It all began with one man, one store, and one leap of faith. In 1968, Ronald D. Offutt opened his first John Deere dealership in Casselton, ND. What happened throughout the next 50 years is a journey of grit, wisdom, hard work, and heart. Today, nearly 2,500 people across more than 75 stores in nine states are proud to work under Ron’s initials at RDO Equipment Co.
The past 50 years have been filled with challenges and opportunities, successes and hardships. Most of all, making it to the 50-year milestone has brought gratitude along the way, and hope and excitement for what’s to come.
As the 50th anniversary celebration comes to a close, Chris Cooper, Chief Operating Officer of RDO Equipment Co., reflects on the stories and memories shared this year, and gives his outlook for what’s next.
Out of the hardworking hands of a farmer who wanted to do things right.
The short story is that RDO Equipment Co. began because Ron was offered the opportunity to purchase the John Deere equipment dealership in Casselton, ND. But it was more than just an opportunity that led to this significant moment.
“Ron, as a farmer, depended on that store to rent equipment,” Chris said. “Knowing the current owner was going to sell, Ron chose to step up, to make sure that store continued to meet the needs of his family’s operation.”
Ron also was, admittedly, inexperienced in the ways of operating a dealership. So, he developed a strategic plan to learn the business, then took the reins and did whatever he needed to make it successful, for himself and for other farmers who depended on the store to support their businesses.
RDO Equipment Co. was born out of the hardworking hands of a farmer who wanted to do things right. And many of Ron’s early values stayed with the company as it grew throughout each new move.
How do you build a company that’s as reliable as the machines you sell?
Additional agriculture equipment locations. RDO Equipment Co.’s first construction-focused stores. The company’s venture into international business with a partnership in Russia.
It would be easy to look at each of these moves now and assume they’d be slam-dunk successes. But none of the company’s major milestones happened overnight and none were guaranteed to work out. But all were worth the risk.
“I think the key lesson we all can learn and one that we, as a company, still keep today, is that we need to explore all opportunities,” Chris said. “No matter how different something might be, it’s worth taking a look or listening. That next great opportunity is out there as long as we’re open to embrace it.”
That philosophy has served the company well, through those early ventures, and still in some of its most recent business moves.
Yes, building a company as reliable as the machines it sells takes a willingness to embrace risk and the spirit to seize opportunities. But it also takes simple, good values – values that Ron had in his first days of ownership, all the way to RDO Equipment Co.’s formal, established Core Values that would come years later.
Holding onto those values that made those early days grow into extraordinary years.
RDO Equipment Co. has been successful in growing and diversifying the business, with sheer size in number of locations being one of the most noticeable aspects. However, Chris is quick to point out that the company’s size isn’t the driver or measurement of success. Rather, it’s tied to a mentality from former RDO Equipment Co. CEO and current chair of the advisory board, Christi Offutt.
“Christi instilled in us that we don’t need to be the biggest; we need to be the best,” Chris said. “One of the most powerful lessons I think we’ve learned is that trying to be better is much more important than trying to be bigger.”
One of the ways he sees the company strive to be the best is through the Core Values, which Christi helped develop and implement. RDO Equipment Co.’ Core Values are more than words; team members live and breathe the company Core Values.
“It’s powerful for me to hear from our team members how important the Core Values are to them,” Chris said. “They tell me they use the Core Values to help guide them to make the right decisions and to be their personal best.”
Not only that, the Core Values help the RDO Equipment Co. team be better by connecting with customers on a deeper level than just equipment.
“I’ve been in meetings with customers where we talk about our Core Values, what they mean to us and how they help define us as a company,” Chris said. “It resonates with them, it makes us relatable. And often, they start to talk about their own core values and that’s a great way to further our relationships.”
Finally, one of Ron’s key values that made the early days grow into extraordinary years is still alive and well in the company. And it’s a value Chris believes will continue to play an important role in the company’s next 50 years: Entrepreneurial spirit.
We are a team relentlessly committed to the success of those who feed, build, and support our communities.
As Chris looks ahead to what he sees for the future of RDO Equipment Co., growth is a key piece of the puzzle. But he’s quick to again reference the mentality of “best, not bigger,” with what he sees in store.
“Creating opportunities for our customers is one of the ways we’ve continually moved the business forward,” he said. “A big part of that lies in the entrepreneurial spirit that is always with Ron and that is instilled in every one of our team members. We can all be looking for ways to add value and do more for customers.”
In addition to the Core Values, Chris notes one final philosophy that Christi brought to the business, one he feels will position the company for its next 50 years.
“I believe our commitment to stakeholders is going to help us stay focused and successful,” he said.
While he recognizes it’s nearly impossible to predict where the company will be in the next 50 years, Chris did share one area he’s very excited about and eager to see what’s next: growth of RDO Equipment Co.’s international footprint.
“Will there be an RDO Equipment Co. presence on every continent?” he asks, with a smile and a shrug. “Who can say for sure, but I think there’s opportunity.”
The RDO Equipment Co. team will go to the ends of the earth in a relentless pursuit to support those who feed, build, and support their communities, today and into the future.
Thank you for joining us this year, as we celebrated 50 years of partnerships, gratitude, and vision. We invite you to learn more about RDO Equipment Co. and follow us on social media as we move ahead to more great moments. Find us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.