Going to China as a Production Engineer
Who said that you need to have traveled around the world or worked for different companies to get a job in China? Opportunities come to those who are prepared, willing to face challenges, and learn a lot in the process.
In this third episode focused on the Brazilian audience, Juliano will tell how he made his way to China within the only company he has ever worked for. There is not only one way to reach the goals, is there? We'll also talk about the spare parts market in China, the intricate logistics system, and the power of the famous Brazilian barbecue.
Find Juliano Rockenbach on Linkedin.
Juliano: My name is Juliano Rockenbach Cecatto, I'm from Curitiba, Paraná. I'm 28 years old, I'm a Production Engineer and I work in the automotive spare parts sector, also known as Aftermarket. I came to China with the mission of implementing and assembling a sector of Hybrid Integrated Circuits, a technology present within the voltage regulators that are used in automobiles.
I also assist in issues related to Quality and the maintenance of the Quality System of the factory, stock, and distribution. With 6 years of experience in the sector in Brazil, I offered to continue the cycle of continuous improvement with a focus on preventing problems in China. Coming to work in China is a dream that came true and it is my biggest challenge in these last 2 years as well.
China Flexpat: Juliano, you mentioned that you have only worked in one company during your entire life, which is your current company. However, at first, you had no plans to go to China. How did this change happen?
J: I started working as an intern in the Quality sector, right after serving in the Brazilian Army, and followed the hierarchical ladder within the company. Today I’m a Hybrid Integrated Circuits Coordinator. When I joined the company, it already had a factory in China and had a very close relationship with the Asian continent, but I confess that at first, I had no intention of coming and actually living here in China. At that time, I was responsible for communicating Nonconformities to suppliers and employees and was always willing to help with communication and problem-solving. As a Quality guy, I always said to my boss "send me to China and I'll solve the problem before it gets to Brazil!".
For many years, I heard my father telling me that in order to grow professionally, we should be different from other people. I started thinking about what to do to differentiate myself from other production engineers. I already spoke English, which is basic, so I thought “what is the country with the most factories in the world right now?”. The answer came right away: “China”. Before I even knew that I would be invited to join the team in China, I started studying the basics of Mandarin and the customs and culture.
CF: So, there is a market for automotive spare parts with space for Brazilian/foreign companies in China. How does this market behave? Is it similar to the Brazilian? Do you see trends that are repeated in Brazil or could be incorporated by companies in the sector?
J: In Jiaxing, the city where I live in Zhejiang province, there is a government team that works to bring foreign companies here. They offer various incentives such as aid in energy costs, they pay from 6 months to 1 year the factory's electricity bill, and facilitating the factory location, placing us inside a complex of factories with easy entry and exit of cargo and trucks.
Here in my city, we have renowned factories such as LEGO, Panasonic, Hella, Hankook, and others.
Regarding the entry of foreign or Brazilian companies in the Aftermarket market in China, the market is way more complex and competitive. Far from being similar to the Brazilian one, the forms of taxation here are different, not to mention the language barrier, which is one of the main challenges.
The Supply Chain is the main particularity in China. Quoting, ordering, buying, and delivering products has outstanding agility. A very practical example is to buy a computer that is produced in Shenzhen, more than 1000km from my city, and receive the product within 3 days. And this system is applied from documents to heavy machinery. It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel. If we observe that China is the place with the highest mileage of bullet train in the world, with roads containing 3 to 4 lanes between large urban and commercial centers and with a very well-structured air fleet, we can already have an idea of what we can incorporate or focus for improvements in Brazil and other countries.
CF: As a production engineer trained in Brazil, used to the Brazilian organizational system and techniques, how was the transition to China? Did you have to take a specific course to work there?
J: I don't think there is any course that can prepare you for working in China with the Chinese. Even if we have a “slight idea” of what China is, nothing is as it seems. Within my 6 years of email conversations and calls with Chinese suppliers and collaborators, I thought I was 100% prepared, but personally, it's more complicated. Before coming, all knowledge is worthwhile. I spent months watching videos of Brazilians in China, cultural differences, how to behave, what mistakes should not be made, and a thousand other tips on what to do and what not to do. This undoubtedly helped me!
Inside the factory, I didn't feel much difference, as it is the same company I worked for in Brazil and the internal organization and hierarchy are similar. It draws my attention to the fact that the production line here works from 8 am to 8 pm. I, as a position of trust, follow the administrative hours’ regime from 8 am to 5 pm. As Brazil and China are 11 hours apart, it is normal to receive calls at 7 am and 10 pm to clarify doubts and align information. It is part of the package.
The pace of work here in China is faster, as it is possible and desirable to solve all issues with customers and suppliers via WeChat. If I send a message on WeChat asking for a quotation for product X and the supplier replies saying that the price is 10, when I ask for the payment invoice, the price will be 10. Usually in Brazil, without an official email, nothing goes forward, and in these cases, the purchase takes longer.
Disagreements occur everywhere, but I see that people here are very professional. Regardless of whether someone likes you or not, they will do what you ask them to do and you should behave alike. But, of course, that’s not an absolute truth with every people and situation.
CF: Now, within the automotive spare parts sector, how can a foreigner stand out? What are the tips for those who want to work in the same field as you in China?
J: The more specialist in your field, the better your chances of getting into the Chinese job market. My main tip is to know your strengths and start looking for Chinese companies on LinkedIn that are aligned with your expertise. Send your résumé, show them that you are interested in working in China, show your skills and keep an eye out for opportunities. You have to run after your goals, you can't wait for the opportunity to fall into your lap. Remember that having intercom skills is essential for working in China. Another very important point is to leave behind the prejudices and accept more than complain.
Anyone can come to China, but few can get used to it. Several factors need to be aligned: culture, food, family, and the mind.
CF: What about networking? Is that important to cultivate? How do you do network in China?
J: Networking in China can open lots of doors for you. He is much more than just a network of acquaintances, it’s essential for your growth and knowledge of Chinese society. The beginning of the Network between Chinese and foreigners is always the same. It starts with “Hi, where are you from? How long have you been living in China?” and after that, you’ll have to assess whether it's worth investing in closer contact or just being nice and getting on with life.
For me, the best way to maintain my networking is a sunny weekend. I invite some people from my network (Chinese and foreigners) to eat the famous Brazilian barbecue, seasoned in coarse salt and homemade garlic bread, it never fails. You just have to be careful with the price of the top sirloin cap (picanha), this week it was 130 Rmb a kilo. Everyone loves it and, even today, those who ate come to greet me, start talking, and invite me to visit their homes and families. As an education, after being invited to eat, it is customary to invite back to keep the cycle going.
And the simplest way to show that you care about your Chinese friends is to come in and say, “Is your family ok? Are your children healthy?”. These questions are always a topic of conversation and bring more intimacy.
CF: Now to finish, what is the importance of Mandarin within your industry and your final tip?
J: Speaking Mandarin is what sets us apart anywhere in China, even if it's a basic level. Speaking the language shows your respect for the country and the people, as you are seldom expected to speak anything more than nihao (Hello). However, when you are asked “where you are from?” and you can understand and answer in Chinese “wo shi baxiren” (I am from Brazil) you automatically win a smile and a fan. Regardless of how bad your pronunciation is, if it was understandable, you are already a great speaker.
Regardless of the automotive sector, speaking Chinese gives you chances for professional growth and can help you to grow a network that will make a difference in your future. As a final tip, I would say: Start studying Mandarin as soon as possible, stay focused and keep persisting in your goals.
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CF: Since when you arrived in China, what is the main change you see in yourself? Was it worth moving?
J: I see myself as a more mature person. I don't like to say that I became better, I just improved in several aspects that were flawed before. I incorporated Chinese culture into my life, but my way of thinking hasn't changed, it has just adapted. Also, a range of new experiences has emerged and continue emerging in my daily life.
I have been analyzing behaviors more critically. I analyze the forms of organization and technology of each place I go in, as every place has its positive and negative points. I also started to value some points of Brazilian culture that I didn't care about before, and now I miss them.
Definitely, the effort was worth it! The reward of living abroad is priceless, even for a short time. You will see extraordinary things and you will never be the same person or the same professional again.
To hear the original version in Portuguese, click here.