Discussing everything from product developments to the impact of Covid and Brexit, plus a look at how the market is evolving in the UK and Europe, not much was left on the table when James Rickard caught up with two top people from New Holland.
For better or worse, if there is one stand out thing to come out of the pandemic then it is the increased use of technology to better connect people. It is certainly something which many people and businesses have embraced over the last 12 months, and something most people will continue to use, avoiding tedious journeys and unnecessary overnight stays.
And thanks to the use of such connected technology, we were able to simultaneously catch up with New Holland’s European commercial operation’s vice president, Sean Lennon, and its UK and Republic of Ireland business director, Pat Smith.
In this unique ‘view from the top’, we discussed many aspects of the farm machinery industry (see panels), not least how connected technology has helped the business to function over the last 12 months, but also how the company is developing its future products based around connectivity.
For the last three years, Mr Smith (pictured above) has looked after the New Holland business in the UK and Republic of Ireland. Before this, he worked for a New Holland dealer for 37 years. “You could say I am poacher turned gamekeeper,” he says.
Mr Lennon (pictured below) is just over a year into his new role of vice president, with 2020 certainly an interesting year to take on such a position, he says. “It has definitely been a baptism of fire with lots of challenges, but it is a really interesting job.”
In total Mr Lennon has been with the company almost 20 years and now has 11 other people under him like Mr Smith, who all look after their various markets around Europe. “In addition, I also have teams at our main manufacturing sites in Basildon [UK], Turin [Italy] and Zedelgem [Belgium] which look after various marketing duties.
“I originally started on the spanners working in the service side of the business. Prior to taking on my latest role, I was in a global product management role for about five to six years, working closely with engineering and product development teams around the world."
SL: In the first part of 2020, from the end of March through to the end of June, the priority was the health and safety of our people, both in the manufacturing and commercial environments.
In the second half of 2020, the agricultural industry was really positive and we had a decent second half to the year, while respecting all the different rules and regulations country by country.
Every country had different rules and we had to adapt our approach, both inside the company from a manufacturing point of view and also outside the company on a dealer level. At this point a lot of dealer contact transferred to electronic and digital meetings.
In the beginning this was very challenging, but I think a lot of us have adapted to this which has turned into the norm, and something that will live with us.
We are still facing a lot of challenges in the supply chain, as we are a global company, but we learnt a lot in those first few months of the pandemic, particularly with the prioritising of orders
PS: For us in the UK it has been really interesting, a bit of a challenge on occasions, but the team has managed really well, and the support to our customers, while keeping everyone safe, has been good.
Thankfully, the nature of farming means you can fairly easily maintain your distance, which has allowed us to support our customers.
Spare parts supply has held up really well, far better than expected, and we are putting a lot more measures in place for this season, just because we are going to have two challenges, that of Covid and that of Brexit.
PS: Technology has helped a lot to keep us connected, which has seen our product specialists use video to train dealers and staff. The real benefit of this is that people can watch these videos multiple times and from any place, and we will continue to develop on this going forwards.
Via short, half hour video training sessions, we can communicate much better, without having to drag people to a venue. In this respect, it is better now than it ever was.
SL: Particularly the commercial training for our teams, dealers and end users, this has evolved significantly. We always knew it was going to go in this direction (digital), which has really been accelerated by the pandemic. This has been something that has opened our eyes – we were really missing a trick. Trying to have people flying around the world to events, to explain something once was just not sustainable.
We will still have events in the future, probably with a different focus and with a much bigger ‘take away’, whether it is a customer or dealer attending the event or an internal person, and digitally equip these people with all the information from the event, which can also be used to inform people which were not at the event.
SL: From a European point of view we have made a massive shift towards digital marketing and our social media channels. We were already using these channels, but not to the extent that we should have been. Digital communication is much more real time and accessible.
PS: Shows are great opportunities to meet customers face to face and I think we have had a big enough period without them now. When we are able to do shows, I do not think we are going to forget the things which we have recently learnt.
In the meantime, we have been trying to provide content for both ourselves and our dealers so they can have a more online presence and help raise the company profile.
SL: For sure, we have had some challenges at the border with the extra paperwork. We are now getting ourselves on the straight and narrow, and it is becoming clearer on how the paperwork situation will work. Every week we are seeing an improvement logistics flow.
In terms of the overall challenges to running the business, Brexit is actually one of the easier aspects to manage.
PS: Because we are a full line brand for CNH Industrial and we have product coming from all over the world, there are lots of different scenarios to consider. We also have to remember that the Republic of Ireland is still in the EU.
We do have challenges with supply chain, both going in and out of the country (UK), and our priority is to make sure that this does not affect the customer or the quality of product that we produce, by working with the plant (Basildon) team and those on the ground at the dealerships.
PS: One of the reasons I was brought into this role was to give a more balanced view and build stronger relationships with our dealers and to understand the dealers’ point of view inside New Holland’s business.
When we look at our dealerships, we have some very strong dealers across the country with some great history. But unlike other manufacturers, we have no ‘grand’ strategic plan which sets out what size a dealership should be, or that a dealership should fit a certain mould, because we do not believe this is the right approach.
Different areas of the country will have different farm types and will require different needs; what is required in a livestock area is very different to what is required in an arable area. One size does not fit all and we work with our dealers to create the best long term view possible for their business and their ambitions.
PS: Obviously, we have invested a lot of money in developing and acquiring a fuller line of products and one of the challenges is to bring this full line of products to market. In this instance, we have to work closely with the dealers and take a cooperative and partnership attitude.
It is all about a long term vision to encouraging them to sell our full line of products, because they are our exclusive route to market, but at the same time respect some of their long standing relationships they already have with other franchises.
In many situations, to bring a dealership a full line of products from one manufacturer can be quite appealing, especially when things like invoicing efficiency is taken into consideration, for example.
SL: Overall, for our dealers to sell our implements, it has to be profitable and worth it for them.
SL: From a New Holland point of view, we really want to build on our full line strategy and develop all of our products lines; combines, balers, tillage equipment, forage equipment, tractors and precision farming technologies. Our aim is to be present in every equipment segment in the agricultural industry.
When it comes to tractors, these are under constant development. For example, engine and transmission technologies on our methane tractor and T5 Dynamic Command tractor, respectively, are exclusive to New Holland in these segments.
Going forward, we will continue to differentiate our tractor offering further from our CNH Industrial stablemates, similar to what exists today with the combines, and step by step you will continue to see more differentiation on the horizon.
SL: The connectivity element of the precision farming side is definitely growing and we need to build services on top of this, to become much more valuable for the customer. What you will see in the future is us and our customers really utilising the full capacity of these connected machines, such as services which will maintain and maximise uptime.
Alternative fuels is something the agricultural industry is not going to be able to avoid. And with our methane tractor we are taking the first steps towards pioneering this industry. On top of this, we are analysing numerous technologies, whether they be electric, hybrid, etc, so that we are well prepared for the evolution of the agricultural market.
Short term, we need to get more out of our technology which is already built into our vehicles. From a customers’ perspective, comfort is becoming a really significant buying decision, especially when labour availability is now such a big challenge.
Finally, we cannot underestimate the importance of having professional, well skilled dealers to get the maximum productivity and efficiency out of the machines.
PS: It has been a challenge for many years, but we all need to understand and value what we have because it is a great industry to work in. There are not many other industries where you can be out in the field in the sunshine, working on something like a combine.
But because of the stresses and strains associated with working in ag, we can often forget how good it is to work in this industry. And we just need to communicate this to the wider world. Maybe some of the challenges that we have all recently been through will highlight that farming and related services are an appealing prospect.
Via social media, we keep working hard to show and raise the profile of what we all do. Just in my section of the business, we take on five or six interns per year, with many that stay with us or at least stay in the industry, and they might not have come from the industry in the first place.