Having plants in other time zones and employees who speak different languages can be difficult at times, too. “We can’t all talk together at the same time without someone being up in the middle of the night,” says Merrell. “So we don’t have weekly conference calls or production meetings with the entire organization.” IDI relies on electronic communication, though there is some lag time: When someone from the Chinese plant sends an email, the recipient at the Indiana plant typically doesn’t read it until the next morning.
Companies also may face concerns surrounding the political climate of the countries where they have plants. “In the background, you may have political instability risks and issues,” says Merrell. “In U.S. politics we don’t have extreme differences, whereas in Europe you might have a conservative leader replaced by a socialist leader. You have to pay attention to political issues in your local marketplace.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge to operating an international plant is ensuring it adopts your company culture. Most composites companies institute the same policies and procedures abroad as they do in the U.S., but getting employees to buy in to their vision and values isn’t so simple. “You deal with different mindsets and workers’ perceptions of their potential,” says Breiner. “It takes a while to gain their confidence.”
When Fibergrate set up its Mexican plant, the company initially brought in an American management team. The company gradually identified people it could groom for management positions, and now the entire team is from Querétaro. But it took about four years to make the transition. “Having local leadership gives the workforce someone to look up to,” says Breiner. “They can align themselves with managers more so than expats running the facility. You break down those barriers.”