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Engineered for growth

Interview with Zoltán Sólyom, CEO of ZOLEND Kft

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European Business: What was it that made you and Endre Zsigmond decide to start a company together?

Zoltán Sólyom: We had been friends since childhood and had always done a lot together, such as fishing and breeding rabbits. Later, we both studied mechanical engineering and were involved in chemical and power engineering. When the financial crisis hit in 2008 we were both working for a major Hungarian engineering company. When it went bust we both found ourselves looking for new jobs. The simplest answer was to create our own.

European Business: Most people would disagree and say it was actually quite a bold step. How did you manage in the early years?

Zoltán Sólyom: We started in the classic way – working out of a garage with a few tools on our own. Gradually, the orders mounted up and we took on welders to complete the jobs. As these grew, we rented out progressively larger premises and invested in additional equipment. Growth has been entirely organic and continuous. In 2013, we more than doubled in size and it became clear that we needed to restructure the way we were doing things and entrust some responsibilities to others.

European Business: Is it difficult, after being so closely involved in every decision, to hand over responsibility to others?

Zoltán Sólyom: Not really because it was clear that it was necessary for the business. In the beginning, Endre and I had done everything ourselves but as the business grew, it was clear that we had to delegate certain areas of responsibility. In 2014, we switched from a horizontal management hierarchy to a vertical structure with a new layer of management responsible for individual areas such as production, service, quality control and procurement. This allowed us to focus on the production of small and medium-size production runs. Now, I am responsible for the commercial side of the business and Endre for the technical side.

European Business: Has involving others in the chain of responsibility eased the burden for you at the head of the company?

Zoltán Sólyom: I have never considered my job to be a burden. I love what I do and in particular the ability to build something positive. Our goal is the same as it was in the beginning – to build a company that we can be proud of and that benefits the local community and economy.

European Business: You have also put Debrecen on the map internationally. How important are exports to you?

Zoltán Sólyom: They are hugely important. Exports account for 80% of turnover. To support our foreign activities we have set up offices in Munich, Germany and in the UK. Here in Debrecen we have three sites as well as a planning office in Budapest.

European Business: How do you see the market developing in the future?

Zoltán Sólyom: There is plenty of work to go around, particularly for an engineering company that does its job well and can be relied on to deliver a quality product. In the sectors that we supply, for example the automotive industry, there is a lot of investment going into new products. E-mobility is a big topic at present but the petrol engine is also growing as diesel falls out of favour. On the whole, the industry is growing and as long as we can keep pace with the big competitors in terms of production technology, then we have a good chance of remaining competitive. We are currently investing 3.5 million EUR in a new automated welding robot and new lacquering technology based on solvent-free paint. We are also installing fibreoptic cable in our factory to prepare it for Industry 4.0.

European Business: How is digitalization affecting the business?

Zoltán Sólyom: People are calling it the fourth industrial revolution and I am very proud to be part of it. Everyone today uses smart technology. It starts at school already and the current generation is growing up to be much more technically proficient than any previous generation. We have to make sure that we keep pace with the revolution as it happens and not allow it to pass us by.

European Business: To finish, what advice do you have for others preparing to start their own company?

Zoltán Sólyom: You have to make the most of your opportunities and have passion for what you do. So much that happens is down to simple good luck but don’t be afraid to give things a go when the right opportunity presents itself.