When Levente Szabó ascended to the post of CEO at Hungarian agricultural supply distributor KITE in 2014, it was a time of turbulent reckoning for the 45-year-old company. His appointment coincided with the business coming under new ownership, which signalled a need for new direction.
Fortunately, Levente was no stranger to KITE’s operations – he had already been with the company for over a decade – and he entered the C-suite with a bold vision for the next stage in the company’s development.
For most of its existence, KITE has been well known to farmers across Hungary as the licensed distributor of John Deere machinery, including tractors, combine harvesters and implements.
The company, despite being established under the previous political regime, was able to introduce and prove the advantages of western, mainly American, technologies into Hungarian agriculture without state approval or financial support.
This background knowledge, expertise and established network provided the ability to continue their functioning and flourishing following the political and economic changes, as it was already a profit-oriented trading, service provision and consultancy company.
Nonetheless, by the time Levente was in charge, he found himself presiding over a strong company whose profits were stagnant.
“We had a choice to either stay stable in the market by selling the best quality machines for the best price, or we could start offering a whole new array of solutions to farmers and help them maximise their profits,” he says.
He set out adding new products and services to KITE’s portfolio – repairs, brokering, consulting, training and digital tools to help farmers learn the best uses of their machinery. He even set up a tree nursery.
“The needs of a new generation are not the same as those of the old. This is why we have had to create new services and new companies, such as the tree nursery. The tree nursery gives us a new foothold in another part of the market by allowing us to sell input materials to farmers,” Levente says.
Among the company’s suppliers are many market leaders such as John Deere, JCB, Corteva, BASF, Dow-DuPont, Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer.
“One of our key suppliers is Corteva Inc, which has a mission to reduce environmental impacts and optimise crop agronomics. They believe that the need for maximising crop productivity to feed a growing global population must be balanced with environmental sustainability and the farmer’s return on investment,” he says.
“The technology used by Corteva Inc is scientifically proven to minimise negative environmental side effects of nitrogen loss by keeping nitrogen in the root zone, providing better crop utilisation of nitrogen, and helping to maximise crop yield.”
Corteva Inc is a publicly traded, global pure-play agriculture company that provides farmers around the world with the most complete portfolio in the industry – including a balanced and diverse mix of seed, crop protection and digital solutions focused on maximising productivity to enhance yield and profitability with some of the most recognised brands in agriculture and an industry leading product and technology pipeline well positioned to drive growth.
Another project Levente has undertaken since becoming CEO has been expanding KITE beyond Hungary. Three years ago, he succeeded in winning the licence to distribute John Deere products in Serbia.
“We leveraged our relationship with one of our fertiliser suppliers based in Serbia, and that good relationship led to us presenting a new plan to the CEO of John Deere for distribution in Serbia. At the time, another company had the territory rights, but they weren’t doing so well, and we ended up winning the licence,” Levente says.
“Entering new markets is not easy, but our understanding of the needs of farmers and the reliability of our input materials gives us confidence as we seek to step into other markets as well,” he says. If there is one phrase that describes Levente’s philosophy as CEO of KITE, it is “Always renewing”.
This is why he invests so much into R&D, which has yielded breakthroughs in digitisation at KITE, giving farmers more access to data that informs their business decisions and maximises the performance of their machines, all through KITE’s branded platform.
“The agricultural sector is about to undergo a significant transformation, which also brings a certain change in approach. Environmentally friendly, sustainable and effective production is increasingly at the forefront, which is mostly outlined by the skills and knowledge incorporated in machinery, the change in the IT environment and the increasing interest in precision agriculture as well as susceptibility,” Levente says.
“Today, data and its usage represent an increasingly important value in the preparation of decision-making for technological interventions.
“KITE determined over a decade ago how to become a market leader in the introduction of technological novelties by using the latest know-how available in science, adapting those to local needs, and just react to market demands.
“Beyond that, we set out to surpass these demands and utilise significant resources for the cause. This led us to the expansion of our range of activities, especially in our service offerings. We have introduced six new services in the past five years, which not only fulfil customers’ needs but, due to the complexity, also add value to our partners.”
Scientific advances have also allowed KITE to develop its own branded products, like hybrid soybean and corn seeds, which have produced outstanding yields in Hungary over the past five years.
Today, 45,000 KITE customers cultivate 2.5 million hectares of land across Hungary. “Research and development is the best way to ensure growth every year. If you do not put money into this effort and investigate new solutions and possibilities, you will stand still and be overtaken like a Formula One racing car,” he says.
KITE’s combination of products, services and R&D are together what Levente calls the company’s “complex solution”.
The needs of a new generation are not the same as those of the old. This is why we have had to create new services and new companies, such as the tree nursery.
“Every KITE customer has access to finance services, land services, input materials, and grain trading. This complex solution allows us to challenge every other company in Hungary,” he says.
Levente recognises that none of his plans would come to fruition without the right people to carry them out. This is why KITE offers training programs to young employees to help them diversify their skills and move up in the company.
“You can only remain altruistic, happy and credible in your profession if you like what you do and the people around you are independent, responsible and trustworthy,” he says.
“You need to be happy to come to work every morning and recognise the company as being your own, where you not only work, but also where you spend a major part of your life.
Agriculture is like an endless story because the same process starts every year, giving us a chance to be excited about creating value together with nature.
“Being the best in the market means absolutely nothing if you are not learning from your competitors, from your challenges, from your mistakes. You have to always be working on your mind and to always be learning, learning, learning.”
Proudly supported by: