Harmar dials it up with new CEO

‘We really need to move into growth mode’ says backer
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Friday, December 16, 2016

SARASOTA, Fla. – Private equity-backed Harmar is getting its second new CEO in less than three years.

The lift manufacturer, whose controlling shareholder is New York-based Cortec Group, announced recently that it had named Steven Dawson as CEO.

“This is a positive change,” said David Baxter, vice president of marketing for Harmar. “We’re just dialing it up a bit.”

Dawson, who comes from the building products industry and has worked with another Cortec-owned company, replaces Drew McCartney, who Harmar and Cortec named CEO in May 2014.

Harmar needs a different CEO for a different time, says Jeffrey Lipsitz, managing partner at Cortec.

“Where Harmar needs to go—focusing more on the growth opportunities—Steve is the right guy,” he said. “The market is good and growing and we want to not only keep pace but also grow faster.”

With his experience in the building products industry, Dawson’s no stranger to manufacturing- and dealer network-based businesses. But the biggest area of commonality between that industry and the HME industry may be the challenges they both face, he says.

“They’re both businesses that are based on disposable income and cash sales,” he said. “During the downturn (in the building products industry), we needed to find a way to keep sales growth where it needed to be.”

When HME News spoke to Dawson in mid-December, he was one week into the job, but he said he was already impressed with the caliber of the staff at Harmar.

“It’s a great team of people, and I’m not just saying that,” he said. “The first thing you do (in my position) is to assess the team, and it’s clearly evident it’s a great team.”

Dawson insists that he’s not coming into the role at Harmar with an agenda, only a mission to take better advantage of the company’s strong suits— “great assets, a great brand and a great dealer network,” he says.

“Now’s the time,” he said. “The market growth in the industry is strong. The demographics are good. There are lots of opportunities, and now’s the time to take advantage of it.”

While PE firms typically hold on to companies for only five to seven years and Cortec has owned Harmar for going on four years, Lipsitz says the firm isn’t under any “artificial time pressure.”

“We’re fortunate that the fund that Harmar is in is doing extremely well,” he said. “So I don’t think the typical length of involvement comes into play here. But we’ve owned the business for awhile now, and we really need to move into growth mode.”

Cortec also owns 101 Mobility, a franchise of providers offering accessibility products like lifts and ramps. It bought that company in 2013.