Driving ahead in the farm machinery business

Growing up on a dry stock farm in Ballincollig, Co. Cork, Rosarie Crowley’s focus was on horses rather than agricultural machinery – the basis of the family business.

“I had great fun and success on the show jumping circuit,” recalled Crowley, who went on to become managing director of Cork Farm Machinery (CFM), which was founded by her father.

One of the flagship agricultural machinery businesses in Ireland, it celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Crowley owns and manages CFM and its sister companies, Cork Machines Ltd and Kuhn Center Ireland Ltd, which have an overall staff of 30.

Both her parents are from farming backgrounds. Her father Frank is a native of Cork and her mother Mary is from Toomevara, Co. Tipperary.

Her professional background is in business and in finance and accounting. Having qualified as an accountant, she worked with Heineken Ireland in Cork for a couple of years before moving on to Henkel in Little Island, Cork.

At that time, her father was looking to the future of the business and needed someone to take over the reins. After a number of lengthy discussions in 2004, she decided to go for it.

Her dad continued to help out on the day-to-day running of the business, but nine months after she came on board, ill health forced him to leave everything in her hands.

“Fortunately, he recovered and is in excellent health and he recently celebrated his 80th birthday.

“He still calls into the office a couple of days a week to see how things are going, and maintains a keen interest in the business and the agri sector.”

Breaking the glass ceiling

Farming and farm machinery is traditionally a male-orientated world, and this presented its challenges. Crowley was conscious that she didn’t have a technical background.

However, she recognised her strengths in professional qualifications and experience, as well as in having a good business head.

Also in her favour was an aptitude for picking things up quickly and for thinking on her feet. Crowley found she was far happier working in the multi-faceted world of agri-business than in the one-dimensional area of accounting.

“I didn’t experience any adverse reactions as a woman in a traditionally male arena. Maybe things were being said in the background, but I never felt there was a problem.

To be fair, it was unusual for a young woman to be at the helm of a farm machinery business, and there was a necessary period of adjustment for all concerned.

The business has grown substantially over the years and now has a turnover of €14m.

One of the first things she tackled was the complete overhaul and upgrade of the accounting systems. The company acquired a new computer system with customised parts, sales and workshop modules.

She also looked at the different departments within the business in terms of performance, and focused on ways to grow them individually, while always emphasising that every department should work in conjunction with the overall team.

Many employees have been with the company for over 25 years. “I am fortunate to have great people working alongside me, whose expertise and experience are invaluable,” Crowley said.

Establishing an empire

Cork Farm Machinery is the retail side of the operation and has been a Massey Ferguson dealer for the last 50 years. Sister company Cork Machines is the sole importer of Rauch fertiliser spreaders, which are retailed throughout Ireland by a dealer network.

Image source: Shane Casey

Crowley then achieved sole importation status for the Kuhn brand. “We had been selling Kuhn equipment for 36 years, as one of three franchisees in Ireland.

“In 2014, we acquired the sole franchise for Kuhn equipment in Ireland and the third company, Kuhn Center Ireland, was born.”

It was established on the same forecourt as the other two businesses, and has a dedicated staff of eight.

“The main focus for the future is to develop the dealer network and strengthening their knowledge base, to ensure they are equipped with the tools to advise their customers.

“With machines constantly developing, it’s important to stay up-to-date with the latest specifications.”

Crowley remains focused on growing the business, striving to improve on the service provided year-on-year. The aim is to maintain and build the client base. And with an ever-increasing range of products, the business has an array of machines to sell all year round.

The collection includes: tractors; fertiliser spreaders; mowers; conditioners; rakes; tedders; balers; wrappers; harrows; ploughs; sprayers; slurry equipment; and hedgecutters. However, the past decade has seen much change.

Tractors are increasing in horsepower. Farmers and contractors want to get the work done faster, due to tight windows, and need wider or larger gear to do so.

The recession, which hit the country in 2009, brought its own challenges with margins slashed and many sellers competing for the same buyer. However, Crowley happily reports that business is stable and continues to be profitable.

Image source: Shane Casey

The combination of quality products; an experienced, skilled and knowledgeable team; and a steady hand at the helm, is what maintains the Cork Farm Machinery Group as a leading supplier in the industry, she said.

With four young children and three businesses to manage, life is hectic but she is happy to have achieved a good work life balance. Crowley put this down partly to her husband, Warren, who she said is very hands-on in sharing the load.

And there is a kudos for working in the farm machinery business, especially where her two-year-old is concerned.

They all love going to visit mom in work and are always interested to know what was going on during the day.

Are the next successors to the Crowley empire waiting in the wings? “You never know,” she said.