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Q & A: Susanne Kinzenbaw Veatch, president of Kinze Manufacturing
Susanne Kinzenbaw Veatch is the president of Kinze Manufacturing headquartered in Williamsburg, Iowa. As the daughter of founder, CEO, and chairman of the board Jon Kinzenbaw, she has fond memories growing up in the company.
Prior to joining the family business in 2005, Veatch earned a degree in Business from Iowa State University and worked for Caterpillar as a Systems Analyst. Now, in addition to her role in the company she and her husband farm and are raising their two young daughters in the business.
Q: Last time we talked with you in 2016, Kinze had just announced key leadership role changes. Tell me about that transition.
A: My title has changed to president. Dad’s title is still CEO. I would say our roles really haven’t changed a whole lot. He’s not as involved in the day to day, and that never really excited him. He’s usually out once a day, and if not, multiple times a week. Engineering remains his first love.
My role is running the day to day of the company and we have an executive team that I work with closely. I work closely with the sales and marketing team, too. If you look what got my dad in business, it was really understanding the customer needs, so the sales and marketing arm is the direct contact with the customer. We want to make sure we keep our ear close to the ground on what the customer needs to make sure we can provide innovative solutions for them.
Q: Your dad is known for big, heavy-built machinery and innovative, outside the box creations. You have business expertise. Explain how your leadership team uses their strengths to serve your farmer customers.
A: If you read our 50th book, I think my dad is quoted saying early on he learned to surround himself with people who could do things he either couldn’t do or didn’t have time to do. That’s still very much our philosophy.
Growing up in the business, I’ve always enjoyed all the aspects of it. I’d spent a lot of time with him on Saturdays or in the summer going out to the business as a young kid. We were out in the proto shop. I get involved in a lot of different areas. When we’re in new product development, I’m not the one designing it, but I’m involved in that process and how it looks.
Dad gets involved too, as needed. He’s really mentored a lot of our engineers. We have a great engineering team to whom we can give the requirements we have and then they can develop things or come up with innovative things on their own, like we’ve always done as a company.
We farm, too. My dad always farmed when he was very involved in the business. So now my husband and I farm as well. Not anything too large scale, but we do several hundred acres and it’s been good for me to operate the equipment and understand how it works. Then when something breaks down, I understand the frustration that the farmer feels when something doesn’t work. That’s one thing that makes us unique as owners from much of our competition - we’re very involved on the farming side.
My dad of course still is involved in farming and he loves to be out in the tractor in the spring, and the combine in the fall. I think that’s something that has really been good for us as a family and good for me now in my role.
Q: Tell me more about growing up in the business before you were officially a Kinze employee.
A: I always remember, I loved going out to Kinze with my dad and seeing things from his perspective. He had an interesting perspective or would be doing something interesting. Many of those trips were out to the proto shop where he was working with some of the engineers on things or he was checking in on something that they were working on. I did a lot of watching and listening.
He has a very nice farm shop at home, too. Over the years, he and I did a few projects. We built a Jeep from scratch that a lot of people have seen when they’ve gone on the antique tractor tours. Much for the sheet metal on it was cut off Kinze lasers. We welded it and painted it in the powder coat system. That was fun for me to see and actually be involved in the process of making something fun.
Q: At what point did you realize you were interested in this as a career, that it was more than spending time in the shop with your Dad?
A: I think in high school I knew I had a real passion for the business and that’s when I determined I wanted to go get a business degree. Knowing that one day I may come back to the business, my dad always said to go, be successful somewhere else before I came back. He said it’ll make the people appreciate you more and it’ll give you more world experience to see other businesses and the way people do things. So, that’s what I did.
I’m glad I did because even during that time, while I worked for some great companies, it gave me a lot more appreciation for what we have and the people we have.
Q: Now you’re married and have children of your own. What does it mean to be raising your family as the third generation in this business?
A: I have two girls, five and three. My husband and I, our philosophy is to parent very similar to my parents. My dad, whatever he was doing, he always included us, so long as he was able to. We spent many hours riding in the tractor with him. In the same way, we bring our girls now and they love to ride. We’re very much trying to give them that experience, too.
My husband is an optometrist and I’m in our business, but farming is the thing we do together on the side as a family. The girls can enjoy getting outdoors and understanding a little more about what I do.
Q: Tell me more about what it means to be a mother and a role model for your daughters and other women in the industry.
A: It’s an interesting balance trying to be a mom and run a business. I couldn’t do what I do without a husband that is very involved and very supportive. Then too, having people that are very good at what they do at the business.
Q: Do you have advice for young women who have a passion for agriculture and wonder if there’s a place for them in machinery?
A: I have found as a woman in a mainly male dominated world that when you show men respect and you genuinely ask questions and listen, most all of them want to teach and learn and share ideas. They don’t see it as a woman being inferior to a man. They truly respect working with everyone, male or female.
Q: What is the best advice that you’ve received?
A: Listen. You know, when as younger people we’re all excited to go conquer the world at college, the listening can be a harder thing. I’ve learned the importance of listening over the years because I’m a very high energy kind of go, go, go person that there were times I would put the get it done ahead of the listen.