the experts,’ but they are not necessarily global players.

When I started with product development, back in 1991 Klaus gave me the go-ahead on it, it was because we had a very limited line and I told him we have to broaden our line, we have to increase our influence into the channel. And to the contractor you have to influence your brand name awareness and brand preference by doing that and to go into a single product or a single-product group in my opinion is a formula, I won't say for failure, but it's the wrong direction.

We formed a global strategic planning team about six years ago, we sat down and looked at all our processes and where we could fill the gaps.

The compact class was a natural because of the rental companies we have in Germany, in the Germanic countries we basically sell direct. And to gain the volume we wanted to gain, the influence we wanted to gain, we took that direction. At first we looked at it and asked, is it good or bad, is it going to hurt us with some of the people we do business with and, we said, it depends how we do business. And we sat down with those people and we feel we can both survive providing we have good communication and cooperation and it has worked very well. Will it continue? Probably, I don't see us stopping on the acquisition and merger trail.

Will consolidation among manufacturers intensify and increase in the coming years?

I think it has to. Scale matters, size matters, there's no doubt about it, and until the dynamics change, that's not going to change.

How do you view the current rental market?

There's a definite opportunity for the independent, whether it be a rental company or whether it be a distributor, an AED-type house, or a combination thereof. Any well-run independent company right now has great opportunity.

I'm really impressed with what Ground Heaters came up with and the potential for that area of the business.

You brought up another good point. When we do these acquisitions and mergers, we're not just taking that company and letting it go its route. We also then do a gap analysis within those companies for products that fit the marketplace and where we want to go with it. For example, climate control is more than just ground thawing and hydronic heating. We're committed to developing that product area more broadly and, in fact, we're building a new factory right now in Michigan.

Any additional parting thoughts?

I'm grateful for the wonderful years at Wacker and for having worked with so many great people in this industry with so many companies.