Don't Forget the Forerunners

April 1, 2005
Dear RER: I read with great interest your article entitled that appeared in the February issue of RER Magazine. Your choice of Jeff Putman as the No.

Dear RER:

I read with great interest your article entitled “Impact” that appeared in the February issue of RER Magazine. Your choice of Jeff Putman as the No. 1 impact CEO was, to say the least, shocking. Having worked for NationsRent as vice president of store operations, I would like to share with you my thoughts on this organization prior to Mr. Putman and Mr. Rich.

There is no doubt that Jim Kirk, former CEO, made numerous mistakes in the early years of NationsRent. He had a lot of help making bad decisions from many of the ex-owners who worked with him during the early years. They should receive much of the blame as they ran the day-to-day operations. The amount of damage done is well known: the creation of over $1 billion of debt, the inability to transform the more than 60 rental acquisitions into a unified operation, poor fleet management, and numerous lease agreements for rental equipment and property that were unfavorable.

In 2000, Jerry Weber was hired as executive vice president of operations and at that time, the company's performance was sliding downhill at an alarming rate. Since Jerry was not brought into the company by Jim Kirk, but by Wayne Huezinga, he would have to battle Kirk daily on taking the company in a new direction. I can't begin to tell you all of the operational improvements that were made during Weber's term at NationsRent. Most of these changes are still in use by the current management team. The idea of selling new and used equipment, parts, and merchandise were endorsed by Weber, but were difficult because of banking restrictions, capex limits, and fleet leases.

Working through Chapter 11 is not an easy task for any company and NationsRent was no exception. Weber took control of the situation and guided the company during these very difficult times. Some of the issues that needed to be addressed were a reorganization plan, vendor relations, employee retention, customer retention, rejection of leases, and many others. To the surprise of the industry, NationsRent would live on and survive the Chapter 11 ordeal.

When you look at a new Nations emerging from Chapter 11, what's not to like? Much of the debt is gone, there are new rental fleet opportunities, unfavorable leases were dropped or renegotiated, solid management includes all of the regional vice presidents (who were hired by Weber), and a sound operational process has been put in place.

It is rewarding to see NationsRent doing much better these days. Gerry Weber will never receive any of the credit for this success, but I can assure you that he is a major factor in the transformation of this company. Jeff Putman has been handed a very good deal, which he can expand and grow to a new level; but until this is done, he should not receive your top CEO award until he produces results.

Richard Owens Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Editor's response:

The list of 10 Impact executives was not a top 10 ranking of the industry's “best” executives, but rather a list of executives that will impact the rental industry in the coming year or so. While we at RER regard Jeff Putman as one of the rental industry's finest executives, the purpose of the article was not to anoint him as the industry's No. 1. As for Weber and the many others who made great contributions in establishing what we believe will be a successful model at NationsRent, we appreciate your point. There are many fine rental people who deserve respect for their hard work and valuable contributions to NationsRent along the way. I know Jeff Putman agrees, and we thank you for calling attention and giving them the recognition they deserve.