KION Americas: An ever-changing region

They not only share a region, but also a passion for their jobs and a love of challenges. Vincent Halma, CEO of KION North America, and Frank Bender, CEO of KION Latin America, are keeping a tight rein on the Industrial Trucks & Services segment, and ensuring that the forklift truck, warehouse technology and services business stay on track in an ever-changing market. They each have their own way of doing things and they both have their strategies. And they both believe the Dematic acquisition will open huge 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 a historic year for the KION Group and the North American material handling market."

Vincent Halma

CEO of KION North America

By combining the two brands, KION Latin America has been able to increase 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. Our revenue has fallen by almost 80 per cent in three years – if we hadn’t made changes, we wouldn’t have survived.”

Change is also the big topic at KION North America. New trucks are being developed for this huge market, and they are being tailored precisely to the needs of North American customers. “2017 will be a 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 here is introducing eight new forklift models in one 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 specifically designed for the North American market.”

Halma’s team is expanding its network of dealers. “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 per cent within two years. The flat organisational structure at the North American headquarters in Summerville, South Carolina, plays no small part in these changes. The door to Vincent Halma’s office, which is air-conditioned to combat the shimmering heat outside, is always wide open and his colleagues gather around a large oval table for briefings. “50 percent of our employees are new. What always fascinates me about my job is that we are a 100-year-old start-up,” says Halma with a smile.

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

Frank Bender

CEO of KION Latin America

Face-to-face contact is also essential for Bender. 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 ancestors 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 sectors of industry every day. One day it’s a port, the next a pharmaceutical company, the next a wholesaler. I have been at the company for 17 years and no two days have 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 acquisition of Dematic makes KION one of the world’s largest players in the industry, but more importantly, as Bender says: “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 will be able to submit our bid in good time.” Halma agrees: “Dematic is a fantastic acquisition for KION. Dematic provides us with a range of products and customer solutions that we didn’t have before. For us 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 going on, I see it as my job to ensure that it is not all work and no play.” To that end, he invites his 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 fproduction hall. There are steaks and burgers for everyone – hot off the grill.

Bender is not afraid to admit that he is also something of an epicurean. One of his favourite places in São Paulo is Eataly, a shopping arcade that combines delicatessens and restaurants under one roof. “Often when I have a meal here, I buy the ingredients straight afterwards and try to cook the dish at home,” he explains. And just like Halma, his staff get something out of it as well: “I have also held company celebrations here.”


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