JUST over two years ago, Carl Smith was appointed Managing Director of Linde Material Handling , Australia.
Carl's appointment was a key one for Linde's international operations.
The company's board knew that it had the industry leading technology and the value proposition to take on the competition.
It just needed a Managing Director and senior leadership team to put together a corporate culture that would deliver the support and customer focus, which Linde's existing and prospective Australian customer base had every right to expect.
Much has changed since then. The customer focus culture is well entrenched and universally supported by Linde staff, but more is yet to come, as Carl Smith recently explained to Linde Vision Magazine.
Vision: When you spoke to Vision on your appointment two years ago, you described the role of Managing Director at Linde as the most exciting job in the Australian forklift industry. Has that turned out to be the case?
Carl: Very much so. Linde has always had a reputation as a premium quality brand. It's the one which prospective buyers and even competitors look to when they want to see the latest design and technology trends.
I could see that Linde had the product range and an extensive company-owned national infrastructure in place. My challenge was to lead and give direction to an experienced team of Linde staff so that they could represent and support this highly regarded brand in the way that customers expected.
That's a challenge that we are winning, but yes, it's exciting, because the challenge never ends.
Vision: When you took up the role at Linde you pointed to the need to upskill your sales force. Is there any benefit in that for the customer?
Carl: There's no benefit in it for the customer if you are just talking about training people to be better at closing deals. But I could see at Linde that there was much more that we had to work with.
We have great products with advanced but proven technology. My first challenge was to ensure we have a sales force that can competently explain the significant cost and operating advantages of the Linde brand.
There is great productivity, operating costs and OH&S benefits built into every Linde machine. When these are demonstrated and understood the sales task is easier because the customer recognises the value behind the price premium.
Now we're in the position where we have a motivated staff selling a premium product they feel good about. They feel good because they can go to a customer and are confident that the price premium attached to the Linde product will be more than counter-balanced by the significant savings over the whole of the machine's working life. And they now have the tools to demonstrate that convincingly to the customer.
Vision: You also mentioned support as a priority area for attention. What have you been able to achieve on that front?
Carl: That's where we have put in maximum effort and where the results are starting to appear right across the board. I said at the time that I wanted to make sure that people who have invested in Linde, or were considering investing in Linde, never regret their decision. Our progress in this area has been recognised and acknowledged by many of our clients.
There's a lot more to providing support than just having a good parts and service operation, but that's the first yardstick for many customers and that's been a major focus.
In the last two years we've boosted our field service technician numbers from 66 to 110. Beyond that we've intensified our skills training, introduced a grading system for technicians and maximised their availability by introducing an innovative "parts into service van" overnight delivery system.
Vision: What about the parts availability situation generally? Wasn't that one of the issues holding back Linde when you joined the company?
Carl: Yes, that was easy to identify and again we made it a priority. Fixing the parts situation was crucial to our commitment to existing Linde customers.
We have a premium product and it deserves premium standard support - including parts availability. We've increased our parts availability level from 70% to 95%. It's now a key part of our efforts to maximise uptime for every Linde machine.
Vision: What other changes have you made within Linde to deliver on your promise that you'd become the easiest forklift company to deal with?
Carl: We've covered the changes and improvements in service and parts - the visible areas, if you like. At the same time we've also been working on streamlined administrative procedures.
New software systems, which are just about to come online will make it much easier for our customers to deal with us - whether for parts, service, rental, purchase or even a combination of those requirements.
Vision: With all these systems in place, with the extra technicians and training and parts, what have you actually achieved?
Carl: I believe that we've built an organisation that doesn't just sell premium quality forklifts, but which is now better placed than ever before to support and service those machines and their owners throughout the long working life of the machines.
The proof that the forklift marketplace has recognised that culture change in Linde is reflected in the simple statistic that our order intake has doubled over the last two years.
At the same time we've made a major investment in our rental fleet, which is now larger and better equipped to meet the changing requirements of the market.
Vision: And what does the future hold?
Carl: Just wait and see. Linde is a technology leader. We've introduced the T20 ride on pallet truck, the N20 order picker, the X range reach trucks and soon we'll be adding a new counter-balance electric forklift truck to our product offering. We'll continue to grow and to improve the way we serve the market.
Much as it's great to have those advanced models, it's all rather meaningless if you can't support them. And that's where we've made real progress and won the recognition of the marketplace for our efforts.
In the last two years we've won major supply deals with national fleets including Boral, Woolworths, P&O, Patricks, Sunrice, Primo and KR Castlemaine.
Each one of those contracts is a vote of confidence in the way Linde Material Handling Australia is delivering on its promises. We aim to set the bar in the local forklift market.
And it's not just the customers who have noticed the new Linde in Australia. Competitors never could find comfort in Linde product short-comings, so support performance became a talking point for some.
Now they're clutching at straws with a whisper that Linde might withdraw from the local market. Unfortunately for them Linde is here to stay.