Roger Batkin could have followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and helped run the family’s dairy farm in Shrewsbury, England, where he grew up, but he wanted something different. He attended an English boarding school and worked various jobs, including at a law firm, to see what else might interest him. Law came out on top, and he earned his qualification as a solicitor in 1994.
Batkin was handling commercial and corporate caseloads at international law firm Pinsent Masons when he saw an advertisement for an opening as the European in-house counsel for AGCO, a global manufacturer and distributor of agricultural machinery and equipment. “It seemed an ideal combination of both my farming and commercial law experience; even as a lawyer, the agricultural background brought credibility within the business,” he says.
When Batkin accepted the position in 1999, AGCO’s net revenue was $2.3 billion; in 2013, it was up to $10.8 billion. “It’s good to be in a growing company,” he admits. “As the company has expanded, so has my role. That has been very compelling and allowed me to also grow. My roles and responsibilities have never become stale. There’s always been more geography, businesses, or duties to add to the plate.”
Two factors helping spur AGCO’s growth have been acquisitions and international expansion—both of which Batkin has helped navigate. The $900 million purchase of GSI in 2011 is the company’s largest acquisition to date. GSI is a world class manufacturer of grain storage, material handling, conditioning, and drying equipment, as well as a supplier of protein production equipment. Batkin says, “At a public company, you have to be confident of the strategic objectives when contemplating acquisitions so you don’t confuse analysts and investors. Acquisitions and joint ventures should help you do what you do better or add a product area or service consistent with your growth strategy.”
Batkin says geographic expansion also has to be done carefully. “Having people on the ground in far-flung locales is very important. You need people you can trust—whether it’s local advisers or your own people. You need to make sure you’re getting the right information in order to make the right judgments and form the right oversight. That’s the only way to feel confident the business is being set up and run in the right way.”
He says some countries present unique complications. “Some of our biggest challenges have been in China. We’ve moved quickly there especially in the last five years—acquisitions, setting up brownfield and greenfield facilities, joint ventures—but it’s a difficult place to operate. You’ve got significant legal, compliance, cultural, and regulatory issues.”
Despite the difficulties, China, and also Africa, are areas where Batkin sees the biggest opportunities for AGCO in the future. “China, because of its huge population and demand for protein, will drive technology and mechanization. Africa has many government initiatives underway to increase productivity and push the continent toward more self-sufficiency from a food perspective. It is seen as a large growth area for agriculture, and thus for us, going forward.”
Working in so many different jurisdictions comes fairly easily to Batkin. He grew up in England, resided in Switzerland to serve as AGCO’s vice president, legal services, and regional compliance officer for EAME (Europe, Africa, Middle East) and APAC (Asia, Pacific), and moved to AGCO’s corporate headquarters in Georgia in 2013. For five years, he was also head of AGCO’s UK operations. Significant international travel has been part of the role for the last ten years.
“I’ve worked on AGCO deals all over the world, which has shown me that I could work just about anywhere,” he says. “I very much enjoy working in the States, though, in order to understand the approach and how business is managed here. The biggest development for me professionally has been in the area of corporate governance at the board level for the listed company. I’ve worked to try to get up to speed quickly in that area to increase my value and effectiveness with the board.”
What does Batkin enjoy most about his job? “Definitely the variety,” he says. “I handle so many different issues, people and geographic areas. From mergers and acquisitions to intellectual property to joint ventures to corporate compliance; from Russia to Mexico to Argentina to China. It can be something completely different every day. I find that intellectually and personally stimulating.” It is unlikely a dairy farm would have offered him the same degree of challenge and stimulation. It seems Batkin definitely made the right career choice.