Like many up and coming professionals in the crane and construction equipment industry, Jack Fendrick, general manager at Kobelco Cranes, grew up in the business. “I am a third generation in the construction equipment business,” he says. “My grandfather was in charge of testing at Galion Ironworks and my father and two uncles worked at Galion in the sales department. My Dad eventually moved to the dealer side of our business and I grew up going to work with him on weekends.”

Fendrick says that all those years of family conversations in which construction equipment was the main topic must have made an impact. “When I graduated from college, all of those discussions about equipment during the dinners of my childhood led me to our industry,” he says.

Those years listening and learning paid off for the young Fendrick, who is known in the industry as astute, thoughtful and highly knowledgeable about the cranes he sells and the cranes his competitors sell.

Aside from his technical knowledge and marketing skills, Fendrick is concerned about the people he deals with, whether he's talking to a dealer principal, a parts manager, a prospective customer, an end user or a crane operator. Developing personal relationships is what keeps him engaged in the industry. “I believe it is one of the few remaining working environments that is still driven by personal relationships,” he says.

ACT caught up with Fendrick to get his views on a range of topics.

What are the biggest challenges you face in selling Kobelco cranes in the US?

I believe Kobelco would not be alone among manufacturers by responding with one word: Availability. Our industry is experiencing a unique market, one in which the demand for crawler cranes in every market around the world is at a very high level. North America, Europe, Middle East and China are all in the middle of good economies. As the world leader in crawler crane production, Kobelco is working around the clock to produce as many crawler cranes as possible, so that we can provide solutions to our customers' lifting needs.

What's new for the Kobelco product line in the US?

To maintain our leadership role in the global crawler crane market, Kobelco is continually introducing new products, as well as updating current product offerings. In 2004 we introduced the CK 1600 (160 ton) to our line up. In 2005 we began changing all of our CK machines to Tier III engines. In 2006 we introduced a new CK 2500-II (250 ton) and in 2007 we will be introducing a larger crane to our line up.

Has traditional distribution, through a dealer network, been the right strategy for Kobelco cranes in North America? Describe Kobelco's distribution strategy.

I believe that our strategy to use a more traditional dealer network has worked well for Kobelco. Our strategy is fairly simple: we look for dealers who are committed to supporting their market and who want to form a partnership with a crawler crane manufacturer. We take a lot of pride in our relationship with our dealer network. Kobelco provides a quality machine at a good value, and our dealers provide local service and local parts supply. Together we combine our dealers' knowledge of their market and customer base, with Kobelco's crawler crane expertise and engineering capabilities to form a powerful team that provides our customers with solutions.

Has the OEM agreement with Manitowoc had a negative or positive impact on Kobelco crane sales in the US? It must be a positive to know that Manitowoc has such a high regard for the Kobelco product?

I believe the relationship has been positive for both companies. Kobelco is the global leader in crawler cranes and Manitowoc is the market share leader in North America. Both companies value their customers and provide quality products.

What distinguishes the Kobelco crane from its competitors?

Quality and flexibility. Kobelco's commitment to quality is seen in every aspect of our cranes - from our boom thickness, to our winch speeds, to our Kobelco LMI. Our machines are built to last.

The flexibility is in the form of how we approach our customers' needs. At KCNA [Kobelco Cranes North America], we only represent crawler cranes. Because of this singular focus we are able to form very close relationships with our dealers and end users - relationships which are unique in our industry. These relationships enable us to work together to provide solutions.

The crawler crane sector appears to have recovered from the sales slump earlier in the decade. What is driving the crawler crane market?

That is a question with many answers. I believe several factors have come together to create a unique global market. As I mentioned earlier all of the major markets are experiencing high demand and because of this global demand, North America has seen its availability tighten.

In North America, we have four major factors driving the demand for crawler cranes:

• The passage by Congress of the Federal Highway Bill

• Natural catastrophes - Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005

• Pent up demand for commercial building

• High price of oil

Of all of the factors, the price of oil has been the major player. With oil at historic high prices in the US, more focus has been placed on our national energy sector as a whole. New refineries are being scheduled to be built, and old refineries are being expanded. In addition, several power plants are being built or expanded, new LPG plants are scheduled to be built, wind energy is now perceived as being more affordable, and the oil in the tar sands now makes economical sense to process. The end result is North America is investing in its future and crawler cranes are going to be needed to get the job done.

Fast forward 10 years - where do you see Kobelco cranes in the market mix?

Kobelco will continue to be the global leader of crawler cranes and we will expand our dealer network in North and South America. We have several opportunities before us, and it will be up to Kobelco and our dealers to capitalize on them.

What do you like best about working in this industry?

I never have the same day. The great thing about our industry is that when you answer the phone your whole day can change. There is an inherent excitement about our industry.

What's your favorite leisure time activity?

I love to spend time with my family. My wife and I have a 2½ year-old son and an eight-month old daughter. If time allows I enjoy a round of golf, but these days I spend more time changing diapers than hitting drivers.

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