Machinery Chatter

New Holland Has New Helmsman

Jim Patrico
By  Jim Patrico , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Bret Lieberman says he will play to New Holland’s strong suits, including tradition, innovative products and a solid dealer network. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer photo by Jim Patrico)

It started 120 years ago with an entrepreneur named Abe Zimmerman, who opened a small factory for making agricultural products like feed mills in New Holland, Pennsylvania. Later, hay tools became the company's base as New Holland expanded into tractors, combines, sprayers and a full array of top-notch equipment sold globally.

With Abe long gone, New Holland's newest leader is a 47-year-old named Bret Lieberman, who comes to the task after 25 years with the company.

Taking the helm of an iconic 120-year-old company could be a little daunting; so much history to honor. On the other hand, all that history provides a little leeway; the brand has had a long time to build a great reputation and a loyal following.

Lieberman, newly minted vice president for New Holland North America, doesn't seem daunted. "I don't get scared very easily," he said recently at a media event near company headquarters. "I have worked in a lot of different disciplines during my career."

Besides, there's that built-in cushion: "The strength of the brand is our great heritage. It speaks for itself," Lieberman said.

Even with that heritage, these are challenging times for full line farm equipment manufacturers. The downturn in the ag economy has stressed bottom lines across the sector. Industry-wide high horsepower tractor sales have dropped more than 20% this year compared to last. Combine sales are even worse, dropping more than 30% As Lieberman acknowledged, "Agriculture is a cyclical business and we are in a down cycle."

On the plus side for New Holland and Lieberman, the company also has a balanced portfolio because of a strong construction division that is doing well now as the general economy starts to hum. Also on the plus side, New Holland's ag assets include its hay tools and livestock-oriented product lines. Those segments are among the few bright spots in the ag industry with sales increasing across the board. "We play in all the [farm machinery] segments," Lieberman said, which gives New Holland an edge.

Of course, the edge also comes with a challenge. Some competitors not normally known for their hay tools are trying to get bigger pieces of the business. Lieberman says New Holland's hay heritage will help keep competitors a bay: "We have always been in the hay business... We are the leaders in that business."

In 1990, Bret Lieberman signed on with New Holland in the parts department. Since then, he has had experience in variety of areas including his latest position as head of North America Manufacturing for New Holland. "Not a typical career path" to the top executive office, Lieberman says, but one that he indicates gives him a broad perspective on how a major farm equipment manufacturer functions.

Lieberman's predecessor Abe Hughes left New Holland in June after three years at the helm to become senior vice president of business development at ethanol innovator Poet.

When asked about his goals as new vice president, Lieberman said he plans to play to New Holland's strong suits, which include a loyal set of dealers: "I'll tell you very simply that the focus of our brand is to drive New Holland transactions through New Holland dealers. That's where we have got to be."

And when the next successor to Abe Zimmerman takes office? "My philosophy in any job I do is to leave the place in better shape than I found it," Lieberman said.


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