Adapt to the unknown

Acquisitions, joint ventures and newbuild factories: The dynamic growth of the Plansee Group offers staff the opportunity to become expatriates and work at a different location.

Lukas Schlatter is coordinating the deployment of SAP at CB Ceratizit in Xiamen. He studied at the University of Applied Sciences in Kufstein, Austria and also studied international business & management in Japan for a year, followed by three years in China studying Chinese and applied economics, concentrating on China.

Analeigh Yu analyzes and develops logistics workflows for the Plansee High Performance Materials production network. She studied international business in Shanghai and was involved in the construction of the new Plansee plant in Shanghai for three years as a project assistant and purchaser.

Wolfgang Frick, integration manager at Promax Tools in California. He is coordinating the deployment of SAP, the development of the future production and sales concept and technology transfer. He graduated from the Higher Technical Institute in Innsbruck, Austria, spent three years in Reutte as an application engineer and product manager, and then studied business economics/strategic management and wrote his master’s thesis on “Business Model Innovation with Industry 4.0”.

And they jump at the chance of experiencing new things. They make their own way off the beaten career track. And they rise to challenges, even though they sometimes have no idea what shape these challenges will take. In short, wherever they happen to be working, that’s where they give of their best. We are talking about people like Wolfgang Frick, who is working as an integration manager in California. Or about Analeigh Yu, who is building up logistics expertise in Austria. And Lukas Schlatter, who is making preparations for a SAP deployment in China.

livingmetals: How did you get your current job?

Wolfgang Frick: After the acquisition of Promax Tools in California in 2014, it was necessary to integrate the company in the Ceratizit group and to organize the transfer of technology. After I had worked in application technology at Ceratizit in Austria for three years, I went to university and wrote my master’s thesis. As part of this master’s thesis, I conducted interviews with senior managers in the Ceratizit Group. As a result of these contacts, I had the prospect of going to California as an integration manager after I had finished my studies and completed a period of familiarization at a number of different Ceratizit locations in Europe.

Analeigh Yu: As a project assistant, I was involved in the construction of the new Plansee plant in Shanghai from the very start. Among other things, I was responsible for the procurement of machines, plant equipment and tools and took charge of the formalities with the authorities. Now that the plant is operational, the challenge is to integrate it into the production network of the Plansee HPM Group and to optimize the logistics workflow. I went to the Plansee headquarters in Reutte for two years in order to get to know the Plansee logistics concept from bottom to top so that I could later implement it in Shanghai.

Lukas Schlatter: I had studied for four years in Japan and China and in the fall of 2013 I was looking for a job at a careers fair in Innsbruck in Austria. At the Plansee/Ceratizit booth, I made contact with someone, and things gradually took their course until I had a concrete job offer. I was to have the task of coordinating the deployment of SAP at CB Ceratizit in China. In preparation for this, I spent several months getting to know the European locations of the Ceratizit Group and was involved in the deployment of SAP in India.

livingmetals: What do you see as the greatest challenges in your job?

Lukas Schlatter: Deployment of SAP needs to be well prepared. After all, colleagues from Europe and China have to understand the same thing when they think of a “pick list” or a “delivery note”. I think that one of my most important tasks is to bring all the terms and concepts together coherently. And in this respect, I see myself very much as an intermediary between the various locations.

Analeigh Yu: And the same goes for me. Understanding the logistics processes that have become established and proven themselves in Reutte, sometimes over many years, and then introducing them at our new plant in Shanghai is not a job that can be done within the scope of a Skype conference. This needs someone who has built up an understanding of the processes and who can then transfer this knowledge to the new location. The next challenge will be to team up with my colleagues in Shanghai to work out what we can sensibly implement and how.

Wolfgang Frick: I also see myself as a communication interface. With technology transfer in particular, it is vital to overcome language barriers. And to this end, I have compiled a glossary of all the technical terms that are of importance when manufacturing carbide drills. This forms the foundation that allows engineers from Germany and California to communicate constructively about concrete technical details. Beyond that, an integration project like this means that you have to deal with a lot of different aspects simultaneously: Preparing the deployment of SAP, developing the future production concept or coordinating how Sales is to be set up in future.

livingmetals: What is it like to work at a location in a different country?

Analeigh Yu: In China, it is absolutely normal to be given clear instructions that have to be followed to the letter. And this is also very much part of our upbringing. In Austria, I first had to learn that my boss delegates the various tasks, and that I have to find my own way of doing the work I have been given. This means that, as a member of staff, you have a greater responsibility to seek support from your colleagues.

Wolfgang Frick: The big time difference makes it all but impossible to reach colleagues in Europe during normal working hours. So I very quickly started to get onto Skype and make important calls late in the evening at least once or twice a week. The great advantage is that I already know many colleagues and am able to approach them directly.

Lukas Schlatter: Even though I studied in Asia for four years, my knowledge of Chinese could still be improved for me to have detailed discussions about carbides and process workflows. Because the subway in Xiamen is under construction and the traffic is chaotic in the rush-hour, my wife and I have decided to take a company apartment on the company premises. Another benefit of this is that we often work on Saturday, which takes a little getting used to after the regular 7.7-hour day in Austria.

livingmetals: What have you gained personally from this stay overseas?

Analeigh Yu: As far as professional project management is concerned, I want to better understand what my colleagues here think of in advance when they plan complex projects. And, of course, it is also very important for me to learn German. To relax, I take the opportunity of enjoying the wonderful countryside in Reutte with colleagues and spend a lot of time hiking and rock-climbing.

Wolfgang Frick: In California there are so many different people with such different roots. And these roots make it easy to talk with people and get to know them. I was also impressed by the very warm welcome I received from my colleagues. The thing that drives and motivates me in my job is that every week brings something new for which I have to find a solution, and the same applies in my private life. It makes for an exciting life.

Lukas Schlatter: If you get an offer like this, it is a huge opportunity that you cannot afford to pass up. It takes you out of your established way of thinking and your familiar environment and you get to know something different. I would do it again without hesitation. And, personally, I now have a far better understanding of why Chinese companies are putting Europe under so much pressure. They are simply immensely fast and flexible and keep their eye on the costs. They are doing plenty of things right, and we in Austria have to get out of our comfort zone and do something about it.