Steve Shaughnessy has spent a lifetime in and around the access industry, so he knows what he's talking about when he says the key to success is keeping the focus on the customer. This knowledge will come in handy as he faces uncertain economic times in his new role as president of Canadian manufacturer, Skyjack.
"I never intended to work for a manufacturer," says Shaughnessy, who grew up in Boston, part of a family that started a rigging company in 1916 and later ran the first operated hydraulic crane rental business in New England, Shaughnessy Crane. "But when the opportunity arose, I was excited by it. Skyjack has a very customer-facing culture."
Shaughnessy's history within the aerial and rental industries is rich and varied. After working for the family business until the late 70s, Shaughnessy went to work for British Telecom in London, the only time he didn't work in the equipment industry. He says he always believed he would go back to the family business one day, but it wasn't until the late 80s, with his father on the verge of selling, that he returned to the U.S. Within months, the family decided against selling and over the next 11 years, they tripled the company's fleet and expanded to five locations. "We became very profitable, at least double the industry average," he recalls. "The goal was to serve customers and make money. Every penny went back into the business."
By 1998, however, the industry was experiencing a tidal wave of consolidation. The Shaughnessy family decided to sell its equipment rental business to NES Rentals. "We liked the management team," Shaughnessy says. "We felt it was the best fit for our employees."
Shaughnessy stayed on with the company as subsidiary president running all the east coast branches. In the fall of 2001, Shaughnessy was named regional vice president of the company, which had just acquired 39-branch Brambles Equipment Services.
Several years and career twists later, including a stint in India, Shaughnessy contacted George Burnett, then chief executive at Ashtead, and became the company's director of access business in the U.K. He remained there until 2007. "Ashtead, as a company, has a very American outlook," he says. "So it was a great fit for me."
While the access part of Ashtead's business became very profitable under Shaughnessy's direction, Burnett retired in 2007 and a resulting strategic review suggested the specialist businesses should be phased out, allowing the company to focus its efforts on general rental. "They wanted me to move to a corporate position, but an opportunity to work for Loxam came up, and I was intrigued by the idea of working for a French company."
Shortly thereafter, however, "everything went off the rails," Shaughnessy recalls. "The world was in financial crisis and everything just came to a halt. By 2009, I had decided to leave [Loxam]."
It was in September of 2009 that Shaughnessy got the call from Skyjack. "The timing was good," he says, noting, "There have been no unpleasant surprises."
Poised for growth
According to Shaughnessy, Skyjack went from 1,000 employees in 2007 to 340 today, illustrating just how severe this economic downturn has been to aerial manufacturers.
Shaughnessy says Skyjack's ability to weather the latest economic storm is partly due to being owned by Linamar Corp., a world-class designer and diversified manufacturer of precision metallic components and systems for the automotive industry. "Linamar's experience in the auto industry gives Skyjack a perspective other competitors don't have," he says.
Skyjack does have its challenges, however. "We have some holes in our boom line, such as the lack of articulated 60- and 80-foot booms, at the moment -- which can put us at a competitive disadvantage. Some companies won't go to Skyjack because of this, but Skyjack is considered one of the most reliable manufacturers because of the simplicity of its machines. And there's continuity among models. If you can work on one Skyjack model, you can work on them all. In used equipment, Skyjack is in high demand because our machines are easier to recondition."