Saturday, 26 May 2007

From behind the scenes....

(This is a edited version of an article I wrote for "Enjoying MG" magazine, I thought it was appropriate to put it onto my BLOG, especially as the UK launch ceremony is only a couple of days away, I will of course be writing my own views on that celebration over the next few days)

I lay in my bed; eyes wide open listening to distant train horns. I reached over to my “Shou Ji” (mobile phone in Chinese), to check the time. It had just gone 3am and I knew that any attempt to get back to sleep would be fruitless. My stomach felt like I had washed a chicken madras down with 10 pints of Guinness the night before, and my head was buzzing as if the Guinness had been followed with half a bottle of whisky. The truth was that there had been no curry, no Guinness and not even a drop of scotch. The reason for my nervous disposition, was that today was the culmination of over a years work, a year of 15 hour days, 6 day week's and without any of the national or annual holidays that tend to get in the way of enormous projects like this one. Today was the 27th March 2007, significant as the day after my wedding anniversary, significant as the day I signed my first contract with NAC in 2006. But most significantly this was the day that we celebrated NAC’s 60th birthday, the day we would officially open the new MG car production facility in Pukou, and of course the first day we would launch production of our new cars.

More than 200 Chinese media would attend from TV and Radio.This was in comparison to the 30-40 international media that I offered to organise. I thought that I had the easier task. What I hadn’t understood was that the Chinese press were completely dictated to, and would follow commands like soldiers in the red army. Point and they would go, shout and they would jump, issue a press release and they would print. The international press – now they didn't understand these basic rules of command or instruction.
We had the worlds crop of journalists joining us, in order of appearance we had Sky News, ITN, Channel 4, CNN, Bloomberg News, Reuters, The Times, The Observer, Al Jazeer News, The Birmingham Post, and even the Irish Times.
I had agreed that the media could film on the day before the event, to ensure they had enough material “in the bag” before the big ceremony the following day. What I didn't expect was the extend of the requests for interviews, the filming of vehicles, and some of the bizarre demands made by a minority of journalists whose ego’s had outgrown there physical bodies, and would have normally been associated with Hollywood ‘A’listers rather than middle-aged men with receding hair lines, expanding waistlines and too much time spent watching clips of themselves! I would like to say the previous days filing went without its problems but that would by a lie, we had a number of confrontations, that were only resolved unfortunately with raised voices.
I left the factory exhausted, with a stage half built, and the factory frontage still covered in scaffolding. It was 10 pm, and a bet I had made with the BBC earlier that everything would be finished in time, was looking increasingly lost.

I left home at 7am, and arrived at the Media’s hotel before 8 am. Everything was planned down to the last detail, apart from the obvious demands of the over indulged reporters, the comments “I don't do Coach’s” will always remind me of that stressful morning, pandering to numerous obscure requests. We made the long journey across the Yangtze, which was made more interesting as the whole city seemed to have been dressed up for the occasion. The 20 or so Kilometres between the hotel and the factory had MG flags positioned every 10 metres along the route, and enormous advertising hoardings had appeared overnight to line the way to the main entrance – to the astonishment of everyone (including me!) the frontage had been completed the signs had been installed and the grass had been laid. A Truly miraculous feet, only three weeks earlier the front of the facility had been a mile long stretch of earth and rubble – it had now been turned into a series of landscaped car parks, enormous paved areas and fountains. At the centre of all of this stood probably the world’s largest MG sign.
I made my way into the centre stage where overnight, a video wall, 1000 chairs, media areas, and giant plasma screen TV’s had appeared.

Several day’s ago, I was told that I had been chosen to drive the first MGTF onto the stage, I tried to keep my excitement to myself, fearing that the opportunity would be passed onto a more senior member of the team at the last minute.
I’m not sure what the dozens of senior government officials made of it, or even the dozens of more senior members of the NAC group thought of this English person, taking one of the greatest honours that will ever be available to the company. I didn't care – this would be a moment I would savour, and one I was incredibly emotional about.
After various speeches from numerous government principles and the Chairmen of the company, I was invited to the stage, in front of the enormous audience and a thousand flashing cameras, handed the keys by the Mayor of Nanjing, and dashed behind the stage to get into the car. The adrenalin was pumping hard and fast, my heart racing as I practised my clutch control. Following the Presidents car which drove in front of me, I found my way through the dry ice and parked the car in front of the waiting press and officials. The photographers didn't need their flashes – the grin on my face was enough to light the entire room. I opened the door and stepped out of the car, shaking Mr Yu’s hand for the waiting media pack, before walking of the stage.
Then as quickly as everyone had appeared, they all disappeared. I was left alone with some of my work colleagues, and the team brought in to dismantle the stage. Everyone had gone off to the lunch that had been prepared for the visitors and senior members of the company. I chose to stay behind and look after the BBC who would conduct live reports from the factory for the rest of the day.
It was during this quite period that I found a spot to reflect on what had happened over the last 12 months, and try to come to terms with the emotions that had played on my mind ever since I joined the company. Several journalist had asked if I ever felt guilty about helping the Chinese to use this very British brand as if it was their own, to help them relocate 20,000 ton's of British heritage to China, and to help them to do all this at the expense of the 1000’s that lost there livelihoods some 2 years earlier. My answer to the media was always the same, I wasn't responsible for what had happened 2 years ago, I was merely a pawn in the decisions made by much more senior people, I too had lost my job, my livelihood, my pension and at times my dreams during that awful period in 2005.
NAC would have gone along with their plans for re-launching the MG Brand, with or without my help. At least by being part of that re-birth, I may have gone someway to ensure that they protected the history, and culture that surrounded the brand. Without the influence of the few original employees at NAC, they would still have launched the new factory, with new versions of the original cars – but maybe it would have been a false celebration, empty of a connection between the old and the new, empty of any true understanding of the brands heritage and the blood sweat and tears that had kept it going over the last 80 years. I would be lying if I hadn’t shed a few tears over the past few days, I was immensely proud of what we had achieved, but I was also incredibly sad at what had happened a couple of year s ago, and how there would be people sitting in the Midlands screaming at the TV, about the Gaul of the Chinese, the hatred for those of us that had helped them, and the dismay at how Britain had allowed yet another piece of British heritage slip into foreign ownership.


China Car Times said...

Great article.

If you dont make it at Nanjing MG, you can turn to writing. ;)

Jack Yan said...

Good luck in Longbridge!

Warren L said...

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Anonymous said...

Paul, Mg need new metal for UE ! Good luck !