Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tuesday I visited a company called Geyser-Gastech, founded in 1997 as a joint venture between Fagor Electrodomesticos (see my October 31st entry), Spain´s largest appliance manufacturer and a German (non-cooperative) company Vaillant-Saunier Duval. The plant makes hotwater heaters (exclusively for heating water for baths and sinks), which is a highly competitive and constantly changing sector. Fagor and Vaillant are the 3rd and 2nd largest producers of hotwater heaters, respectively. The plan is capabe of producing 800,000 hotwater heaters per year.

The decision to start a joint venture allowed Fagor to take advantage of the sophistication of Vaillant´s German engineering and allowed Vaillant to take advantage of the relative cheaper cost of Basque labor. The quality of the engineering and the ability to innovate in design, materials and fabrication is of critical importance to Fagor, because of the increasingly cutthroat nature of the market for this product. Onsite there are R and D facilities The factory sells exclusively to the Fagor and Vaillant and as a result has no marketing functions. It is exclusively a production plant.

Eighty percent of the workforce are worker-owners of Fagor and the remaining 20% of engineers and some support staff (most of whom are from Germany are not worker owners). The make-up of the company is a little strange because the company itself is not a coop, but is half owned by one. The workers have representation though a social council (just as they would in MCC company) and elect (through Fagor) representatives to the board of directors. Most of the production workers come from other Fagor plants.

This is a sector that his highly sensitive to variations in the cost of raw materials and is increasingly competing with lowcost producers. This plant represents a creative effort to remain technologically advanced and maintain market share while expanding coop employment.

Production is arranged in mini-factories. That is each section of the factory acts as an independent factory, with a leader, goals, separate meetings and a focus on improving production and customer satisfaction.

4 comments:

Bill B. said...

Dan, when you visit a plan such as Geyser-Gastech, who do you to talk? It would be interesting to hear what some workers and perhaps supervisors have to say about issues like cooperative values Vs those in a typical investor owned plant, etc.

Perhaps you and your brillant friend Matt could develop an interview instrument that you could use whenever you talk to someone. That would give you comparable information from each visit. And that could be good data for future research.

Matt said...

That makes sense.

Would this work with a semi-structured interview, so that there's enough room for the person being interviewed to drive the discussion, or for a dynamic to develop with the interviewer?

Dan Bianchi said...

My visit to Geyser Gastech was pretty structured and was with a group of about 15 or 20 people. There was no opportunity to speak with workers as a result.

I think the questions might really depend on who I was talking to. Typically in a plant visit most ¨workers¨ are working so there isn´t the opportunity to talk to them, Instead, there is usually a manager or a HR person or an engineer (since they understand all of the production process). Obviously I recognize that one does not get a completely balanced picture of the reality of the plant, but talking to workers is not always posible.

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