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Q&A: Cleo Franklin

SF: What accounts for Mahindra’s growth over the past few years? 

CF: Our decision-making process, strategic planning, tactical execution, and dealer alignment are our strengths. Over the past five to six years, we’ve grown our business 4.5 times and outpaced industry growth in multiples. We have doubled our dealer network and products during this period, entered into new markets such as higher-horsepower tractors, utility vehicles, hay tools, and more to come.

SF: Since you were born and raised in Chicago, what are your roots in agriculture? 

CF: My agriculture roots span back several generations, as my parents grew up on small farms in Missouri and Arkansas. Growing up in the city, I spent every summer with my grandparents, which helped me stay connected to my rural heritage. This legacy exists today as my children spend time on my wife’s family farm in Nebraska. So let’s just say that agriculture is in our blood.

SF: Why go into higher-horsepower tractors? 

CF: It’s a natural progression of our core business, as we see interest from the market for a heavier weight, well-built, and easy-to-use tractor. In addition, many of our dealers today serve ranchers and farmers who are asking for a Mahindra, as they have seen the performance and high customer satisfaction of our products. 

SF: You’ve worked for three well-known equipment brands. What’s your favorite color of equipment?  

CF: I have been blessed to work for three iconic global brands in the agriculture industry. For me, my favorite color is the color of land where our customers live, work daily, and build their dreams. But the land in the fall, with its tinges of red, is special. I’ve traveled the world and visited farmers and watched them smile as they talk passionately about their land. It is the land that connects us all.

SF: What three words distinguish Mahindra as a brand?  

CF: For me, there are four words: passionate, authentic, connected, and agile.

SF: Do you see yourself as a role model for other African-Americans in agriculture?  

CF: Absolutely, for anyone building a career in the industry. To work, represent, and participate in this dynamic and diverse industry is an honor. My role provides me with great visibility globally, and it is my responsibility as a leader to model the vast possibilities available in agriculture, to build engagement, and to motivate the next generation of leaders. 

SF: How big is the North American division for Mahindra compared with other global divisions? 

CF: Mahindra’s North American footprint continues to expand, and today it includes electric scooters, airplanes, business consulting, technology, tractors, and utility vehicles – as well as a global research and design center in Detroit for automobiles. Although our tractor and utility vehicle division is the largest entity in North America, future growth plans in the U.S. will focus on many fronts.

SF: What new launches do you have coming up in 2016?  

CF: Our new products will launch in October to our dealer network in Phoenix at our largest national dealer meeting ever. It will be loaded with new tractors, utility vehicles, and more. I can’t tell you our plans ahead of the meeting – but rest assured, Mahindra Territory will expand with new exciting innovations, products, and services that the market will love.

Biography 

Name: Cleo Franklin

TITLE: Vice president/CMO, marketing and strategic planning, Mahindra North America

HOME: Cypress, Texas

FAMILY: He and his wife, Lois, have four children.

BACKGROUND: Franklin spent 21 years at John Deere. He also was president of Franklin Strategic Solutions and vice president of North American sales and operations for New Holland Agriculture. He received his MBA from the University of North Carolina.

The interview below was published in the August issue of Successful Farming magazine.

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