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Q&A: Jon Kinzenbaw, Susie Kinzenbaw Veatch
Update: Kinze Manufacturing recently announced key leadership role changes. Jon Kinzenbaw, who founded and has led the company for more than 50 years, will assume the role of CEO and Chairman of the Board. A part of the company’s growth for the past 11 years, Jon’s daughter, Susie Kinzenbaw Veatch, has been named as President and Chief Marketing Officer. Brian McKown has been designated Executive Vice President and COO.
“My role and involvement in the company will remain the same,” says Jon Kinzenbaw. “Susie and Brian have been instrumental in working alongside me over the last number of years to develop a world class team at Kinze. These changes reflect how we are positioning the organization for future success when the agriculture market rebounds.”
The story below was originally published in December of 2013.
When Jon Kinzenbaw opened the doors to his welding and repair shop on December 10, 1965, his goal was simple: “Fix something better than it was before it broke and make it look like it belonged that way,” he recalls.
It didn’t take long for the Victor, Iowa, native to move from fixing to creating.
By the early 1970s, Kinzenbaw had developed the first two-wheeled grain cart and applied for his first patent on an adjustable-width plow.
“Our business took off with that grain cart,” he says. “It wasn’t a complicated idea, but people grabbed on to it. Today, everyone has a grain cart to chase the combine.”
Nearly a half century later, the business has long since outgrown its original 40×30-foot building and has become a recognized leader in the field.
Yet, as the company has grown, the five core values that Kinzenbaw established for the business many years ago ring true today: integrity, customer focus, excellence, innovation, and mutual respect.
“They define our company culture and how we conduct business,” says Susanne (Kinzenbaw) Veatch, vice president and chief marketing officer.
Joining her father as the second generation in the business, Veatch is entrusted with carrying that message forward for generations to come.
“Those values are very important to me,” she notes. “When people ask what things will stay consistent as we go from the founder to the second generation, I tell them that’s the one thing that won’t change, because those values are our roots and have made us successful over the years.”
Successful Farming magazine recently had the opportunity to sit down with the father and daughter to take a look back as well as ahead.
SF: The year 2015 will mark the 50th anniversary of your business. Did the dream come true?
JK: When I started my business, my initial goal was to build a better product. That goal was above and beyond profit. I wasn’t thinking of profit as much as I was building something useful for the farmer. As we grew, it became creating a good place for people to work. It has exceeded my expectations 100 times over.
SF: What’s going to be the next big thing in agriculture?
JK: Three years ago, we planted 150 acres of corn with autonomous technology. We could have literally sat in the pickup and watched it plant that whole farm.
In the future, we’re going to see a lot of machinery driven or run by this system or a system like it. Autonomous driving has already been approved in a couple of states.
The computer with its memory and safety features is more dependable than a human who could fall asleep or become distracted. We think an autonomous system would be safer on the road.
SF: Kinze Manufacturing has built its business on planters and grain carts. Why venture into autonomous technology?
SV: Technology has always been an important part of our business, especially over the last 10 years. Autonomous technology is a practical solution to the products we already have, and it really builds upon what we’ve done and the mark we’ve left, to date, in the row-crop farming world. For us, it was a no-brainer.
SF: What is the innovation you are most proud of?
JK: In 1985, we introduced the Twin-Line planter. Today, it has been renamed the 3600. It really caught the industry by storm. It’s one of those disruptive innovations, because a lot of grain drill companies were really taken aback by it. Our planter replaced them as a soybean planter because it did a better job in no-till.
That planter, with the twist-and-rotate design and the ability to plant narrow rows, has outsold anything we’ve ever built. It’s hard to believe you can come up with an idea and, nearly 30 years later, it’s still your top seller.
SF: In 10 years, what will Kinze’s number one selling product be?
SV: Ten years may sound like a long way off, but as you plan for your business, you not only plan for the short term, you also have to look at the long term.
Obviously, we’re known for planters and grain carts. Planters are the majority of what we do. They’re what we’re known for and a very big portion of our business.
As we look to the future, we will continue to try to understand what the farmers’ needs are and to provide innovative solutions to make farmers more productive. I’m certain that will involve planting, because it is the heart of our business.
We want to continue to grow and to innovate when it comes to planting.
SF: The company is expanding in Lithuania. Why?
SV: Kinze Manufacturing has sold product globally since the early 1980s. About three years ago, we went from a distributor model to a direct-dealer model primarily in Eastern Europe and Russia, which is where a lot of our global business is.
As we’ve experienced rapid growth domestically, from a global standpoint, we’ve recognized it’s time to expand and to grow the global business.
We went through a process to determine the best location. We landed on Lithuania because of its proximity to our dealers, as well as its seaport, infrastructure, and facilities. This location will supply planters to meet European and Russian demand.
We will begin with assembling. As we improve that process, we will add manufacturing.We may add grain carts later. For now, we’re focusing on planters.
SF: What piece of advice have you shared with your daughter as the second generation in the family business?
JK: Although Susie’s field may not be in engineering, she’s got a good understanding of it and has the business sense to carry forward. She can’t be expected to do or know everything.
When a company gets to the size we’ve grown to, there are a lot of areas one person can’t do alone. The key is to surround yourself, even in my case, with people who can help do the different things necessary and to do them right.
SF: What is a key takeaway you’ve gained from working with your dad?
SV: As we look at the business, one of the things I appreciate about my dad is his commonsense approach and his willingness to listen and to learn from others.
Even though he’s the owner of a company, he knows he doesn’t have all the solutions – or even half of them. Dad surrounds himself with people who really have great ideas and input. Those two qualities have made the business successful over the years, and that’s what will continue to make it successful.