If you want to be successful, you’ll have to learn how to get by on 4 hours of sleep. This, says Brian McKown, COO of Kinze Manufacturing, is one of the best pieces of career advice he ever received.

Brian grew up in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. His family owned a real estate development company, so after-school hours were spent in the office observing all kinds of business transactions. His grandpa would have him in the room when negotiating contracts.

Brian’s uncle was a maintenance manager for a nearby manufacturing plant. When the family was busy with the real estate business on weekends, Brian would hang out at the plant with his uncle – which in those days meant having free range of the facility.

He was fascinated by the manufacturing process and went on to earn his degree in industrial management.

When a vice president at his first job as a production planner asked him where he wanted to be in 10 years, Brian looked him in the eye and said, “I want to be in your chair.” The combination of manufacturing and business management proved to be a perfect fit for Brian.

Q. Prior to joining Kinze 11 years ago, you worked closely with them as a consultant for Grant Thornton LLC. What prompted the move from consulting to working full-time for Kinze?

A. I got to know Jon and Marcia Kinzenbaw. They were the only clients who ever asked me to their home for dinner, knowing I was travelling and that I’d be alone.

Jon would let me ride his four-wheeler around the farm while he mowed the lawn. Sometimes we’d eat on paper plates in the kitchen, sometimes on china in the dining room, but we always talked about personal things, not business.

I understood that they had a genuine concern for me as an individual and not just as a consultant. I saw their values reflected in their business culture and in their employees.

After five years, Jon told me he was looking to hire someone so that he could step away from day to day business and focus on the larger aspects of the company, and I asked him if he would consider me as a candidate.

Q. Is it difficult stepping into a leadership role in a family-owned and family-run business?

A. Not at all. Kinze operates by its core values of integrity, customer focus, excellence, innovation and mutual respect. When we’re around the table with Jon and his daughter Susie, who has come on as the second generation of family leadership, the mutual respect is evident and we are all working as peers.

I would actually say there is great benefit to a private, family-owned company. When you have the founder still coming in every day and exemplifying the core values of the company, that creates an unquestionably stronger culture than you would find elsewhere.

Q. Marketing its products globally and newly manufacturing in Lithuania, Kinze is a technology leader and innovator of planters for row-crop production and grain auger carts. If you could name one thing that sets Kinze apart, what would that be?

A. The fact that its owners and many of its engineers and other employees are farmers. No one could have a better understanding of what a farmer needs and the importance of ensuring that products work and continue to work while out in the field.

Having a farmer owner who truly understands the issues that farmers face every day makes for a quick decision-making process and a nimble organization.

Q. Kinze joined AEM 5 years ago and in that time has become active in our statistical reporting programs, technical committees and survey data. Can you speak to the specific benefits Kinze has gained from AEM membership?

A. The first benefit we realized is from the statistical reporting program. It assisted us in better understanding where we’re strong and where we have more work to do.

We initially made a lot of requests for enhancements in the reporting programs and that really helped to develop the relationships. We plan to get more involved in other committees, as our staff who have attended those meetings come back with a broader and deeper knowledge base and are better contributors to our overall strategy.

Brian accepted a seat on the AEM Ag Sector Board last November. In his down time, he enjoys doing improvement projects on his summer lake house property, as well as all kinds of water sports with his four kids – from boating to scuba diving, plus hunting and golf “when time allows”.

He must have taken the “4 hours sleep” to heart, as well as the second-best piece of career advice he ever received: “Don’t make important decisions from your chair. You need to get up, get out and understand all aspects of the decisions you are about to make.”