The Leader of The Pack - Meet the Chairman
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SECTION: Meet the Chairman

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The Leader of The Pack

Written By Mary Sedor

Article Date: 02-01-2006
Copyright (C) 2006 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

Introducing AED's 2006 Chairman, Dale Leppo.

Like many in the construction equipment industry, Dale Leppo got his start in the industry in the family business. In 1945, Dale’s grandparents, Roy and Stella Leppo, started Leppo Equipment in Akron, Ohio, as an Oliver Farm Equipment dealer.

Then, as the area changed from an agriculture base to residential and industrial, the company changed its focus, and Dale’s parents, Dick and Thelma Leppo, spent decades building a strong foundation for the company.

In 1976, after completing his undergraduate degree in Chemistry, and studying for his Ph.D. in analytical chemistry, Dale joined the business full-time, having realized he was not cut out to work all day in a laboratory.

At Leppo Equipment, he was exposed to everything the dealership did – from sweeping floors to assembling equipment.

"My dad made me work in all of the departments," says Dale. "I was in parts for a year, service for three years, rental a few years and then I got into sales."

Dale rose through the ranks and now serves as the company’s chairman. His brother Glenn is president.

During the late 1970s, Dick Leppo decided Dale could use some additional exposure to the industry, and sent him to an Ohio Equipment Dealer’s Association (OEDA) meeting with the company’s sales manager.

In the early 1980s, Dale says, he missed a meeting and was promptly elected secretary of the organization.

"It was a tough time in our industry in the Rust Belt and Great Lakes region," he says. "We were losing members at a fast clip."

Leppo subsequently became vice president and then president of the association and had extended tenure as OEDA president.

During those years, AED past-presidents Rich Knopke and Dave Giardino visited OEDA twice. Both times, Dale’s job was to find them food and lodging, and then show them around and introduce them to local AED members and prospects. They traveled around the state and spent a day and a half discussing what was going on in the industry.

"What was neat about those guys," says Dale, "is that they were intelligent, articulate, willing to share what they knew, and fun to be around, and they thought about construction equipment distribution as an industry."

At the time, Dale was unsure if he wanted to commit himself to the industry. However, the trips with Knopke and Giardino cemented his belief that this is a great industry.

"It was a difficult decision to dedicate myself to the industry," says Leppo, "but between the two of them they convinced me it was something worth doing.

"We do ‘real’ stuff in this industry. We’re not just selling iron, we’re providing all the services we offer. I like knowing our equipment is helping our customers get the job done. I feel like I’m a part of something real."

In addition, Dale says he prefers working in an industry where the end result is something tangible.

"The customers and vendors are all ‘real’ people," says Dale. "They understand why there are chains on machines to push snow…the people in our industry tend to be grounded in reality and share the view of the world I have."

What AED Means
Prior to being elected 2006 Chairman, Dale has a history of service with AED. He has served on the AED board of directors since 1991, and served on several committees, including Long-Term Investment, Finance & Audit, Product Support Round Table, Rental Round Table, Government Affairs, Future Leaders Task Force and Annual Meeting.
"The most important things I’ve learned have been from other AED members," says Dale. "The advantage of networking with other AED members is that we have a set of common experiences. It gives us a common ground and language to start a meaningful discussion."

Through AED, Dale and his wife Cindy have forged strong friendships with other AED members. For example, when Dale sees Jack Babb, they discuss what their kids are doing. And Dale and Cindy have ridden around Georgia with Travis and Susie Burch on three occasions.

As AED Chairman, Dale says he hopes to address the need for the future leadership of the industry.

In May 2005, AED held a Future Leaders Task Force meeting in Colorado, which provided AED excellent feedback on what’s important to the young people who are going to be leading our companies in the future.

This August, AED is holding a Future Leaders Conference that will be based on the observations and recommendations of the task force, and it will be organized to encourage attendees to bring their families.

"The objective" says Dale, "is to bring together the young men and women who are the leaders of tomorrow so they can learn from our presenters and from each other.

"The AED Future Leaders Conference is really important because there is an opportunity with that particular group for AED to address the succession issues this industry is facing today."

The Future Leaders Conference is aimed at a group that is critical to the long-term success of our industry.

"I feel strongly that the people who are capable of running an equipment distribution company have career options," says Dale. "My brother Glenn is a perfect example. He has a master’s degree in Chemical Engineering and was on a management fast-track at a Fortune 500 company for six years when I realized I needed a succession plan and he could be it.

"I had to convince him a career in construction equipment distribution made sense for him. Part of why I was successful in recruiting him was that I honestly feel this is a wonderful and challenging industry that is full of interesting, intelligent and dedicated people. Young people who are capable have options, and we need to convince them the construction equipment distribution industry is a good career."

Other industry issues Dale hopes to help AED address are consolidation and manufacturer/distributor relations.

"Consolidation is driven, at least in part, by the need to spread our overhead over a larger dollar volume," says Dale. "AED members need to be aware of what is going on around them and then adapt. AED has done a good job of keeping these issues in front of us and needs to keep doing so, even when it makes members uncomfortable."

As for manufacturer/distributor relations, Dale says this issue will never really get resolved, but should continue to be addressed.

"AED does a good job of promoting the authorized independent dealer, and needs to continue to do so," says Dale. "But manufacturer/distributor relations is an issue that will never go away because there are always going to be circumstances where what is good for one side is bad for the other."

For example, he says, the battle over market share vs. margin. There is no answer that is best for both sides, so they need to manage the relationship so both sides get enough of what they need.

"Both the manufacturer and distributor need some degree of ‘win’ in areas where their needs are different," says Dale.

Bikes, Ballet and Baseball?

When not hard at work at Leppo Rents/Bobcat of Akron, Dale’s interests revolve around bikes, ballet and baseball. He owns a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and he and Cindy travel all over the world on two wheels. They’ve motorcycled through England, the Canadian Rockies, the Alps, New Zealand, and most recently from Rome to Athens to Istanbul. 

Dale and Cindy’s daughter Emily studied dance for several years, sparking the couple’s interest in classical ballet and an appreciation for modern dance. A few of the performances they’ve seen include The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago performing the Nijinsky/Stravinsky ballet, “Rite of Spring,” which caused a riot when it was first performed in Paris. They’ve also seen The Kirov Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia; the Bolshoi Ballet; the Cleveland Ballet, and the American Ballet Theater. 

A Cleveland Indians fan, Dale says he’s just waiting for them to win the World Series. Now that Boston and the White Sox have done it, Dale says he figures the Indians are in second place for the longest period without winning a World Series Championship – right behind the Chicago Cubs. He has season tickets to the Indian’s Akron AA team and enjoys watching the young players come up through the ranks.

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