The construction industry has always been Bob Leavy’s first love.
Yet his path to his current position as director of used equipment at Alta Equipment Company didn’t always follow a straight line. After roles as a New York City police officer and firefighter (while working on his finance degree), Leavy went to work in the trust department at Florida’s Barnett Bank, selling pension accounts – not coincidentally, to fire and police departments all over the United States.
When Barnett Bank was sold, Leavy felt ready for a change. A chance meeting with an employee of Ritchie Brothers Auctioneers resulted in a meeting with Dave Ritchie, who ultimately brought him on board as a territory manager. “That meeting changed my life,” Leavy said. “That brought me back into the construction world where I am today, and which I will retire from.”
Dave Ritchie had a significant influence on him from the beginning. “I think a lot of my success today is because of the training I received from Dave. He taught us all the value of hard work; he taught us integrity, well before that word became so popular and overused," he said.
"He made us believe in ourselves and taught us not to put any limits on our future success. He was instrumental in molding young men into future leaders in the construction industry," Ritchie said.
"I helped put a little handbook together with all the little idioms he taught us throughout the years.” Ritchie’s gospel included getting up early, outworking the competition, and never lying.
It also emphasized making your customers your friends so you’ll have your customers for life. “Open up your home to your customers, have them over for dinner, let them meet your family … This was how Dave and his partners lived their lives, and they expected us to do the same.”
After a six-year stint running Florida and the Caribbean for Ritchie Brothers, Leavy eventually transferred to national accounts, working with the national rental companies.
Leavy knew all along that, should he choose to leave Ritchie Brothers, he would be in demand due to the wide range of experience he gained while being employed there. “You don’t just work with one manufacturer. You work with hundreds, including Volvo, Caterpillar, Komatsu, John Deere, etc. You work with all equipment types, including cranes, barges, tugboats, aerial equipment, crushing equipment, road equipment, etc. There were very few lines of construction equipment that the auction didn’t deal with.”
Another fortuitous conversation triggered Leavy’s next move. At the time, Tommy Ball, a 26-year veteran of Caterpillar, was one of Ritchie’s and Leavy’s biggest customers. “Tommy and I were sitting around one day sharing a wonderful bottle of cabernet and both thinking it may be time for a change.” They made their moves together, signing on as partners in FlaglerCE Holdings, owners of Flagler Construction Equipment and Penn Jersey Machinery.
When asked about his proudest accomplishment, Leavy doesn’t hesitate to give credit to others. “Turning Flagler around, a company that was on the verge of bankruptcy. And we were able to build and retain a team of great employees with very little money or assets.
Tommy Ball and I, as well as many other good people, turned this operation around and were able to sell it ten years later. That was a very proud moment for our entire team.”
The sale of Flagler to Alta in 2020 brought Leavy into his current role, which includes running the company’s used equipment operation in seven different states throughout the Midwest, Northeast and the southeastern U.S... Much of his time is spent checking market conditions, pricing equipment and looking for price-point machines that they may not have currently in their fleet. “We price a few hundred trades per month and it seems to be getting busier every year. When we price our trades, we do this on a consensus basis, another lesson from Ritchie Brothers. This ensures many opinions from other used managers, and input and appraisal data from different locations around the U.S., which helps us attain a true market value we can offer our customers.”
Along with his commitment to getting up early and outworking the competition, Leavy views life with a longer perspective, gained during his days in New York City. As a former firefighter and owner of a New York City bar, he buried over 40 friends after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, including his cousin Neil Leavy, who had been a firefighter in Brooklyn. “It was a traumatic day for me and many others, so going forward I try not to worry about all the little curveballs life throws me. If you can make it through something like this, you learn to appreciate God’s gift of experiencing this wonderful life journey with our family and friends.”
One important way the Alta team helps others in the construction industry is through their work with Associated Equipment Distributors and the other Florida dealers and manufacturers.
“Even though we are competitors, we all work for the greater good of getting more young people into our industry. Along with AED, we’ve all started a scholarship fund with all the dealers donating time, money and equipment to these colleges and tech schools.”
But the more challenging question may be how to get more young people to enter these programs. “Is it sexy enough? Today I would say we still have a lot of work to do. Most young people want to work for Google or some gaming company or have a YouTube page. Currently, the industry is still struggling to find technicians, but we are doing everything possible to educate them that this a great industry with unlimited opportunities.”
Like many others, Leavy believes getting an infrastructure bill passed will be a critical task for the federal government in 2021. “I think the pandemic and what’s going on with our election makes our customers hesitant to commit to long-term purchases. They’re currently leaning more towards leasing, renting and rental purchase options until they feel comfortable with another four years of sustainable growth. If we can pass the infrastructure bill, I believe our customers will start to purchase equipment again.”
He believes the likelihood of any bill passing depends on having a unified government. “If the Senate stays Republican and the House Democratic, we’ll have a balance of power, which should help the stock market but may delay passing the infrastructure bill. Even though this bill would be great for our economy, partisan politics will undoubtedly set in, delaying this again for another four years.”
Leavy remains appreciative of his life and his current role at Alta Construction Equipment. “We’re a one-billion-plus-dollar ‘service company that sells equipment.’ It’s the slogan that all Alta employees live by. It’s a large company that’s continuously expanding but still has that small-town feel to it.”
“It is quite busy. The phone never stops ringing, but I do love it and I do it with a smile on my face.”