CLEARLY A LEADER
Those qualities, throughout Jim Irwin's 40-year career in senior sales positions, helped forge close bonds between Case IH and its dealers, customers and community.
"What Jim has brought to the party is a really great connection with the dealers and the customers," says Ron Birkey, president of Birkey's Farm Stores, a Case IH dealership with eight locations in Illinois and Indiana.
"He has a great background in the retail end of the business. That gave him a very definite and real understanding of the issues that dealers and customers face. He had the ability to put those issues into perspective as he looked out for the company's best interest, which was to his advantage and our benefit," Birkey explains.
Beyond that, Birkey says Irwin had a personal ability to connect with people. "Jim looks you in the eye and listens. And because of his background, he understood what dealers or customers were saying." Irwin always responded, Birkey says, with resolution that was fair, clear and effective.
"He did a great job of letting you know where you stood, and you walked away appreciating that," he says. "I always found him to be a guy who said what he meant and meant what he said."
Tim Young, president of Young's Equipment in Regina, Saskatchewan, agrees. "Jim Irwin has always been a man for the dealer. I met him when I joined the Case IH company store business in 1984. I recall that for a company man, Jim was very interested in the retail side of the business, and when he was promoted to his job as vice president North American sales, that interest never waned."
Young often saw Irwin being the point man at company and dealer functions. "Amazingly, after a day of giving presentations and answering tough questions, he'd be available to talk with dealers as long as they wanted. Then the next day he was up there proudly waving the Case IH flag and encouraging us to be the best we could be.
"To me, he's one of the last real 'iron' men … a product guy who could talk features and benefits, and loved doing it," Young says.
That love of the product, the company and the industry, with four decades of experience, also made Irwin a valued resource for agricultural trade publication editors.
"Jim has the uncanny ability to weave the big picture long-term perspective view of the industry together with a very personal brand perspective," says Charlene Finck, Farm Journal managing editor and field test director. "And, he had the candor and willingness to share these views in a way that was very helpful," she says.
Not that these conversations were all one-way, Finck notes. "He loved to argue … to spar. He sometimes took opposing positions just to see if I'd speak up," she says. The discussions that became most intense, she says, were often related to distribution. "He held all dealer issues closest to the heart, for sure," she says.
As an editor with more than 20 years of equipment industry experience, Finck says she always appreciated Irwin's accessibility. "He's a master at building relationships. Whether it was with dealers, editors or whomever, he seemed to genuinely enjoy forming and maintaining the relationship. And always, he was very candid, open and helpful while being completely professional."
Outside the specific world of farm equipment, Irwin's trademark qualities have benefited other groups.
"'Insightful' is the first word that comes to my mind," says Joyce Watson, president and CEO of the Illinois Agricultural Leadership Foundation, an organization that helps develop knowledgeable spokespersons and decision-makers for the ag industry. "As a board member, Jim listens, measures and takes everything in. Then he contributes with something rather profound. He thinks through what he wants to say and it has meaning.
"Another thing I've admired about Jim is his ability to be comfortable with many different ag cultures. He can communicate with all phases of agriculture … production, input people and senior executives. He's a friend to people in all phases of agriculture."
Jan Ferris has observed one level of Irwin's friendship many times over. As major accounts manager for the National FFA Organization, Ferris has seen the warmth and enthusiasm with which Irwin greets FFA national officers on their visits to Case IH headquarters in Racine, Wis. "He truly loves young people and believes in FFA as a very sound youth development organization. He sees FFA members as the pipeline to the future of the ag industry, both as customers and employees," she says.
Ferris says Irwin served the National FFA as a Sponsors Board member for four years and helped with the "Building the Future" campaign for the group's new headquarters building in Indianapolis. "Through Jim's personal efforts, as well as through Case IH, he was very instrumental in helping us raise funds to construct the new building. And even after he retired from the board, he has been an active FFA supporter," she says.
Dave Maurer also recognizes Irwin's leadership. As executive director for United Way of Racine County, Wis., Maurer sees the results of Irwin's leadership and competitive nature in CNH's (parent company of Case IH) consistent top-ranking pledges to the charity's annual fund drive.
"CNH employees really rally around United Way and Jim has been one of the leaders. They have a great team there," Maurer says.
Maurer believes Irwin to be a person of passion and commitment.
"He knows that the people he works with are fortunate to have good jobs … that other people struggle … and that helping them is the right thing to do. He's very generous in giving of his time and his skills to inspire others on behalf of United Way. He's definitely a believer in giving back to the community."
The Irwin name has left a mark on a lot of people. "Jim Irwin has had a major impact on many dealers in the Case IH family," says dealer Tim Young. "It's not surprising that he received an award for Agribusiness Leader of the Year. I'll miss him, and I know many dealers will, too." AM
Editor's Note: Agri Marketing would like to thank Ellen LaRose and Laurie Redman-Steen, Morgan&Myers, and Claudia Garber, Case IH, for their support in producing this supplement.