Dealer of the Year: Jim Hale Still Excited by Industry
by Lynn Grooms
Dealership photo credits: Tyler Musson, Washington Tractor
At the beginning of every board meeting, the directors of Washington Tractor say a prayer.
“We don’t ask for more market share or profits,” says Jim Hale. “We ask for help to do the right things for our customers, employees and families. The partners feel strongly that this has a lot to do with our success.”
Hale, the CEO and chairman of the board of Washington Tractor in Washington State, received the 2017 Dealer of the Year award at the Western Equipment Dealers Association conference in November. Washington Tractor is a John Deere dealership with 12 locations in Washington State.
What’s particularly impressive is that Hale was nominated for the award by a competitor,
Kevin Pawlowski, president of Farmers Equipment of Lynden, Wash. Farmers Equipment is a Case IH dealership. In his speech honoring Hale, Pawlowski said:
“Jim, you have built a great business that supports the local economy and contributes to the success of your customers. You have provided meaningful work that gives your employees a living wage, health care and financial security. You have sought opportunities to give back to your community in a significant way. You have been a good neighbor in giving generously and selflessly to your customers, your employees and the people whom God has brought close to you.”
Those points and more make Hale a good leader, said Greg Hamilton. Hamilton has known Hale for 30 years. And in 2012, his company – Hamilton Farm Equipment Center – merged with Washington Tractor. He remains a partner in the company.
Hamilton readily lists five characteristics that make Hale a good leader.
- He is very personable.
- He genuinely cares about his employees.
- He says and does the right thing.
- He walks his talk.
- He is passionate about the farm-equipment industry and the part he has played in it.
Washington Tractor was created by the merger of three family-owned and operated John Deere dealers – North Washington Implement, Liberty Farm and Lawn, and Barnett Implement. Hamilton Farm Equipment Center joined in 2012, and the following year Washington Tractor purchased three additional Barnett dealerships.
“Years after the mergers, we’re still friends,” Hale says. “No one tries to micromanage and we value each other’s opinions and trust.”
The locations the partners have put together provide Washington Tractor the diversification needed to stay relevant, Hale says. The company serves customers in the row crop, dairy and beef industries as well as in the berry, tree-fruit, vineyard and hops businesses. Washington Tractor also is well established in the residential and commercial mowing businesses. And most locations are surrounded by rural-lifestyle customers.
“Diversity has contributed to solid growth and keeps us excited,” Hale says.
Hale recently reflected on his career in the industry. While he grew up in Seattle, he spent most summers at the cattle ranch of a family friend in eastern Washington. After graduating from high school in 1963, he took a summer job at N.C. Machinery, a Caterpillar dealership. That fall he attended Yakima Junior College. Some of his roommates there also had been raised on cattle ranches.
“I decided I wanted to become a cattle rancher,” Hale said.
But first he would transfer to California Polytechnic Institute in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
“At Cal Poly, everyone who was pursuing a degree in agriculture had to take Tractors 101,” he said.
The thinking is that there’s always a project in the agriculture industry that requires using a tractor, Hale explained. He recalls the first day his class was driven to an equipment lot for hands-on lessons. “Everyone headed toward the John Deere equipment,” he smiled.
“Between that class and another class in equipment-industry management, I knew I wanted to be in the tractor business,” he said.
Hale graduated from Cal Poly in 1967 with a degree in agricultural engineering. He worked at Webb Tractor in Yakima, Wash., for a year before joining the United States Air Force. He returned to Webb Tractor in 1971, which had since become Simco Equipment. There Hale worked selling John Deere agricultural equipment.
In 1973, he moved to Lynden, Wash., and became a vocational agriculture teacher at Lynden High School while he built his home in the evenings and on weekends. In 1976, he would begin his career at North Washington Implement. He began selling John Deere equipment to dairy, berry and seed-potato farmers. He purchased half of the dealership in 1980 and in 1990 became the sole owner.
North Washington Implement and Liberty Farm and Lawn and Barnett Implement merged in 2010. The company became known as Washington Tractor. Hamilton Farm Equipment Center joined in 2012, and the following year Washington Tractor purchased three remaining Barnett dealerships.
Washington Tractor’s philosophy is to empower employees to take good care of customers, Hale says.
“We treat employees like family, and try to be as ‘least corporate’ as possible with employees and customers,” Hale says. “When I started as a salesman, my philosophy is that business must be good for both parties.”
Pawlowksi said that Hale is a good friend, good competitor and good dealer. In his speech he told Hale,
“You have a reputation for being honest, fair-dealing and trustworthy… but you’ve also been very tough to be up against on a deal. Your business practices and your competitiveness have made all the rest of us who have to compete with you better. I know that you have made me better than I would have been otherwise.”
Forty-five years since he started in the equipment business, Hale is still excited by it. He’s enjoyed watching technological advances in production agriculture – such as GPS and unmanned aerial systems, he says.
Hale also enjoys being in the agriculture industry. When accepting the Dealer of the Year award, Hale challenged fellow dealers to soak in what they see on their daily drives to work.
“In my job, I do have to drive through metro Seattle occasionally,” he says. “But then I get to drive through the back-roads of Washington and enjoy the wide-open spaces. That’s where the people we do business with are farming – sometimes the third generation of the same family. It’s a good feeling to be part of something as special as agriculture and to know one has contributed to its success. That makes for a good life.”
And the award goes to…
Meet Jim Hale of Washington Tractor, the 2017 Dealer of the Year from the Western Equipment Dealers Association (WEDA).
The award recognizes individual dealers for their leadership within the industry, their dedication toward growing their business into a successful entity and their commitment and legacy to their community.
“It’s important that we celebrate the many ways equipment dealers are doing it right in our industry and giving back with extraordinary contributions to their community,” said John Schmeiser, CEO, WEDA.
“Jim Hale is highly regarded as one of the finest, with a relentlessly charitable spirit and we are honored to recognize Jim with this distinction.”
From his family, peers, community, fellow dealers, employees and customers, Hale has swathed a path of respect, integrity, fairness and honesty, said Greg Hamilton, a partner with Hale at Washington Tractor. “I have always looked up to Jim as a leader in our industry and in his community,” he said. “He was instrumental in facilitating our merger with Washington Tractor for which I am eternally grateful.”
Established: North Washington Tractor was established in 1917. In 2010, it merged with Liberty Farm and Lawn, and Barnett Implement and became Washington Tractor. Hamilton Farm Equipment Center merged with Washington Tractor in 2012.
Locations: Aberdeen, Chehalis, Ellensburg, Lynden, Mount Vernon, Okanogan, Olympia, Poulsbo, Quincy, Snohomish, Sumner and Yakima, Washington
Owners: Families of Greg Hamilton, Brian Tornow, Rick Hirai, Brent Huppert, and Jim Hale
CEO: Jim Hale
Major line: John Deere agricultural, residential and commercial equipment
Other lines: Stihl, Honda, Polaris, Antonio Carraro, Hustler, Scag Power Equipment
Article written by Lynn Grooms
LYNN GROOMS is an agricultural journalist living in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin.