Assembly Lines in China and Recruitment on the Great Wall

Crossing into mainland China is like entering another world. We left Hong Kong’s shopping malls, nice cars and Cantonese/English signs and entered Beijing controlled Shenzhen. We spent the next four days touring the Pearl River Delta.

We visited the Yantian International Container Terminal first. Cargo ships filled goods bound for America start here. It was interesting to see the counterpart of the port of Longbeach. Yantian is one of the biggest ports in the world.

We completed our upstream tour of Target’s supply chain the next day. We visited a toy doll manufacture and a furniture factory. We watched as the products went from raw material to packaged, finished product, FOB factory door (i.e. Target’s property in China).

At the doll factory we saw men molding plastic and women in assembly lines combing hair, putting clothes on, and packaging the dolls. At the furniture factory we saw sparks fly, metal cut, and machines move aluminum into giant red hot ovens. This is where the retail products we buy every day are made.

It was amazing to see what we’re learning in Operations Management play out in front of us. All our heads turned back to Professor Hasler whenever we heard a factory manager mention a bottleneck, 6 sigma, or statistical process control.

We visited the tech factory where Texas Instrument calculators are made. We dawned white jackets and footies and entered the clean room where hundreds of workers and machines build electronics on assembly lines. We counted the cycle time: one calculator every 4 seconds.

At every factory, managers greeted us with huge smiles and free refreshments. We watched presentations in nice, air conditioned boardrooms one minute and breathed the air in factories filled with hundreds of laborers working assembly lines for $150 a month.

South China is a different world. Signs reading “No Pain, No Gain” hang on the wall of the factories. People (mostly teenagers from rural parts of China) fall in on the assembly line to fasten, paint, weld, mold, soder, screw, attach, and assemble the same product every day for hours at a time. Yet, these jobs are lifting millions out of poverty.

It makes me humbled for the opportunities I’m given at McCombs and thankful to be an American.

The relationships forming between everyone on this trip have been the best part. Our adventures last week really solidified us as a group. At nights we ate Korean BBQ together and cheered on the USA in the world cup. Professor Hasler told us stories from when he was in business and told us to look around: ten years from now we’ll realize the people we are on this trip with are our network.

That weekend 15 of us took a weekend trip to Beijing. We stayed in a hostel with college-aged students from around the world. We saw Tienamen Square, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and the Olympic stadium.

A few of us ran into two businessmen from Houston on the Great Wall. They were doing quality inspection at one of their vendors’ factories near Beijing. When they found out we were McCombs students, they said to give them a call if we’re interested in a job. Recruitment on the Great Wall of China? That may (or may not) be a first in McCombs’ history.

Next stop: 4th of July cruise and BBQ to celebrate America’s independence in south China. Final week in Hong Kong!

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From the mountains to the sea

The sound of pounding drums filled the air over the cheering crowds and banners whipping in the wind. The “Dragon Boat” races are like the 4th of July in Hong Kong. Everyone takes the day off to watch the 20 man row boats race down the rivers of the city to the sea. Not a bad start to Wednesday morning before an OM335 Test.

During the week, a brilliant Chinese professor (who studied at the Kozmetsky School of Business at UT) taught us about the role of infrastructure in a nation’s economy and compared China’s position today to the United States in 1870 (Reconstruction and the railroad build out).

Friday afternoon, my friend Travis and got lost in the crowded street markets for an hour. We asked directions from people who didn’t speak English, watched old Hong Kong men on a street corner play a checkers-like board game, and bargained for a USA soccer jersey from a street vendor.

That evening we rode the tram up to Victoria’s Peak. The view from the top is world famous for good reason. Clouds literally roll in around us and settle on the city below. We ate dinner and watched the sun set and the city lights come on.

After Victoria’s Peak, I changed into my jersey and we went into the city to watch USA play Slovenia live at 10pm. We found a table at a pub packed with World Cup fans. Around the room there were USA shirts, jerseys, and American flag bandannas on 1/3 of the people. The rest were English, European, or Chinese.

When National Anthem played, we joined the other Americans in Hong Kong and sang. It’s amazing how the Star Spangled Banner brings Americans together, even in China. We toasted to freedom, gave high fives when the USA scored, and yelled at the ref when USA’s game winning goal was taken away. It was the most fun I’ve had watching a soccer game.

Saturday we left for Lantau Island, west of Hong Kong. We rode a gondola through wild mountains and walked 200 steps to see the world’s largest Buddha statue.

When we got down from the mountain we hit the beach.  A group of Chinese college students had an American football, so we asked if they wanted to play. We taught them the rules, mixed up the teams, and played beach football with our new Chinese friends.

The sand was beautiful and the water was clear. We walked a mile and a half down the beach as the sun set. We ate a great dinner at a South African restaurant there on the ocean. It was a perfect end to an amazing weekend.

Next stop: Shezhen tomorrow for 4 days of factory tours, then flying to Beijing Thursday for next weekend’s trip. I will be in mainland China the next 7 days.

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Stairs of Death, the World Cup, and fish heads

Outside the window of the 777 gliding over the ocean surface I counted lights from 24 cargo ships heading east from the Pearl River Delta below. It was 4 am and we were minutes from touching down in Hong Kong.

On day one we explored the areas near the Chinese University of Hong Kong. We got lost in small Chinese street markets, and marveled at giant 7 story American looking shopping malls. There are crowds of people everywhere and I quickly learned the cultural norm of saying “mm goi” (Thank You) often. That evening we took the MTR to Hong Kong Island and watched a horse race with thousands of British people.

The weather is hot and extremely humid every day. Grey skies are almost constant during the rainy season, but the land is beautiful. Everywhere you look, lush green mountains reach down to the sea. The University is built around one of these mountains and we climb more than 100 steps up the slippery, stone ‘Stairs of Death’ for class each morning.

For four hours in the morning, we participate in a lecture about business in China. We’re taught from a different Chinese professor each day. Today we learned about Chinese culture. Some vocab words include:

  • “Guangxi” – Your network. Business in China is done through connections.
  • “Wu lun” – The Chinese emphasis on relationship and social hierarchy.
  • “Yi Jing” – Ancient Book of Changes. Changes in the status quo can bring new opportunity.

We also take Operations Management from Professor Hasler from 2 – 6 each afternoon. This class has been my introduction to the world of operations and production. There’s a science behind production and service. Yesterday, we learned a mathematical formula to tell you how long people will wait in line for something!

Weekends are fun. Friday night we took the MTR to central to watch the Symphony of Lights over the harbor. People literally gasped when we stepped out of the subway and saw the Bank of China Tower among all the sky scrapers squeezed between Victoria’s Peak and the harbor. Downtown Hong Kong is an amazing site to see. (It’s the banner for this blog).

After, we explored the European pubs packed with people watching the World Cup.

Saturday we grabbed our Passports, jumped on the ferry, and spent the day in Macau. We ate fish with their heads still on at a restaurant near an old Portuguese trading post. So far that’s been the wildest thing I’ve eaten.

That night we stayed in a suite with an amazing view of the city, which is a lot like Las Vegas. We got dressed up and went out to explore the casinos. It’s been great going to class and hanging out with the same 25 people. It’s been a blast with new friends and I’m looking forward to what adventures await the next 4 weeks!

Next Stop: Factory tour in Shenzhen, (Mainland) China and a weekend side trip to Beijing

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California Dreamin’

Landed in LAX yesterday around noon. Shared a cab to Long Beach, checked in at the hotel and went straight to the beach. Yes, Southern California and I got along very well.

We had class Sunday evening in a conference room at the hotel. After class, a group of us went to dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. We had a great time – it’s always cool to see how a trip like this can bring people together.

“Cowboy up!” Dr. Hasler smiled at the group of Texas college students checked out and ready to go in the lobby at 8 am this morning. We rode a chartered city bus (crammed with our Hong Kong luggage) a few miles west to the Port of Long Beach. 42% of all North American import volume crosses the Gerald Desmond Bridge in Long Beach and so did we.

A square jawed, tan California man with spiked grey hair runs the terminal where the ships are loaded and unloaded. My group sat around a boardroom table and listened to him as cranes unloaded a ship just outside the window. The man explained how a port is run, how his company fits into the supply chain, and gave us a big picture of the imports and exports of the United States.

After the presentation, he led us on a tour of the terminal facility. We watched as massive containers zipped off of the deck of the Hanjin Miami and onto trucks and trains.

These are exports. They are placed closest to the ship and are loaded onto the ship at the same time imports are unloaded.

We wrapped up the day at a “deconsolidator,” which is run by another company and still part of Target’s supply chain. This is where containers from ships are unpacked, sorted into trailers, and sent off 28 regional distribution centers. (See entry from June 1st)

Now I’m sitting in a lounge in LAX listening to The Mamas & The Papas (hence the title). We felt a tremor an hour ago, my first earthquake. A dozen of us have been eating snacks, doing homework, and waiting for the midnight flight. So long, California! It’s been good.

Next stop: Hong Kong

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Welcome to the World of Supply Chain Management

Six weeks from now the label, “Made in China,” will have a whole new meaning. This summer I’m going from Texas to California to China to learn how small the world has become. This is more than a study abroad program. It’s a behind the curtain peak into the exciting, fast paced world of international supply chain management.

Twenty some other McCombs Business students are joining me on this adventure. Our classes will be taught by one of the visionaries behind McCombs’ Supply Chain Management program, Professor Mike Hastler. He uses the Socratic Method, which is heavy on class discussion and keeps everyone on the edge of their seat. This is going to challenge me, and I can’t wait!

What feels like an introduction to a whole new world is literally taking me around the world. The adventure began close to home when we spent two days touring two buildings in two Texas cities.

AUSTIN, TX – My trip to Hong Kong started in the break room of the Super Target on Parmer Lane. The Dean of McCombs, Dean Gilligan, joined some great corporate folks from Target in the break room and inspired us about the unique experience we are going to have.

Professor Hastler taught the first class at the store. Later, we toured the backroom and learned how Target keeps their aisles constantly in stock.  This is the part of the supply chain we are used to seeing as customers and this is where Target actually makes money.

MIDLOTHIAN, TX –Target’s Regional Distribution Center is a massive 1.35 million square foot building with tens (sometimes hundreds) of thousands of boxes moving through a maze of conveyor belts and onto trucks bound for 60-80 target stores. It’s minutes down the road from where I grew up in Arlington.

The day was more eventful than we planned. Alarms went off while we were touring the building and we had to take cover. A tornado touched down literally across the street from the distribution center. The security camera got this picture. You’ve got to love North Texas weather!

Next stop: Los Angeles, California on June 6.

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