Good To Have David Back: David Withers, who became one of this country’s most successful exports when he rose to the position of President and CEO with Jacobsen after 24 years with the company, has taken on the role of Managing Director of Iseki UK with the task of building a British arm for what is a very well known and respected Japanese brand.
David, for all his high flying career based in the United States, never lost either his love of his real home or contact with his British friends and associates, and being able to reignite with both sees him entering his new challenge with characteristic vigour.
He took time from building his new company infrastructure – and shouting at photocopiers and printers – to chat with Turf Matters.
It must have been pretty full on since the decision to create Iseki (UK) towards the end of last year and your appointment as Managing Director shortly after that.
December and January was a really busy time. We had to find premises, hire people, put a computer system in place and pick up the inventory from Ransomes. It’s a big deal starting something from scratch in a very short space of time, ensuring all the legalities are in place etc, but we’ve been able to do it.
You were obviously very well aware of Iseki as a company, and their products, having worked with them while at Ransomes yourself.
Yes, I knew about the company from my time with Ransomes and Textron and that’s why I’m involved in all honesty and being able to work with a company that I wasn’t in competition with while at Textron.
Did your relationship with Ransomes assisted with the hand-over?
Very much so. The transition from Ransomes to Iseki UK was handled very well by both sides and done in a very friendly and co-operative manner. There are also five people who have transferred from Ransomes to Iseki. Our new premises are literally 400-500 yards away from Ransomes so in terms of transferring inventory it was relatively easy because we were so close.
How many staff do you have at present?
As we speak we have eight full time employees while we have three more who have agreed to join us and three temps. In total we will end up with between a dozen to 15 which should be enough to get us through this year and we’ll probably add some more after that.
Where does Iseki currently sit in what is a fairly crowded market?
It varies with tractors and mowers. We’re probably third or fourth with tractors at the moment and first or second when it comes to cut and collect mowers, which I believe are second to none when they come to build quality and performance.
What ambitions do you have for the company in the short, medium and long terms?
The task we’ve been given by our colleagues in Japan is to double business over a five year period. That’s what we are working towards and I think that it’s eminently doable. As things stand right now, golf is very important to us and local authorities are also very important to us but there is no doubt a lot of opportunity for us with contractors, homes with acreage, the bottom end of the agricultural market, so that is where we will be putting our effort. If I compare us to our colleagues in France, Germany and Spain, their sales are 50-50 on agricultural or turf tyres. For us it is probably 90% turf and 10% agricultural tyres. It’s not that the market doesn’t exist, it’s just that we haven’t focussed on it yet.
We often find we end up not doing the job for which we came into the business – Course Managers end up in front of computer screens rather than cutting greens for example. Are you looking forward to getting back to a more hands on role to the one you had latterly at Jacobsen?
Yes I am and no I’m not is the truth of it. I’ve been doing this for about four months and there are bits which I really love – out there meeting dealers, selling things etc. We’re a small team and if we’re really busy in an afternoon I’m out there picking parts something I’ve not done for many years. But then I find myself having to work a photocopier or a printer and I’m completely out of my comfort zone. It will be nice to get all the infrastructure in place so I can focus more on the business strategy side of things.
With all the experience you have gathered over the years you must be uniquely suited to your new role?
It was because of the experience and training that I picked up at Jacobsen that Iseki approached me and we started to talk about this role. To be honest it would be tough to find someone who has better experience and qualifications, based on the job I’ve done over the last 25 to 30 years.
Did you ever thing about sitting back and enjoying the fruits of your labours?
It probably took two or three months to get around the fact that I wasn’t at Jacobsen any more. I’d been there such a long time and it had been so much a part of my life. I was still waking up in the morning thinking about work but by the time I’d got the summer I was bored. There is only so much golf you can play and it was too early for me. I still feel like I’ve got something to offer. We’ve got the five year plan to double the business and I’ll see how I feel when we’ve achieved that. I’ll be edging towards 60 by then so I’ll see then what I want to do then.
So exciting times ahead?
Very much so. I have to say too that we are working with dealers but we have gaps to fill so there will be opportunities for dealers who are out there and who are interested in becoming an Iseki dealer.
Well, David, we are delighted to see you back in the UK. The industry will be better for having you back involved and we’ll just let you get back to working out how to put toner in your printer.