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It is all about trust

Röchling Automotive has opened a total of five plants and one engineering center in China since the company first began operations in the country in 2006. The company is also present in other Asian countries and is increasingly competing with local rivals, not least of all for workers. How do you appeal to Chinese applicants as an employer? How do you set yourself apart from other companies? Why do employees remain loyal to your company? Two Chinese managers believe that trust plays a key role.

Edward Huang (left), General Manager Operations at Röchling Automotive in Asia, and his colleague Peter Wang, General Manager Sales, both agree: mutual trust improves job satisfac-tion. A lack of trust has a negative impact on the efficiency and therefore on the success of a team. They are both working towards the same goal.
Edward Huang (left), General Manager Operations at Röchling Automotive in Asia, and his colleague Peter Wang, General Manager Sales, both agree: mutual trust improves job satisfaction. A lack of trust has a negative impact on the efficiency and therefore on the success of a team. They are both working towards the same goal.

用人不疑,疑人不用——孟子

“If you entrust things to someone, never undermine them with doubts. If you have doubts in someone, never undermine yourself by entrusting things to them.” 

 Mencius (circa 370-290 BC)

Edward Huang has worked for Röchling Automotive Kunshan for 13 years. In China, where employees move between companies relatively frequently, that is a long time. And in this time, Huang has made it to the very top, now holding the title of General Manager Operations of Röchling Automotive in Asia. Above all, that means communicating, listening, and making decisions. Every morning, he travels the almost 30 kilometers from his apartment in Suzhou to the plant to Kunshan – unless a business trip flight is on the agenda. These trips make up almost a third of his working hours.

Huang’s daily work is made up of regular talks with plant managers, operations managers, and managers, for example from the Quality, Engineering and Logistics Business Units, where they discuss plants and locations in China, Thailand, Japan, India, and Korea. Huang also speaks daily with employees in non-operational areas, from controlling to development to purchasing. In addition, he holds regular telephone calls and meetings with the German managers of Röchling Automotive in Europe.

Information gathered in these conversations is crucial for the decisions he makes on investments in new projects and plants as well as measures to optimize processes, procedures, and products. He determines how resources are to be used in order to achieve targets. After interviews are conducted for key positions, he also selects staff. “When making all of these decisions, I have to be able to rely on myself, but above all on the expertise and experience of my team. Nothing works without this trust,” says Huang. But at the same time he knows that a great deal of trust is also placed in him, both by his own employees and by the management in Germany. His employer’s trust plays a pivotal role for him and is one of the main sources of his job satisfaction. “It helps me achieve my goals, overcome challenges, and do the right thing without hesitating.”

The two managers from Röchling Automotive Kunshan know that they can rely fully on the expertise and experience of their team. Identifying employees’ strengths, setting them realistic goals, and helping them achieve these – this is what Edward Huang and Peter Wang see as their main responsibility.

Huang is fully aware that trust cannot be simply built up and maintained on the sideline. On the contrary – a company has to invest significant time and energy. Charisma is also useful, he adds. When talking to him, it is clear that the 49-year-old has given a lot of thought to these issues. In addition to his MBA, he also holds a degree in applied psychology and so is well versed in the theory and practice. Trust, says Huang, conveys a sense of safety and security. Teams cannot be efficient without trust. “Employees spend most of their day with us. It is our job to ensure that this time is satisfying and that they have enough to do. People who work hard can take a lot of pleasure in their career,” says Huang, referring not least to himself. Friendly interaction, a good word, trusting relationships – all this is what he considers a positive work environment.

He views his role as a manager as identifying employees’ strengths, setting them realistic goals and then helping them achieve these: “Then they’re proud of themselves and they enjoy working at our company.” Of course there are other factors that have to be right, he adds: fair and clear rules, a suitable salary, a strong corporate culture, and the same organizational structures. “People also tend to prefer working for a successful company than one in a crisis,” says Huang.

Long-Term Loyalty to the Company

For him personally, there are just a few pivotal points that explain why he has remained faithful to Röchling Automotive for so long. The first of these is that he can use his strengths, including his technical and business expertise. Secondly, he values his team and working together with this group of people. Thirdly, he has great trust in and a good relationship with his boss.

This also applies to Peter Wang, General Manager Sales for Röchling Automotive in Asia. “The members of the management team started out as my teachers and now they are my friends,” says Wang. As the head of sales, Wang travels a lot, is in tune with the market, meets with representatives for customers, organizations, and government authorities and aims to always stay up to date with the latest developments. “All of this helps us develop and optimize our strategy and aids collaboration with our partners and customers. At a time when everything is changing at such a rapid pace, this is crucial.”

In Wang’s opinion, the only way Röchling will be able to come out on top in the competition for qualified and motivated workers is if it gives its employees a sense of belonging and professional satisfaction. “Chinese companies, especially state-owned ones, are inherently better at this as they are far more familiar to applicants,” explains Wang. The fact that employees at foreign companies usually earn much more money is of secondary importance. What really counts is something else: you have to offer Chinese employees career prospects. “Careers are important to us and we are prepared to keep learning in order to achieve this. Learning is in our DNA,” says the 40-year-old, who has already worked for several German companies. Wang has been at Röchling for 12 years now and has climbed well up the career ladder in this time.

Trust Promotes Trust

It is not a one-way street, but a relationship based on reciprocity. Trust shown at the plant in Kunshan creates an atmosphere that releases positive energy and gives employees the sense of being part of a big family.
It is not a one-way street, but a relationship based on reciprocity. Trust shown at the plant in Kunshan creates an atmosphere that releases positive energy and gives employees the sense of being part of a big family.

Encouraging real innovation among his employees, so as to ensure that Röchling Automotive’s products and services are particularly sustainable – he considers this one of his main jobs. Wang is convinced that trust is essential, especially where innovation is in demand. This is because where there is trust, people feel more secure, which in turn has a positive impact on their work and the company environment, which in turn creates more trust. This initiates a cycle – trust fosters trust. This kind of environment is important to him personally and is something that he has felt at Röchling Automotive from the very beginning: “It’s an atmosphere that releases positive energy and gives employees the sense of being a family.” The bosses are a part of this family too. “The market changes so quickly. A lack of trust, for example between me and my boss, would take up lots of time and energy and that’s something we really cannot afford,” says Wang. Important business developments and product decisions are an area where he has to be particularly sure that Röchling really has his back.

Responsible for sales, Wang – who like his management colleague Huang also lives in Suzhou – always has his customers in mind. For Röchling Automotive, the customer is king. It is customer satisfaction that determines the company’s success. “Customers will do business with us only if they trust us. The only way we can gain their trust is by coming across professionally and convincing them that we are experts who can help bring innovative products onto the market and make profits,” says Wang. You have to listen very closely to understand the customer’s values and desires. You cannot squander trust that you have gained, for example by exaggerating or making promises that you cannot keep. “We have to get customers on board and work on the best solutions together.”

Give and take is key in negotiations, which at the end of the day are about making gains and profits. “But this is far more than a negotiating strategy. It’s an attitude and a form of wisdom,” expresses Wang. When it comes to competition, both Wang and Huang are equally convinced that the winning team is always the one that fosters trusting relationships, both internally and externally.

Mengzi (or Mencius) Master Meng

was Confucius‘ most eminent successor. His focus was the pursuit of a moral way of living, with respect for others and aspiration for lifelong learning. In his theories, Confucius extolled the achievement of harmony, center, and equilibrium and the value of education, justice, morality, and trust. Mengzi reformed the philosophy of Confucius and developed it further. He ensured that Confucianism became the Chinese state philosophy under the Han dynasty. Like Confucius, Mengzi also traveled around the vast Chinese empire for 40 years, offering his advice to its rulers.

 Mencius (circa 370-290 BC)

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