The goal of Kaunas company is to become a center of excellence in Central Eastern Europe
Photo: KITRON archive
Electronics manufacturing giant, the international company KITRON, has already earned the name of an old hand at the Kaunas business community: established in 2001, with a modest team of several dozen employees and rather elementary production, today it creates high-tech products, has the highest turnover, profitability and number of employees in KITRON Group which has offices in seven countries.
“Our vision is that KITRON Lithuania would become a center of engineering excellence in Central Eastern Europe,” says Mindaugas Šeštokas, Managing Director, working in the company for eleven years.
A city favorable to modern visions
At the beginning of 2000, the KITRON Group was already one of the leaders in electronics in Scandinavia, looking for a country where it could expand. According to M. Šeštokas, it is not surprising that the Scandinavians chose Lithuania and Kaunas in particular: “I would say that Kaunas at that time, as well as it is today, was one of the greatest or even the best place in the Baltic States to develop an engineering electronics manufacturing company. After all, it is a city with a history of electronics production, conveniently accessible by both highways and two national airports. Not less important are the higher education institutions operating in the city: Kaunas University of Technology (KTU), Kaunas University of Applied Engineering Sciences (KTK), which prepare a lot of talented and eager specialists. All this is extremely important for investors with modern visions that require growth and excellence”.
From small to big
The Scandinavians chose the right place for expansion and it was witnessed by the rapid and stable growth of KITRON in Kaunas. At first, the production was basic, and the team consisted of almost 30 people, but in 2008, the company already had about 250 employees. Today, the KITRON team in Lithuania consist of almost 900 employees.
“We are undoubtedly excited about this growth and we are proud of KITRON’s success story in Kaunas – we were so small in such an international company and we have grown so big. Today, at the KITRON Group level, the Lithuanian unit is the largest in its turnover (this year it will become a record-breaking and exceed 100 million euros), profitability, and it is the largest in terms of number of people,” says the head of the company.
In total, KITRON Group operates in seven countries: Norway, Sweden, Lithuania, China, Poland, Germany and the United States, where they recently acquired a new factory.
The foundation for success is people
When asked what led to the success of KITRON in Kaunas, Mindaugas Šeštokas answers without hesitation: of course, people.
“Many foreigners are surprised and fascinated by our people: Lithuanians have high competencies, they are active and take initiative”.
According to him, the change in the world over the last 15 years has become an important factor for growth since the demand for electronics has grown practically in every industry.
“For example, if we compare cars from a few years ago with modern ones, the number of electronic devices in them may differ not by units but by times. Our daily lives rapidly become filled with electronics. Of course, competition in this area is intense, we are mostly competing for costs, productivity and, of course, human competencies. I keep repeating to the employees that our competitors are not from Lithuania, but from the whole world. We compete with all the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, and we can be better than others only in productivity, competencies and engineering or customer service.”
Among other factors that led to the success of the company, M. Šeštokas mentions close cooperation with KTU and KTK. Over several years, the company invested over 250 thousand euros in cooperation, student learning laboratories and spaces. Thus, students have the opportunity to face the challenges that need to be solved in real terms, and they can learn to apply theoretical knowledge in practice.
“We are happy to contribute to the improvement of study programs and we welcome students to work in our company or participate in internship. It is nice that Kaunas is also developing, it is active and modern, has a strategy and invests in it,” says the head of KITRON.
Not only production, but also creation
Today, KITRON provides high value-added electronics manufacturing and engineering services. This means that Kaunas company not only produces, but also creates complex and professional electronics for the world’s most advanced companies in medical, industrial, defense, energy and other sectors.
“Our market is the whole world. We are exporting nearly one hundred percent of our total production to more than 40 countries. KITRON customers include companies such as “General Electric Health Care”, “Husquarna”, “Bombardier”, “Volvo Construction”, “Rheinmetall”, “Airbus” and ABB. Practically all of them are leaders in their industries, thus, working with them is not only interesting, but also encouraging to constantly grow and to be real high-tech experts, who can not only realize the vision of clients, but also advise on how to do it better,” says the head of the company.
A strong team of engineers
According to M. Šeštokas, credibility is the most important competence in the company that develops complex electronics products. “In this industry, attention to quality is extremely important: for example, in the medicine (for which we manufacture electronic equipment), errors can have an extremely high cost, sometimes they may even cost somebody’s life. Therefore, we devote great attention to processes, systematization and human open-mindedness, willingness to develop, grow as technology experts and help others grow.”
Since 2015, the number of KITRON employees has doubled to around 900 employees, but a very important part of the team is engineers and attracting talented ones requires a lot of efforts. Currently, there is a strong team of over 80 engineers working in Kaunas.
“Together with us grows our need for competencies. We have started from elementary production and now we are creating and developing products. Over this year alone, we produced around 500 newest prototypes – different products,” says M. Šeštokas, arguing that competing on a global or European level is only possible when the company provides high added value services and, to provide them, you need to constantly climb up the value chain.
Most of the engineers working in the team were trained inside the company. Comparing the work of engineers a few decades ago and today, M. Šeštokas sees a huge change: “Today’s engineer is a modern person capable of communicating directly with a client, going to their companies and factories and having skills of project management. Modern engineer is also proactive – i.e., doing not only what the customer has ordered but reflecting on their existing and future products and offering ideas. Another important part of engineers’ competencies is a professional understanding of production, which is extremely complex and modern at our company”.
A space for improvement for new talents
A large team of the company mostly consists of employees from Kaunas and its region, but people from other regions, capital or foreign countries are also interested in this job. The company constantly offers opportunities for talents who are willing to test themselves in various job positions – from work in the administration to the work of an operator or an engineer dealing with modern technology and creating high-tech electronics products.
“We compete not only with Kaunas and Lithuanian companies, but also with the whole world for our employees. And that is good – after all, competition makes us move forward. I have no doubt that the more similar companies there will be in Kaunas, the more intense the competition will be in the short term, but in the long run, we will have more people with high competencies,” says M. Šeštokas with no doubt. “On the other hand, it seems to me that these are natural processes – someone is leaving, someone is coming. In my opinion, Lithuania, as a state, is developing at a fantastic speed. If we compare the progress now with a few decades ago, the question is whether in modern times Lithuania has ever lived better than it is living right now. Maybe now is our best time?”
Asked about future plans, KITRON’s managing director does not hesitate to say that investment in automation and competence development remains the company’s priority and growth guarantee: “We have a vision that KITRON Lithuania in our Group would become a center of engineering excellence in Central Eastern Europe, including the widest possible chain of engineering services, and we believe that the Kaunas region will meet the needs of such growth”.