Geely has something beyond my expectation
― Interview with Dr. Frank Zhao (Zhao Fuquan), Vice President of Geely Holding Group
Dr. Frank Zhao (Zhao Fuquan), former Brilliance Jinbei vice president and R&D director, made his first public appearance on November 16 as Geely Holding Group’s vice president at Beijing Geely University‘s secondary auto exhibition hall during Auto China 2006.
Brilliance Jinbei announced Zhao’s departure on October 9 this year. After he joined Brilliance-Jinbei in April 2004, Zhao set up an automotive R&D center with 22 departments and over 600 employees. He also helped the company to establish a complete R&D system and database.
Under his leadership, Brilliance-Jinbei developed designs for the company’s new 1.8T four-cylinder engine and the M2 sedan and M3 sports car vehicle platforms. An M4 platform model is also now near completion. Models such as the Zhonghua Grandeur and the top-selling Splendor sedan were developed on these platforms, and they will eventually be used by a total of eight new models. The company has drawn up R&D plans to take it through to 2012, according to a Brilliance-Jinbei announcement.
Zhao started as a product engineer at Chrysler in April 1997, and became a senior technical expert in 1998 after the merger of Daimler-Benz and Chrysler. In June 2003, the overseas auto expert signed on as director of the DaimlerChrysler R&D Center and then became Brilliance-Jinbei’s vice president and director in charge of overall R&D in April 2004.
The following is a brief record of a media interview.
Media: Would you please tell us something about your personal feelings after you moved to Geely? What’s your impression of Chairman Li Shufu?
Zhao Fuquan: Chairman Li struck me as a “car nut”, just from what I have read in the past.
We have maintained contact for a while in order to understand each other, and I have had the growing thought that Geely has potential beyond my original expectations.
Actually, being an outsider, my knowledge about Geely is quite limited. Chairman Li would keep telling his stories of cars, engines, transmissions, hybrids, etc, or discuss problems with me as if he had forgotten that I was only a job interviewee. I told him that I would be as excited when seeing a new car as when I saw a pretty woman, but I have to admit that he has more enthusiasm for cars than I.
Since I came to Geely, I’ve found that the company has a stronger R&D workforce than I had expected. It has got two research institutes with two teams focusing on hybrid vehicles. It fills me with a sort of hope, though there remains much room for improvement; for instance, how to unite these research teams to work in unison, or how to achieve the maximum effectiveness of “1+1=3.” I truly feel that these are new challenges to me, where I can positively play my strengths. However, first I need to look into the matter myself, exchanging ideas with more technical people to be able to win their support.
Media: Well, you did work at Brilliance-Jinbei for two and a half years and obviously got to know a lot about their business. Did you sign any sort of confidentiality agreement when you left the company?
Zhao: This is a realistic question concerning professional ethics. At present the exchange of talent or moving from job to job is quite common in China. A professional manager may work for various businesses in his life. But he has to know what he should do and what he should not do. Brilliance and Geely have little in common so far as brands are concerned, despite their similarity in terms of self-reliance. As you know, I trained and developed a strong R&D team and won recognition at Brilliance. However, I was not involved with any technical details when I left. Furthermore, I have no idea what Geely plans to do in the future.
Geely is also a listed company that observes professional ethics. I ca’t do anything to cater to Geely at the expense of Brilliance. Suppose I did something against my will in Geely, what should I do after two and a half years? So as a matter of fact, instead of solving technical problems for a particular product in Geely, I would try my best to make the company grow stronger in the fields of R&D, system construction, and technical processes in line with Geely’s current situation. I do’t think it is something to worry about at this point.
Media: Recently we have noticed some people changing their posts in Geely. What is your job in the division of work among vice-presidents? And do you have any plans for building its European and American Auto Industrial Park?
Zhao: I’m in charge of three sectors of business in Geely: technology management, auto park and training. It’s hard to say one job is more important than the other for they are all essential tasks. To be specific, the management of technology refers largely to the construction of technical systems, assuring that they mutually complement each other for technical advantages, product development processes and the accumulation of knowledge. Today Geely is no longer a small company, but a corporation with over 30 sub-companies. The most imminent task for me is to make an overall plan for optimization with regards to the current situation. We have to unite more technicians and make better use of their abilities in every field to speed up the application of software systems to attract more and more talented people. Here I’m just talking about something like an idea or concept to be realized in my future work.
Secondly I’m responsible for the overseas business of the newly-established European and American auto industrial park company. To meet the needs of special customers in overseas markets, we have to do practical market surveys, from product certification to the varying standards used in different areas (such as Euro IV or V emissions standards) before making our decision on design, production and sales of Geely brands. There’s a chain of work to start from the beginning, which may include training, rectification and upgrading on the part of the suppliers, as well as the development of new brands.
My plan to set up a European and American auto industrial park is an addition, or a back-up, to Geely’s global strategy. Strength in reserve, to my mind, is an essential part of the force for future expansion, which explains the basic reasoning behind my job-hopping to Geely, a forward-looking enterprise. To be sure, there is a very big overseas market and challenges ahead. I may live to see the day for future expansion in Geely if I stay here long enough. This auto industry park will not operate alone. It is an important strategic step towards Geely’s goal to export two million cars by 2015.
The third part of my job is to act as a head of Geely’s auto engineering institute to train more professionals. Technical training is long and very arduous. It’s a demanding task to train outstanding technicians and engineers, who can later put their knowledge into practice and create added value for the company. At present, a lot of problems need to be solved, such as where to recruit student trainees, and carry out entrance exams, devise teaching programs and courses and more. I think we have to follow the example of China’s higher learning teaching program when we train technical personnel. Besides their professional courses, they should also learn English, write academic reports, provide a spoken defense of their thesis and pass tests before graduation. In short, Geely University should have its own specialties in training qualified people for China’s automotive industry.