Stefan Köhler

General Manager AVI, Volvo and Renault Trucks

1. Why did you choose a career in manufacturing? I chose the manufacturing area due to three key things:

Firstly, I want to develop the manufacturing processes and implement activities that are creating value to the company and to the customer. I love to see when an organisation improves itself and continuously improves their manufacturing processes. In particular, to see people taking responsibility when you coach them and to see organisations learning all the time, “step by step”, striving for manufacturing excellence within daily manufacturing.

Can you imagine the feeling knowing the pharmaceuticals you’ve produced have helped to create a better life for the patient, or when you meet a Volvo truck customer and you’re being told “this truck is the best truck ever”? From the gearbox to the engine and all the new generations of safety features that provide benefits to the driver. That knowledge and feedback is what makes me proud. To see the people within the organisation growing and taking more individual responsibility makes me proud and happy. When the organisation is taking care of each other, helping each other and teaching each other on the dally basis, I know that I have reached my mission.

2. What are the main responsibilities in your role?

My responsibility is to setup the long term vision and mission and coach the organisation on a daily basis for implementation of the way of working. Then, if the daily manufacturing has some kind of deviation, I coach and follow up to ensure the root cause has been found and that the right countermeasure are being implemented on an ongoing basis. PDCA has also been my responsibility in that we, from the top right through to our production teams and workers have, using the Hoshin Kanri principle, set up the factory’s targets that will contribute to reach the vision.

3. What are your three biggest challenges on a daily basis?

The biggest challenge is to establish the right pace between the sales organisation and production so that we avoid overproduction. To set up the standard to produce three different truck brands within the same production line. And to learn Arabic.

4. With regards to your session, what has been the biggest difference in setting up a manufacturing excellence programme in the Middle East compared to Europe?

Manufacturing industries are not common business in the Middle East and due to that we needed to start in a much lower level compared to Europe. You need to set up the strategy; how to cover all the aspects that have some impact on the daily manufacturing. Then, start to teach - I started to teach my management team every Sunday for approximately 3 hours. And we use the L,U,T,I mythology - Learn Use Teach and Inspect. If you never train, you will never be at world class. Following this, the Management team had the responsibility to teach the next layer in the organisation and so forth, down to the manufacturing blue collar team. The target was to make them as autonomous as possible and make sure that they are taking the ownership of their part of the manufacturing. In other words, we want to use 100% of the capacity from all of our employees; both muscle and brains to improve our product for our customer.

5. What was the most significant moment in the journey to reaching world class levels in the Volvo & Renault manufacturing plant in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia?

We are not yet at world class level but we are moving in that direction and we are doing that with speed. The most significant moment is to see how fast the organisation wants to learn and to implement the new way of working. Then to see the pride from everybody after they have implemented the new way of working, it is showing in the record KPIs. Also, the hospitality and how all the people are happy and smiling when they see you at shop floor. The absenteeism has gone from 7% to 0.2 to 0.5%. That means that people want to go to the factory and they are doing that not only because of the money but mostly because they are involved in a journey that they feel involved with.

6. How do you see the manufacturing industry in the Middle East changing in the next few years?

Saudi Arabia is a country with a very young population and that is also including all of the GCC countries. To make business within the country you need to have some manufacturing involvement in the country from a local content point of view to be competitive due to the custom duty. The population is also growing, and the government needs to start thinking how they shall create jobs and change their industry from oil. That is also the reason that they want external companies to establish manufacturing industries within the region and support them with different benefits. The schools and universities are growing over the time and the quality from those universities is almost at the same range today as from the European universities. The reason of that is to help the entrepreneurship within the country and to have a high level of professional students in the industry. I can see a lot of international companies establishing manufacturing plants in the same area where I have my factory today.