Jolanta Blažyte – CEO, Vikonda Group

vikonda logoThe Vikonda Group of Companies (Koncernas Vikonda) started out in the early 1990s in pipeline construction and metal trading business. Since then, it has grown side by side with the emerging and developing economy of the Independent State of Lithuania. The group has routinely adapted its business model and expanded its range of activities to respond to the rapidly changing environment of both the country and its overseas markets.

Today, its principal sphere of operations are agribusiness and the food industry. In 2019 it controlled 13 companies, employed more than 640 staff and that financial year recorded combined revenues of €96.6 million.Vikonda prides itself on its commitment to sustainability.

BIG talked to Vikonda’s CEO and Chair, Jolanta Blažyte.

BIG: The agribusiness and food industries seem a long way from the metal trading and pipeline construction business that Vikonda started out in. What made you decided to make the transition?

JB: It’s all about playing to your strengths. As a country, Lithuania is blessed with the exceptional quality of its air and deep resources of both fresh water and uncontaminated forests. Vikonda itself is located in the in the very heart of the country, with immediate access to the copper groundwater of the Šventoji river.  [Copper plays a key role in the production of energy, connective tissues, and the brain’s chemical messaging system]. Our geographical location gives us a head start when it comes to the successful development of agri-food solutions, and while we cannot compete with countries like China when it comes to economies of scale.

BIG: Even so, both Vikonda and the country’s agribusiness as a whole seem to be punching well above their weight considering Lithuania’s relative size. Why do you think that is?

JB: As an industry, we clearly can’t compete with countries like China when it comes to economies of scale. I can’t speak for anybody else, but Vikonda’s principal strength is our ability to make an immediate impact and adapt more quickly to changes than bigger agribusinesses on the international scene. Vikonda is not weighed done by bureacracy and we can make decisions on the spot.

BIG:What do you consider to be the biggest challenge facing the industry and Vikonda.

agricultural droneJB: The world’s ability to feed itself is being increasing stretched and we all have to find ways of increasing productivity. I have tasked Vikonda’s agribusiness division to fundamentally modernize our production processes We have either already introduced or will soon start using intelligent tractors, robots, drones AI and ‘big data’ for process control. We are also taking a very close look at our logistics operation to make sure it is in the best shape to help us remain globally competitive.

BIG: Other than this urgent need to increase productivity to feed the world’s growing population, what are Vikonda’s other priorities and preoccupations?

JB: We are a commercial operation, so we are always looking areas where we can increase both sales and profits. Right now, one of the most interesting trends is just how much it now matters to the more affluent and health-conscious members of the population where the products they buy originate from. Consumers are gradually beginning to change their dietary habits and are increasingly demanding a more sustainable food chain. This is true in the Middle East and Asia just as much as it is in Europe. We’re thinking of reducing grain and implementing ecological, organic vegetables. There is a huge demand for these kinds of products. We are in the right place at the right time.

Jolanta Blazyte Vikonda GroupThe daughter of  two civil engineers, Jolanta Blažyte graduated from  Kaunas University of Technology and completed ISM University Education Leadership Master’s Program. She also undertook a student internship in Leningrad. She worked at the Kaunas Pipeline Construction company before joining Vikonda as commercial manager. In 2013 the weekly publication  named her Lithuania’s most successful businesswoman.