Most people don't start companies, they work for an existing organization that provides all the benefits and perks employees have been accustomed to. They depend on their employer to provide financing for the business or organization and its operation.
John Deere is most certainly one of those companies. It has a long history of success: Thousands of employees worldwide, opportunities for advancement, job security, and is one of the few farm equipment companies that have never been merged into, spun off from or reorganized.
Randall "Randy" Clark is a farm boy from LeRoy in Dodge County and a UW-Platteville graduate who had worked for John Deere (at Dubuque, IA) while attending school.
After graduation he went to work for John Deere at their Ottumwa, IA, plant and in Zweibrucken, Germany, as a self-propelled forage harvester engineer.
He admits that he had "a great job."
However, as innovators and inventors are prone to do, Clark was also putting together a business plan for his own company and business.
In 2004, Clark, with the blessing of John Deere, left his big time corporate life, job security and a rosy future for the unknown.
Clark had a dream and a plan, and not much else.
His plan was to design and make attachments for existing John Deere equipment - the very equipment he had been successfully selling for the company.
"John Deere thought it was a great idea," Clark says. "But, they said they needed me in their forage department."
Despite all the benefits of working at John Deere, Clark left the big company and went home to LeRoy - to the farm on which he was raised - not to farm, however, but to hatch his new endeavor.
"My folks, David and Patty Clark, put up a pole shed," Randy says. "I leased it from them."
RCI Engineering LLC was formed in 2004 and, in February 2005, officially began a business operation with the purpose of "providing engineering and manufacturing services for the specialized agricultural equipment industry."
Since that time, the company has experienced tremendous growth in product offerings and size. In 2007 the company was able to hire another engineer and, in January 2008, RCI Engineering moved to a larger facility in Mayville.
The company is described as an "allied supplier to John Deere for attachments for hay and forage equipment as well as a provider of custom harvesting equipment for several other companies."
In the fall of 2005, Randy married Wendy Rademacher, a dairy farmer's daughter from Sun Prairie, a UW-Madison graduate and former John Deere forage harvester marketer. They met at the John Deere Ottumwa facility where they both worked.
RCI Engineering's first project was an attachment to install a combine head on a forage harvester.
"This was a new design and a very specialized project," Randy admits. "It is used mostly in Alberta, Canada, and in our western states."
This was followed by the RCI 170 A Windrow Merger which the brochure calls "a simple cost-effective solution for merging windrows together while minimizing dirt and foreign material" ... and "a very effective windrow inverter for improved crop drying."
Clarks says this piece of equipment, that is seven-feet-wide and merges two hay windrows together, filled a gap with smaller farmers.
Another piece of haying equipment developed at RCI Engineering is the RCI Windrow Merger Attachment designed for merging windrows with a John Deere R450 self propelled windrower. It allows for rightside, leftside or center discharge.
Then there is the RCi Windrow Pickup attachment for the John Deere 3975 Pull-Type Forage Harvester that enables pickup of wider windrows.
Note: These specialized pieces of equipment are sold through John Deere and installed by their dealers, but RCI Engineering offers other engineering services such as: Design services from "cradle to grave" that includes development, manufacturing and product support; complete analysis of equipment issues and equipment fabrication, manufacturing and assembly.
An example is a current project involving a prototype silage bagger for a major manufacturer.
"Sometimes a manufacturer will seek assistance in the developement of new products," Clark says. "They may not have the time for research, development and testing; that's where we can get involved."
Clark also points out that his company is developing plot harvesters for hay and forage plant breeders and equipment for the burgeoning biomass growing industry.
"We are interested in working on and improving any product that will help a farmer's profitability," he says. "Simply put, we are a firm specializing in providing complete engineering and manufacturing services for hay, forage and biomass harvesting equipment."
Clark credits his parents for helping him get started with his new business some seven years ago.
"Actually it began with their support in FFA, 4-H, forensics and other activities while growing up," he says. "Later they built the pole building on the home farm that allowed me to start RCI Engineering."
When Randy was growing up, the Clark family was milking cows, but not anymore. Today the farm is devoted to cash cropping and finishing beef for market.
His brothers, Greg, also a UW-Platteville graduate, and Tony, are involved with the farming operation on the home farm and an adjoining farm owned by Greg. Brother Tim, a UW-Madison graduate, works with Dairyland Seeds, and sister Kelly, a Marian college grad, is a teacher.
Randy Clark gives major credit to his wife Wendy, a dairy marketing manager at Hoards Dairyman, for her assistance and faith in getting RCI started and its success. More important, she is the mother of their three sons: Ryan (6), Isaac (3) and Colin (one month).
RCI now has four engineers on staff, along with four technicians and an office manager.
A new product that has already drawn attention is the 35A Round Bale Accumulator for John Deere round balers now in final testing.
The long, narrow, four-wheeled trailer-like device will hold three round bales (with one in the baler) that can be emptied at anytime. This allows the grouping of four bales in the field, thereby saving time in removing the bales.
Randy Clark has done something many folks would like to do but don't - start his own business and become successful in a niche market.
Unusual? Not so much.
Think silo unloaders, barn cleaners, the plow, the Appleby-knotter and all the mechanical devices that came from the fertile minds of innovators who saw a "better way."
John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.