I’m a proud McIntire alum who now has more than 18 years of business experience, but I’ve always been something of a closet engineer. That’s why one of the most interesting parts of my job as CEO of a small company is the time I spend at our manufacturing facility in Guangzhou, China, and why I jumped at the chance to show a group of McIntire students around the factory while they were visiting China for their Global Immersion Experience.
My friend Henry Thorne and I founded our company five years ago. It’s called 4moms, and we design and build innovative baby products. Much of the research and development for these complex products takes place in Pittsburgh, where our offices are located and where we’ve assembled a great team of Carnegie Mellon University engineers, but we’ve also got a fantastic team of engineers in Guangzhou. They work on site at our factory, Jetta Victory Toys, and from them we get not just innovative design solutions and valuable materials testing information, but up-to-the-minute reports on production status and progress on the assembly line.
When I learned a group of McIntire students would be visiting China through the GIE program, I volunteered to meet them and show them around Jetta. From what the students told me about the rest of their time in China, a lot of it had been spent watching PowerPoint presentations in offices, and there’s so much more to international business than boardrooms. The Jetta factory is just one example of an environment millions of Chinese men and women work in every day, and it’s not one you’ll see if you only visit Hong Kong, which has a much more familiar, “Western” feel. A trip to the province of Guangzhou is a trip to an undiluted, real China.
We all met for dinner on Friday at the China Hotel in Guangzhou: myself, 25 UVA students, and nine executives from Jetta. There were no all-UVA tables allowed, so all the students got a chance to talk with at least one Jetta team member, which gave them a great chance to practice their Mandarin. On Saturday morning, we met at the Jetta factory. After a short presentation on Jetta’s background, we toured the factory. We spent about three hours seeing everything during what was slated to be a 90-minute tour.
One of the coolest parts of the factory was seeing 600 giant injection molding machines at work. After the sewing facility with huge industrial-strength sewing machines, we visited a clean room where they manufacture electronics—clean because it’s carefully controlled so as not to allow dust or dirt in that might get into the electronics. We finished with a demonstration of the Origami, our stroller, which is the world’s first power-folding stroller.
What I enjoyed most was hearing the students’ reactions after the tour. It was great to have been a part of sparking so much enthusiasm and interest. Visiting our Guangzhou facility has been one my life’s most broadening experiences, and I’ll always be glad I got the chance to share it.