Saturday, May 09, 2009

Back at Ford (May 2009)

Back at Ford!!

WOW! I just realized that it's been almost 9 months since I updated my blog.

A lot has happened since then. So much happened at work in Shenglong between September and April. In the end, I quit and have a new job and now live in a new city in China. I also had a long holiday in my home town, Murphysboro Illinois at Christmas. The US has a new president, my brother became Commander of the USS Tuscon submarine, and the world is in financial crisis. ... just to name a few of the changes in those 9 months.

Let me catch you up a little on my life... Since just about the only thing I did in that time was work, lets start there.....

When I last wrote, my company and project team had just moved into our new factory and all of our machines were starting to be delivered. That started the most frustrating and difficult 9 months of my life. I guess in hindsite, some of that frustration should be blamed on the economic situation in America and the fallout to the rest of the world economies. Getting things done in our factory was so difficult. It seemed that everything was a battle. Especially if it cost money.

The company had just spent a lot of money building a new factory and office building, and then customers started cancelling orders and cashflow came to a stand still. Because of the language barrier and having my head stuck into getting our equipment ready for prototype builds and capability, I didn't realize how bad things were for the company. In November they layed off about 1/4 of workforce and went to a 3 day work week. My team had to keep working though, usually 7 days a week but still only paid for 3 with the promise of time off later. It was a common way to handle the economic crisis in China. I heard many people saying their companies were doing the same thing. And many many companies went out of business completely.

There were many other things that made the job so frustrating. I won't go into the details. Needless to say, by Christmas, I was totally worn out and frustrated. Luckily I had a long holiday during Christmas to go home and see my Mom. I wanted to spend the Christmas time with her last year - long time since i was home for Christmas. Since the Chinese Spring Festival (2 week holiday) and Chinese New Year was just at the end of January this year, I was able to stay at home for about 5 weeks total. I was able to spend lots of time with my mom and other family. The weather was pretty good. We only had snow for about a week.

Even though I was supposedly on vacation, my team was still working and they still needed my help. So I had to call into conference calls early in the morning and late in the evening. I had lots of data to analyse, and lots of emails to read. It wasn't the most relaxing holiday, but it was good to be able to spend so much time with my family. It also gave me lots of time to think.

I had already decided before Christmas that I was going to quit in the new year. In March we had our first big test called PPAP where we had to make about 400 pumps using our production equipment and processes and send them to the Ford factory where the transmissions will be built. They had to be basically perfect. My plan was to quit after that PPAP build. I had started talking to some other companies in October, but told them that I would not be available until after March. Before Christmas, I was considering 3 or 4 different jobs. In the end, I decided to work for Ford again.

The main reason I decided to take the Ford job is because I really needed to change my life. I was working too much and it was affecting my health. I gained quite a bit of weight and I got almost no exercise. I had almost no free time and did nothing besides work. It was just too difficult for me being the only foreigner working in a small chinese company trying to help, and in the end trying to force them to change their way of doing business in order to meet their American customer's very high expectations.

As I said in my last post, it is impossible to do in a year what Ford has spent the last 30 years or more learning and developing. I am very proud of my team. They learned a lot in the year and a half that I worked there. They made huge improvements between our first and last prototype builds. But they still have a long way to go and I'm sorry that I couldn't stay there to help them finish the job. It was time for me to go. I really needed to change my life.

The company was shocked and disappointed that I wanted to leave, but in the end I think they all understand. The chinese always say "health is the most important thing". So in the end, they accepted that this was the best thing for my life. And they were very supportive. They paid me for all of the unpaid overtime from Nov-Feb. They helped me move to Nanjing. They had several dinner parties to say goodbye. They even gave me a "Life Time Achievement Award"!!

It was sad saying goodbye. The people on my team really are like my family. I realized that I became very chinese when I was working at that company. Even though most of the people on my team spoke good english and almost all of my work was done in english, I was still constantly surrounded by chinese people and chinese customs and chinese ways. My boss often said "you are really chinese now". I only ate chinese food. I'm an expert with chopsticks now. I take my showers at night like the chinese, I wore 5 layers of clothes all winter because the company wouldn't use the heat. Because I knew that all I was going to do during PPAP was work, I even moved to the company apartment just outside the factory gate and every morning joined the rest of the management team for morning exercises and short jog around the factory. At one point, I realized that there are lots of foreigners in Ningbo, but I didn't have a single friend in Ningbo that wasn't chinese. That was when i realized I was too chinese, too isolated from my own culture.

Anyway, I really care about my friends at Shenglong and my other friends in Ningbo. I hope that we will all stay friends forever.

So, I started my new job April 13th. I'm now the Assembly Manager for a program to make some new engines in Nanjing China. Ford already has a factory here making their 2.0L and 2.3L I4 engines and also a Mazda engine. We'll be modifying the machining and assembly lines to make some new versions of the I4 engine. It's both exciting and comfortable being back in the Ford family again. I don't actually work directly for Ford but the Joint Venture company called CFME. It's a joint venture between 3 car companies: Changan (a Chinese car manufacturer), Ford and Mazda (obviously). CFME means Changan Ford Mazda Engine.

Our team is interesting. Our leader is a chinese guy who worked in america for a long time. He and other chinese guys I've met that maybe studied in America and got their first job in America then moved back to China actually seem more comfortable speaking english than their mother tongue because they learned about making cars in english and sometimes they don't know the chinese technical words when they come back to China. When these guys try to explain something in chinese sometimes they use more english words than chinese words, so it's pretty easy for me to understand what they are saying.

The program planning director who hired me is an american guy who's married to a chinese woman. He's been here in Nanjing for about 5 years and many other places in Asia Pacific before that - my dream job!! My boss is from Mexico. His wife will move here with him. She's really nice and speaks good english. There are 2 more engineers from Michigan. One was born in Taiwan but move to the US when he was in grade school. In Taiwan as everywhere in China, they have their own language, so his mandarin is not perfect, and he also needs to learn the chinese technical words. Actually I have been teaching him some chinese. It's really funny for an american to teach a chinese person to speak chinese. But he learns it much faster than I do. The other guy was born in India and also moved the the US when he was in grade school. He has spent several years living in Japan and Turkey. Both are single guys and both are more american than I am at this point. There is also a finance guy who is american but has worked in Japan and has recently been working in England with his wife and 6 year old twins. There are several chinese guys who also worked in america but now work for Ford of China, another american who just married a chinese woman and a guy from South Africa. We are quite an international team.

I'm still getting used to work. It's very different than being the only foreigner in a small chinese company. It feels very much like the GM joint venture job I had before. It's more of a culture shock for me this time than when I first came to China. Even though working in Shenglong was really frustrating, they were like family and they were really welcoming and accomodating to me. Everybody liked practicing their english with me and wanted to be my friend. Now i feel a little like a fish out of water. I'm not chinese, but I'm not a typical foreigner either. I think I just need some time for them to get used to me. I hope they will be my friends too when we get to know each other better. They will come to trust me and see that I am different than the foreigners they've met before.

One thing that is very different about this job is the Mazda (Japanese) influence. There are many japanese people working in the factory and the whole plant and all the processes and equipment were designed by Mazda. They even sent the whole chinese team to Japan for 6 months to study the Mazda ways of making engines.

There's a big debate about "Face Time" going on right now. They seem to want us to stay at work late so they can see our faces to make them think they are getting their money's worth out of us. But our new team believes that work/life balance is most important. Later we are going to be working a lot. Right now we are not so busy. We want to get settled into our new lives and get some exercise and do some work at home after dinner if need be.

I rented a really great apartment near the city center. It's on the 10th floor and overlooks a small lake. There's a walking/jogging path around the lake and every morning and night there are many old people exercising there. The apartment was just redecorated in an american or european style. Most of the furnishings came from IKEA. I also have satellite TV again, with quite a few english stations. I can watch the news every day and some movies too.

Anyway, I am just trying to enjoy my new life and enjoy not working all the time. I think this is enough for now. I will write more about my new life soon.


(the chinese say this because the pronunciation of 8 is ba, so 88 is baba which sounds like byebye)


Post a Comment

<< Home