Don Ahern and Michael Kneeland are among five industry leaders named for induction into the American Rental Association’s Hall of Fame.
Each year, the American Rental Association (ARA) honors individuals who have made a significant impact on the equipment and event rental industry at the national or international level. This year’s inductees will be recognized at The ARA Show 2021 in Las Vegas.
ARA created the Rental Hall of Fame in 2000 to foster an appreciation of the historical development of the equipment and event rental industry and the leaders who helped the industry grow and expand. Each year, nominations are accepted to recognize individuals who have made a substantial contribution to the industry.
Don Ahern, Ahern Rentals, Las Vegas, NV
Ahern Rentals was founded in 1953 by Don’s father and was originally located where the STRAT Hotel, Casino & SkyPod (formerly the Stratosphere) now stands on the Las Vegas Strip. Ahern began working for his father at Ahern Renter’s Center in the 1970s. Venturing out on his own in 1978 with a fleet of three scissor lifts, Ahern relocated and founded Los Arcos Equipment which expanded across Southern Nevada and Southern California by 1983. In 1990, Ahern purchased the business from his father and combined both businesses into one – Ahern Rentals – in 1997. The rental business joined ARA in 1978 and has retained membership ever since.
During the deep recession between 2007 and 2009, Ahern found a way to achieve growth for his business. As much of the construction in Las Vegas came to a halt, Don redeployed his fleet out of the city and into new markets which led to the expansion of 30 branch locations in 30 months. Along with the growth came some challenges. In late 2011, Ahern voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in order to reorganize debt. New markets in the southern and eastern parts of the U.S. where fleet utilization was higher, generated revenue that enabled him to repay all creditors and exit Chapter 11 by mid-2013.
Ahern also applied his rental business knowledge into manufacturing. Inspired to produce his own reliable telehandler, he purchased Western Attachment Co. in 1999, specializing in rough terrain vertical mast forklifts. To design all-new telehandlers to his specifications, Don founded Fresno Engineering Group in 2001. Less than two years later, the company would be renamed to Xtreme Manufacturing™. Today, as the owner of Xtreme Manufacturing, Don also holds a majority stake in Snorkel™.
Through the years, Ahern Rentals has remained a privately owned company. From the start, Don Ahern has personally invested in his company, successfully growing a small fleet into a leading rental company in the U.S.
Michael Kneeland, United Rentals, Stamford, CT
Kneeland became CEO of United Rentals in 2008, but his career in rental started long before. His first experience in the industry was in sales for Free State Industries, an aerial equipment company – before this piece of equipment was popular and scaffolding prevailed in the construction world. Kneeland’s perseverance led him to become the president of Free State, eventually negotiating its sale to Equipment Supply Company in 1996. In 1998, United Rentals acquired Equipment Supply Company and Kneeland assumed a senior management role, and later became the third CEO in the history of United Rentals.
One of Kneeland’s persistent messages as a rental executive was “being the biggest doesn’t matter unless you’re also the best” – reflecting his take on customer service, ingenuity, creativity, and imagination. Early on, he authorized the creation of an Advanced Solutions group that worked with construction and industrial managers in the early-adoption phase, performing drone inspections in elevator shafts and other hard-to-reach places. This helped lay the foundation for the upsurge in interest that followed. In 2011, Kneeland was part of establishing ARA Rental Market Metrics, which gave rental companies a consistent way to calculate performance for the first time.
His dedication to his employees and customers was always at the forefront. In 2010, United Rentals implemented digital customer scorecards to track branch, district, and company-wide performance in key areas. Kneeland is also an advocate of helping military veterans transition into civilian jobs. His efforts also include supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives for the company having developed three multicultural employee resources groups: Women United, Veterans United, and Together United. On three separate occasions, United Rentals awarded shares of company stock to almost all employees – most recently awarding approximately 18,000 frontline employees who are providing essential services during the pandemic.
Kneeland retired from his role as CEO in 2019, but his passion for the industry remains strong. He continues to serve as Chair of the Board of United Rentals, Chair of Maxim Crane and serves on other company boards.