This spring, RDO Integrated Controls celebrates its 10-year anniversary. This division of RDO Equipment Co., specializing in products for machine control, positioning, and worksite modeling, has grown from three founding members to more than 100 team members, serving customers in industries from construction to solar field construction.
Jay Mercer, General Manager of Technology Support; Tom Potter, Product Manager; and Jerod Staebler, Service Technician, are the original three RDO Integrated Controls team members, and each of them still works within the division today. For them, the last decade has been a wild ride, one that all began with unwavering confidence and the willingness of RDO Equipment Co. Leadership to take a chance on a small operation with big promise.
Opportunity and Acquisition
According to Adam Gilbertson, Vice President of Midwest Construction (West) and Midwest Integrated Controls, RDO Equipment Co. Leadership saw great potential for machine control technology, thanks in part to their experience in the agriculture industry.
“As a company, we’d seen machine guidance technology sweep the ag industry in the late ‘90s and early 2000s,” Adam said. “We understood that it was going to be important in ag, and we saw it having a similar impact in the construction industry,” he said.
By the mid-2000s, the company had taken steps to become more involved in machine control technology in the Midwest Construction region. One such step was becoming a Topcon sub-dealer in Montana, an arrangement brokered by Jay, who worked for Western Plains Machinery at the time.
Jay had spent much of the 2000s developing Western Plains Machinery’s machine control branch, a process he’d begun while still in college. By the end of the decade, he’d found success with sales, installs, service, and training in Montana and Wyoming, but when Western Plains was purchased by Titan Machinery in 2009, his immediate future was thrown into limbo.
When the announcement of the acquisition was made, RDO Equipment Co. Leadership saw the opportunity they’d been searching for. Jay, with his established presence, experience, and strong relationship with Topcon, could prove to be a valuable addition to the company.
“We reached out to Jay and basically let him know that we were here if the acquisition didn’t work out smoothly for him for any reason,” Adam said.
With confidence in the business plan he’d spent years crafting and refining, Jay met with RDO Equipment Co.’s Leadership team and found them to be a receptive and supportive audience. They had faith in what the two parties could achieve together and were willing to provide Jay the keys to success. It wasn’t long before the offer was made. Jay decided to make the leap, accepting the position of Machine Control and Laser Manager, and RDO Integrated Controls was born.
With his hands on the helm of a new operation, Jay reached out to fellow Western Plains/Titan Machinery employees, Tom and Jerod, to help with sales and service, respectively.
“Jay told me what was going on and what RDO wanted to do,” Tom said. “They were a company that wanted to start something, give us the resources to develop it, and build it around us. So, I put my faith in Jay, and we went for it.”
Jerod responded to Jay’s proposal with a similar level of trust.
“He asked if I’d follow him over and be the technician,” Jerod said. “I didn’t know right away. I’d just had a baby and bought a house. But Jay had helped me out, he’d taught me a lot, so I thought about it and talked to my wife, and we said, ‘let’s do it.’”
A Fast Start
The first several months were a period of excitement and chaos for the fledging operation. The company was awarded a master dealership contract from Topcon for Wyoming and Montana, along with a mining and landfill contract from Carlson, and the three founders set to work on maintaining their existing customer base while growing sales.
“The first year was definitely an adventure,” Tom said. “It was a lot of feeling out what works for both sides – how do we continue doing what we’d been doing within this new structure, and how does RDO learn about what we do and how we do it?”
Even while adjusting to now being a part of RDO Equipment Co., the new branch saw early success, including deals with two large mining operations in the first few months. Within the next few years, RDO Integrated Controls expanded throughout the Midwest and into the Southwest, acquiring dealerships in Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Arizona, and California.
“My five-year goal when starting with RDO was to do amazing things in Montana,” Jay said. “We hit that goal in about four months. That’s what really helped slingshot us to the rest of it.”
The addition of RDO Integrated Controls made an immediate impact for RDO Equipment Co., introducing new ways for sales teams to interact with customers.
“It’s a very different discussion when you’re in the decision cycle of estimating, planning, and improving efficiency than when you’re only talking about providing the machine,” Adam said.
A Decade in the Rearview Mirror
With ten years at RDO Integrated Controls behind them, Jay, Tom, and Jerod are able to reflect on their progress and the ways in which support from Leadership has helped foster success.
“I’ve never worked at a company like this before,” Jerod said. “RDO is like family. They’ve treated me amazingly. They’ve given me all the tools I’ve needed to succeed. As a division, we’ve had ups and downs, but any time we’ve been knocked down, RDO has been there to pick us up and challenge us to learn from it.”
Opportunities for professional growth have allowed for the development of new skills and even the addition of new functions and teams. In fact, the RDO Integrated Controls Solutions Center, a customer support team implemented in 2013, was the final project from Jay’s group in RDO Equipment Co.’s Management Institute Program, an internal training regimen designed to develop strong leaders.
“Ten years ago, there’s no way I could have ever had this vision of where we’re at today,” Tom said. “That, to me, is a pretty impactful thing looking in the rearview mirror.”
The vision for machine control technology foreseen by RDO Equipment Co. Leadership a decade ago is coming to fruition in many ways, and there is still plenty of opportunity to grow and improve.
A Fully Integrated Company
From groups of driverless machines being controlled remotely by a single operator, to 3D digital jobsite mapping and much more, the advances the future holds for machine control technology are sure to be stunning. One thing will remain constant – each upgrade and enhancement will be aimed at increasing efficiency and profitability for users.
As technology becomes more integrated with machines and essential for operators, the role it plays in selling and supporting equipment will expand, demanding an all-encompassing range of knowledge and support that is seamless for customers.
“Ten years ago, we brought RDO Integrated Controls in and ran it alongside the rest of the business as we grew it,” Adam said. “Now the key is becoming fully integrated, so the customer doesn’t see any difference between the integrated controls expertise and the equipment expertise.”
With the development of Customer Support teams dedicated to driving a more connected customer experience, the integration is well underway, but the continuous improvement is still the goal at the start of each day.
“It’s a constant quest to continue to grow but also become a truly integrated company that has a wider breadth of opportunities to offer a customer,” Tom said. “That’s the path we’re on and that we’ll continue to go down.”
The "original" RDOIC team: (left to right) Adam Gilbertson, Jay Mercer, Jerod Staebler, and Tom Potter.
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