Sharing a lot of information
Sharing a lot of information
06/05/2012

Covering the equipment rental industry as an editor and a reporter is often a different experience because rental store owners and managers almost always are willing to share ideas, tips and advice that could help others in the industry, including the competition. It seems like everyone wants everyone else in the industry to succeed and agrees with the old saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

I’ve covered other industries in the past and attended shareholder meetings of companies like the Walt Disney Co., Time Warner and a variety of others. Some of those meetings were pretty raucous, with shareholders concerned about all sorts of things and taking company management to task.

I haven’t attended a United Rentals shareholder meeting, but I have listened in on several analyst and investor calls related to quarterly results as well as a special call the company held on May 14 to discuss the integration process following the close of United Rentals’ acquisition of RSC on April 30.

As a public company, I know United Rentals has to be transparent and release data privately held companies can claim as proprietary information. However, true to the spirit of the equipment rental industry, it feels like United Rentals is laying everything out there for everyone to see.

When covering companies in other industries, I remember so often hearing the phrases, “We’re doing what’s best for our shareholders” or “We are focused on increasing shareholder value.”

While there is a component of this mentioned during conference calls with United Rentals, it isn’t the only focus. Instead, you often hear Michael Kneeland, United Rentals president and CEO, talk about customer service, expanding equipment rental into new markets, stabilizing and increasing rental rates and investing in new equipment to take advantage of market opportunities.

All those things, of course, should help increase shareholder value, but there also seems to be a genuine interest in lifting up the equipment rental industry as well.

Kneeland spoke with Rental Management about the merger soon after the deal with RSC was announced in December for an interview that appeared in the February 2012 issue. He also agreed to speak with us again after the deal closed on April 30. An edited version of that May 17 interview starts on page 22 in this issue. This again shows a willingness to share information with the equipment rental industry at large.

While many initially assumed this merger would lead to mass closings of duplicative branches, selling off of excess inventory, the elimination of many redundant jobs and other actions that would realize cost savings, just how United Rentals is approaching this integration also feels different.

Instead of selling off a bunch of equipment, United Rentals is talking about the possibility of the combined company spending more than $1.5 billion on new equipment in 2012. After factoring in the revenue from selling older equipment, the net investment in new equipment could be more than $1 billion.

Within two weeks of closing the deal, the company also had its field leadership team in place, had distributed employee playbooks, opened cross-company visibility of fleet at the branch level for sharing of equipment, launched an employee microsite and started senior leadership meetings with branches throughout North America.

It’s still early, but this transition seems to be on course for a quick completion. As Kneeland said soon after the merger was announced, “Having been through 250 acquisitions, I want to make sure people understand where they belong and where they intend to be.” So far, he is living up to that promise.

Wayne Walley is editor for Rental Management, the official magazine of the American Rental Association, 1900 19th St., Moline, IL 61265. He can be reached at 800-334-2177, ext. 253, or 309-277-4253; fax 309-764-2747; wayne.walley@ararental.org.