Growing up in Castledermot, Co Kildare, Barry O’Shea always had a great interest in agriculture, spending much of his childhood on his uncle’s mixed farm. This interest carried through after school, when Barry completed the Green Cert at Warrenstown College in Co Meath.
“After I did the Green Cert, I would have been happy to stay at home working on my uncle’s farm, but my father, who was an accountant, pushed me to further my education. I had a great interest in welding and mechanics, so I decided to study a one-year ag mechanisation course at Reaseheath College in the UK. I carried out a year of placement with Pat Timmons Tractors in Carlow, where I worked as a mechanic.
“I never had any desire to leave Ireland, but I had the option of going back to the UK to study a further two years of ag engineering to secure a degree. After completing it, I got a job at Gunn JCB as a mechanic in the workshop. I worked hard and soon got out on the road servicing, with a company van. Things were going good, I was even doing private work in the evenings and the weekends. I had a nice business going.”
“A friend of mine was keen to go on an exchange programme with Ohio University in the States. I was happy where I was, but he filled out the paperwork and dragged both of us through the interview process. We were accepted and worked for six months cutting corn from Kansas up to Canada.
“We were ready to come home when Michael O’Keefe, an Irish guy who was over the exchange programme asked us to stay out our visa with friends of his who were setting up a JCB dealership, so we did. As they were only beginning to sell new machines, the workshop where I was based was quiet, and I was mainly working on trucks which I had no interest in.”
“While at a local agricultural show, I learned that Fendt was looking for a product specialist. After several interviews, I was successful in securing the job. This was in 2000, and at the time, Fendt wasn’t a recognised brand in the US. I was sent to Germany for three months to work in all aspects of the factory and learn about/drive Fendt tractors.
“When I returned to the States, I was given the Michigan and Ontario territories and I was given a big SUV. This was to portray the Fendt brand as a premium product. It was priced 10-15% more expensive than the likes of a John Deere, but wasn’t even heard of in the States.
I was going into mostly pig and dairy farmers who were predominately hauling slurry. Most had bog standard 30-40km/h tractors
“We had no sales and no dealers to start off. I spent my time exciting a number of farmers about the product, which in turn got local dealers interested. When I initially described Fendt as green in colour and German built, farmers thought it was a Deutz. In my area, I was going into mostly pig and dairy farmers who were predominately hauling slurry. Most had bog standard 30-40km/h tractors. I was demonstrating these guys 900 series Fendt’s with front and cab suspension and a 50km/k CVT transmission with air brakes. The increased speed and comfort coupled with a three year warranty and service package was all unique at the time, but meant it was an easy sell! Things were going good for me.
“While in that role I actually approached a CAT dealer about taking on the Fendt franchise. They had to go to Corporate Cat to approve the move. This was actually what initiated talks between AGCO and Cat, before AGCO bought the tracked tractor off them.”
“I changed roles a number of times after that, later moving into marketing. By now, AGCO were selling Cat, Fendt and Massey in the US. In my various roles I often visited and worked in the AGCO plant in Beaveau, France. I spent a short stint educating our dealer network on CVT transmissions and guidance systems before I was appointed a product development role for tractors. I was responsible for all Beaveau tractors from 70hp upwards and the Caterpillar range. Soon after, I progressed to the global management of these tractors and moved to the factory in France.
I’m now based at AGCO’s HQ in Atlanta and oversee everything to do with combines for AGCO
“Next, I took on project ‘Centuren’. I oversaw a $200m project to build a new factory in China where we designed a new range of low-horsepower tractors from the ground up. The recently launched MF 4700 series and the new Valtra G series were born from this project. Once up and running, I was approached to spearhead the ‘OPUS’ project. This was a $200m project to build a completely new combine from the ground up. It started in 2013 and in 2017, we finally unveiled the IDEAL combine.
“This takes me to my current role. I’m now based at AGCO’s HQ in Atlanta and oversee everything to do with combines for AGCO. We have Fendt, Massey Ferguson, Gleaner, Valtra and Leaverda branded combines which are manufactured in factories in Brazil, Italy, America and China. I’m really happy in my current role. As for the future, I have big plans. I’m hoping to double our global combine business within the next few years.”
Keeping an open mind is something we should all take on board. “If you told me 25 years ago I’d have an office job in the States, I’d have laughed at you. You never know where the road will lead you. Once I got in with AGCO, I never actually chased up any new roles, they came in passing. I think it’s important to have some sort of a plan or a vision where you want to go, but don’t forget to focus on the job in hand.
“Think strategic and make your thoughts known. Don’t be afraid to try something new that’s different, follow your instinct. If it fails, get up, wipe yourself down and try again. Work hard and play hard, but do so in that order,” summed up Barry.