The cover story for the March/April edition of Pro Contractor Rentals was about Leppo Rents, and the way that the company has taken care of business for the past 75 years. It’s a good article, a fun read about the company and their values – but what really stood out to me was the section about the company’s philanthropy. Today, Glenn Leppo, the company’s CEO, is going to join us to talk about Leppo’s innovative giving efforts.
So first of all, hi Glenn!
Hello, how are you?
I’m well. Are you well?
Yeah, I’m doing OK, can’t complain.
Let’s go ahead and start with the most general part of things. Why is charity so important to you and to the Leppo Way?
Well, you can put it many different ways, but “to whom much is given, much is expected” would be one way to look at it. We’ve been successful in business for 75 years and the reason that we’re here is because other people have done business with us, and it’s the people in the community. Yes, it’s our customers, but there’s more to it than that. There’s more to the relationship than just us and our customers – we also have to be neighbors to the folks who are around us. Much of our philanthropy is aimed at folks who are struggling, in one way or another, but also to try and lift people up – we obviously need co-workers. We’ve expanded quite a bit in the last 25 years in particular, and so we need to continue to bring good people on board. The only way to do that is if we have good people in the community who are willing to come work for us and capable of doing what we need ’em to do. Some of it’s a business side, but most of it’s philosophical; we’ve been given great opportunities to try to help other people succeed. It’s one of our core values, and so that’s what we’re targeting to do. Some folks have obstacles in their way that aren’t their fault, and so we try and help them out.
That seems to work out – especially for an equipment company, having all that stuff, you’re used to kind of helping people get things done.
Yeah, sometimes it’s using the equipment, but sometimes in the case of some situations, they just need money. We can’t – we don’t normally have the time to give them labor, our hours, we can’t just go to Habitat for Humanity and take 20 guys and go build a house, it doesn’t work for us.
Yeah – the thing in the article that really stood out to me, that I hadn’t really seen before, was the equipment with the custom paint jobs. So first of all, where did that idea come from?
Ah, we stole it from somebody. I don’t remember who. Somebody else had one boom lift, with a pink boom for the breast cancer – that’s where it started, my wife’s a survivor of breast cancer. And then next thing, we have several members of our team who are – have children on the autism spectrum, so the yellow boom with the puzzle pieces on it came next for autism awareness. And then, we have a fair number of veterans, and the veterans’ charity came next. The next one was the Michael J. Fox Foundation, I have Parkinson’s Disease, so it just kind of keeps rolling. We’re adding three more now, actually, in our Southeast locations – Alabama, Florida region.
Are those going to be for the same charities or are those specific to those regions or what?
More specific to the regions, probably going to have another veterans charity down there, because again, we’re hiring a lot of veterans down there, and it’s a big area for veterans. A lot of people, a lot of military bases in the general vicinity, so trying to support the community around us. I’m not sure what the other two are going to be, but I don’t actually make that call.
OK, well, it’s still really cool what you’re doing. So how do you choose which items get the custom paint jobs? Obviously you guys have a lot of different equipment, and…how do you choose which charities to feature? It seems like it’s just something that’s employee-driven.
Yeah, a lot of it’s employee-driven, but y’know, the boom lifts were kind of easy. They’re big, we use 80-footers – we figured it’s high-visibility, put ’em on a hospital job or something that’s out by the freeway, just to attract attention to whatever we’re trying to raise awareness for. Then, the other ones just kind of happened. The track loader, I mean, you think of a military guy and you think “tough piece of equipment that’s ground engaging” and so it fit the mold. The next vehicle, I knew absolutely nothing about. They surprised me, it was my Christmas present. Employees pulled together the money to get the special decals and the special paint and everything else to repaint the machine and put the decals on it. It was a brand-new machine, but they wanted to put the color scheme of the Michael J. Fox Foundation on it.
That’s really cool.
Yeah, it was really awesome.
So how do your customers react to these items? Do they request them specifically, or how does that work?
Usually it’s a specific request, particularly the boom lifts. It actually, it’s kind of turned against us so we’re re-thinking that process right now. What happens is, we hold them until last, so they don’t bring in as much rental income, so therefore we’re not donating as much to the charity as we would like. Y’know, we don’t want to put them on jobs where we know they’re going to get beat up really bad…but there’s not all hospital jobs, they’re not all high-visibility jobs. Sometimes we need to send them out a little earlier in the process than we do. Rather than always holding them back, if we know a job’s going to be at least easy on the machine, even if it’s not high-visibility, we’re going to start sending them out more so that we donate more to the charities.
Yeah, that’s something I definitely wouldn’t have thought about – interesting. You mentioned, again in the article, that you guys used to be pretty quiet about donations and you mentioned some things have caused you to be a bit more vocal about it. Was there a specific instance that was the tipping point – that you decided “Hey, we’re going to start saying this stuff now,” or is it just something that you started saying it once, people responded positively, and you just kept going?
I don’t know that it was a specific point in time, but I started getting more involved, not just from a philanthropy standpoint, but also engaging as being on boards of directors of nonprofits, things like that. I started to understand their perspective. I always thought of it kind of as the Biblical “right pocket/left pocket, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand’s doing” when you’re giving away stuff, but it’s actually good for the charity if they can say they’re getting donations from a reputable area company. That looks good for them. So it became one of those things where I was trying to be quiet about it and they’re like “Well, can we not be so quiet about it? Because we really need to show that you’re supporting us and if you’re quiet about it, we can’t do that.” So we started doing little bits like you’re talking about, we’d do a little bit and we’d talk about it at a Christmas party or for the organization and then spouses would come up to me and say “Well, that’s really great that you guys supported this organization or that organization and that’s really cool.” So we started telling them more and more of what we were doing and, y’know, now it’s almost every time we have a get-together (which hasn’t been a while because of COVID), but a year and a half ago, at our Christmas party, we probably had half a dozen spouses come up to me and say “Wow, that’s really great. I’m glad you guys do this.” It’s been well-received and actually, I had one of the guys in my rental group – came to me and said “I try to support organizations in our community who give back” and so…same kind of thing. Our customers like to see that we’re giving back to the community and it’s not all going in our pockets or whatever.
For sure. Another thing I noticed – when COVID hit, a lot of companies understandably went into protection mode, trying to make sure that they’re not losing too much money. You decided to give all your offices $5,000 to donate to a local cause of their choice. Why’d you go that direction?
It was really because I saw the need. My wife and I have saved up over the years to help in these kinds of situations, and so it just felt like the right thing to do. We do a lot locally, but the need was much greater than just here. The need’s always much greater than just here, but in this particular case it was just so widespread – we were new to the Southeast, so nobody knew who we were, we were fairly new to Texas, so nobody really knew who we were, and we just saw at that point, devastation everywhere around. It was in early April of last year. We have what’s called a donor advise fund, so we can put money in it and kind of hold it for giving away appropriately later from a tax standpoint. So we can get the donation now and kind of dole it out as we see appropriate over the next however many years. We had saved up, because things were good – yeah, there’s always need, but we knew that these kinds of times come. When the time came, we said “Let’s open it up,” and kinda drained those resources. We can rebuild them when this is all over, but now’s the right time to help support the communities around the country. It was well-received and I think our co-workers really enjoyed the process of picking the local charities.
Yeah, that’s really smart. I like the idea of saving when the going’s good, and having stuff for when it’s not so good. What advice would you give someone who’s at the same place you were, where they’re giving, but they’re concerned about appearing like they’re patting themselves on the back?
It’s all in how you say it and all in how you do it. That is a tough balancing act – you don’t want to go around saying “Hey, I’m doing this, I’m doing that”…be quiet enough, I would say. Start small, do like we did and just start off small, people start to recognize “OK, it’s happening” and it’s not like you’re dropping a bomb and saying “Look at us, look at all the things we’re doing.” There is a double-edged sword there. You don’t want to make it look like you’re just doing it for the “advertising,” if you want to call it that. That shouldn’t be the purpose.
I think it’s also helpful to remember what you were talking about earlier – the charities actually kind of need that publicity a little bit.
Yeah, I’d probably actually ask them, “How do we do this?”
I know there are a few causes that are important to you that you’re donating to right now, like the breast cancer and Parkinson’s ones – would you like to direct our listeners to where they can give if they’d like to?
The easy one’s the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research. We’ve actually stuck with local giving – most of our charity pieces of equipment go to a local charity, so in Ohio it’s Ohio Breast Cancer Fund or something along those lines, but whatever it is, I’d say find your passion. My passion, actually, is breaking the cycle of generational poverty, I’m big on education, so there’s something in our area called the Summit Education Initiative. Also, some other organizations are trying to build up the foundation through education in our community, so that’s my passion and that’s where I give most of my money. If you want to give to those kinds of organizations locally, that’s great. I think you’ve got a nationwide audience, so I’m not going to try and promote our stuff – help support your own communities, folks.
Alright, there we go. Thanks, Glenn, for your time today, it was a pleasure talking with you.
Pleasure talking with you too, Brian, thank you.
Learn more about Leppo Rents and The Leppo Way in the March/April 2021 edition of Pro Contractor Rentals or check it out online.