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Managing a Manufacturing Plant in Mexico

21 Nov 2011

Rogan Owens
Engineering Manager
(former plant manager of EE Tech's Mexico facility)
EE Technologies, Inc., Reno, Nevada

Visitors to the Bella Vista Industrial Park in Empalme, Sonora, Mexico will encounter some plant managers who are expats from the United States and other plant managers who are native to  Mexico. The success of a manufacturing plant in Mexico depends on many factors, and is not contingent on the national origin of the plant manager.

While a large number of companies manufacturing in Mexico these days choose to have Mexican national citizens as plant managers, many firms will choose an American to run their plant noting some key advantages that usually relate to their particular corporate culture.   EE Technologies is one such company and here is their story and some of the reasons for the choice they made when determining how to staff this key position in their manufacturing in Mexico plant.

EE Technologies partnered with The Offshore Group for the provision of shelter services in Mexico in October of 2005.  The initial decision was made to send a manager from headquarters in Reno to run the Mexico electronics manufacturing plant.  The company strategy was to use the same factory model from the United States for the Mexico plant – using identical equipment, processes, training, and organizational structure.  Since this business model and structure had worked in Nevada, there was every reason to believe it would work in Mexico.  Of course, having an internal plant manager who understood the structure and could duplicate it at the new Mexico production facility made strategic business sense.  The original manager would be sent to the plant for one year and then would return to Reno.  With the end date approaching and no internal candidates in sight, a local search in Empalme began in Mexico for a new manager.  At the end of the local search, senior managers from headquarters hired a Mexican National to run the plant.  After 2 years the plant manager resigned creating another opportunity to evaluate the pros and cons of having an internal candidate or a Mexican National as plant manager.  The decision was made to send a manager from the United States and here are some of the attributes that were considered in the evaluation process.

  1. Hub Feature

One of the biggest advantages is the hub feature – having someone familiar with the central activity of the company.  An individual who is familiar with business practices from United States and the main plant is valuable in the conversion process.  They are able to translate and communicate information (technical and language) from the main plant to their team and from their team back to the main plant.

It is extremely difficult to try to bridge cultural and language voids over the phone and emails.  These situations can add tremendous challenge to an already difficult position.  It is significantly easier to have someone who can provide clear communication and instructions from the main factory to plant and back to the main factory.  The advantage really comes down to understanding the core processes in the main factory, communication, and bridging cultural differences.

  1. Approach

An individual’s approach to a new position – especially a leadership position – makes all the difference.    Viewing working in another country as an opportunity and not an inconvenience makes the time away from home much more enjoyable and rewarding, especially when you are able to share your experiences with your friends and family.   With a desire and eagerness to learn and immersion in the work and culture, success will be realized at a different level and rate.  Managing one’s approach to the Mexico manufacturing assignment will be critical for anyone who takes the role, but there are advantages of having a long term history with the person selected from the main plant and knowing their fit within the corporate culture and their ability to adapt to live abroad.

  1. Values

Due to some very real differences in culture and attitudes about work, it is important to be adaptable while still providing the role model for the corporate values.  Hiring a person for a key position such as plant manager in Mexico presents many challenges in determining a fit with the company values in the relatively short interview process.  Keeping consistency in corporate culture throughout multiple facilities is always a challenge but starting with someone who is already part of these values can help accelerate the process.

While Americans as a general rule tend to focus their energy on careers Mexicans as a general rule are more family based.  Appreciating and being aware of these cultural differences is critical for a manager coming from the United States to integrate the company values and ensure a productive work force.

As more Americans work in Mexico and Mexicans work in the United States there is a cultural blending on process.  You see habits, customs, and values being accepted in the other country.  Additionally, global economic conditions contribute to ideals being shared too.

Like many others you may find that you enjoy working in Mexico and immersing yourself in a new culture and language.  It is easy to enjoy your work when you experience a high level of challenge.  Getting to know the people and the culture makes every day an adventure.  The reasons identified here are one company and one person’s story; each experience will be as unique as the culture of Mexico.

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