, by Tharran E. Gaines
Editor's Note: Jim Seaver, senior vice president of AGCO sales and marketing worldwide, was selected as the 2003 NAMA Marketer of the Year.
As a golf enthusiast for most of his life, AGCO Corporation's Jim Seaver knows that golf is largely a solitary game in which one plays against himself and the course more than against any competitors or golf partners. Some days you're at the peak of your game, and the next day, you can't make par to save your life. It's concentration and consistency, however, that win the tournaments.
To AGCO's benefit, Seaver brings that same self-drive and consistency to his role as senior vice president of sales and marketing worldwide. As one of five co-founders of the Duluth, Ga.-based company, Seaver has always approached marketing plans with the same concentration it takes to sink an 18th-hole putt. But he had never faced pressure like he did in early 2002, following the crash of a corporate jet in England.
Killed in that crash were two of his best friends and co-founders - AGCO president and CEO John Shumejda, and Ed Swingle, vice president of sales and marketing. At the time, Seaver was serving as CEO of AGCO Finance. However, the greater need at the moment was for someone to fill the huge void in sales and marketing. And few people knew the course as well as Seaver.
Within hours of their loss, chairman of the board Robert Ratliff resumed his former role of president and CEO. Two days later, Seaver assumed a role he had previously filled under
a different title.
Since he had previously worked as executive vice president of worldwide sales and marketing and senior vice president of worldwide sales, Seaver already knew the world market as well as he knows his favorite golf course, and he had the skills to work with the differing cultures and distribution channels in AGCO's multi-continent market.
Seaver's first task was to build on the Challenger brand, which had been acquired a month earlier with the purchase of the Challenger MT700 and MT800 rubber-tracked tractors developed by Caterpillar.
"The Challenger brand - the name we licensed with the purchase - applied only to the MT tractors, which consisted of just two series of tracked tractors," Seaver explains. "So our first question to the Caterpillar dealers was, 'What is it you need to get more involved in the agricultural sector?'" he says. "The response was a full line of products that included wheeled tractors, hay tools, implements, etc."
AGCO proceeded to deliver on the Challenger dealers' requests, and the results exceeded expectations.
Seaver would be the first to tell you that his life and career have been one long string of surprises. One is that after living throughout the northern Midwest, he and his wife, Susan, have ended up in the Atlanta area where they grew up. Just as many surprises, though, have come through Seaver's association with friend and colleague, Robert Ratliff.
"My relationship with Bob Ratliff actually goes back nearly 30 years to when we were both working for International Harvester's Truck Group," Seaver explains, noting that his association with John Shumejda also started at IH. "When Bob left and went to Uniroyal, he hired both John and me to join him in the sales and marketing department."
A couple of years later, when Ratliff joined Deutz-Allis as president, he again called Seaver and Shumejda. Seaver joined the company as vice president of marketing. Less than two years later, he and his business partners had the opportunity to buy the Deutz-Allis ag equipment division from its German owners and start their own company.
"Negotiations with Kloeckner-Humboldt-Deutz actually started in late 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down," Seaver recalls. "At that point, KHD had a change in their global strategy and their focus became Eastern Europe and a reunified Germany. Consequently, they didn't really have a desire to continue the relationship in the U.S., which led us to buy the business and form AGCO in June 1990."
Ironically, the Deutz-Allis and GLEANER product lines were just the first of many to follow. Less than ten months later, AGCO purchased the Hesston brand of hay equipment, followed by the White tractor line. In the years since, AGCO has purchased White planters, New Idea, Massey Ferguson, AGCOSTAR, Glencoe, Tye, Farmhand, FENDT, Spra-Coupe, Willmar, Ag Chem, LOR☆AL, Challenger and, most recently, Sunflower.
´´When we started AGCO, we were a $200-million, privately held company," Seaver recalls. "Our vision was $100 million in parts and $100 million in whole goods, and we felt that given the life cycle of the products and the population of old Allis-Chalmers tractors in the field, we would get along fine for several years, even if we were unsuccessful in acquiring a different tractor line."
However, it was at that point that Hesston came up for sale, which became the company's first acquisition.
"We now have a corporate development group that takes part of the credit for our growth through acquisitions," Seaver says. "But ideas have come forward from a number of different sources. I can recall, for example, that I had seen an article in the Wall Street Journal, which stated that Massey Ferguson had their Agricredit group available for sale. That purchase eventually led Bob Ratliff to the acquisition of Massey Ferguson worldwide."
It was with that same kind of shrewd business strategy that Ratliff, Seaver and the management team were able to later acquire the Germany-based FENDT brand, which many consider to be the true "jewel in the crown" in technology, quality and brand equity. Another jewel has been the companies and brands that make up the AgChem Division, which includes the RoGator and TerraGator product brands.
"We didn't really invent the multiple-brand idea," Seaver explains. "When we first started buying up these other companies, we looked around to see if anybody else was marketing multiple brands. And we discovered, 'Well, yeah, there's a company called General Motors.' The only difference between our philosophy and that of General Motors is that, from the beginning, we decided to consolidate more functions, such as accounting, marketing, engineering, etc., under one corporate umbrella. And that has proven to be a very effective strategy.
"The other thing we've been blessed with is a great group of employees and dealers," Seaver says. "Because we are the industry consolidator, we've been able to take people from many different cultures and blend them together into a very talented and dedicated organization. In fact, I would say that our staff and our dealer network are the best off-balance-sheet asset that we have."
As the owner of Laker Farm Implement Service in Rushville, Ind., Wilbur Laker says he has worked with Seaver for the better part of 13 years, including seven years on the AGCO dealer panel.
"I think Jim has done a particularly good job of striking a balance," says Laker. "He always listened to us and tried to work out any problems we had, while looking out for the company's side of the business, too. He's never just looked at things from a one-sided perspective.
"One of the most beneficial aspects of AGCO, though, has been the company's multi-brand strategy that has effectively broadened our market," Laker adds.
"We've always looked at acquisitions as being important to us when we see an opportunity to either expand our technology base or to expand our distribution base," Seaver adds.
Seaver insists it's not over yet. Even today, AGCO management has a few more acquisitions in mind. In the meantime, the company is preparing to roll out technology acquired with earlier purchases as options on additional brands.
"When we started as a $200-million, privately owned company, we never dreamed that we would ever be listed on the New York Stock Exchange or generating in excess of $3 billion in sales on a global scale," Seaver concludes. "But when the opportunities presented themselves, we were certainly aggressive in moving forward. And I think it was that aggressive nature in all of us that has led to the growth of AGCO." AM
Tharran E. Gaines is owner of Gaines Communications and managing editor of AGCO Advantage and Hesston Prime Line magazines for Green Valley Custom Publishing.
Challenger® is a registered trademark of Caterpillar Corporation; all other brands are registered trademarks of AGCO Corporation.