2017-03-01

KION Americas: Similar yet different

Not only do they share a region, but they also share a passion for their work and a love of challenges. Vincent Halma, CEO at KION North America, and Frank Bender, CEO at KION Latin America, keep a tight rein on the Industrial Trucks & Services segment while ensuring that industrial trucks, warehouse technology and services stay on track in an ever-changing market. They each have their own way of getting things done and their own strategies.Yet, they both firmly believe the Dematic acquisition will open a flood of opportunities.

Bender has a reason to celebrate even if the bleak economic situation in Brazil might indicate otherwise. “The cliché that every crisis brings opportunities is actually true,” he says, adding “Because of the crisis, we have made a decision that would have been inconceivable anywhere else in the world: to sell two competing brands together, namely, Linde and STILL. When you are up to your neck in water, you have no choice but to swim.”

"2017 will be an historic year for KION Group and the North American material handling market."


Vincent Halma

CEO, KION North America

By combining the two brands, KION Latin America has increased its market share and profitability despite falling sales. Bender, a man with dark blonde hair and bright eyes, takes a sip of his espresso. “Here in Brazil, the unstable economy forces us to come up with something new every day. Our operating unit has changed more than any other one at KION. Our revenue has fallen by almost 80 percent in three years and if we hadn’t made changes, we wouldn’t have survived.”

Change is also a big topic at KION North America. New trucks are being developed for this huge market and they are customized precisely to the needs of North American customers. “2017 will be an historic year for KION and the North American material handling market. It will be the first time that an original equipment manufacturer in our industry is introducing eight new forklift models in a single year,” says the Dutch-born CEO, his eyes lighting up. “We will have the largest display at the material handling tradeshow, ProMat, in April to introduce our first new products designed specifically for the North American market.”

Halma’s team is expanding its dealer network. “KION North America is the only company in our market with R&D efforts of this scale. So many new dealers are interested in becoming part of this unique opportunity,” he explains.

KION North America previously only served a niche market with a market coverage of 15 percent.

Following the introduction of a new line of counterbalance trucks, this figure is set to reach 85 percent within the next two years. The flat organizational structure at the North American headquarters in Summerville, South Carolina, plays no small part in these changes. The door to Halma’s office, which is air-conditioned to combat the blistering heat outside, is always wide open and his colleagues gather at a large oval table for briefings. “Half of our employees are new and that is what always fascinates me about my job is that we are a 100-year-old start-up,” notes Halma with a smile.

"If we hadn’t made changes, we wouldn’t have survived"


Frank Bender

CEO, KION Latin America

Bender considers face-to-face contact essential as well. He visits his key customers and likes to talk to his employees in person. Teamwork and customer focus are core values at KION Latin America. The CEO with German roots has big plans for his region. “When the crisis is over, we will all have opportunities to become the most profitable operating unit worldwide.”

Bender exudes optimism and confidence with every word, which is another attribute he shares with Halma. “I enjoy learning and my work lends itself to that. I deal with a number of industry sectors on a daily basis. One day it’s a port, the next a pharmaceutical company, then a wholesaler. I have been at the company for 17 years and no two days have ever been the same. We now have to grow our business in all of South America as we have done in Brazil over the past few years. We particularly want to strengthen our position in Argentina and Chile.” And, as the CEO explains, suitable trucks will first need to be developed for some potential customers and it sounds as if he is looking forward to the challenge.

The Dematic acquisition makes KION one of the world’s largest players in the industry, but more importantly, as Bender explains, “Through us, Dematic will be able to strengthen its customer service business in Brazil. And thanks to Dematic, we will learn about projects at a much earlier stage and we can submit our bid in good time.” Halma agrees, “Dematic is a fantastic acquisition for KION. They provide us with a range of products and customer solutions that we didn’t have before. In North America, it means that we can forge partnerships with new customers. We see lots of opportunities here for synergies.”

Halma adds with a smile, “With all the changes that are happneing, I see it as my job to ensure that it is not all work and no play.” To that end, he invites employees to lunch once every quarter at Baker House. The historic home, built in the typical style of the Deep South with white rocking chairs on the veranda, is on the KION site behind the large production hall. There are steaks and burgers for everyone – hot off the grill.

Bender is unafraid to admit that he is also somewhat of an epicurean. One of his favourite places in São Paulo is Eataly, a shopping arcade that combines delicatessens and restaurants under a single roof. “Often when I have a meal there, I buy the ingredients right afterwards so I can try to cook the dish at home,” he admits. And just like Halma, his staff get something out of it as well. “I have also held company celebrations here.”

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