'We're in the People Business' - Meet the Chairman
Construction Equipment Distribution magazine is published by the Associated Equipment Distributors, a nonprofit trade association founded in 1919, whose membership is primarily comprised of the leading equipment dealerships and rental companies in the U.S. and Canada. AED membership also includes equipment manufacturers and industry-service firms. CED magazine has been published continuously since 1920. Associated Equipment Distributors
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SECTION: Meet the Chairman

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'We're in the People Business'

By Mary Sedor

Article Date: 02-01-2008
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.


For AED's 2008 Chairman Paul Campbell, work comes second to family,
but the co-owner of Wheeler Machinery's No. 1 business priority is serving
his customers - even if he has to walk a few miles in their shoes.

For many people, working in the family business can either be a rite of passage or the kiss of death.

Although he grew up around the construction equipment industry, AED's 2008 Chairman Paul Campbell says he hadn't planned on becoming attached.

Campbell, the second youngest of six children, was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he was exposed at an early age to the industry. His father, Lyle Campbell started working for Wheeler Machinery right out of college and worked his way up the ranks, eventually purchasing the company with business partner Don Wheeler. Later, Paul Campbell along with his brothers Rob and Scott would purchase the company from their father and Wheeler. There has been a Caterpillar dealer in Utah since the 1900s. Wheeler Machinery has been in business since the early 1950s.

Getting His Feet Wet

Campbell's first taste of working in the family business came in high school. One day while cutting the grass with a riding lawnmower at Wheeler's Salt Lake City facility, he hit wet grass, the wheels of the lawnmower spun out and before he knew it the mower slid down a hill, rolled over and tossed Campbell out into the middle of the company's pond - the only place where most of the company's employees could see the events unfold.

Covered in silt and mud, and assisted by Don Wheeler, then president, they pulled the mower out of the pond with Don's car.

Thankfully this episode was not a foreshadowing of Campbell's experience with the CE industry.

Throughout high school and college, Campbell set his sights on going into either finance or law. Never did he imagine that he'd end up in the family business.

"I came to work here for a summer while I was in college," said Campbell. "And at that point I got a taste of the business and it changed everything."

Campbell earned a business law degree from the University of Utah and went to work for ICM Equipment, a division of Wheeler Machinery in 1989. He started doing marketing for ICM (which was later purchased by H&E Equipment Service).

"I ended up really liking the business and the people," said Campbell. "That's how I got into the business. It was never something I anticipated doing as a little kid."

Campbell's ascension through the ranks moved quickly - he soon became a sales rep, then a sales manager. In 1997 he was named Cat Rental Store manager for Wheeler Machinery. Just three years later he was named vice president of construction sales. In 2002 he became the vice president of sales, and in 2006 executive vice president.

Of the various positions he's held, Campbell says the biggest lesson he's learned is how to deal with different people.

"I think the best thing I've learned is how to deal with different personalities and dealing with people on their terms," he said. "It's really a big part of selling. Selling has nothing to do with how fast you can talk. It's listening to people and providing them with what they want."

The People Principle

A typical day in the life of Campbell at Wheeler Machinery is, well, anything but typical. One day he could be in the dirt and mud, and the next in corporate offices - it all depends on his customers.

"Part of the fun of this job is that every day is a whole different adventure," he said. "I have a good idea of what I'm doing, but when I'm visiting customers it changes."

Campbell's customer-centric focus is one his father - and biggest influence - taught him.

"My brothers and I always talk about the kind of person Dad was and how he made our lives very easy from the relationships he built with customers, banks and suppliers," he said. "He was a very honorable man. People understood that his word was his bond, and it made our lives so easy. It helped me understand the impact that what I do not only affects me but those who come behind me."

Campbell says that another highly regarded individual who has influenced his life is his brother Rob, president of the company and with whom Campbell currently owns the business.

"Rob has great vision and understanding of the business," he said. "He is always out with customers. He's had a really big influence on how we do business today."

Paul and Rob continue the tradition Lyle started many years ago by putting customers first. For example, two summers ago Paul Campbell actually went to work for a customer for a full week in order to learn their business and see how his dealership affected them.

"It was a tremendous learning experience," he said. "Being connected to the customer is the most important thing you can do in this business. If you're not connected with them, then who are you connected with?"

Campbell approached this particular customer, told them his intentions and they put him to work for week. He worked on several job sites, paving crews and roadbuilding crews in the mountains.

"I was just part of the crew, riding on the paver, helping out where they could put up with unskilled labor," he said. "I was able to get the perspective from their eyes how what we do impacts their lives every day - and what happens if we don't take care of them. It allowed me to come back and talk to the people here and tell them how our jobs impact their customers. People think we're in the equipment business, but we're really not. We're in the people business. The equipment we supply is the tool to do the job, but the business is about people."

At the end of the day, Campbell goes home to wife Debbie, and their four daughters, Jane (15), Abby (12), Samantha (8) and Isabel (5).

"I get home at night and the kids, homework and soccer consume every other waking moment," he said. "My wife and kids really give me perspective. You can think you're all that but when you come home from work you're just a dorky dad. In the end, will it really matter how many tractors I sold? No, but it will matter the kind of kids I've raised."

Soccer and Sandwiches

While Campbell has found his passion working in the CE industry, his least favorite part of the job is being away from his family. Three things make Campbell the happiest: his family, work and soccer.

When he's not riding his customer's pavers, Campbell can be found kicking around a soccer ball with his kids. Actually, Debbie Campbell says Paul is like a 10-year-old. "All he needs to make him happy during the day are a soccer ball and a sandwich." Campbell admits she's right.

Campbell's daughters have inherited his love of the game. He's coached and trained his daughters' teams for several years and most recently became a nationally licensed coach. He also trained and was the assistant coach to the high school boy's state championship team.

"The things I do now, such as soccer and skiing are the things my kids do," he said. "Spending time with my family is really important. The hobbies that I have that don't involve the kids I don't do anymore. I used to fly fish a lot, in fact if I wasn't in this business I'd be a fly fishing guide. I love rivers and being on the water."

And as for being one of the only men in the house (family dog Cooper is the other male), Campbell says he takes it all in stride. He also thanks the strength of his wife for allowing him to do what he does.

"My kids love the stuff I love," he said. "I haven't missed out on anything. I don't feel like I'm excluded or anything. They do everything I do. It's not all about hair and makeup in my house."

Another great source of pride for Campbell is his heritage - he's Scottish. And he's got the kilt to prove it. Campbell traces ancestors on both sides of his family who were pioneers who came West in wagon trains to settle Utah.

"Our roots are very deep here," he said. "I'm proud of our heritage."

Giving Back to the Industry

Campbell says he is also very proud to serve as AED's Chairman this year. And while he became involved in the association by proxy - his father was involved with AED's Government Affairs Committee - Campbell soon developed his own passion for service and leadership in AED.

"AED was a huge part of my dad's life and career," he said. "He believed in AED and was heavily involved in getting it established here in Utah. He was one of the early Cat dealers involved in AED."

Campbell's first recollection of being involved with AED was going to Washington for the Government Affairs Conference.

"In fact, Christian Klein, AED's Vice President of Government Affairs, and I had our rookie year together," he said. "That's where I caught the fever. Seeing how AED impacts policy decisions and getting a taste of it in Washington really got me interested in AED."

His involvement with AED has snowballed since then. Campbell says he never made a conscious decision to be a leader of AED - it just happened.

He has been a member of the Government Affairs Committee since 1997, has served on the association's board of directors since 2005; he has also worked on AED's Future Leaders Task Force.

"It's important to get involved," he said. "You have to give back. We can't just ride on the coat tails of others our whole lives. With Washington, if you're not involved in the discussion and policy, you're just along for the ride."

Campbell recalls speaking to a Congressman in Washington who thanked Campbell for coming to talk to him. He said it wasn't often that he was able to speak with someone who has to meet payroll and deal with real day-to-day issues.

"It had a real impression on me that you can make a difference and that you should make a difference," he said. "It's incumbent upon us all to give back to the industry that's given to us."

Campbell is an active member and past president of his local group, AED of Utah.

"There are a lot of dealers here in Utah who have been here a long time, 30 or 40 years," he said. "One thing I've learned is that you can compete head-to-head with someone and still be good friends."

AED Wants to Hear from You

As AED's 2008 Chairman, Campbell says the year ahead could be rocky for some members, depending on their region.

"I think one of the biggest challenges dealers will face this year is uncertainty in the economy," he said. "It will be a challenging business climate, and public policy will be a real challenge going forward. We had people friendly to our industry making public policy, but I think that's about to change. Getting involved in local and national politics is more important now than ever before."

This year Campbell hopes to ensure that members understand the benefit they receive from AED and will actively seek more feedback from them through more member surveys. He says he hopes to improve the structure of how AED gathers member feedback.

"In 2008, my goal is to connect people to AED," he said. "Les Bebchick, AED's 2007 Chairman, has done a terrific job with the ‘year of the member.' I want to make sure those members who are coming in and those who have been here understand the value AED offers, and I want their input on what AED should be doing to help them. We want to hear from members, and we want them to know they are valued.

"This is your association and we need you to be involved to help us guide it." n


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