One mission: multiple roles
I’m currently on secondment as general manager at Gestamp Hot Stamping Japan, which is part of one of the world’s biggest auto component makers. Overseeing the construction and the start of production at the first Japanese plant is my mission. I’m responsible for safety, quality control, personnel, administration, and finance.
My role was defined as helping to set up the factory and helping with sales to Japanese OEMs. Once things got started, though, I discovered that “help” was not quite the right word. Turned out that I was very much the key person. I mean, when I started the job in March 2017, I was actually the only person on the books. I was not so much wearing two or three management hats; it was more like five or ten!
I had to do a lot of things in parallel: preparing the site while getting the factory designed; finding suppliers—which wasn’t easy—while interviewing prospective hires in the evening. It was non-stop. I had to hit project milestones and do troubleshooting all at the same time. From early summer 2017, I got another couple of people on my team and was able to do some delegating.
I am a friend of the English guy who built out their manufacturing operations in China. He was sent there on his own ten or eleven years ago and grew the business from nothing. He likes to tease me, pointing out that unlike him in China, I at least have the advantage of knowing the local language!
When we held the opening ceremony for the factory in October 2018, I felt we’d done well to get so far. From design to completion, the whole thing took only 13 months. It was a tough schedule. We pulled it off partly because I’d been in charge of building a greenfield factory in Thailand in the early 2000s. I drew on all my previous experience.
Quite by coincidence, Gestamp decided to build a plant in Japan around the time when Mitsui took a stake in the company. Gestamp has every right to expect a lot from their partnership with Mitsui. I feel I was singled out for this job because of my experience. Was I lucky to be chosen, or was it “mission impossible”? Perhaps a bit of both...
Seriously though, I appreciate the support we’re getting not just from Mitsui, but from Mie Prefecture and Matsusaka City. The incentive package they provided has been a major positive. We’re the first overseas factory in the area—something which can be difficult. The first question companies I approach usually ask is “Who are you? And why should we trust you?” Whatever problems we encounter, teamwork is usually the best way to overcome them.