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New Bobcat President Talks Leadership

In June 2019, Doosan Bobcat North America promoted Mike Ballweber, then-senior vice president of commercial business. As the new president, the North Dakota native will emphasize the company’s core values. “We have a set of principles that represent our unique way of doing business called the Doosan Credo, which dictates our values and forms the fabric of our business operations,” he explains. These core values are at the heart of everything they do, he states, and guides the strategic investments the company is making in product development, innovation, manufacturing and growing their dealer network.  “I look forward to creating new opportunities to continue to grow Doosan Bobcat and further empowering our dealers and customers to accomplish more in their businesses and communities.”

Career history

As a leader, he may influence and communicate a mission or vision, but he believes that core values are inherent to the organization and to the individuals within that organization. Therefore, during the hiring process, he considers character, ambition, intelligence, and “if their values fit the company,” Ballweber reports.
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A Bobcat employee since 1998, Ballweber’s values match those of the manufacturer. With the company’s North American headquarters in his home state, he was well-acquainted with Bobcat and proud “that a North Dakota company invented a product that sparked an entire industry. ” Still, it was his wife’s uncle, Lane Weber, national sales director for Bobcat, who alerted him to an opening for a product trainer at the company.

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Ballweber relied on his background in restaurant management and employee training to land the role because he recalls, Weber was very sensitive about not using his influence to get a family member a job. Years after Ballweber started with the company, the person who hired him related a story about Weber visiting his office multiple times and saying, “I would like for you to take a look at this kid, but don’t hire him if you don’t like him or think he doesn’t fit.” Apparently, he fits, because 21 years later, he has risen to the top office.

In his first position as a product trainer, he traveled extensively to work with managers and talk to customers at trade shows and dealer open houses. “This gave me great insights into what is important to our dealers and customers,” he reveals.

Since those early days, he has worked in many different positions and has held four various executive offices, including vice president of both product management and strategy and aftermarket, as well as product support for the company and president of Doosan Portable Power from 2013 to 2016.
 
Role models and inspiration

Ballweber correlates his lifelong adoration of big machinery, likely an influence from growing up in Bobcat territory as the son of a heavy equipment operator. “I have always believed Bobcat is the best company in the world,” he says, explaining that this belief continues to inspire and guide his leadership every day.

Both of Ballweber’s parents were hard workers who have always supported their children’s choices. His father and his mother, a former schoolteacher and administrative assistant for the City of Dickinson, North Dakota, continue to serve as his role models.

It’s clear that Ballweber also gains insight and inspiration from his coworkers. Early in his career, he moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, to oversee sales for the region. The southern culture was unfamiliar to him; he had to learn where the lines between business and personal life blur. But he began to take note – literally, writing in a notebook – of personal details about his dealers and customers and their families, this enabled him to engage in conversations and develop genuine relationships.

It’s an approach he continues to use in his recently attained role. “I make it a priority to interact with our employees regularly,” says the new president. Sometimes it’s about work, and sometimes it’s personal. In both cases, he believes it’s the connection with people that develops and deepens relationships.
 
Leadership style

Connecting with people wasn’t second nature for Ballweber. When he was named the president of Doosan Portable Power in 2013, he assumed his business acumen would enable him to lead and achieve results. “I came in with an aggressive approach,” recalls. “The problem was, I didn’t take the time in the beginning to get to know the people better and learn more about the business.” That’s why he didn’t get the initial results he expected.

From that experience, he now knows it is imperative to get to know people and forge relationships. Establishing a solid foundation of understanding by listening and asking questions promotes “buy-in” and cooperation. These days, he makes a point of talking with employees, especially those new to the organization, who are typically recent college graduates.

Based on his personal history, he insists that he will always choose someone with the right characteristics and traits as opposed to someone who only has the right experience. “I believe in hiring smart, ambitious people and then giving them opportunities to grow and develop,” Ballweber explains.

He confesses that his leadership skills may not have been developed enough when he first became an executive in 2008. “I had a solid foundation of skills and experience but lacked some of the higher-level decision-making and negotiation skills that were required.”

He acquired the necessary skills by taking advice from mentors and people he trusted, which is perhaps why he believes that knowing when to listen and knowing when to talk is an essential trait for all leaders to have. “In general, it is good to listen before you speak.”

Another leadership characteristic he values is self-awareness. He finds it easier to motivate people who are self-aware because there is an “agreement on growth and learning opportunities.” People who are not self-aware may be challenging to manage or motivate. Ballweber thinks it’s because they don’t believe in what is required for development and, therefore, they may not put time into working on it.
 
Motivating others

Listening to employees is an excellent start to building a team, but communication is a two-way street, and Ballweber has learned the importance of transparency. He says employees are more motivated when they have information. Putting himself in the shoes of an employee, he says if the targets are properly communicated, he’ll know what he needs to do to hit them. 

“There are confidential items that cannot be shared with the entire company,” he admits, adding that “everyone who works at Bobcat knows where we are in terms of meeting our financial, market share and strategic goals.” This information is regularly shared with employees via webinars and town hall forums.

To further motivate employees and to commemorate Bobcat’s 60 years in the compact equipment industry, the company recently launched a new campaign called “Next is Now,” which has had a substantial impact on employee morale and enthusiasm.

The campaign reaffirms Bobcat’s commitment to innovation and digitalization as a part of their advancement in creating the products and tools of tomorrow by applying cutting-edge technologies and pioneering new ideas and possibilities.

“What lies ahead are new product introductions, innovations, and technology, and a renewed spirit and energy,” states Ballweber, who says they are “reinventing [Bobcat] for the next 60 years.”
 
The learning curve

“You must understand that development of talent – even at the executive level – never stops,” Ballweber says. He confesses that he is learning to prioritize essential decisions and take into account how those decisions impact everyone else.

“I carefully consider how the decisions my executive team and I make may affect our employees, dealers, suppliers and customers,” Ballweber explains. 

“When making operational decisions – like changing production – I always consider how it will affect our employees, as well as our relationship with suppliers and dealers. Will our decisions put limitations on the ability of dealers to sell products? Or will our customers be able to get the products they need when they need them? These are the kinds of things I think about daily.”

Although becoming president was never his goal, he accepts the responsibility and works hard to do the right things and treat people fairly. “Certainly, it is an honor to serve as president. When I started at Bobcat, I never could have imagined that I would one day be leading the North American region for a global company. So, I never take any of this for granted.”

He expresses gratitude for the opportunities Bobcat has provided for him to live in “many amazing places, meet great people, and have some remarkable and memorable experiences.” He urges others on the leadership path to “take time to enjoy the journey” because he acknowledges that he hasn’t always taken the time to appreciate opportunities. He concludes by reflecting, “I consider each day I am a leader in this company a blessing and a great responsibility. As an organization, we are all focused on making the next 60 years even more successful than the first.”

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