A Journey through the Ranks - Best Practices: Professional Profile
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SECTION: Best Practices: Professional Profile

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A Journey through the Ranks

Written By: Mary Sedor

Article Date: 12-03-2007
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

Through hard work, perseverance, and a culture of internal promotion, a former technician at H&E Equipment rose to become senior vice president.

For some equipment dealers, working in the CE industry is a family affair - these dealers grew up in the industry and make a natural progression through the family business.

Still, there are others who enter from a number of industries and for a variety of reasons. Such was the case for Rick Herdt, H&E Equipment Services' newly appointed senior vice president. He began his career in the grocery industry in California, where he worked as a grocery maintenance supervisor. The company he worked for decided to leave the state, and Herdt and his wife soon did the same. Looking at a map, they decided Utah seemed like a nice place to live.

"I faxed out some resumes and I got a job as a shop technician at ICM Sales and Rentals, which later merged with H&E Equipment," said Herdt. "I had been a technician before, and I didn't mind having to fix things."

H&E Equipment Services, headquartered in Baton Rouge, La., was established in 1961. The company is a large, publicly traded equipment dealership that supplies equipment for construction, earthmoving, compaction, paving and material handling from its 62 locations nationwide.

Herdt says he knew that he could support his family on the technician's wage, but he says he wasn't thinking the job was long term.

"I figured I would learn something out of it and something else would pop up," he said. "It was a good job."
At the time, Herdt says he wasn't so sure about the construction industry, either.

"I didn't know at first if this was the industry that I was going to stay in," he said. "But I developed a great love for it. I love equipment, love the people that I deal with, and I've had a lot of support from people in a lot of different areas. This has been and is a great company to work for."

Herdt worked as a shop technician for six months, a field technician for four years then a service manager for one year. Soon after, Herdt became a branch manager at the Ogden, Utah branch, where he served for four years. Eventually a branch manager position opened in Houston and he stayed there for about a year. From there, Herdt became vice president for the H&E Group covering Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi.

Now Herdt serves as a senior vice president, and he supervises nine divisional vice presidents located throughout the country, each of whom oversees from seven to 12 stores.

"My goal was always to move up," he said. "I've liked every position I've had through the company. My goals would change from time to time, but I always had the next position in mind. It just goes to show that there is no limit to what you can do if you're willing to apply yourself."

Influences from the Past

But he couldn't do it alone. A lot of people supported him throughout his career, especially as he scaled the ranks of H&E Equipment. Herdt says he's lucky that H&E Equipment afforded him so many opportunities

"This is a great company to work for, and I've had a lot of people help me along the way," he said.

However, one person in particular stands out as having been the most influential on Herdt's career - Roger Shurtliff, his manager in the grocery industry in California.

"He was very good about teaching me about people and making sure I understood financials," he said.

Herdt was able to rely upon his grocery industry experience when he entered the management of H&E.

"The skill set is not that different," he said. "For example, the grocery industry is a really tight society in terms of financials. The grocery industry is a low margin industry - they really watch their pennies. I was able to bring that budgetary factor. It really helped me a lot in the construction equipment industry."

He also completed management training, as well as supervisory classes via mail correspondence programs.

"I've always been interested in management and I've always enjoyed managing people," Herdt said. "It's probably one of the most difficult things but also the most rewarding thing about the job, if done properly."

In fact, it's the people in the industry and his company that Herdt says he enjoys most in his job.

"I enjoy dealing with people and helping them in any aspect," he said. "I like trying new things to see what kind of gains we get out of it."

It's All About Perspective

Having jumped through all the various "hoops" at H&E Equipment, Herdt says he's gained a unique perspective that he can bring to his current position.

"Jumping through the stages of the branches, I worked in large branches and small, I was a divisional manager and a technician," he said. "Any time you can get knowledge from different sources, whether it's the service side or rental side, it helps because you see what people's jobs are and can respond. In other words, I understand what they are going through, and it makes it easier to manage."

Throughout his career in the CE industry, Herdt has also kept another perspective with him - the customer's.
"Even before I started, I was a customer, like everyone else - I knew what I expected as a consumer, and I held that same expectation for myself and my company throughout my whole career.

Herdt has been with H&E for 11 years, and as a product of internal promotion, he says that he always looks to continue the tradition.

"I'm a strong believer in promoting from within," he said. "Any time you can do this you give people a chance to see they do have an opportunity with your company - they know they have a future within the company."

Many people ask him how he got to where he is today after starting out as a tech. His response: "My job isn't that much different today than it was back in the shop.

"I'm still identifying problems, troubleshooting the problems and finding the timely, cost effective way to repair them," he said. "It's not that different."

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