During an intense development phase, the second generation took on a significant role and brought a systems approach as well as new ambitions to our business.
With $50 in their pockets, Katalin and Ferenc Lévai headed to Ukraine during the rapid build-up of the fitness market in 1992. Their goal? To raise enough capital to finance a new gym-equipment import business.
Within a short period, they successfully equipped 150 gyms across Hungary. When the gym equipment market became less attractive, Katalin and Ferenc quickly mastered the art of the pivot and introduced exercise-related nutritional supplements to their gym customers. By 1999, they had managed to take over the BioTechUSA brand name from the former American owners and partners, and since 2004 they have dealt exclusively with the distribution of dietary supplements, opening the first European BioTechUSA franchise store in Hungary in 2005. Today, they have over 170 stores spread across Europe and produce BiotechUSA products in their own factory in Hungary.
2020 was a year of dynamic growth. After buying Shopbuilder, the biggest and oldest dietary supplements web shop in Hungary, they acquired their biggest competitor, Scitec Nutrition, and doubled the number of employees to 1,800. The headquarters moved to a new 3,200 square meter office building.
Growing into the family venture
From the seeds of Katalin and Ferenc’s modest beginning, the Lévai family has nurtured their business into a full family affair with Ferenc's mother working as a warehouse supervisor in the early days of the business, his father as the accountant and Katalin overseeing the head of office with Ferenc in charge of strategic management.
“It was just a dream at the time,” says Ferenc, “but I wanted all our work in the ’90s to lay the foundation for a family business that would provide a relatively better life for the second or third generations of our family.”
The second generation arrived in the mid-’80s with the birth of their sons Balázs and Bálint. From the outset, Katalin and Ferenc taught their sons independence, perseverance and responsibility. Balázs and Bálint recall being involved in small company tasks during school holidays, such as going to the warehouse to label products.
In their childhoods, they did everything together. During high school, they spent a year in Germany, where they lived with separate families and attended the local secondary school, all of which required them to build relationships and learn a language in order to prosper.
When they were able to speak German fluently, Ferenc took the boys with him to exhibitions and negotiations, where they listened and learned or acted as interpreters. "We went with them everywhere and grew into the business," Balázs recalls.
Creating a path to the family’s shared future
Since 2014, Balázs has been the company’s sales director and Bálint has been its CEO.
Their university days appear to have been an important turning point in the decision to join the family business. They were involved in corporate assignments, such as inventing product names and later criticizing them on the basis of what they were learning. Together, they developed an idea for a self-branded shaker and were given the green light to tailor the concept to BioTechUSA. Today, that shaker represents revenues of US $3.3 million.
Generational transitions and the challenges ahead
While they achieved this early success, the brothers soon realized that they had to learn the practicalities of operating a business. In 2010, after graduating from university, they took jobs in open positions at the company – Bálint in the marketing department and Balázs in sales.
The boys steamed ahead with Balázs travelling and building international strategies, and Bálint responsible for building strategies, processes and structure. These were serious assignments with significant responsibilities, and implementing their ideas was left entirely to them.
Managing conflict – maintaining cohesion
The teams that the company has built have always been dynamic. Bálint and Balázs have attracted young people to the company, and that youthfulness is evident today as people inside the company are being educated to grow into more senior roles.
Following several on-the-job learning years, the family voted unequivocally to make Bálint the CEO in 2014. He was already responsible for marketing and IT and communicated well with other company executives. Although Balázs is 2 years older, he spends much of his time abroad in international trading activities and he was appointed Sales Director.
The success of the generational changeover was not guaranteed, however.
Recognizing that conflicts in the transfer of ownership would be inevitable, the Lévai family acknowledged that respectful communication was necessary so that everyone was aware of the decisions that were being made. Ownership and leadership responsibilities had to be very clear as well as how these responsibilities would continue to support BioTechUSA’s underlying vision and family values.
The family discussed everything openly and made every effort to make sure that conflicts were not suppressed. These candid conversations led to compromises because Balázs and Bálint had proven themselves professionally after several years in the business, making it easier to reach a solution or agree to a concession.
The dynamic and harmonious relationship between the two boys is also very important in the life of the company. They easily adapt to each other and stand behind each other's decisions.
The transfer of governance and ownership
The process of the generational changeover and the transfer of corporate governance and ownership was deliberate and divided into two stages. In 2014, Balázs and Bálint assumed leadership authority and were given full control of the company. In 2019, the transfer of ownership was completed when it became apparent to Ferenc and Katalin that the business – and the values that underpinned it – remained intact under the leadership and control of the second generation.
Today, Balázs and Bálint each enjoy a 45 percent ownership in the family business, with their parents retaining 10 percent, and they ensure the preservation and regulation of family property through a family trust fund. While a separate protocol has not yet been developed for an unexpected succession, the organization is designed to run smoothly and independently without them.