Steve BerglundWith 2021 well underway and 2022 not all that far off, AEM caught up with AEM Board of Directors Chair Steve Berglund, executive chairman of AEM member company Trimble, to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities facing the association, the equipment manufacturing industry and the markets it serves in the weeks and months ahead.

AEM: Now that you're about two-thirds through your year as AEM Chair, can you assess how 2021 has gone thus far for the industry, as well as how successful the association has been in serving its members?

Berglund: I’m sure it hasn’t been easy for AEM leadership and staff to remain productive and function at a high level while trying to work remotely and deal with ever-changing circumstances, but they’ve certainly done so. The COVID-19 pandemic has been the centerpiece of a lot of conversations among AEM, its staff and its members the last year-and-a-half, but they’ve certainly lived up to their mission of supporting our industry – and more importantly – one another.

AEM: What do you think has helped contribute to AEM’s ability to weather the COVID-19 pandemic thus far and its impact, while still maintaining a focus on our members and our industry? Perhaps more importantly, though, what do you think is going to be key to finishing 2021 strong?

Berglund: One has certainly been the AEM Board of Directors, which has been quite impressive in terms of how it is functioning. Board members have maintained a high degree of objectivity and common-sense adaptability to changing circumstances. And the AEM staff has also been adaptable, committed and displaying what I would describe as good form in solving whatever challenges come its way.

From our Board’s standpoint, it would have been very easy to fall into a semi-panic at some point and respond to adversity by doing something drastic. Instead, however, the Board has decided to take things step by step. And then back to the association staff, it has kept its collective eye on the ball and stayed outcome-focused rather than worrying too much about reworking its processes in the wake of mounting challenges.

AEM: How has 2021 been thus far for you and for Trimble? What's on the horizon for the company in the near term? Long term?

Berglund: Early on in 2020, Trimble developed contingency plans under the assumption that the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact would be dramatic and long-lasting. And fortunately, those contingency plans haven’t had to be put in place.

And right now, we see demand being very strong. It’s the supply chain that’s restrained. So, strategically, I would argue that the pandemic and current environment are favorable for Trimble from the standpoint that our whole point of our company is productivity and, increasingly, autonomous operations. And the environment today has put an increased emphasis on productivity. – on the jobsite, on the farm, in the facility, wherever. And in general, that puts a premium on what Trimble does – improving fleet management and improving productivity.

I would also say that, to a large extent, Trimble’s culture for the better part of the last 20 years – predating Zoom and Microsoft Teams – has been aligned with what I call “speakerphone culture.” So, with the environment being what it is today, we’re fundamentally comfortable with where things are at currently.

AEM: As you look ahead to the remainder of this year, what are some of the most critical issues AEM, its members and the industry have to face this coming year? What will be key to tackling these issues?

Berglund: If you look at where the membership of AEM is headed over the next 10 years, one challenge is the legislative and regulatory flow coming out of Washington, DC. The thing that is guaranteed is that the legislative and regulatory climate in Washington and state capitols is going to get more challenging. So, I think that will pose a significant challenge, as compliance with new laws and regulations continues to become a more challenging for our industry and we are forced to deal with a more complex political environment.

I would also say the implications of technology adoption in both construction and agriculture are going to be relatively existential, and we’re already seeing it today. I think maybe the emphasis is going to move from machine productivity to site productivity.

After all, everyone has been lamenting the poor productivity on construction sites for decades. Part of that is about machine productivity, but it really is about making the site more productive – getting things where they are needed on time. We’re on the cusp of a profound change in the use of technology, particularly on the construction site. Machines are still at the center of things, but there’s more to the equation now.

Over time, there’s going to be a lot of pressure to manage all of the machines on a site, and it poses challenges for the industry. So, I think OEMs in particular are going to have to be intellectually flexible in terms of dealing with these changes.

I would also argue that one of the primary challenges for AEM members is responding to a relative technological revolution on the farm and the construction site. That’s going to have implications for AEM members in terms of distribution, how they support it, and how they conceptualize it. Ultimately, I think it’s probably going to put a larger emphasis on partnerships. That being said, everything that I mentioned that poses challenges also pose opportunities for AEM and its members moving forward.

AEM: If you could share one message to AEM members at this point in time, what would it be? Why?

Berglund:  Our success as individual members, given the complex and changing – and not necessarily always friendly – environment that exists right now depends on common action in the best interest of all AEM members. Whether it’s infrastructure investment, free trade agreements, tax policy, new regulations, or something else entirely, I think common action is vitally important to all of AEM’s members.

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