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Editorial: Business lessons from Massey Ferguson

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I have to admit to an inordinate amount of joy at the prospect of watching the launch event for the new Massey Ferguson 8S.

The event was broadcast around the world once, which meant many different times of the day and night. The website where you signed up had a stream of different times for cities all over the globe.

It was 8:15 a.m. Eastern Time, which worked for me.

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I couldn’t remember another launch of a new Massey Ferguson tractor that I’d been invited to cover or covered. That’s in contrast to the stream of updates I get from Case IH and John Deere and even other Massey sister brands like Fendt.

There are several reasons for this lack of new Massey Ferguson visibility in my life. They haven’t been as aggressive about communicating as the ‘premium’ brands. The company, I’ve come to realize, is also much more focused on other areas of the world.

The launch event had little focus on North America and instead featured European and southern hemisphere images more prominently. After all, that’s where the brand now sells most of its tractors.

At one time, the company, which has a large part of its roots in Canada, had a loyal following here. Indeed my family history is littered with Masseys of some sort.

A Massey Ferguson 165 was the first tractor my dad bought when he started farming. We used that tractor for years as a loader tractor, moving manure and everything else on a dairy farm. The old Freeman loader had many patches, but it was serviceable. The tractor ended up wandering badly if you ever took it on the road, a victim of long years of use, kind of like the knees of many dairy farmers. It’s still at my parents’ place and sees some use when a grain box needs to be moved or an auger run.

My dad still runs another Massey Ferguson, a 6150, which has been a decent if not stellar tractor.

My father-in-law had 21 Massey Harris and Massey Ferguson tractors at his sheep farm when the heart attack took him from us. They were his hobby, which he aimed to move into high gear when he retired. Cousins and neighbours got most of them running before the auction sale. I still have one of them, a gas Massey Ferguson 50, in my shed, kept by my wife’s family as a memory. If the battery is fully charged, it always starts. It’s done a bunch of bushhogging over the years.

My family’s equipment loyalty isn’t rare. Many Ontario farm families had a Massey in their past and I know some who are still dedicated to the brand today, but their number is dwarfed by John Deeres and Case IHs and several other brands, including its AGCO sister brands Fendt and Challenger, not to mention the aggressive growth of Kubota in the market. The Kubotas that replaced the 165 as loader tractor were a revelation.

The evolution from a Canadian founded company, with much history and dedication here at one time, to a global powerhouse farm from its founding region, illustrates some business lessons.

Complacency can result in a long decline:

Massey had a long period of wandering in the wilderness as it figured out what it was and watched Deere and Case motor beyond it. It now has that figured out and has a stable market around the world.

Heritage can count for something:

There continue to be thousands of older Masseys in the world, many of them them in good shape, and they have heritage that traces to the early days of tractors. Buyers in that market are aging, but they have influence.

There’s a market for the practical:

Massey now knows that its place is in the middle of the market.

“Straightforward and dependable” was sprinkled throughout the 8S tractor launch and that’s where the Massey brand has found its niche.

Options for many markets:

When you’re in the business of supplying the globe you need products that hit markets correctly. The Massey tractors sold in India aren’t the same ones that you buy in Australia, although there are global brands like the new 8S.

The clout of Massey Ferguson in the Canadian marketplace is now small, but I think I’ll always cheer for them in some ways due to their Canadian heritage and my own history with the brand.

About the author

Editor

John Greig

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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