Monday, 21 May 2007

It’s been a slow week!

I guess it had to happen sooner or later, after 18 months filled with excitement, frustration, anger, joy, passion, disillusionment and enlightenment, I had to have a quite week – well quiet in Chinese terms!

We had had a very important visit from the Chairman of the Bank of China over the weekend, which meant everyone worked both Saturday and Sunday to ensure a positive image, and a good reception for such an important visit. Support from the Bank of China had been key to our progress, and would secure our future development plans. Thankfully the visit went extremely well and resulted in strategic agreements being agreed with the Bank.

Due to the weekend’s events, Monday would be a rest day for the entire workforce, a fact that I chose to ignore, and I travelled into work as normal. Being alone in the immense factory complex was very strange. The facility was eerily quite, after 14 months of intense activity – today was the first time during daylight hours that I could remember it being quite.
I wondered around the assembly hall checking the status of the latest batch of vehicles, and reviewing the most recent product audit results. Despite all the positive messages I was still keen to hold back production levels. Ever since I had started work in China, I had seen how setting a specific date meant that this became etched in stone – with blood! Once declared, there was no going back, no negotiation, no compromise no amendment, a fixed date meant – a fixed date. I had been careful to avoid setting a date for full commercial production – and offered a quality level instead. Achieve a level that we believed would be acceptable – then production levels could be increased.

Tuesday started with a visit by Zhang Xin, he is MR MG. A larger than life character, as most top manager’s seem to be. Young by international standards, infantile by Chinese he oozed confidence and charisma. He ruled MG with an iron fist, and a broad smile.
He came to tell me of some senior management changes, and that I would be getting a new vice-director. One of the senior managers from Sales and Marketing was being transferred to my department to help with the last push for Quality before full volume production.
This is how it worked in China, no discussion, no debate – just a dictate from the top guy. 12 months ago I would have been frustrated and perhaps angry at the lack of consultation – today I was at least thankful that I had received the information in private from the boss, believe it or not – this was a major step forward!
We had a busy week planed; a delegation from X-Part had arrived to discuss service part supply and quality. We had developed a good working relationship over the previous 12 months and I always looked forward to there visits – not just because it meant an opportunity to engage in some fluid conversation (conversation with my Chinese colleagues always had undertones of pigeon English – mainly due to my poor grasp of mandarin), but is also meant that the kind people at X-Part always brought various gifts to remind me of home. In the past this has included DVD copies of Only Fools and Horses, and The Fast Show, boxes of Paxo Stuffing, Bird’s Trifle, Tetley Tea Bags and bottles of HP Sauce. This time they came with 36 bags of Walkers Salt and Vinegar crisps – maybe not such a big event you think, but if you had seen my daughters face when I presented them to her the following morning – it was if Father Christmas had just delivered the entire contents of Toys-R-Us gift wrapped to the foot of her bed.

Wednesday. In-between the negotiations with X-Part we held a ceremony for destroying old parts. The idea was to show the workforce just how serious we are about the Quality of Parts we use. We gathered up a variety of parts that were substandard, pre-production or damaged and instructed the workforce that they are all inspectors of Quality. During my early years in the industry, army’s of white coats used to patrol the production lines and the storage warehouses, their responsibility was to inspect parts prior to fitment. This led rise to a certain animosity by the production workforce, and also a lack of individual responsibility from the line operators – “it’s their job to check the quality of the part’s, not mine!” this attitude changed with the introduction of supplied part approval, where the supplier became more responsible for the parts they sent, and the line operators took the responsibility for the parts they fitted – we changed from having dozens of men in white coats to thousands of inspectors over night. This concept hadn’t hit China yet, and many factories still employed ‘good-inward’ inspectors, and roaming inspection teams. I was keen to move to a western philosophy, and events like this helped force the message home. It also enabled me a childhood dream of driving a roller – albeit in my dreams it didn’t weigh 5 ton’s, have just two gears and a top speed of 5mph!

Thursday started with an interview with the Shanghai Youth Daily – no I hadn’t heard of them either, but the young lady who interviewed me, did so for 2 hours, it felt like a school exam!
The evening meant that I would take our guests from X-Part out for a traditional evenings entertainment. They had already been exposed to a multitude of Chinese restaurants for lunch and dinner during their stay, so I always like to vary their experience. I took them to my favourite Japanese restaurant (everything you can eat and drink for a tenner!), then onto a Karaoke entertainment club. I said traditional – I didn’t say which tradition though!

Friday meant a visit from the Chinese version of Autocar, they arrived early in a Maserati Quattroporte and an Audi A8L, they were doing a back-to-back road test and thought that the mileage from their office in Shanghai to Nanjing, would be a good way of killing two birds with one stone, we toured the factory and they took some pictures for the following weeks magazine. While I discussed various topics with the journalist, I noticed the photographer taking the word’s “freedom of the press” to new levels, secretly putting his camera onto movie mode and filming every detail of an MGTF we were building for a durability test, not sure what he hoped to gain from it, but I am sure it wouldn’t be long before I found out!
Late in the afternoon I travelled to Xuanwu Lake, where we would be training with a National Coach for Dragon Boat Training. After watching the performance of the other teams at our last race, the team manager invited some of the key people in the professional world of Dragon Boat Racing to come and give us some pointers. After hilarious attempts at standing in the boat, we made a few adjustments to the seating pattern and before we knew it, we were all standing and rowing at the same time, who knows with some more practise – maybe we would be in with a chance at the next race meet?

After all of that, perhaps it wasn’t such a quiet week after all?

1 comment:

Jack Yan said...

If there’s one way to ram home the message of quality, the steamroller would be it! On your Chinese Autocar note, Paul: how times have changed. It wasn’t that long ago when the Red Chinese wouldn’t even have car magazines, let alone Maseratis and Audis to do back-to-back road tests on. If they did, they would have talked about the benefits of the Shanghai SH7221 and the leaders’ esteemed Honqis.