A series of “An Interview With’’ will follow in the coming weeks. Through this series, we introduce to you the people behind our organization. We kick-off with Gilian Lekner, our founding father and CEO of Sobatech.
Could you introduce yourself and your position within Sobatech?
My name is Gilian Lekner, founder of Sobatech. Officially my job title is CEO; however, within Sobatech, I prefer to have a flat organizational structure. This is reflected in the way we operate on a daily basis. For example, I am committed to several departments within the company such as R&D and sales. The leading role is more on the background, if necessary I will be the leader.
When did you start your first company?
I started my first company back in 1984, at the age of 24. At that time it was easier to start a company if you were willing to work hard and take risks. Nowadays it is more difficult because there are more rules and regulations. It is not only about your product anymore; you also have to be involved in legal and International matters.
What was your motivation to become an entrepreneur?
That is a personal question. I believe you should not be motivated to become an entrepreneur in itself; it is more in your genes and independent from what you studied. In my case I am not highly educated, but I did have a vision in life that I knew I could not follow with the education and background I had when I started. Therefore, the only way for me to follow that vision was to create my own value as an entrepreneur.
What was your inspiration to start and develop a company in the food processing industry?
Coincidence. Due to a broad interest, I have worked in a variety of different fields. For example, I started my first company within Industrial automation, was a machine builder and sold airplanes for a while. When I started, my specialism was mainly in the field of failed safe electrical and hydraulic systems. Working in this industry, I visited various companies and eventually ended up in the bakery.
How did you go from seeing the first Industrial bakeries to founding Sobatech?
I saw that most production processes within bakery were batch-oriented. This while all processes behind dough mixing were continuous and Industrial. This motivated me to immerse myself in a more automated way of mixing foods. This is what we now call: ‘continuous mixing’.
The reason why I have focus on solely Sobatech for over 17 years now is that food (processing) keeps having my interest. Ingredients are living entities meaning that product behaviour can fluctuate every day.
‘Making food production processes more steady and controllable by supplying continuous mixing systems all over the world soon became my passion’.
How would you describe Sobatech’s company values in two words?
Innovation and Freedom.
Innovation has top priority at Sobatech. In our opinion, we as Western countries, live in a too expensive area not to be innovative. Differentiating through innovation, design and state of the art equipment is something I value since day 1. Besides that, freedom is an important pillar for Sobatech. With a ‘free company culture’ we mean that every team member is free in what to do and how to organize their days; as long as they do their utmost best to reach the targets set at the end of the month. We have a flat organizational structure, something we value and strive to keep into our DNA when we are growing.
Where did you get your inspiration from to develop your first products?
Being a technician has always been in my blood; I have a high interest in how nature works and translate that into machinery. I am lucky to have always felt extremely motivated to be the best in regards to innovative technology in the field of food processing equipment.
‘Actually, the best ideas were made spontaneous, for example in the plane. I often used air sick bags to sketch and visualize my ideas for Sobatech’.
With the experience you have at the moment, what advice would you give to your 25-year-old self?
It is important to keep in mind that even if you believe that the products you develop make the world a better place, they also have to include a clear advantage to the potential buyers. Developing a product without tackling a clear need in the market will most probably not work out.
What are the milestones you still want to achieve within your career?
There does not pop a specific milestone to mind; I already experienced more than I ever thought I would. However, I do always feel that when my time comes, I want to have the feeling that I took full advantages of the knowledge and experience that I was given and that this had its effect on making the world a better place.
What message would you give to (young) entrepreneurs all over the world?
To take nothing for granted. Throughout life we will all experience ups and downs. I always taught my children to make sure that in times of prosperity; you should never forget how hard you had to work in times of adversity. The price of success is always a combination of dedication, hard work and an ongoing devotion to the things you want to see happen.