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Modern Group Sets The Bar High

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Modern Group logo

When a customer calls one of the five Modern Group companies to purchase or rent industrial equipment, that customer’s first contact is with an owner of the company. When a customer needs on-site service, the first technician to arrive is an owner. Need a part? Call the owner.

Modern has 570 owners, and every one of them makes sure the customer is satisfied. They live Modern’s tagline of Modern Pride/Modern Performance, or as it is known, MP2.

Modern’s founder Joe McEwen believed strongly in giving back to his employees. By doing so, he knew they consistently would do the right thing for the company and the customer. In 1984, McEwen established Modern’s Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). At the time, Modern was one of only a few companies throughout the United States to have an ESOP.

Headquarters

Modern Group, Ltd. headquarters in Bristol, Pennsylvania

When McEwen retired in early 2003, he offered to sell his shares to the ESOP. The Board of Directors’ unanimous approval of the transaction was the culmination of an 18-year transformation. On October 15, 2004, Modern Group completed this transformation to a 100 percent ESOP, in which the company is now solely owned by its employees.

“The completion of the ESOP process is a milestone in the company’s history,” says David Griffith, president and CEO of the Modern Group. “The employees of the Modern Group have always been the backbone of the company’s success, and the 100 percent ESOP puts the company’s ownership directly into the hands of those who will make our future even brighter.”

Every six weeks, an officer of the company briefs employees on the most recent financial numbers. Once a year, Griffith and Chief Financial Officer George Wilkinson make a formal presentation to employees. At those meetings, Wilkinson opens the books and breaks down where every dollar of Modern Group revenue went in the previous fiscal year. Also, Griffith and Wilkinson meet with every employee in roundtable meetings throughout the year.

With the conversion to 100 percent ESOP, Modern also converted to an S Corp. “The cash flow implications are huge,” says Griffith, “as is the wealth creation opportunity for each employee.” Describing the ESOP, Griffith says, “Frankly, we’ve been able to affect the transition on our terms, not someone else’s.”

David Griffith

David Griffith, Modern President and CEO

Setting the Bar
Founded in 1946 as Rapids Handling Equipment, a subsidiary of Rapids Standard Equipment Company, to distribute a line of conveyor from its Philadelphia location, “transformation” became the hallmark and legacy of the company. Joe McEwen was one of six employees for the firm, working as a sales representative. A year after opening, the company became a franchised dealer for Hyster Company’s line of forklifts. Several years later, in 1955, Joe McEwen and partner Jack Grimison formed the Modern Handling Equipment Company in a friendly spin-off of the forklift business from the conveyor business.

Over the next twenty years, Modern Handling Equipment concentrated on building and strengthening its core business of selling and servicing forklift trucks. A commitment to service and delighting customers led the company to focus efforts on meeting customer needs with speed and efficiency.

Products and services were added. In 1974, Modern Equipment Rentals was created to serve the burgeoning construction and industrial maintenance markets. A construction equipment division was formed in 1981, marketing rough terrain and aerial platform equipment to both the construction and industrial sectors. As customer demands increased, additional locations were added and, with several acquisitions, the company expanded throughout the Northeast. As the corporate structure grew, a holding company, the Modern Group Ltd., was created in 1979, to better manage what was becoming a rapidly expanding corporate structure.

Executives

Tradition of Excellence . . . Joe McEwen (r) and George Wilkinson (l) both served as MHEDA Presidents. Allen McCully, who died in 1995, was President in 1988.

Headquartered in Bristol, Pennsylvania, Modern now provides sales, leasing, short-term rental, service, parts, training and financing solutions for material handling, construction and maintenance equipment from 24 locations across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware and Maryland to a variety of industries including distribution, manufacturing, shipping, warehousing, construction, industrial maintenance and public works. The Modern Group’s five divisions are dealers for over 400 product lines and the company is one of the largest Hyster dealers in the world.

“A Learning Company”
Modern’s 570 employees are its leading edge, and much emphasis is placed on recruiting and retaining the best. In-house and outside training courses, as well as a tuition refund program, help employees maintain and improve their skills. Dave Griffith refers to Modern as “a learning company.” “When you’re coasting, you’re going down hill.” Griffith points to this advice from his father as a signal point for his company. “I tell our people that our performance today simply sets the bar for tomorrow.”

The goal of every Modern employee is to be computer-literate and trained in how best to use technology. Griffith says, “When people are trained to use these tools, they do the job not only faster, but better.” Prior to joining Modern in 1992, Griffith was an executive at IBM and MCI, and his interest and passion for technology that works and improves the job is legendary.

Modern’s Web site, www.moderngroup.com, lists every piece of used equipment for sale, including condition reports, pricing and photos. Updated every 48 hours. “We’re constantly evaluating what we do on the Web,” says Griffith. “We want the site to provide information, but we always want a human being following up on everything. All of this technology is here to augment and better the transaction. But this is still a hands-on business and human interaction is key.”

Service Technicians

Highly trained service technicians are always on call.

According to Don Sherow, Modern’s vice president of marketing, the Web site receives 7,200 unique visitors each month. “The Web address is incorporated into Modern’s logo, so it appears on letterhead, envelopes, signs, even our trucks,” Sherow explains. “It also is optimized for search engine results.”

An extensive training program is available to Modern’s customers. Thirty schools from basic to advanced technology on industrial trucks are available, as is computer interface technology on electric and internal combustion trucks. Modern’s Web site posts the training schedule along with a syllabus for each course, including objective, length and cost. The site also links to the U.S. Department of Labor and OSHA, making it easier for customers to access information.

Dave Griffith points to the aftermarket as the area where most of the company’s growth will continue to occur. “Aftermarket is where the ability to sell and rent other products starts and ends, and we are focusing on it with a vengeance. Modern’s strategy is to add products that grow the parts and service business and have rental capacity, in essence feeding the aftermarket.”

MHEDA in 2005
Strategy is a word that MHEDA’s 2005 President takes seriously. Dave Griffith came to Modern in 1992 after working in various executive positions at IBM and MCI. While at IBM, he was named one of the country’s Top 10 Salesmen. His positions included branch manager, regional manager, director of marketing operations, director of sales, vice president of product marketing and assistant to the president of IBM Corporation.

Griffith attributes his father and brothers as his mentors and role models. He calls his father a salesman’s salesman, who was a “hard-nosed businessman with compassionate people skills” who also served as chairman and CEO of R.W. Greeff, a chemical brokerage firm. His two older brothers are in the banking industry.

Employees

Modern's strong commitment to employee training results in a highly skilled and motivated workforce.

Dave Griffith’s roots go even further. He joins a long line of MHEDA Presidents from Modern Group: Joe McEwen (1966), Allen McCully (1988) and George Wilkinson (1996), who is Modern’s executive vice president and chief financial officer.

As MHEDA launches its “Year of Transformation,” our 51st president will lead the association in its own transformation. “We are looking at our offerings and tuning them to make sure we are being responsive to our membership. We’re all about getting better. I think this is true personally, it’s true in our businesses, and it’s true in our association. Every day, we have to get better.” Griffith points to MHEDA-NET, the Web site and distance learning as programs that “make a lot of sense for members and will continue to be enriched.”

“MHEDA members are very astute business people,” says Griffith. He knows. Over the past few years, Griffith has given presentations and keynote addresses to over 45 different trade associations throughout North America. The fees paid to Griffith for these speeches were given to his church, to help rebuild it after it was destroyed in a fire. From this vantage point, he has earned a great perspective on business people and trade associations.

As he begins his term, Griffith knows what’s ahead. “On the industrial truck side, there is emphasis and growth on the back end. Companies are diversifying their product offerings. We are seeing larger dealers, better capitalized dealers, and more products coming through dealers. Distributors are procuring products with strong aftermarket attributes that can be serviced by a common back end. Similar changes are occurring with engineered systems.” As these changes continue to impact MHEDA members, Griffith stands at the helm. “MHEDA is a great association. How do we leverage it?” he asks. “How do we leverage what we do so well every day to help us get better?” Citing his father, Griffith will not let the association coast, and as we focus on transformation in 2005, he is ready for the challenge.

In an interview on the occasion of Modern’s 50th anniversary, Founder Joe McEwen said, “I’ve always had a curiosity about how to improve upon what we do.” That curiosity is shared by Dave Griffith. There is no secret formula to the success enjoyed by the Modern Group. There is a strong and genuine commitment to the market place and to serving its needs in a timely and responsive manner, whatever it takes. Those same qualities are at the forefront of MHEDA in its new President, Dave Griffith.

MODERN GROUP, LTD.

Material handling, construction and maintenance equipment available from Modern’s companies range from forklift trucks and compaction equipment to aerial work platforms, loading dock and earth moving equipment.
Modern Handling Equipment Company is the Hyster dealership for Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.
Modern Handling Equipment of New Jersey is the Hyster dealership for New Jersey and parts of New York.
Modern Equipment Sales & Rental is the retail rental company.
Modern Systems has responsibility for Generac, LTW, warehouse products and operator and technical training.
Seely Equipment & Supply Company focuses on municipal, state and local government business.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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