Construction Equipment Distribution Magazine Profile: Bob Nuss

Construction Equipment Distribution Magazine Profile: Bob Nuss

Vol. 87 No. 03 April 2021

Bob Nuss has a knack for looking ahead. Nuss, the President of Nuss Truck & Equipment in Rochester, Minnesota, has been making good bets on the future for most of his 50-year career. “Sometimes you’re luckier than smart,” he says with characteristic modesty. But Nuss has made a habit of making the right move at the right time.
Take his arrival in Rochester in 1973. His family had deep roots in the Mack Truck business in Rockford, Illinois, where his dad had started in 1959, first as a mechanic and then as a dealer. Nuss relates how Rockford was thriving as the second-largest machine tool center in the world after World War II. But by the late 1960s, he could see the beginning of a decline, as jobs were already beginning to move overseas. “I looked at it and said ‘I don’t think I want to stay here.’” And so he made the move to Rochester to manage a local dealership. A few years later Money magazine did one of their periodic rankings of the best cities in which to live and work. “Rochester was Number 1 and Rockford was Number 300. So we moved up 299 spots on just a hunch. I think we made the right decision.”
Nuss ended up buying the dealership in 1979. From there he continued his knack for getting in front of trends by systematically expanding the company’s footprint. “I saw the opportunities… Not that many companies were branching out in the 80s. It’s very common today. You have to have multiple branches, you go where the customers are.” Between 1983 and 2001 the company bought dealerships or branches in Mankato, Eau Claire, Duluth, St. Cloud, and Roseville. With the last of these acquisitions, the company became a Volvo truck dealer.
In 1969, when his father asked Nuss to join the family firm, this kind of growth probably hadn’t been on either one’s radar. “It was a small dealership. I don’t think we had a dozen people there.”
Nuss had graduated from college in 1966. He started out with Valspar Corporation in Rockford as a sales territory manager and went on to work for the company in Memphis and Chicago, with a stint in the Army in between. When the call came from his father, it was something he hadn’t really considered until that point. He’d been looking at a different career path, but he decided to return, initially running the parts department before moving up when his father retired in 1973.
After the series of acquisitions through 2001, Nuss and his sons Greg and Brad began looking for the company’s next growth opportunity and were impressed by Volvo’s construction equipment. “We wanted to have a larger footprint with them, expand our relationship and sell more products.” They became a Volvo Construction Equipment dealer with the acquisition of Sweeney Brothers Minnesota operations in 2008.
That vision extends to Nuss’s view of the world we live in and the roles and responsibilities of businesses and government. “We’ve known all of our congressional members… Whether you like who’s in office or not, if you want to get some input to help support your business and your industry, you need to accept who’s in office and deal with them. You need to work for the betterment of the entire industry, not just yourself… But you can have a heart-to-heart one-on-one discussion with any of these people in the office, and they’re very receptive, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans.”
In 2019 Nuss Truck & Equipment’s Burnsville branch hosted President Donald Trump for an event. Gesturing toward a backdrop of a Mack truck and a Volvo loader, Bob told the president “They represent the business tools that build and move America.”
His discussion of the big picture segues naturally into the roles and responsibilities of his own company. “If we can continue to grow, reinvest in our infrastructure, jobs will come with that. We [Nuss Truck  Equipment] have to look strategically at what we can do to impact that, make sure we stay financially healthy, make sure we reinvest in our employees.”
Like many in this business, Nuss is concerned that not enough students are being encouraged to pursue careers as technicians. The current generation, he says, has been pushed by schools to get four-year degrees, and now “we have an over-abundance of people with 4-year degrees.” He points out “You know when the economy slows down, the equipment has still got to be repaired. These jobs are not going overseas. These trucks and equipment need to be fixed hands-on.”
At 76, Nuss has no plans to retire, calling retirement “over-rated.” He does leave the day-to-day decision-making to his sons Greg Nuss, as Chief Operating Officer, and Brad Nuss, as Chief Financial Officer.
Bob Nuss offers a perspective on life and work that might seem to be the result of his 50 years of experience, though in fact it’s been embedded in his personal philosophy from the beginning. “It’s important that we all take time to reflect. You know, it’s not about the money. I never went into business for the money. You never really own the money you have. You’ve only got temporary custody of it.”
“It’s rewarding to see people buying equipment, and just going around the business. You can manage by walking around. People want to see you, they want to talk to you casually… when you look at your employees and you see the confidence in their smile when they’re working for you and your team and you know they’re the right people to run the business… To be part of a successful operation is very rewarding. Not everyone gets to do what we do.

CED MAG

DEDICATED TO HELPING YOUR BUSINESS STAY ON THE MOVE.