A growing family: RDO

RDO Australia Group’s CEO Julie Whitcombe is preparing to seamlessly integrate three equipment businesses.

RDO Australia Group appoints new CEO Julie Whitcombe ahead of a year of growth and expansion for 2020. Roads & Infrastructure sits down with Julie to find out what is in store for its construction brands.

In 2019, RDO Australia Group increased its holdings in two family-owned Australian equipment companies from 50 to 100 per cent – Vermeer and Vanderfield.

The consolidation of its Australian business interests prompted the need for a new CEO to steer the equipment company through a period of growth.

While also being the sole John Deere Construction and Forestry distributor across six states and territories in Australia, RDO Australia Group places existing family values at the core of its new business, paving the way for strong relationships with its people and clients.

Like RDO Australia Group, Vermeer and Vanderfield have long-standing and strong family values.

Julie Whitcombe has been appointed the new CEO of RDO Australia Group, with a goal to seamlessly combine the three businesses and ensure these family values are upheld across the company. These values, Ms. Whitcombe says, will remain an integral part of the business as it expands across the country.

“Ultimately it’s all about making our customers’ businesses better. We want to be a real partner for our clients, and we are excited to be working on that this year,” Ms. Whitcombe says.

As the company continued to grow its equipment footprint, an experienced leader was needed to drive RDO’s vision of becoming the best equipment dealer in Australia.

With a background in regional Australia and experience leading resource projects, Ms. Whitcombe was initially chosen to lead RDO Equipment and Vermeer Australia as their new Chief Operating Officer.

After the company increased its Vanderfield and Vermeer Australia holdings, it formed a new business structure to head up the three businesses – RDO Australia Group.

Ms. Whitcombe’s significant management experience quickly saw her appointed as the group’s new CEO.

Her leadership will help to support the three companies under the one roof.

With a background in engineering and accounting, Ms. Whitcombe says she is passionate about how businesses merge and grow.

Her early experience includes nearly eight years at PwC in the UK and Brisbane in different roles.

Before joining RDO Equipment, Ms. Whitcombe worked at oil and gas company Senex Energy, running coal seam gas projects from exploration to completion.

Discussions about the growth opportunities of RDO Australia Group with RDO Offutt Co Executive Vice President Ryan Offutt left her intrigued and inspired to help drive the company’s forward-thinking strategy.

With the consolidation of Vermeer and Vanderfield, RDO Australia Group and Ms. Whitcombe have developed two key priorities for the business over the next year.

“The first is really to introduce Australia to John Deere construction and forestry machinery. John Deere construction machines in particular haven’t previously been a big part of the market here, so I am really excited to be representing that product line in our market,” Ms. Whitcombe says.

Ms. Whitcombe thinks there is a significant opportunity to bring John Deere innovations and technology to the sector, as demonstrated with the release of the John Deere 850L dozer.

The dozer features technology such as optional John Deere SmartGrade and an upgraded cab, boasting the largest volume and storage area in its class, which is built around the operator with extra comfort features.

The second goal is to bring the three businesses – RDO Equipment, Vermeer and Vanderfield – together and use the scale and reach of the combined business to better support customers.

For example, RDO’s success in the United States is an achievement Ms. Whitcombe hopes she can replicate in Australia.

“RDO in the US is known for a really strong focus on culture and delivering exceptional customer service.

“Scale helps with that – it gives you the ability to work your resources harder and have a reach that extends to where your customers are actually operating,” she says.

While the company has many long-term goals, the short-term priority will be to focus on making sure that the current capacity is running smoothly, and existing clients and machines are well supported.

The owners of Vermeer and Vanderfield will be staying on as board members of RDO Australia Group and will hold equity in the business.

“It’s excellent that we get to keep all of the wonderful experience from the Vermeer and Vanderfield owners in the RDO business as we grow together,” Ms. Whitcombe says.

Partnerships have also been a large part of RDO’s success in the US, according to Ms. Whitcombe.

While the three businesses all work under the RDO Australia Group as a partnership, Ms. Whitcombe says they won’t all become ‘RDO’ tomorrow.

“We very much value the Vermeer Australia and Vanderfield brands, so in terms of going to market, our customers will continue to see those three distinct businesses,” she says.

But there’s a different view from an in-house perspective.

“We’ll be looking to use the business infrastructure as cooperatively and collaboratively as possible. Everything from our people to our facilities will work together. Australia is a really big country and one of the challenges for dealers is to be close to the customers and be present when needed.”

There are currently 18 branches from the three companies across the east coast of Australia.

It is Ms. Whitcombe’s goal for all three product lines and groups of customers to work seamlessly.

“We really want to create a network that everyone can benefit from,” she says.

Ms. Whitcombe says the current customer base has been really supportive through RDO Australia Group’s growth in Australia and is excited for new John Deere machines to come in.

Motor graders, crawler dozers, wheel loaders, backhoe loaders and articulated dump trucks are already available on Australian shores, with skid steers, compact tracked loaders and mini excavators on offer in the first half of this year.

RDO Australia Group will also bring John Deere’s new E-Series-II excavators to the Australian market, which have been highly anticipated across the construction industry.

“RDO has made a really big statement I think in the last six months with what it has invested in Australia and it’s certainly the start of a very long-term commitment here,” she says.

“John Deere has also made a really big investment to make sure parts are available in the Australian market.

“I think customers have responded really well to what they see as an increased commitment from both the manufacturer and the dealer.”

Ms. Whitcombe says although RDO Australia Group is relatively new to the Australian market, enthusiasm for the new business partnerships, especially from John Deere customers, has been encouraging.

In terms of new equipment for Australia this year, Ms. Whitcombe says John Deere is working hard to bring new products to the market.

“We will hopefully see a lot of news in that space early this year and that will be exciting for us.

“2020 will be the year we will come to the market with a full fleet of products for all the industries we serve,” she says.

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