20 Million Engines and Four New CEOs

June 1, 2014
From the Editor

I went to the U.K. last month to visit Perkins Engines on the occasion of the manufacture of its 20 millionth engine. However you measure it, that’s a lot of engines. Perkins was founded by a British engineer named Frank Perkins in 1932 and while it’s a pretty good sized company now, owned by an even bigger company (Caterpillar), one still gets the feeling that Perkins is run by flexible, creative people who are not afraid to take chances, make changes and take risks.

The achievements of Perkins, as well as those of Deutz, Honda, JCB, Volvo, Deere, Kohler, Cummins and others, to reduce emissions as dramatically as they have, have been extraordinary. Designing engines to reduce the required emissions and function just as well if not better than ever is one challenge. Getting them to fit the machines of the OEMs is another and Perkins Engines’ approach is unique. When an OEM works with Perkins, engineers from both companies get together at Perkins’ Peterborough, U.K., facility for a Technology Integration Workshop to design the shape of the engine. The engineers work side by side to integrate the engine to fit the machine, whether it’s a piece of earthmoving equipment, a pump, a generator or an aerial work platform.

Perkins has done about 500 engine/machine installations with more than 150 OEMs from around the world. While collaboration in all fields of human endeavor has become easier because of modern methods of communication, in this case sitting in the same room side by side facilitates creativity and efficiency.

One of the Perkins engineers explained to me that essentially he can look at an engine as a series of “Lego pieces” that can be moved around and placed on an engine in a variety of ways so that the engine can fit on a machine in a configuration that works best for the OEM.

I also visited Xylem’s Godwin Pump manufacturing facility in Quenington, U.K., which was founded in 1865. Godwin has worked with Perkins for decades and has a lot of experience in collaboration with the engine maker. Godwin’s popular Dri-Prime Pumps were first developed at the Quenington site back in the 1970s. Quenington is a small village with mostly old stone houses. You turn the corner behind some hedges and there’s Godwin Pumps, a fascinating blend of the old and the modern.

In the weeks leading up to press time, four major rental companies have named new CEOs. Hertz Equipment Rental Corp. has hired a former Sunoco Oil executive Brian MacDonald, who will now have some interesting challenges ahead as the company, which is soon to be spun off into a separate company from car rental giant Hertz, now faces some accounting issues that will oblige the firm to restate three years of results. We’ll see if the accounting concerns have an impact on investors’ willingness to support the venerable equipment rental giant.

BlueLine Rental – formerly known as Volvo Rents – suddenly announced that CEO Scott Hall has left the company and BlueLine has brought in Mobile Mini executive Phil Hobson as its new CEO. Hobson is known in the equipment rental industry for his 14 years as a senior executive with RSC in various operational and financial roles, working closely with then-CEO Erik Olsson.

WesternOne, the fast-growing Western Canada-based rental company has brought in Peter Blake, who has been at the helm of Ritchie Bros. since 2004. Ritchie Bros. was already a global player and the world’s largest construction equipment auctioneer when Blake took the reins. Nonetheless, Ritchie accelerated its growth during his tenure, building new facilities and expanding into new countries. It made huge strides in online auctions and inaugurated EquipmentOne, its venture into the private equipment resale market.

With WesternOne, Blake joins a company that has developed a strong platform for growth. It’s a young company, less than a decade old, but it has made an imprint in equipment rental in Western Canada and become a player in the modular construction space as well. I’ve watched WesternOne’s growth with great interest since it came onto the scene and undoubtedly Blake will be charged with bringing the company to a new level of growth. Like Ritchie Bros., WesternOne is a public company, so Blake obviously knows something about navigating those financial waters.

Also naming a new CEO was Aggreko. Chris Weston, who will take over the international power-generation giant in 2015, has a lot of experience on the international level, which will serve him well with Aggreko. We’ll be keeping you posted with more information about the challenges these new CEOs face, their visions for their companies and how they fare.