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Embracing the land of opportunities

By Alywin Chew | China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-09 07:41

General Motors China manufacturing head talks of his love for Shanghai and his fascination with the world's largest car market

The head of manufacturing for General Motors in China talks about his motivations for moving to Shanghai and how living in the city has been an enriching experience so far.

When Paul Buetow was presented with the opportunity to work in Shanghai a few years ago, it did not take long for him to come to a decision.

Buetow, who was then the executive director of manufacturing and engineering at GM in Sao Paulo, Brazil, said it was the prospect of being a part of a rapidly developing market that motivated him to make the move.

"From a career standpoint, coming to Shanghai made perfect sense. The automotive industry in China was growing quickly and I thought it would be exciting to be part of that growth," said the 56-year-old.

Embracing the land of opportunities

"To be honest, working in China wasn't something that I had thought about before I received that call asking if I would be interested in the position. But I've been extremely happy with the decision."

Since his arrival in 2015 he has witnessed the launch and development of 12 new facilities in the country, a feat he said would not be possible in other regions around the world.

Among these new factories is the state-of-the-art plant for Cadillac in Shanghai at SAICGM, the joint venture between Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp and the United States automotive giant.

This year, the second phase of SAIC-GM's plant in Wuhan, Hubei province, was put into operation. The plant has a body shop that features 773 world-leading Global3+ robots and has a 100 percent welding automation capability. Buetow said that one of the responsibilities in his current role is helping GM factories in China implement lean and intelligent manufacturing methods that boost productivity and market competitiveness.

He explained that this is imperative as the Chinese auto market is growing quickly and can now be considered on a par with other developed markets around the world.

"People here are already moving away from standard cars to SUVs, and we're getting more repeat customers than first-time buyers. Capacity is also starting to level off. We need to embrace technology if we want to succeed," he said.

"The automobile industry here has become extremely automated. Our plants here at SAIC-GM have the same level of automation as the others around the world," he added.

Embracing the land of opportunities

Born in Michigan - one of the strongholds of US car manufacturers - Buetow said he developed a love for cars when he was 15, spending much time hanging around garages and tinkering with car components. He started his career at GM's powertrain department when he was just 17.

Buetow went on to work in other areas, including assembly, purchasing, supply and quality, as well as manufacturing engineering. He has never left the company since the day he joined.

"I love my job because this is an exciting industry. Very few things in life elicit as much emotion as automobiles do. It's a combination of art, fashion and technology," he said.

The other thing Buetow has a penchant for is widening his perspectives and learning through new life experiences, which explains why he left his hometown to work in foreign cities such as Montreal in Canada, Sao Paulo and now, Shanghai.

He concedes that work is a very intrinsic part of his life.

"What motivates me to work in another country is having the opportunity to make the company more competitive.

"This makes me feel like I'm growing and learning," said Buetow, who is currently part of the Stanford executive education program.

He added that he has learned much during his time in Shanghai, and not all of it is related to the job. Buetow said it was only here that he learned about how millions of young people from rural areas migrate to work in major cities within China.

"It is really fascinating how so many of them travel home during the holidays, even if it's a short one, just to reconnect with their families. It shows how important family is in Chinese culture," he said.

"It's also interesting how grandparents play a very active role in childcare here, much more so than in other cultures. Seeing the strong family bonds here makes me want to have the same."

The US citizen might just be able to do that in a few years when he reaches retirement age.

But true to his passion for the auto industry, he concedes that he'll only leave if he has nothing left to contribute. For now, Buetow is happy to enjoy his time in Shanghai.

He enjoys cycling around Century Park in Pudong New Area where he lives. Despite being a car aficionado, Buetow does not actually drive in the city.

"The metro system in Shanghai is probably the most reliable I've ever seen. I can get to almost anywhere in the city with it.

"Finding out how easy it is to move from one place to another in this city was the biggest surprise I got," he said.

But as idyllic and scenic Century Park is, the effervescent scenes along the Bund still rank as one of the most memorable local experiences for him.

"Looking at the skyline, the boats on the river and the people walking on the Bund gives me goose bumps," he said.

"I've told people that Shanghai is like Manhattan, but on steroids. It's bigger, there are more people, and it's incredibly vibrant."

alywin@chinadaily.com.cn

 Embracing the land of opportunities

A Cadillac catches vistiors’ eyes at this year’s Shanghai auto show. Hai Xin / For China Daily

(China Daily 11/09/2017 page14)

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