OPE industry loses true leader

By Steve Noe

As we were putting the finishing touches on this edition of Outdoor Power Equipment (OPE), I received some sad news from the Ariens Company in Brillion, Wis., regarding the passing of Michael S. Ariens, who was one of the outdoor power equipment industry’s finest leaders over the past five-plus decades. I’d like to share with you the following, slightly modified, news release that was issued by the Ariens Company about this remarkable man’s life.

Ariens Company Chairman Emeritus Michael (Mike) S. Ariens, grandson of company founder, Henry Ariens, and a leader in the power equipment industry for 55 years, passed away at his home on February 28. He was 83.

Mike served as the president of Ariens Company 1969-1992 and as chairman of the board 1992-2014. In November 2014, he celebrated his 55th anniversary with the company among family and several hundred Ariens Company employees.

“Mike leaves us with a legacy of his personal leadership style, a strength of character that people who work with him want to emulate,” said Dan Ariens, chairman & CEO, Ariens Company. “As a leader, he was thoughtful and insightful with a great sense of humor. As a businessperson, he was pointedly committed to the company’s purpose: to care for our customers like they are part of the family.”

Under Mike’s direction, Ariens Company experienced significant growth, according to Dan. Mike managed the business through several acquisitions, hundreds of product launches, maturing market shifts, and the always unpredictable weather. One of the most successful and enduring product introductions under his direction was that of the Ariens Sno-Thro. “Those who knew my father, knew he loved nothing more than a great big snow storm, especially in Boston,” said Dan.

In 1982, Mike led the acquisition of the Gravely brand when the product line revolved around two- and four-wheeled tractor products. The move set the stage for entering an emerging commercial grounds care sector that ultimately led to the growth of the Gravely professional brand.

“As a leader, one of his most endearing qualities was the one-on-one relationship he had with each member of Ariens Company,” said Dan. “Many remember his personal visits on the day of their company work anniversary. Through his entire career, Mike spent part of each day thanking employees at their workstations for their years of commitment to the company. He continued this ritual through his last day on the job in late 2014.”

Mike was extremely active in the outdoor power equipment industry. As one of the longest-serving board members on the board of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), he held various leadership positions over his career, including chairman, vice chairman, secretary and treasurer. He also chaired a number of committees and task forces for the organization.

“We mourn the passing of an industry leader and good friend to the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute with the recent loss of Michael S. Ariens,” said Kris Kiser, president and CEO of OPEI. “The Ariens family has been a long supporter of OPEI, with three generations of Ariens leaders serving on the organization’s board and as chairmen. We send well wishes to the Ariens family today. We will remember Michael fondly.”

As part of OPEI, Mike took the lead on several high-profile initiatives. In the early 1980s, he represented the industry before the Consumer Product Safety Commission to initiate a more orderly conversion to new safety standards. He led the fight on behalf of manufacturers and dealers for a rational transition. He was also a pioneer in blending rational business compromise among the engine manufacturers and consumers through several landmark emissions standards initiatives. And he was a strong advocate for the creation of OPEI’s own exposition — now known as GIE+EXPO — to showcase the industry and its products.

“Mike was a diplomatic, fair negotiator and respectful of everyone he worked with over his career,” said Dan. “He loved this outdoor power equipment industry and was grateful for all the relationships he shared over the years with his extended OPE family.”

Mike was a graduate of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Indiana University, and he served in the Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to joining Ariens Company, he worked for the chairman of the board of Cummins Engines.

Throughout his career, Mike dedicated time to serve on the boards of many business, civic and philanthropic organizations, including WPS Resources Corporation; Schneider National, Inc.; U.S. Oil Company; Calumet County Bank; Interstate Corporation; L.M. Becker Company; Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Education Counselor); St. Mary of the Woods College; Catholic Diocese of Green Bay; and the Catholic Foundation of the Diocese of Green Bay.

Mike is survived by his wife, Mimi, of 58 years; children Michael II (Renee), Daniel (Julie), Margaret (Marty) Denten, Kathryn (Mike) Martell, Peter (Didi), Mary (Emo) Dellanina, Christopher (Israel), and Andrew (Brooke); and 23 grandchildren.

On behalf of everyone at OPE, I would like to express my sincerest condolences to the entire Ariens family on the passing of Mike Ariens, who will always be remembered for his many contributions not only to the Ariens Company, but also to the entire OPE industry.


OPE Editor Steve Noe


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