When Michael Kneeland became United Rentals' president and chief executive in 2008, the economy was tanking. But Kneeland took an opportunistic view of a grim situation.
"The downturn gave us a chance to look inwardly at who we are and who we serve," said Kneeland, 60, who joined the Stamford, Conn.-based equipment rental company in 1998. "We saw it as an opportunity to think outside the box. We turned it to our advantage and came out of the recession a stronger company."
Kneeland made changes among the management ranks and announced layoffs. He says that by "treating the people we had to let go with dignity and respect" and by rallying employees to work together with their managers to build a better future for the firm, United Rentals (URI) was well positioned to thrive.
The company launched an internal initiative known as Operation United to increase its understanding of customers and their needs. Kneeland and his team learned that customers wanted to work with an individual dedicated to their account, so they assigned key contacts to both big national customers and smaller ones. They also expanded United Rentals' specialty offerings.