|By DENNE GOLDSTEIN|
Born into a family of farm equipment people, it seemed inevitable that John Bentley would follow in their footsteps. However, I don’t think he realized that one day he would be the owner of a manufacturing company as well as a company representing makers of farm-type and construction equipment.
Bentley was raised in Albion, New York, the third generation of a farm equipment family business started by his grandfather. His dad and uncle later took over the business.
Ever since he could remember, Bentley worked in the family business. When he was five years old, he recalls sweeping the floors, and as he grew older he did whatever jobs were required of him; he worked there through high school.
Upon graduating, he enrolled in Eastern Kentucky University, where he received a degree in agriculture and business. Following his college years, Bentley decided to make his home in Louisville, Kentucky.
After kicking around there for a few years, in 1972 he thought about going home and settling down. Following discussions with his father and uncle, he decided to get back into the family business. The business was growing and it looked like there might be good opportunities for him.
A few years later, Bentley began to realize that other members of the family had joined the business and he didn’t see much of a future there for him. Maybe coming back was not such a good idea. So five years later, at the age of 27, he decided to leave.
Bentley took a sales position with the New Holland Company, in New Holland, Pennsylvania. He was assigned the Midwest territory, where he was selling combines to the farmers. He spent a period of three years in the field, and was then promoted to field training manager and moved back to the home office. Some time later, he was promoted again, this time to products research manager.
Having grown up in the farm equipment business, Bentley had learned many aspects of the business. While he was in college, he took an engineering course, so he had some familiarity in that area. He gained three years experience in sales, and then helped to train the field people, giving him even more experience. So, when he became product manager for skid steer loaders and industrial products, Bentley’s experience was well-rounded. He was comfortable in this environment—equipment, especially farm-type equipment.
It seemed like Bentley was on a fast track at New Holland. In 1982, he became worldwide product manager. He loved the company, but then it was sold to Ford Motors. Although he continued as world wide product manager, after the transition of ownership to Ford, he found it more difficult to function. He began contemplating his next move.
Before Bentley left the company in 1988, he began to formulate plans for his future.
Coming from an entrepreneurial family, and gaining diversified experiences from his career at New Holland, Bentley had the time to polish his skills. He was 38 years old when he heard the entrepreneurial call.
He decided to go into business for himself as a manufacturer’s representative. He leased an office three buildings from where he worked and formed a company called Manufacturers Diversified Services (MDS). MDS represented manufacturers that made equipment for the construction market, as well as farmers. He originally confined his territory to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and New England.
Eventually, he expanded the territory from Maine to Virginia.
One of the companies he represented was the Millcreek Company.
Bentley developed a special relationship with Joe Glick, who was the owner. In his travels throughout his territory, Bentley would talk to his customers, who kept asking for a top dressing unit.
Bentley loved developing new machinery. As a former product manager, and with that engineering course he took back when he was in college he had the knowledge. He likes to think of himself as a concept engineer. “I can envision the product, but I can’t draw it or design it.”
“I brought in some ideas to Glick,” said Bentley. “I helped him bring out the Millcreek top dresser, which was quite successful.” As time went on, Glick decided that he wanted to sell Millcreek. He offered it first to Bentley, who decided to pass on the offer. In the meantime, MDS was doing well.
Other ideas kept popping into Bentley’s head. Developing ideas for new equipment, or improving on established ones, was Bentley’s hobby. Eight years after starting MDS, and after Glick had sold Millcreek, Bentley decided it was time to take the plunge.
He formed another company called Earth and Turf; that was 13 years ago. While he was working with Millcreek’s top dresser, Bentley got quite interested in how compost and top dressing affects soils. In addition, he remarked, “I am extremely concerned about the quality of water, especially the water quality we leave to the next generation. I don’t want to leave my grandkids a legacy of tainted water.” He is an enthusiastic supporter of the ‘green movement.’ Bentley is married to Dori. They have six children, none of whom are involved in the family business. “I wanted them to choose their own path and I never wanted to feel that I held my kids back from doing what they wanted to do,” he said. Although none of his children have embraced his business, his son-in-law Tharren has been in the business for the past ten years.
Now, at age 60, Bentley claims he does not intend to retire. “I’m having too much fun and there is still a lot to be accomplished.” He will continue to build new machines so more people can top dress their lawns. “It’s good for the earth, it’s good for the turf and it saves water as well.”