When I asked David what he did for recreation, there was a long pause. I could almost read his mind. He said he played a little golf, and liked lake sports, but his real love was working and growing his company. ?When you love what you?re doing, it?s not a chore; it?s not really ?work,? said Zerfoss. ?I was raised on a farm, if you really want to know what work is, live on a farm.?
Zerfoss is president of Husquvarna, North America, but we?re getting a little ahead of ourselves.
Zerfoss grew up in Western Pennsylvania and graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). He started his career in the sales and marketing, and training section at Exxon. He moved to Leisure Time Distributors, Inc., a distributor of camping and boating products where he spent seven years as sales and marketing manager. Prior to joining Husquvarna, Zerfoss spent ten years at Stihl, Inc., where he rose to general sales manager.
With confidence in his ability, it would be safe to say that Zerfoss was chomping at the bit when he got the call to run his own show at Husquvarna, in 1991. He had a vision and values that would stand him in good stead. Zerfoss surrounded himself with an excellent team, and increased sales almost fifteen-fold.
However, there?s more to Zerfoss than the guy running the show. There is a commitment, a desire, and a love in building a company. ?We?re more than just a com-
pany selling products,? Zerfoss explained. ?Companies are made up of people, and I feel we have the best of the best. But it?s also about philosophy, a philosophy of training and development of professionals? professionals in the contracting arena, professionals in distribution, and professionals in sales and marketing and manufacturing. These are the core values of our company.?
More importantly, Zerfoss hasn?t forgotten his days as a sales person in the field. He has an uncanny feel for the business, and a sincerity that people remember.
Running Husquvarna is his vocation, his avocation, his recreation. He eats, sleeps and drinks this industry. ?I love what I?m doing and, more importantly, I love the idea that we can help our distribution chain down to the contractor be more efficient and more effective, using safe quality products. This is a labor of love.?
David Zerfoss has a strong commitment to grow the company, and he knows how to nurture and guide it as well. His approach is to ?touch and feel.? He emphasizes a values-oriented business culture that has helped the company focus on its core purpose, which is ?to help people grow and prosper,? rather than simply focus on profits.
One of the innovations Husquavarna made is in its traveling showrooms. These are trailers that are equipped with a full line of products. They go to the dealer?s facility and are used in training their personnel.
However, the trailers are also used to visit with contractors and help train them in the safe and proper use of power equipment. ?We would hope that the contractor will use our product, but it is more important to get him trained, and also to ensure that the field personnel are properly trained,? explained Zerfoss. ?We make our traveling showrooms available to organizations and associations in conjunction with seminars they might be running.?
He also believes in contributing to industry associations. He just started his second five-year term as board chairman of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI). ?One has to devote effort and time to keep any industry healthy,? remarked Zerfoss. ?I also get something out of it, so it?s really a two-way street.?
How does Zerfoss view the future? With enthusiasm! ?With housing starts up, I see a lot of growth in the future, especially in the commercial equipment segment of our business. ?I see the largest growth in the landscape area, and we?re investing heavily in that business.?
He and his wife Barbara reside in Lake Norman, North Carolina, a suburb of Charlotte.He has four grown children and six grandchildren. Barbara has two sons in college. She, too, is in the business. Barbara is vice president, marketing and national accounts for Husquvarna.
Zerfoss is a breath of fresh air. He has developed a culture and set the tone for the company?s staff to follow. He encourages breakthrough thinking and bold declarations for the future. His enthusiasm is contagious. Zerfoss believes his employees are a major reason that the company has grown. He wants all employees to feel that they have a real stake in the business, and the ability to create a new future.