This morning three colleagues only met in person a few hours ago at the hotel. Polito arrived in San Luis Potosí the previous evening after travelling more than 26 hours from Stuttgart via Paris and Mexico City. He, Duncan, and García are doing pioneer work here—with customers, with service providers, and with the launch of the subsidiary itself.
The first milestone in this project was to open a new office. It is located in a multistorey building on the extensive grounds of Integra Industrial Park near Eje (axis) 110, about 6 miles (10 km) southeast of the city center.
Passing trucks stir up thick clouds of dust as they rush by. “Where do you want to go?” asks the surprised security guard on cracking open the big steel door. “To Wörwag? I’ll have to check,” he continues in a pleasant but firm tone. Wörwag’s youngest subsidiary has had hardly any visitors thus far—although two company signs on the wall outside confirm that the guests are in the right place. And then they are ushered in.
More Outpost than Control Center
Wörwag’s office in San Luis Potosí opened at the beginning of the year. Measuring just 172 square feet (16 m2), it is still more of an outpost than a control center. The corner desk seems to dominate the room, and the built-in cabinet is largely empty. There’s a fax machine, telephone, network cable, and some office supplies.
The new number has one extension, which belongs to General Manager José Saldivia. He is currently in Chile, however, attending to some bureaucratic matters where he used to work before moving to Mexico. There are many hurdles to surmount before the business is up and running. “The first step has been taken,” says Duncan. “We’re putting a lot of time into this new site, and that’s very exciting.” Yet it’s also clear to everyone that there’s still a lot to be done.
“We’re putting a lot of time into this new site, and that’s very exciting”, says Duncan.
One key to success is having the right partners. And one of these is the Reis logistics company located just over four miles (7 km) from the Wörwag site.
It handles distribution of the products that are still coming primarily from the Lafayette site in the US. Founded in 2004, its 220 employees run nine warehouses in central Mexico.
General Manager Alejandro Reynoso is happy to see the visitors from Wörwag. “We need this logistics service provider to distribute the products we’ll be making in Mexico,” says Polito. “Reis has a lot of experience,” adds Duncan, “including with our customers.”
All signs point to growth for Wörwag in Mexico. The warehouse space can be expanded, also to accommodate materials for future production. The first delivery date can come. The team has done its homework.
Polito, too, is prepared. He is practiced in the role of pioneer. Back in 2008 he helped set up Wörwag’s factory in Langfang, China.
A challenging experience, but one that advanced the career of this project manager who is also a qualified chemical worker, paint technician, foreman, and lab worker. He is now a key player in international projects.
He was still a regional manager when he switched to the company’s International Technology Management in mid-2011, which led to his international project management responsibilities one and a half years ago.
When he sets off on the drive to the Samvardhana Motherson Reflectec (SMR) automotive supplier, he takes a package of cookies along with his laptop, goggles, and safety shoes. “You never know how long it’s going to take,” he remarks. If you want to achieve great things, you also need to pay attention to details.
The paint shop facility can be seen behind the glass windows of SMR’s conference room. Its conveyor belt is currently at rest. The results of recent tests, however, are positive. Polito and Duncan carefully inspect the first outer mirror housings coated in Mountain Gray.
“It looks very good,” Polito comments. Thanks to close contact with the German manufacturer, the substrate was already tested in Stuttgart, so some of the parameters could already be set there. The more precise these talks and processescan be, the more satisfied the car maker will be, which ultimately benefits both Wörwag and SMR. “Here in Mexico, the only thing we want to deal with are the details,” Polito explains.
“Direct connections are indispensable,” says Polito. “Ultimately, this is a matter of people working together.”
At breakfast the next day it’s clear that an especially important meeting is on the agenda. The Wörwag colleagues appear in white shirts and dark trousers, with fully charged laptops, notes, and a checklist.
In the interest of keeping their shirts in perfect shape, they decline the pancakes dripping with maple syrup and the scrambled eggs with sausages in tomato sauce.
Polito and Duncan have planned a two-hour cushion to make sure they arrive on time at their trip’s most important appointment. Nahum García takes the wheel. He knows the way to Plastic Omnium like the back of his hand. After joining Wörwag in mid-March, he has been spending most of his time with the customer. On-site support is part of the service for this job. He moved from Calvillo, which is a two-hour drive away, to San Luis Potosí for that reason alone.
“I really feel at home at Wörwag”, Nahum García says. “I don’t have to wear a uniform and my co-workers are all very friendly.”
A Matter of Teamwork
García heads straight for the waiting room at Plastic Omnium. The team is too early, of course. There are still one and one half hours to go before the final contract negotiations. The conference room on the second floor has been darkened so Polito’s presentation can be viewed more easily on the wall.
It’s cool inside, just 68°F (20°C). Yet the atmosphere is friendly. The tension quickly eases. Nearly 80 items are discussed: excepted quantities, legal requirements, conditions, timing, certifications, contact partners. Everything possible is finalized in advance. “Here too it’s a matter of teamwork,” concludes Polito amid nods of agreement. He and Duncan have been able to answer all the questions to the customer’s satisfaction.
Just two hours later, Brian Crawford, Head Buyer for Plastic Omnium in North America, adds his signature to the document that had already been signed by Wörwag Managing Directors Dr. Peter Moritz and Dr. Achim Gast in Germany. Polito draws a deep breath. “This contract is a milestone in the development of our subsidiary in Mexico,” he says.
A successful day for both parties draws to a close with a shared dinner of steak, fish, and beer at La Mansion. Shortly before turning in for the night, Polito sends an e-mail from his hotel room to Germany with news of the mission accomplished. Then he turns off the light. ¡Buenas noches!
The next day Polito takes a taxi to San Luis Potosí’s city center. He still has a little free time before his flight to the production site in Lafayette, Indiana.
He looks for small souvenirs for his two sons and settles on two hats. Afterwards he meets Duncan and García at La Agustina, a second-floor bar with a view over the Plaza del Carmen, the vibrant heart of the city.
All three are in good spirits. The project team from Mexico, Germany, and the United States has proved its worth. “It’s a great feeling when you can help the company grow,” says a visibly pleased Duncan as he raises his glass to his colleagues. “We are starting a new branch of the Wörwag family here.”
Their gazes turn toward the setting sun. The sounds of music, children playing, and honking cars drift up from the streets. Moles and tacos are on the table once again. Polito digs in with gusto. Some things are really easy to get used to.
“It’s very appealing to start from scratch”
Mr. Saldivia, you’re married, you’re the father of three children, and you spent the past 15 years working around the world for a major chemical corporation. Why did you seek a new challenge?
I wasn’t looking for a new job. But when Wörwag approached me, I was completely sold. I was impressed by the company’s enthusiasm, professionalism, and focus on setting up a new site. It was obvious right from the start that this would be exciting.
So it was easy to make up your mind?
Yes, it’s extremely appealing to start from scratch here. I would like to be part of this team and its success.
Work has just begun on setting up the site. Do you feel like an adventurer—like you’re discovering new things every day?
It was certainly like that at first. But I feel very good here. Mexico is the first country where I—as an Argentine—have felt at home from the start. That’s because of the language and the similar culture. Mexicans and Argentines have a lot in common, but there are differences as well. That makes the relationship so interesting.
So you’d describe yourself instead as a pioneer?
Possibly, but I’m not the only one setting this up. The support from my colleagues in Germany and the United States is fantastic.
How were you received by the Wörwag family?
For one thing, I spent three weeks in Stuttgart and was welcomed very warmly there. I never felt like a newcomer. Everyone was friendly and helpful. That’s where I became thoroughly familiar with the strategic goals and the processes. Every company has its own distinctive features, and that’s especially true of the family-run ones. Wörwag places a high priority on trust and a sense of belonging. Each and every employee is important.
What were the first steps you took as General Manager in San Luis Potosí?
Mexico is the most important market in Latin America. Although we’re breaking new ground here, our international project management had already done a lot of preliminary work. It was important to clarify the legal situation as promptly as possible. We also had to find a development engineer right away to maintain contact with our customers. And our U.S. colleagues Mike Grandy and Rob Duncan have been a big help to me in finding new customers as well as our International Business Director Dewi Paino, who takes care of our customer Plastic Omnium in France.
So your assessment is positive?
Absolutely. Everyone knows that growth is the only way for us to make our mark in Mexico. With hard work and a clear strategy we’ll accomplish a lot.
And what’s the main focus of your work?
We know how good our products are. And our service. We want our customers to realize that too, because that will generate the best recommendations for us. That’s why we have to find suppliers who’ll work with us to provide unparalleled quality. We also have to expand our team.
Does that mean you won’t be the only person at the office for long?
Right—I’m sure I’ll soon be in very good company.
Photos: Toby Binder
Text: Michael Thiem