June 20th, 2019
How do you build an organization with saleable value rather than starting a company that ends up being just another job you show up to?
George McMahon was working for someone else when he took an idea that would grow the company to its leadership. They were not interested. That’s when George decided to take a risk – to pursue his idea and start his own company, with nothing more than his confidence in his idea and his ability to make it work, and a strong work ethic. Listen in as George describes how in just 10 short years he turned that decision – and a $10,000 credit card advance to start the business – into a $95 million company. George also shares many valuable insights into what he learned along the way.
George McMahon has been an entrepreneur in the infrastructure equipment and services industry for his entire life. Prior to founding American Infrastructure Partners, a family owned and operated investment firm, with his wife Sarah, George was the CEO and Founder of Utility Fleet Sales, a full-service company providing equipment sales, rental, remanufacturing, and service to the North American utility and infrastructure industry. George founded Utility Fleet in 2005 with a $10,000 credit-card advance, industry knowledge, unwavering courage, indefatigable work ethic, Internet savvy and a dream to build the largest independent used bucket truck dealer in the country. Ten years later, he realized this dream and sold his company to Blackstone, the world’s largest private equity firm, for $95 million.
With AIP, George and his team are on a mission to help other business owners replicate this success. The mission of AIP is to invest in and build exceptional companies in the infrastructure equipment and services industry. They pride themselves in partnering with ambitious business owners and management teams to provide capital and operational resources to grow existing business segments, acquire new ones and explore new business opportunities.
George McMahon Podcast Interview – Audio
by Jeff Holler
Doing the Right Thing
How George McMahon parlayed humble beginnings as an entrepreneur into a big marketplace payoff
by Jeff Holler
George McMahon’s incredible story of turning a $10,000 credit card advance into a small business that grew into a big one and sold 10 years later for over $95 million is all about being tenacious, opportunistic, and allowing purpose to drive productivity as he turned his business ideas into reality.
It started where George grew up in an economically depressed area of upstate New York in the Hudson River Valley. “I worked my way through high school and didn’t have enough money to go to college immediately after, so I went to work for three years at a company selling dump trucks, snowplows, and sanders,” he said. “I learned how to do everything in a heavy truck equipment dealership.”
By the time he turned 21, George was in business leadership, second in command of the company. But he knew he wanted to go to college to get an agricultural business degree and grow in his entrepreneurship.
That he did, attending the University of Nebraska and adding a summer semester at Oxford University in England where he took multiple courses in international business and economics. Degree in hand, he verbally accepted an offer from Archer Daniels Midland to be a commodities broker trainee on the Chicago Board of Trade. That’s when an unexpected turning point happened.
“That job was accepted in November, and then later in November I was contacted out of the blue by a company called Altec Industries. They were a manufacturer of heavy truck equipment, specifically power line construction equipment that is used to drill holes and set the poles and build power line infrastructure globally,” George said. “They sold me on their company. They had a very young group of people in there that were vice presidents and senior managers.”
“I decided I would take a leap and try something different because it seemed exciting, and I could always go back and have that safety net of working for an agriculture business company with my background.”
He quickly rose through the ranks at Altec and the company saw rapid growth. Eventually, George brought the company an opportunity to build an internal structure to refurbish or remanufacture stranded equipment assets and create a secondary market within the U.S. by marketing those assets to contractors and smaller municipal governments, as well as to form an international customer base that didn’t necessarily have the capital required for new equipment. “Altec didn’t see the vision. I was a 28-year-old guy working for them a handful of years,” George said. “I decided to step off and start a company because I believed in it.”
That company, Utility Fleet Sales, was launched. “The challenge was that at the time I didn’t have any money. I had a little bit of debt, and I had just cleared that up. I had just gotten married to Sarah,” he said. “We just took a leap of faith and had enough belief in our abilities that if it did not work out, we knew we would be fine. We were both hard workers, and this was essentially a job opportunity and nothing more.”
“I took a $10,000 cash advance off my Mastercard and bought one piece of equipment, an off-lease piece that I knew was a good piece. I remanufactured it and we sold it quickly, and we bought another one and another one, then two, then three, then eight. It just multiplied and we kept reinvesting everything back into the company.”
In my September podcast, you’ll discover how George and Sarah then established related companies to support the heavy equipment refurbishing business, how he creatively marketed the business, ultimately sold it, and what he’s been achieving since then. He also offers frank advice for couples who are considering going into business together (Sarah became the chief financial officer), and discusses the difference between starting a company in order to have a job and establishing one that has true value.
“You’ve got to decide whether you are creating a job for yourself, a nice family-owned company, or you’re creating an organization that you want to sell. The reality is your decision making is different. Your level of risk and tolerance is different. That was the clearest defining moment in my company,” he said. “Neither one is wrong, but I think you need to have that clearly defined in your mind, so you can be directionally correct.”
As for what is bigger than business for George and Sarah McMahon? “Ultimately, it was the vision of being able to be able to provide for our family, work with great people, and create job and career opportunities for our team. Just doing the right thing,” he said, adding, “That was always more important than the bottom line.”