DeFeo nurtures passion for crane industry
By D.Ann Shiffler03 February 2021
For more than 20 years, former Terex chairman and CEO Ron DeFeo was a major player in the crane industry.
Ron DeFeo was one of the crane industry’s most passionate people. During his tenure as president, CEO and chairman of Terex Corp., he engaged crane owners around the world. Through mergers and acquisitions he built Terex into one of the largest crane manufacturers in the world. The company produced pretty much every class of crane.
DeFeo was more than the head guy at Terex. He was a crane salesman extraordinaire, always present on the Terex booth at tradeshows like ConExpo and Bauma. He liked to be in on the deals, whether it was for one crane or 50. He could be tough as nails, but he was also a nice guy.
In an interview with American Cranes & Transport in 2015, DeFeo said “the best way to get power is to give it up. If you expect people to do well, you have to empower them to do well. Give them a chance. Create an environment where great people can do great things.”
Through the years, he said he had been successful and unsuccessful by living and not living his own advice.
DeFeo had a customer-first philosophy. He wanted to make sure the products his company produced were the machines that customers needed and wanted.
“Our customers truly want better returns on capital,” he told ACT in 2015. “The simplest way to achieve that is a low entry price and a high exit price. We need to pay attention to residual values and only put on a crane what our customers truly need to do the job. In our industry, from the time God created construction equipment, engineers thought they had the answer. But truly, customers want things that are different than what an engineer may want to design. To be successful you need to listen first and implement what customers want versus what you think they want. I love engineers, but my job is to love customers more.”
Changing status quo
DeFeo said that when he started at Terex, the company had no money, no future and “many customers thought our products were dead.” He set out to change the status quo, growing the company through an aggressive merger and acquisition strategy.
DeFeo served as chairman of Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) and he was keenly interested in politics, especially when it came to lobbying for infrastructure and transportation legislation that would help the construction sector. Before joining Terex, De Feo was a vice president of J.I. Case Company, the former farm and construction equipment division of Tenneco.
DeFeo also enjoyed having a good time. Terex hosted some of the best parties in the industry and DeFeo was always a part of the planning, especially booking the entertainment. A ticket to a Terex party at one of the aforementioned tradeshows was a ticket to an incredible evening that featured amazing food and drink and headliner music.
DeFeo left Terex in late 2015 after almost 24 years with the company. He went on to run Kennametal for a couple of years, and today he is executive partner and cofounder of Nonantum Capital.
It would be interesting to know what DeFeo thinks about Terex today.
The crane business that he worked so hard to build has been dismantled. While Terex still produces tower cranes, rough terrain cranes and pick and carry cranes, the legacy brands American, Demag and Stinger have been acquired by other companies.