|By DENNE GOLDSTEIN|
At the tender age of 14, Gary Morgan entered the business world when he started a lawn mowing service. Ironically, today he is back in the “mowing” business as president of Dixie Chopper. Along the way, he accumulated a wealth of experience in wholesale and retail business.
Although Morgan was born in St. Louis, Missouri, it was hard to keep track of how many times the family moved, due to of the nature of his father’s job. An older brother was born in Philadelphia and an older sister was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In the short span of five years, his parents moved to Minnesota and Massachusetts before finally settling in Charlotte ville, New York.
“I have five brothers and sisters, and I guess my parents felt we needed to settle down and put down roots. In Charlotteville, New York, they opened a mom and - pop grocery store. I was five years old and until the time I graduated high school, I worked in my parent’s store.” So actually, Morgan was in the business world long before his “official” start at 14.
His parents taught him the value of hard work. Morgan says his father used to tell him “When you go to work for somebody, you want to make them realize how valuable you are.” Morgan developed a great work ethic that has stood the test of time.
After high school, Morgan went to the State University of New York at Cobleskill, where he graduated with a degree in accounting. Quick witted and fresh out of college, he interviewed at a Chevrolet dealership in Cobleskill. He took some of his father’s advice with him when he went for the interview.
“When I interviewed with the owner, he asked why he should hire me,” Morgan explained. “I’m going to become such a valuable employee to you that you won’t want to come to work unless I’m here. Besides, looking at you, I think you’re going to be about ready to sell this place just about the time I’ll be in a position to buy it.” The owner hired him to see if his bite was as big as his bark.
Morgan started in the office of the dealership. He eventually worked his way up to general manager. About 10 years later, at the age of 29, he followed through and bought the dealership. He became the youngest owner of a Chevrolet dealership at the time.
He later sold the dealership, taking a year off from the “wheel business,” as he calls it. But he couldn’t stay away for long. He worked a three-year stint at Harley Davidson.
Looking for other opportunities, Morgan joined CASE. Shortly thereafter CASE merged with New Holland. Doing what he does best, Morgan worked his way up through the company from regional manager to being responsible for New Holland’s entire Agriculture division in North America.
Morgan was first approached in December 2007 for a position with Dixie Chopper. At the time, he was responsible for two billion dollars in revenue and wasn’t sure he’d be interested in working in a much smaller company. In early 2008, Morgan made the decision to leave New Holland in pursuit of a new challenge.
Shortly thereafter, Dixie Chopper approached him again. He decided to take a closer look at the company. Morgan liked the company’s corporate values and saw a growth potential he couldn’t resist. In September 2008, he became president and CEO of Dixie Chopper.
A family-owned zero-turn lawn mower manufacturer, Dixie Chopper has its headquarters and one and only manufacturing facility in west-central Indiana (Coatesville/ Fillmore). The plant is on the same property where founder and former president (but still chairman of the board) Art Evans completed the first commercial-grade zero-turn mower in April 1980. It is Evans’ business principals upon which Dixie Chopper and Morgan still operate today.
Although he never sold lawn mowers, Morgan claims the principals are the same. “There are very few people who purchase lawn mowers who have not bought a car or motorcycle.”
His biggest challenge is to increase sales. “How do you do that in a down market? I have 20 years of retail sales experience to fall back on.” Morgan continues, “A lot of manufacturer’s executives have never actually sold anything, so they make decisions based on what they think, not what they know.”
Because his success depends on the dealers’ success, he is doing everything he can to ensure that Dixie Chopper dealerships thrive. To accomplish this, Morgan started on what he calls a “grassroots dealer tour” at the end of August.
Instead of holding one big national meeting or two regional meetings, he is holding 22 dealer meetings across the country. That means traveling for five weeks, with three new models of mowers in tow, about five or six hours between cities for each meeting. This gives his dealers a better chance at having their voices heard and their questions answered. It also gives Morgan an opportunity to get to know his distribution base better.
With the slogan “The World’s Fastest Lawn Mower,” Morgan has made it his goal to be the fastest growing lawn mower company in the world. “We have such a small market share—the only thing we can do is increase it.”
But the tour doesn’t stop there. Morgan is looking for other markets. Recently, he opened Australia, and will ship their first mowers this month. He continues to look for additional export opportunities.
Morgan and his wife, Nancy, have three children. Carrie is a school teacher, Sara is a homemaker, and son Joshua is working on his business degree at the University of North Texas. They have four grandchildren.
Morgan has laid down roots at Dixie Chopper. He found a home and plans on staying there until the end of his career. And if his first calendar year is any indication, he could be headed for a long career.
In just 12 short months on Morgan’s watch, Dixie Chopper has created and produced the first compressed natural gas-powered mower (the CNG Eco-Eagle), teamed up with Caterpillar to build the CAT Diesel (the first use of a CAT diesel engine in a lawn mower application) and increased its market share among zero-turn mower manufacturers.