The global pandemic effect continues, complicating (and endangering) our lives and changing the way we do business. It even altered the investiture of AED's incoming chairman. For the first time in 101 years, the new chairman assumed office in May instead of January because Summit, where the new chairperson is sworn into office, was delayed – twice – due to fallout from the Novel Coronavirus.
When life hands you lemons, be an apple
Times of crisis reveal true leadership, and Drury is poised to guide the Association through these difficulties with unruffled assuredness. "This is all about leadership. Leading through any time has its challenges, and COVID is no different. This is what leadership is."
His nimble leadership style allows Drury to adapt to situational shifts. "He has the agility to be the leader needed in each unique and individual situation," declares Brad Clark, regional manager for Vermeer Canada Inc. Clark says when he thinks of Drury, he thinks of an apple tree.
An apple tree, depending on the perspective from which it's viewed, can be many things. It can be calm and soothing, relaxing as the leaves blow gently in the breeze. It can be nourishing, providing delicious fruit, shelter and cool shade. A strong root system provides the foundation, structure, direction and nutrients to allow the tree to thrive, grow, prosper and produce the stars of the show: the apples.
"If the apple tree is our organization, Craig is the root system," Clark analogizes, explaining that Drury makes everyone around him the stars of the show. And, like a well-rooted tree, he can withstand harsh winds.
Clark states, "He is the purest form of a servant leader that I have ever experienced." Leadership embodies influence, which requires focusing on others. Drury's upbringing on the family farm taught him the importance of caring for and being sensitive to the people around him. He took those core values with him into business when dealing with customers. "I call it T.L.C.," he says: Think Like a Customer. "Empathy is very important to be good at, and I thank my family for this."\
His sheltered upbringing didn't shield him from hard work. "My early agriculture experience developed a sense for hard work – just getting jobs done, regardless of the obstacles," he comments. He knows the importance of tenacity.
Equipped for life
Drury recognizes that the equipment business can also have obstacles and, like farming, isn't easy, but he has always felt a passion for equipment. He was introduced to the industry through a car sale when he worked for Thor Motors in Orillia, Ontario. "In my car-selling days, I sold an Explorer to Jim Johnston, who was the local territory manager for Ontrac Equipment."
Johnston, who became one of his early mentors, and Bernie Howarth were key in Drury's move to Ontrac's sales department. He rose through the ranks to become major account manager for the company, which was a John Deere Construction equipment dealer for Eastern Canada.
In 2006, he joined Vermeer Canada, a full-service dealer offering new and used equipment, parts, service and support, now with 10 locations across Canada. He again moved up the ladder, taking positions as Ontario sales manager, Ontario regional manager, vice president Eastern Canada and vice president operations Canada, until becoming part of the Owner Group of Vermeer Canada. He took on the role of vice president of operations in 2018 after one of the partners – and a close friend of his – died suddenly. Craig Skalicky ran the west, so Drury "took over the whole company then."
Decades after getting into the equipment industry, the Canadian's love of machinery continues unabated. In fact, he marvels at the "projects that we get to be part of that make our world safer and more environmentally sound." Taking a step back to assess them, he lists roads, mining minerals, energy, telecom, home building, sewer and water. They're all part of building our communities by making the infrastructure we take for granted every day, he concludes.
Not only is the equipment itself remarkable, but "the ingenuity to not only come up with the ideas but to actually build them is impressive," he believes. That's the inspiration that gets him out of bed every day.
As excited as he gets about equipment, Drury's true talent is working with people. He holds people accountable, Clark says, but he's also quick to notice them doing things right. What often goes unrecognized about Drury, he adds, is "his commitment to my family and the 117 families that are part of Vermeer Canada. Craig knows my 7-year-old daughter well, talks on the phone with my wife, has spent social time with us and even has given up his personal time on weekends to hang out with us. Craig knows many of my circle of friends by first name and often texts just to check in on their well-being. My family has a better life because I work for Craig."
Clark goes on to say that his respect for his boss has less to do with Drury's and the company's track record of business success than it does with "who he is, what he represents and the values he lives by," and says he works hard to live up to Drury's example.
In addition to bolstering the rapport he has with his employees through effective communication and his assuasive presence, Drury believes that developing relationships with other leaders provides comfort through the knowledge of shared experiences. "Most of the over-arching challenges we deal with, others do too. We struggle with and enjoy the same things. The people in this business are all pulling on the same rope." Sharing those experiences, whether celebrations of success or solutions to crises, generates ideas. Listening to others prompts him to incorporate new ideas, he says.
Drury has also picked up ideas from AED presentations that he thinks make Vermeer Canada better.
"There have been ideas that my team has brought back from events, seminars and Summit that we have put into our daily business," he says. One example is inventory stocking plans that challenge what they need on hand.
Drury first got involved with AED when he was in sales at Ontrac because Art Van Camp, then-president of the company, convinced him of the importance of giving back to the industry. "I was the first presenter in a new high school equipment program in Barrie," he recalls. "From there, I met a fellow by the name of Bob Henderson, who was very supportive and influential in terms of understanding the North American value of AED." Henderson supported Drury's progression through the ranks, including service on the board as a member at large for Eastern Canada and working on the executive committee.
Today, Drury is the local chairman in Ontario. His group supports several local high schools and community college equipment programs. "We are trying to build an awareness of our industry, with the ultimate goal of getting good young kids into our business."
They have also started to develop an advocate presence in Ottawa, similar to what's been done in the U.S. "We as an industry do have a voice that our policymakers want to listen to. This sounds cliché, but the experiences I have had with AED prove that we are stronger as a group. We have significant clout in terms of government advocacy."
Although Drury humbly claims his new position is just a progression up the ranks, he confesses to looking forward to seeing his picture next to those of previous chairpersons on the wall in the AED office.
That may be one of the only traditions expected out of a shortened term during which he promises to "introduce beer and back bacon at every board meeting." Canadian humor aside, Drury has spent two years giving serious consideration to his goals. The condensed term isn't going to shrink his ambition.
Feeling fortunate to be taking office as the world begins opening up again, he points out that there's been no in-person board meeting since January 2020. "We're used to virtual meetings," says the extroverted communicator. He has plans to attend the Washington Fly-In this summer in Washington, D.C., and is eagerly anticipating more face-to-face meetings than the outgoing board had. Still, he admits it's likely that AED will integrate hybrid options for upcoming events – and beyond. "To understand how we use the virtual tools in some hybrid form as we come out of COVID to complement in-person events will be important."
A potential challenge he wants to be prepared for is the possibility that as the vaccines get delivered, the economy may rebound faster than expected. He wants to position AED and its members to handle the conceivable upswing. Observing that upswings can be as challenging as downturns, Drury humorously remarks that they're "funner, though."
He has plenty of additional ideas for his term, but, he says, if COVID has taught him anything, it's the importance of the basics. He believes 2020 illustrates the value of an association like AED. "If we can do in 2021 what we did in 2020 to keep this industry together and progressing, I think we will have done well. If I can be the guy that helps to cement the idea of AED being a truly North American association that brings the needs and issues of American and Canadian dealers, I think that I will have succeeded."
In fact, member engagement is one of his goals, and he's hoping to engage more Canadian dealers. However, he staunchly contends that AED is "doing quite well" in demonstrating value to the Canadian audience – but he intends to build on that value. Keeping members engaged in the programs AED offers makes us all better, he states and will be a measure of his success as chairman.
Membership engagement numbers have been up during the COVID era, but Drury thinks the Association can do a better job communicating with those members. Canadian members have been contacting him with questions about the increase in their fees to match U.S. member fees.
"There is no question that in years past there was very little content for Canadian dealers around things like government affairs, legal and HR discussions, and other conversations like tax policy," he says. He credits his predecessor, current AED President Brian McGuire and his team for doing "a great job inserting this content so we as Canadian dealers can get more value out of our time spent at AED events."
Time to celebrate
"People don't know what they don't know," Drury reflects. Many members are unaware of AED's efforts to ensure that construction is considered an essential business – a qualification that kept businesses afloat during widespread shutdowns. "We kept the doors open. We have many success stories due to advocacy. We need to celebrate these things. We should celebrate what we did in 2020 to stay alive and thriving."
This is the right time for a leader dedicated to serving others. One of Drury's pet issues is watching younger people develop plans to achieve their goals. A related objective is to get the entire industry looking to the future. "Whether you believe in COVID-19 or not, it's undeniable that it's affecting us economically," he says. Climate change is reaching a similar crossroads. "It doesn't matter if you believe in it. Climate change policies are getting serious. We must move the conversation past real or not real."
He wants to prepare the industry for the reality of business in the face of carbon taxes, the shift in fuels, and other policy changes ahead. "If AED was ever important, it was last year and is this year," Drury declares. "We must stay the course." To do so, he welcomes the team's support at AED headquarters as he navigates an unprecedented tenure.
The difference between a leader and a manager, Clark discerns, is that "a leader gets people to places they could not have gotten to on their own. They turn a seedling into an apple tree and let the tree believe they grew all by themselves; this is Craig."