Leading with Integrity
Every company claims to be dedicated to its customers, but how many can prove it through their entire century-long history?
HOLT CAT® was providing excellent service to its industry even before its official inception. The man credited with the founding of Caterpillar, Benjamin Holt, passed down a zealous commitment to client service and satisfaction that still rings true for the fifth generation of HOLT CAT, which is currently adapting its skills to the ins and outs of the present-day business. HOLT CAT, after all, is the only Cat® dealership in the world that has been continually owned and operated by direct descendants of Benjamin Holt.
Caterpillar’s Humble Beginnings
But you probably don’t know Benjamin Holt for this—you know him as an inventor. The turn-of-the-century heavy-machinery expert invented what is known today as the first “caterpillar” machine, the crawler-type tread, leading him to found The Holt Manufacturing Company.
This was after two decades of inventions, including the first horse-drawn link-belt combined harvester, which started the trend of invention and innovation for the Holt family. The Caterpillar first crawled across a California wheat field in 1904, was powered by a gas engine starting in 1908, and hasn’t stopped dominating the industry since.
1925 saw The Holt Manufacturing Company merge with a competitor to become Caterpillar Tractor Co., creating a strong, independent line of Cat dealerships which established the brand by providing customers with responsive service. This was after the manufacturing operations company—Caterpillar Tractor Co.—moved to Illinois to be more central for distribution, and helped fight on the front line by towing equipment in World War One.
HOLT CAT: A Caterpillar Dealer is Born
Benjamin Holt’s second son—William K. “Bill” Holt—founded the HOLT CAT we know today in 1933 under the name Wm. K. Holt Machinery Co., which provided Caterpillar machines and parts to 60 counties in South Texas at the time.
The middle of the 1900s saw large expansion in Texas, the invention and domination of Holt land-clearing equipment in the industry, and the passing on of the Caterpillar dealership through Bill Holt to his nephews B.D. Holt and Holt Atherton, and finally to Peter M. Holt, current CEO.
The acquisition of the North Texas Cat dealership, Darr Equipment, in 2002 doubled the size of HOLT’s business. Today the company offers new and used machines and engines for sale, rents machinery, performs service, and offers a full range of parts to ensure customers are able to meet their obligations. These services are available to several different industries including mining, road and home building, commercial construction, oil and gas, as well as energy and emergency power backup for facilities.
But today’s high level of success, diversification, and rapid growth would not be possible without HOLT’s incredible commitment to service, which has been made possible by its dedication to the Values Based Leadership style.
Values Based Leadership
There is no better example of this leadership style than at HOLT CAT, a company that brought VBL into its organization in the late 1980s and has been prospering from it ever since.
By connecting a business’s goals to its employees’ personal values, employees are more motivated and the business more successful. Despite always having a commitment to people and customer service, this was something Peter M. Holt knew the organization sorely needed.
This cornerstone to how HOLT CAT does business was introduced to Peter by Ken Blanchard, management expert and renowned author of The One Minute Manager and other best-selling leadership books. Larry Mills, Executive Vice President, was part of the leadership team that helped institute the VBL model.
Known as the “soul” of HOLT CAT, Mills has worked for the company for four decades and is considered both the patriarch of VBL and the company’s culture steward.
“The Holt family has always had a balanced approach to business—they want their vendors to be taken care of, give back to employees, and enrich the community,” Mills shared. “We decided to formalize this culture in clear, consistent language anyone in the company can understand. It is non-negotiable. It provides the clarity every employee needs to make good choices and exceed our customer’s expectation. Culture trumps strategy every time.”
HOLT’S Values Based Leadership is based on five pillars: ethics, success, excellence, commitment, and being dynamic. Mills shared that these pillars serve as a compass for each employee, guiding them through the personal and business decisions they make every day.
“This is important, because our employees believe and live out our Vision, Values, and Mission every day in every transaction: they are not just posters hung on the walls,” he shared. “Almost thirty years ago when we created our Values we decided it was important to define them so their meaning would be clear for all.”
VBL was even introduced within the San Antonio Spurs organization—the basketball team in which Peter has part ownership. After it was introduced, the NBA team has gone on to win the championship title four times. Coincidence? We think not.
It’s easy to see all of these values in use, even just from the few interactions our editorial team had with HOLT CAT. Commitment, however, stands out above them all.
Edward Craner, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Marketing at HOLT, shared that a number of families who were with the business to start—both clients and employees—are still with the company today. This commitment, from both long-term employees and clients, stems from the Values Based Leadership style. Mills agreed, stating that his four decades with the company comes down to the wonderful people he gets to work with on a daily basis.
“My highest and best use is coaching, mentoring, and serving others,” Mills shared. “I have been blessed to be in an organization with wonderful people committed to our unique core values. It has allowed me to grow personally and professionally. The ownership of the company is moving to its fifth generation, and it is very important to me to give back the gifts I’ve received over the years.”
Both Corinna Holt Richter and Peter John Holt, children of current CEO Peter M. Holt, have joined the company in the last few years, and are in the process of learning the business to carry on the tradition of VBL and the Holt family name.
To ensure new employees adapt to the company culture, a standalone entity within the company—Holt Developmental Services, Inc. or HDSI—provides soft-skills training and evaluations. This division evaluates each person at HOLT and helps customize a training program that will benefit him or her. Craner believes that this has been one of the best investments the company has made.
“HOLT CAT invests not just in business strategy, innovations, safety, and everything else that goes into a business. HOLT CAT invests in its people,” he said. “Every single employee within the company is equipped with the tools to do their job according to our values-based culture.”
Legendary Customer Service
When each employee is given the tools to succeed, the quality of customer service increases. That’s the result HOLT CAT has come to, and Larry Mills shared that it’s the VBL style that has created its “legendary customer service”.
“Many companies struggle with delivering legendary customer service,” he said. “Employees feel conflicted doing the right thing for customers due to ever-changing messages from leadership, counter-intuitive recognition methods, and a lack of clarity about how to make tough decisions. Focusing on our VBL culture empowers employees to make the difficult calls without conferring with the normal hierarchal chain of command.”
With its 24-hour service expertise, remote parts pickup locations, and its ‘On Time, In Full’ parts guarantee however, HOLT CAT has no trouble meeting—and exceeding—its customers’ expectations and needs.
Although the company has upwards of 30 store locations throughout Texas, there could still be a fair bit of distance from a customer’s work site and a HOLT CAT store. To better serve its customers, and to make sure customers have parts when they need them, the company set up over 150 parts pickup locations throughout its dealership territory. HOLT CAT delivery trucks drive over 8,000 miles every night to distribute needed parts to these pickup locations.
“Cat machines are used primarily for production. Our customers base their wages and their companies’ livelihood on our machines, so uptime is critical,” Craner shared.
Its ‘On Time, In Full’ service guarantee also assists with uptime. Craner pointed out that no matter the quality of a machine, it will eventually wear out and break down. To make sure HOLT CAT is prepared for these instances and can get its customers up and running again, the company started to quantify its stock differently, using a measure on the customer instead of its internal inventory.
By understanding what the customer may need to prevent downtime in the future, HOLT CAT allows drawing inventory from a nearby HOLT CAT location, and suppliers can draw from an emergency supply of parts directly from Caterpillar. What’s most impressive about this ‘On Time, In Full’ guarantee is that HOLT CAT delivers on its promise 96 percent of the time, an industry-leading benchmark.
“All of our divisions are focused on providing legendary customer service, and rarely does a conversation go by where our employees don’t refer to these values,” said Craner. “We’re a learning organization—we never arrive, we’re always evolving. We learn as we go, and can adapt to new situations, challenges, and marketplace realities.”
These leadership strategies and business goals combine to create the heart of what HOLT CAT truly is—a company that cares for people. As its culture steward, none know this better than Larry Mills.
“HOLT’s storied success is largely due to the caliber of people employed by our company and our continuous investment in Values Based Leadership tools and processes,” he shared. “Just like a mechanic needs tools to complete a repair, our leaders require tools to effectively lead, inspire, and guide their teams. We are fortunate that the Holt family has had the vision to stay committed to the VBL culture for nearly 30 years. When future generations come along, they feel part of this legacy. They literally put the ‘legs’ in legacy to carry the culture forward.”
Leading with Innovation
How does a company born from revolutionary innovation maintain that spirit a hundred years on? In Part One of our series, HOLT CAT® showed how the company provides excellent customer service through its adherence to Values Based Leadership. It turns out that the driving ideas behind the company’s integrity also drive its approach to innovation.
“In order to meet the enormous challenges of the sheer size of our operation and the highly competitive markets here in Texas, we have to stay at the top of our game,” said Dave Harris, President and COO.
Harris has spent over 40 years in the industry, and two decades with HOLT CAT.
“Working for a Cat® dealership was always an aspirational goal for me,” he said. “I was originally attracted to HOLT because of their focus on customers, their professionalism, and their core business values, which have guided our company leaders since 1988. HOLT’s values describe how the company accomplishes their vision and those same values that led me to them originally have guided me ever since.”
Commitment to Infrastructure
In order to lead the industry in the U.S., HOLT CAT realized it needed to upgrade its facilities. An immense amount of attention and effort has been dedicated to growing and improving the company’s properties and facilities to keep up not only with the growth in the state population-wise, but also the state of the industry.
“Texas has the largest growing population of any state in the union,” Edward Craner, Senior Vice President, shared. “On a top 10 list of growing U.S. cities or counties, there are at least three or four that make the list that are located in Texas. We have been blessed with a fantastic economy.”
HOLT’s intrinsic aspirations for the company are the biggest driving factor in its growth. As an aspirational brand with continued focus on legendary customer service and delivering high value to customers, the company has realized that growth and improvement are absolutely necessary to maintaining quality of performance.
One of the company’s biggest current improvement projects is the construction of a new headquarters from which to manage the business.
“About five years ago an administrative building was built down the road to house our growing staff,” Craner shared. “But now it’s time to get everyone under one roof. Our new location at our San Antonio headquarters will contain our finance, marketing, HR, and IT departments, as well as our General Services and Executive teams.”
More importantly, HOLT’s recent capital investments have been focused on better serving their customers. “We have grown from 16 to 32 locations in the last few years and also upgraded several existing facilities,” said Harris. “These facilities have been upgraded with several state-of-the-art features that will enhance customer value, employee safety and productivity, and improve our overall sustainability.”
Commitment to Sustainability
These recent upgrades and installations show HOLT’s commitment to sustainability. A company with such a strong values-based approach to leadership would naturally have a sustainability program that is just as robust. HOLT CAT is providing solutions that not only help keep machinery and businesses running, but that protect people and help preserve the planet and enable economic growth.
The leadership team down through the employees understand that using the world’s natural and sustainable resources and reducing the company’s unnecessary impacts on people and the environment are just as important of a goal as providing legendary customer service.
The company has maintained several environmentally-friendly goals over the year, and clearly reports on its progress on its website. This includes designing all new facilities throughout Texas with the goal to meet Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) green building standards; recycling and reducing emissions from within all parts of the business; establishing then meeting or exceeding its in-house environmental impact baseline; as well as helping clients meet their own sustainability goals.
“We are very proud of our LEED certified facilities that we have completed over the last few years. We have four silver and gold certifications and two pending,” Harris shared.
“In addition, we are proud of the responsible way we react to economic slowdowns through the use of a sustainability plan and process than can be enacted, to varying degrees of magnitude, in order to ensure the long-term stability of HOLT Companies.”
New service shops and parts warehouses have seen upgrades including the use of solar panels for electrical power generation, rainwater capture and reuse systems, and automated heating and air conditioning systems that reduce energy usage. Shops also have installed state-of-the-art overhead crane systems, and warehouses now have systems to facilitate order processing and operational efficiency. These upgrades not only improve customer responsiveness but also provide a safer and more productive work environment for HOLT’s employees. A recycling machine, engine wash racks, and high efficiency lighting systems with occupancy sensors are just a few more of the many improvements made to these locations.
HOLT CAT is leveraging resources to promote and protect individual safety and well-being; provide employment, education and training; minimize the use of energy, materials, water and land; maximize recycling; minimize emissions; and optimize the use of renewable resources.
Commitment to Technology
“This is a game changer for customers who are learning how to manage a fleet of machinery and vehicles remotely,” Craner said of the company’s new technology, VisionLink. “Caterpillar is on the leading edge of this technology: generating reports for customers that take all the data, correlates it, and turns it into something visible and valuable that customers can use to effectively manage their business.”
Just like any other piece of technology, VisionLink has gone through an evolution since its inception to offer better and more relevant data to its users. The technology is a web-based application powered by Trimble, a worldwide leader in construction technology. VisionLink enables users to better manage the maintenance, health, and utilization of heavy equipment. In laymen’s terms, the app monitors a piece of machinery, and sends data to the user regarding its performance.
The user interface has evolved to allow customers the ability to manage several different aspects of the machinery beyond fault codes; now, the customer can see his or her machinery in action, any mechanical challenges, and operator behavior.
The service also offers geofencing, which allows users to monitor if and when machinery leaves a digitally “fenced-in area”, where the fence is determined by a line drawn on a computerized map. It also informs users of burn rate and fuel utilization, and anything else that might be happening like a plugged filter, via the latest satellite and cellular technology through which customers can link on their smartphones, tablets, and of course, computers.
This helps HOLT CAT preemptively notify customers about repairs that can be made to prevent failure of the machine, meaning less down time and more efficiency.
Commitment to Change
But for many companies with heavy machinery needs, owning the machine doesn’t always make the most financial sense.
Before the 2008 downturn of the economy, 65 percent of HOLT’s business was selling new units to end users like contractors and municipalities. During the economic downturn of 2008–2010, only 35 percent wanted to own, while its rental business took on the bulk of the business. Although this trend has leveled out to 50/50, Harris does not see it returning to pre-2008 figures.
“There’s going to be a continuing higher demand for rental equipment. This allows business owners to shift the risk of asset ownership to dealers.”
He also identified the market as one where HOLT CAT had been missing out on an “entire universe of opportunities” because the company only rented dirt-moving equipment. Now, HOLT CAT offers other items contractors often rent like compressors and scissor and boom lifts through its newly launched affiliate, Texas First Rentals.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how we will grow with the additional focus in rental,” said Harris. “I’m excited to watch as we grow our market share and prove our presence in the rental space of our business.”
The company has several exciting plans and strategies up its sleeve for the future, including expanding its rental business throughout its territory, as well as working with Caterpillar on providing a new line of on-highway trucks for heavy industries.
Although the company’s past and present are in machinery utilized at construction, mining, and other heavy-industry sites, its future could very well be made in the on-highway truck business. The company entered into this foray in 2011 when Caterpillar got into on-highway vehicles. Before this, it was a strictly off-highway truck business.
“Over 50 percent of heavy equipment owners also own and operate a fleet of ‘vocational’ trucks such as dump trucks, water trucks, or garbage trucks. Caterpillar saw this as an opportunity to extend its product line and, as a dealer, we see it as a significant growth opportunity,” said Harris.
In fact, Caterpillar announced this last summer that they would make the new Cat truck right inside HOLT’s territory in Victoria, Texas. This is big news, both for Caterpillar and HOLT CAT, as they will be sold through dealers like HOLT CAT. Caterpillar’s new Class-8 truck expands the company’s investment in on-highway truck sales, and will include more vocational trucks—like cement mixers—in the future. Currently HOLT CAT has seven truck centers and is looking to expand that with Caterpillar’s new release.
“The key to our success after all this time is how we have stayed aligned with Caterpillar,” said Harris. “We’re a powerful force when we’re working toward a common goal.”
Harris shared an anecdote about just how important it is to work towards a common goal, specifically within HOLT CAT. After a meeting where Harris stood firm on how to proceed with a specific situation, an employee came to speak with him in his office.
“He told me he didn’t believe what I had told them in the meeting aligned with our Values, and that I should maybe rethink what I had asked of them. As a leader, you get to share advice and constructive criticism on a daily basis, but it rarely comes from the other way around. When it does, you really need to pay attention.”
It made him step back, and after considering the situation, he agreed with his colleague.
“You can dish it out, but you have to be able to take it when it’s your turn, no matter your position at the company,” Harris shared. His way of empowering employees and his leadership style are a legacy he should be proud of at a company where excellence is the standard.
After speaking with the leadership team, it feels like the beginning of a new era for a company that already has a long-storied history. With new innovations in facilities and strategic plans that are still heavily based in the company’s values-based leadership practices, HOLT CAT has seamlessly blended goals and expectations with past triumphs to set a course of success for the future.
“There’s a lot to look forward to,” Harris shared. “Looking long-term, the company is going to benefit tremendously from the leadership of the fifth generation of Holts. It bodes well for the company when Corinna and Peter take over in a few years’ time. They are already great leaders and will make wonderful owners.”
HOLT® CAT is the authorized Caterpillar® heavy equipment and engine dealer for 118 counties in South, Central, North and East Texas. Established in 1933, HOLT sells, services and rents Cat equipment, engines and generators for construction, mining, industrial, petroleum and agricultural applications. HOLT sells Caterpillar used equipment worldwide and fabricates its own line of custom engineered products including root plows and water tankers.
HOLT CAT is one of 15 dealers in the Americas to receive Caterpillar’s “Circle of Excellence” award. This award is given to the top five dealers in Caterpillar’s East Region, West/Canada Region, and South America Region. This prestigious recognition is achieved through a dealerships consistent excellence across a variety of business measurements including performance, quality, safety and customer satisfaction.
3302 South W.W. White Road
San Antonio, TX 78222
Website – www.holtcat.com