Each year I change locations Leo LiuRight now I am sitting at my desk at the MANN+HUMMEL plant in Portage, USA. Until a few weeks ago, I spent a whole year in Ludwigsburg, Germany. I never realized two years had passed until I was invited to write something about my trip to Germany. Two years before, I never thought that I would be working and living in a foreign country. Fate is so elusive, and you never know where it will lead you until you are there.

2009 was the first time I had contact with MANN+HUMMEL. At that time, I joined the MANN+HUMMEL scholarship competition and luckily I was among the four winners. To my surprise, I became a MANN+HUMMEL employee and joined the Graduate Program in purchasing two years later.

MANN+HUMMEL Graduate Program: What luck and such an honor!

MANN+HUMMEL is growing very fast, the organization is getting much more complicated, and business is also becoming more complex, especially abroad. For these reasons, management decided that we needed more internationally experienced employees, and we wanted to train those persons ourselves so that they would be well adapted to the MANN+HUMMEL culture and system. That is why the program started.

The MANN+HUMMEL Graduate Program in Purchasing lasts three years. At the beginning there were nine graduates from eight countries (two from Germany) in the program. As of today, we already have fifteen graduates from eleven countries. The graduates are divided into five groups consisting of three graduates per group, and these group members rotate their locations with each other, with the first year being spent in the graduate’s home country. I started in China, then went to Germany, and am now in the US.

My tasks at work are different and are also related to the location. I was a project buyer when I started in China. In Germany I supported our two Material Group Managers who are responsible for rubber and plastic parts. Another task was the maintenance and movement of Sourcing Decision Process. At the same time, I was also working in the non-production material purchasing department.

Personally the most challenging part of the graduate program is adapting to another country year by year. Before this program, I had never been abroad, and the beginning was a real shock for me after my arrival in Germany. Firstly, the way they were talking, thinking, and behaving was just so different from what I was used to. For example, Germans speak in a very direct manner in order to get to the point and understand each other in a short time. But the Chinese speak very indirectly in order to “give others face” and avoid embarrassment. Secondly, language was a big challenge. Even though many Germans can speak very good English, German is still the preferred language as it is their mother tongue. As I couldn’t speak German well, I always felt I was an outsider when they were talking with each other. But once my German was improved, this problem started to diminish. Thirdly, homesickness and loneliness was another challenge.  I had to face a lot of challenges and had no friends at the beginning in Germany. I also missed my families and friends a lot, in addition to feeling lonely and having no one to talk to. That was really hard.

But as time went by, I improved my German and got to know more about Germany. The situation was getting better and better. The colleagues in Ludwigsburg were also really friendly and willing to help. We talked a lot about the difference between Germany and China very frankly. It helped me a lot in adapting to the new environment. Sometimes we also went out for dinner or to a party, and I really appreciate the time we spent together.

A global overview

I learned a lot in 2013. I was really lucky to work in corporate purchasing. It gave me the privilege to work with the purchasing team globally, getting to know different cultures, and learning to think in different ways. I had the opportunity to get a clear global overview of purchasing. But at the same time, it also made me realize how hard it is for corporate to run this big organization globally as corporate always has to coordinate between different sites and functions, which is not always easy.

Now I am already becoming a part of the MANN+HUMMEL US team. My new tasks are in project purchasing, which is basically the same as what I did in China. But I know it will not be easy as the working environment here is very different, and the organization is also different. I can also already see I will have the same challenges that I had in Germany. Even so, challenges are always welcome! Another important task for myself and also for every graduate this year is to figure out what we want to do and what MANN+HUMMEL needs us to contribute after this program. Obviously, 2014 is a big year for every one of us.

If 2013 was the year of learning, then 2014 will be the year of contribution and choice.

I am ready!