An industry titan, Steve Filipov spent the last 25 years as a familiar face at Terex Cranes. But when the headlines broke during Bauma in April 2019 regarding the Tadano acquisition of Demag cranes, the tradeshow grounds were humming with conversations about what the future had in store for both companies. Then several months later, Filipov made news again as he announced his move from president of Terex Cranes to chief executive officer and director for Manitex International.
While he has always been a man in high demand, Filipov attributes the move from Terex to Manitex to the right timing and a little bit of destiny. He has hit the ground running, concentrating on aligning the company’s core competencies. With the company running like a well oiled machine, he has devoted much of his time to appointing dedicated teams for the branches of the business. As a fresh set of eyes coming in, he has maintained synergy throughout the many different facets of the company while also paving the way for dynamic growth across the board.
Refocusing, expanding and innovating. These three words resonated throughout my conversation with Filipov. It’s easy to see he has massive plans for Manitex, both in the North American market and globally. Composed of an in-depth product structure - Manitex boom trucks, MAC articulating cranes, PM, Valla and the Tadano PM products are continuing to evolve through Filipov’s influence and extensive industry experience.
Personable and knowledgeable, Filipov leaves a legacy wherever he goes. When speaking to shareholders, he is often on the receiving end of the question, “What’s next and how do we grow the company?” While he has no plans to purchase what is left of Terex right now, he strongly believes he has everything that he needs to grow Manitex. Every day the company takes a step forward and does something a little bit differently.
“Of course, we’ll make mistakes,” said Filipov. “But we are going to try to do things differently and change the game where we can.”
Self-aware, energetic and intelligent, Filipov is equipped with the prowess and expertise needed to turn Manitex into a global business. With years of industry experience under his belt and an eagerness to keep Manitex innovative and productive, the future of the company is looking very bright. I think you’ll be equal parts impressed and interested to see what he had to say.
How did it evolve that you landed at Manitex International?
[Chuckles]. That’s a good question. It was not predicted. As you can imagine, I get calls all the time which has been encouraging, but we were so focused on getting the Demag transaction closed, that I passed on a few opportunities. Getting the tranaction closed and keeping the business stable was my number one focus. Once it closed, it was time to exit Terex and put together my bucket list.
Terex treated me right. They were a really great company to work for 25 years and I had some time in front of me to think about what I wanted to do. But my first priority was to take some time off, which I did not do very well. Dave Langevin and I have known each other for over 20 years, and he called me about the CEO role at Manitex. I actually asked him to wait a little bit, but I quickly saw a great opportunity in front of me. Dave has done a great job in cleaning up the portfolio and strengthening the balance sheet. When I looked at the opportunity, I felt it was right in my strike zone. The Manitex business is running well, but some other businesses needed more focus.
My global experience is really where I can help, and that’s where we came together. But at the end of the day, it’s a little bit about destiny, as I can hit the ground running, knowing the crane business, the customers, and have had public company experience the last 25 years. I’ve been a part of a public company for 25 plus years and know how that works. Dave has given me 100 percent freedom to take it to the next place, and I think that next place will be a much bigger Manitex business. Clearly, we can’t change the end markets. It’s going to be a challenging market for the next couple of years. That said, we have great opportunity to grow our Italian business and leverage the strength we have in our North American Manitex business.
What is your primary focus for the first 12 months?
Growing the business. The first thing I noticed when visiting our Italian operations was that we had to refocus on our core competencies. We needed a dedicated team in each of our businesses to drive accountability and focus. The knuckle boom crane and truck mounted aerial business have completely different end markets and distribution channels, but had been merged together. I separated them, and each now have dedicated teams with shared back office functions to keep our costs down.
I’m also spending a lot of my time outside of North America. I have asked Steve Kiefer to keep focused on our North American operations, so I can spend more of my time with PM, Oil and Steel and Tadano to grow our business internationally.
The other focus is manufacturing excellence. I have seen a lot of opportunity to streamline and improve things like quality, cost and delivery in our operations. Sometimes you have a lot of things going on, and it takes a fresh set of eyes to look at things differently and challenge the team. A perfect example of this was on my first visit to our Georgetown facility, I noticed some areas where we could be better organized on the shop floor. The team quickly picked up on my observations and started to drive change. Another good example is what we did with MAC. For us to bring PM as a separate brand is crazy. Clearly, Manitex has a great brand in North America and has a facility that we can leverage to produce and assemble product. We put in place a dedicated team, as it is a different market, a different manufacturing process and a completely different sales process. There’s a pretty big difference between selling a 50-ton meter knuckle boom crane and selling a 50-ton boom truck.
Between Manitex boom trucks, MAC articulating cranes, PM, Valla and the Tadano PM product, there’s a lot to think about.
You are right! We have a lot of opportunity. Take the Valla product. I’m really excited about it. We have all known the Valla brand for decades. We’re going to put more focus on it. It’s not a huge number of cranes, but it’s a very good specialized crane business that will diversify our portfolio. I started to really gain interest in it when I visited our Crane and Machinery team in Chicago. We put a few small 2.5 ton electric crane in our rental fleet, with a special application for installing windows in large buildings with a remote control. I started to look at the returns and the utilization of the product, and see a great rental opportunity going forward. We now have over a dozen in North America, and are continuing to grow our fleet, so imagine the potential later down the road. We also recently signed up a couple of nice orders for a rental business in North America, an order from our dealer Empire Crane for New York and an order in Qatar. Valla’s Zero emission compact cranes have much more opportunity. Again, it’s all there. When you look at the PM business, there hasn’t been a lot of focus on it. So, I’ve been spending a lot of time and effort on it.
What more can be done to improve this product line in terms of quality, performance, price and longevity?
We need to do all of these and it all starts with quality. I have spoken to many customers and we can do better with our quality, but I did not hear about anything that I do not think is fixable. We are going to start with improving our final test process and implementing metrics like defects at the end of the line and defects in the first 30 days. Getting this feedback will help us understand where we need to focus our efforts. We must be focused on our costs. We buy 70 percent of what we build, and we have much more opportunity to take cost out of our products. We need to be relentless in the pursuit of getting the best quality, at the right time, and at the best price.
Can boom truck sales be taken further globally?
The boom truck market outside of North America is fairly limited. We will look at opportunities, but not right now. We need to continue to strengthen the Manitex brand in North America and continue to develop new products. The market here has stabilized but it is a much smaller market than knuckle boom cranes. We are currently around 1,000 boom trucks sold in North America and the global market for knuckle booms is over 50,000 so you can see where the market potential really is.
It’s a ConExpo year. What can we expect in new product development from Manitex International?
We had an opportunity at ICUEE to show some of that, as it’s a much smaller show, and much more focused on rental and utility. I think ConExpo gives us more of a global exposure. We’re going to have MAC, new stick boom products and show some new industrial cranes. We’re also going to have the A62 and Oil & Steel product there. I think it’s going to be an opportunity to show the breadth of the portfolio we have, and start to change. I’m trying to change the perspective of customers and investors and show that we are much more than just a stick boom crane business.
Manitex definitely has the potential to grow in North America with product we can assemble in Georgetown, Texas and Winona, Minnesota and in turn we can leverage those facilities. But our facility in Italy also has the potential to be much bigger.
What is your business philosophy?
We say, we do. Whether to customers or external shareholders, we need to have the credibility that people will trust we will get the job done. If a crane is planned to be delivered on a specific day, we need to make it happen. We need to fix problems and continue to challenge the status quo. I try to spend time with the team and make sure we are making a difference every single day. What did you do today to change the future of Manitex? If we all make a small change every day, it means a huge change over time. Everyone needs to do their part and be accountable.
I have learned that one of the greatest gifts we can ask for is is feedback, so I like to spend time with customers and understand what we are doing right, and what we need to do to improve. I’m passionate about what I do. If I wasn’t passionate, I wouldn’t have stayed with this business. It is hard work and a very competitive market but you have to have fun while doing it!
What are you doing when you’re not working?
I try to spend as much time as possible with my family. I’ve been in the business so long, it’s become a part of my family’s life as much as it is my own.
We love to travel, see new things, and just have some fun! I have always been passionate about motor sports, and I like to think my family is also, so there’s nothing like a weekend out in a race car or go-kart with the kids.
When I’m home on weekends, my wife and I go running with our dog. It’s a great way to empty the mind and at 51, you need some exercise to keep fit when you’re traveling almost every week