Dietz Lankhorst’s long journey back to Krone North America ended in January, when he was named president and CEO of the hay and forage equipment manufacturer, based in West Memphis, Tennessee.
Lankhorst takes over from Krone’s longtime CEO Rusty Fowler. Fowler led Krone North America (Krone NA) for 29 years. Lankhorst comes to Krone after 15 years with MTD Products, in Valley City, Ohio, where he last served as vice president of European operations.
Lankhorst assumes this leadership role at a challenging time. Krone is navigating through a depressed dairy market and stiff competition from the large equipment brands. “There is no question that we are in, and have been in, a prolonged market slump. Our current assessment is for a gradual recovery,” Lankhorst says. “The brand purity efforts by the major line companies are making things more difficult in some areas but not impossible. So, we have to develop fairly creative solutions to this problem.”
Krone sees opportunity in the cattle market. “The demand for beef has remained strong, and more and more customers are seeing the need to update their hay and forage equipment. We do not see the downside of that market [as with dairy],” he says.
There is potential, too, in Canada. The country is a key part of Krone’s strategy. Western Canada and Ontario are regions of particular interest.
Krone is a 113-year old, $2-billion-plus family-owned and operated company, headquartered in Spelle, Germany. It specializes in hay and forage equipment, and commercial trailers. By one estimate, the global market for haying and forage is growing at 3.5% per year.
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Krone NA has sold German-engineered equipment to U.S. and Canadian farmers for nearly 50 years. Its product line includes disc mowers, mower conditioners, rotary tedders, rotary rakes, round balers and large square balers.
The company introduced in January this year a new and highly productive Big M 450 Self-Propelled Mower Conditioner--the industry’s only self-propelled mower conditioner. The “Big M” cuts up to 42 acres per hour.
Krone NA sells its products primarily through existing agricultural machinery dealers. But, in three key areas, the company owns dealerships--California’s Central Valley, southern Idaho and a pair in Wisconsin. “Those areas have big market potential but no suitable existing dealer,” Lankhorst says. Asked about additional Krone-owned dealerships, he adds, “I do not want to rule that out, but there is nothing in the pipeline.”
Krone NA is moving its North American headquarters and parts distribution operations from Memphis to Olive Branch, Mississippi. The $1.5-million project better positions the company to serve dealers and customers.
Customer-focused marketing strategies that create demand for its products will be an ever-more-important part of the Krone NA business strategy. “We are implementing aggressive digital and social-marketing efforts to more effectively communicate the value of our equipment to dealers and farmers,” Lankhorst says. “And, we are using these channels to enable our loyal customers to become spokespersons for Krone. These are very powerful tools.”
Born in a dairy-producing region of northern Germany, near Holland, Lankhorst grew up in an agricultural environment. Neuenhaus is home to Lankhorst’s family-owned farm-equipment dealership.
After high school, Lankhorst entered an apprentice program to become a farm-equipment mechanic. “[However], my dad’s vision was always that only covering the technical side of the dealership was not enough. I also needed a business portion.”
Lankhorst went on to earn in 1998 a mechanical engineering degree from Cologne University of Applied Sciences and, in 2001, a finance degree at Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences. Prior to university, Lankhorst completed a summer internship in West Memphis, Tennessee. Working in a Krone warehouse and supporting the parts distribution process, his connection to Krone and the North American market was made.
“I knew Rusty Fowler. We kept in touch over the years, so we had this connection. When Krone began the search for Rusty’s replacement, they contacted me,” Lankhorst recalls. When he was offered the position of CEO and president, Lankhorst believed there was some destiny to it. “I was closing the circle, going back to my roots.”
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