Mr. Robert Slykhuis, President & CEO, Bizerba North America Interviewed by Cherie Shepard, Direct Recruiters
Cherie Shepard, Director of Packaging, Material Handling & Food Processing at Direct Recruiters interviews Robert Slykhuis, President and CEO of Bizerba North America. Mr. Slykhuis discusses his career in food processing, the industry, innovative products, leadership, and more.
You are quite accomplished. Please tell us about yourself and what attracted you to a career in the food processing industry?
I don’t think anyone really grows up hoping they can have a career in the food processing industry. In fact, most of us find our way into an industry like this based on situations that present themselves, which is what happened to me. In my early career I had opportunities in capital equipment businesses, which happened to be food processing focused, and I quickly found it to be an industry I could be successful in.
Bizerba is known for having a 150-year history of innovation. Please mention the most innovative products recently launched.
For generations, Bizerba has led through revolutionary changes in weighing, slicing and labeling. As an innovator in PC based scales and Weigh Price Labeling, we lead the market. The most recent innovations are really centered around our software solutions. With the focus on OEE, we have developed our remote management and service of equipment to the next level. Instead of just reacting to equipment downtime, we are now able to monitor and proactively service our equipment in real time and provide our customers with solutions that can really save them time and money.
What do you believe are the most important traits of a leader in today’s business world?
I am fortunate to work with a management team which shares many of the traits I feel are important to be successful. Being customer centric is a must, and while many leaders talk about putting the customer first, it really means satisfying customers at all costs. A passion for winning is in our DNA and is still the biggest motivator to get me out of bed every day. And finally, in the words of one of my managers, “when did patience become a virtue?” Being demanding and always wanting to achieve more is a necessity.
What do you think is the industry’s greatest challenge?
This is an easy one; lack of young talent. I look around the industry, our company included, and see way too many people my age. The challenge of recruiting talented, dedicated, technically qualified people, with a passion to work in our industry is of great concern.
We are facing a leadership shortage in the US and globally. What steps have you taken at Bizerba to develop future leaders?
Because of our rapid growth, we relied mainly on recruitment and mentoring to develop our managers. We are now actively engaging in more formal leadership training throughout the company to identify and advance more people from within. This is a worldwide project and is also meant to link opportunities for growth across the world.
How is the food processing equipment segment poised for growth in the US and on a global scale in 2017 and beyond?
For many years we have seen a high level of automation in Germany and this has been the basis for much of our product development in our home market. More and more we are seeing this requirement in all of our markets with companies seeking better solutions which will deliver cost savings through information and automation.
What is the biggest challenge on your plate right now?
We have grown rapidly in turnover and personnel in the past few years making it increasingly difficult to be as hands on as I used to be. While I have a great team, I still get most of my satisfaction being in front of customers and at their sites rather than being in one of my offices. Despite logging well over 100,000 miles every year I always feel like I should be more places than I can get to.
As a former Regional Sales Manager, what is your best advice to up and coming sales professionals? What does it take to succeed?
When I accepted my first territory sales job I had to look on a map to see exactly where I was moving to. When promoted to a Regional Sales Manager position I had no idea what I was in for and was tasked with managing some people almost twice my age. For every opportunity that arises which can lead to further promotion, don’t hesitate or overthink details. If you aren’t moving forward you are falling behind.
What events and tradeshows will Bizerba attend in 2017?
2017 is a big year for us overseas as two of the biggest shows which occur every three years are coming up. Euroshop and Interpack will be heavily attended by customers around the world but we are seeing a marked increase in participation from North America. Besides that, we will attend many tradeshows in North America this year including – IPPE, NRF, Expo Carnes, Promat, NRA, Process Expo and Packexpo.