For the love of technology and people

16.1.2024

NAHI, Black Bruin and Kent Strand, they all have one thing in common, longevity and persistence. NAHI’s history goes back to 1975. The original Black Bruin radial piston hydraulic motor was innovated in 1959 and, working for the good of both companies, Kent Strand has had an impressive career of over 50 years in hydraulics.

Kent’s history with Black Bruin starts about the same time as with NAHI, short for North American Hydraulics and the main distributor of Black Bruin motors in North America. “My earliest contact with Black Bruin was probably in 1981, when I was introduced to the product by Mike Weltzien, one of the founders of NAHI. It was pretty much his effort and foresight that set me off on my long career, and paved the way for Black Bruin in North America, too. The time was right for a direct drive, a radial piston motor, as so many potential customers were doing it the old-fashioned way with planetary gearboxes and motors,” Kent recalls. “But it took many years to establish the Black Bruin product.” It was in 1993 when the big applications started rolling as Kent and team landed an order for 100 Black Bruin motors. Kent has worked for NAHI full time since 1994, and a lot has happened since then and for good reason.

Kent worked for NAHI full time from 1994 until his retirement in November 2023. Kent’s son Erik worked in the office at times to help out when he was young.

Salesman goes technology

Kent feels that one of his greatest achievements for Black Bruin is the development and introduction of the S-series, Black Bruin’s first high power rotating shaft radial piston motor. “I talked to Sales Manager Pietu Lehtikuusi numerous times about the need for a shaft-mounted motor,” says Kent. Intended for a huge, totally new range of applications for Black Bruin, and for the industry at large, Kent recalls that there were numerous discussions and also a lot of resistance to this major expansion for the company – which ultimately worked just perfectly and continues to benefit innumerable industrial applications both in North America and globally.

“I was happy to have Pietu looking into things deeper and believing in my vision,” Kent underlines and continues: “Without his constant support – explaining to me all the innovative engineering principles in the Black Bruin motors and countless hours of work by the Black Bruin engineering team for the S-series, it would never have become a reality. Kent remembers a trip he and Pietu made to Calgary and Edmonton and a field survey there, which was one of the turning points in the large-scale introduction of the S-series. “We had heard that the competition was having major problems with their solutions, not supporting their products, so we saw a big opportunity there, and we did an awful lot of market research, too, defining how many motors were sold overall in Canada and so on. And it paid off, we got some of the first happy customers.”

S-series hydraulic direct drives continues to power innumerable industrial applications both in North America and globally.

The birth of the S-series shows a highly characteristic feature in Kent and the Black Bruin way of working. “There was a constant discussion on the engineering principles. If Pietu didn’t have an answer, he got it for me from the other people in the engineering team. Eventually I knew the motor almost as if I had designed it myself – the internal forces on the piston, the bearings, and so on.”

“I like to think I’m a salesman by nature and a rather persistent one, I guess. But that’s not enough. Surely my biggest advantage was that I had been working within hydraulics for 20 years even before joining NAHI. I had a great introduction to every market segment known to mankind – commercial agriculture, oil and foundation drilling, mining, commercial marine, defence, a long list – and it was easy for me to put myself into the customer’s situation and speak the same language. And that helped so much. We covered everything from the prime mover to the ground, the wedge and tool. Customers liked to run applications by me,” Kent explains.

Kent and Black Bruin’s Pietu Lehtikuusi during a customer visit back in the days.

Never give up

One thing emerges again and again in Kent’s talk, and that is perseverance. Here’s what he means: “The Black Bruin hydraulic motor is a great product, but it often takes a long time before a potential customer finally becomes a true and satisfied customer. It may take several years for them to make up their minds and let us through the door.” Luckily for Kent and Black Bruin, there have been and continue to be many such potential customers and applications in the North American market – as obviously in other parts of the world, too – nowadays increasingly within waste recycling, for example. As a representative of NAHI, a thoroughbred rotary drive specialist – or an integrator of a wide range of hydraulic solutions – Kent had a certain advantage over many other salesmen trying to get through: “I always had a reason to go to see a customer and offer them real value, not only through the drive but also with valves and other hydraulics components. In fact, I believe I had more of a consultant’s role than mere selling. Customers don’t want to see you just to shake your hand. They want to ask questions and get answers. They want to see their production time go up. If you cannot offer real benefits, the features don’t mean much.”

No doubt Kent always had good reason to be there. Without that, who could achieve a 50-year-long career in one and the same industry?

Those brilliant engineers

That consultation has clearly been a two-way street. Kent says: “Probably the best thing of all in my working life has been that I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the most brilliant engineers in the industry. It was thrilling to observe how customers’ technical staff were actively and intelligently looking for reasons to convince themselves and their organization to switch to Black Bruin instead of the old solution. They were plainly and simply enthralled with the Black Bruin motor. And it was easy to understand why, because it offers a lot more torque in a smaller package.”

From commercial agriculture to marine applications – Kent’s track record in various projects is respectable.

When asked about his favourite application of all, Kent hesitates and says that ‘many of them were lots of fun’. He remembers his first bigger deal in 1983, when he walked in the mud up to his hips among the machines at a farm in Salinas and helped the customer get additional drive force with Black Bruin motors for their lettuce harvesters. “I have always loved agriculture and enjoyed ranch life,” Kent laughs. Another very special case Kent likes to mention is APE, American Piledriving Equipment, working with their foundation construction equipment afficionados was memorable indeed. “The numbers were there, 20% more in diameter and 13% faster,” Kent declares. “Their pile driving equipment with Black Bruin S-series motor outperforms competition almost 2 to 1.” And Kent’s list goes on: Lindsay Transportation Systems, Guntert & Zimmerman, SSI Shredding Systems…

One of the many projects: S-series motor mounted directly to the head shaft of wheel trencher and working as a digging drive.

Looking back with gratitude and nostalgia

Things must be a whole lot different now, in retirement. But Kent remains active. “I have taken to exercising every morning, which is good, and I read a lot and also write and publish some short articles on LinkedIn, watch the birds and feed them, so I try to keep myself busy, but to be quite honest, I easily get bored,” Kent confesses with a smile on his face. “Of course, I greatly miss working with that superb technology and talking about it with wonderful people. That communicating meant so much to me, talking with those sharp minds at Black Bruin, NAHI and the client companies all across North America.”

Kent is grateful to the people who helped him make it happen: “For 50 years, I’ve been allowed to do what I love best. Always working with engineering departments that were very good at their jobs. It all comes together, creativity, nice people, the process and good communication.”

Kent Strand received the Golden Distributor Award from Black Bruin’s Pietu Lehtikuusi (on the right) and NAHI’s President Dwayne Persac in Sacramento, California.

Thank you Kent for 40+ years of commitment selling Black Bruin products. You are truly appreciated!

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