Learn, Apply, Improve – Management in a Permacrisis World
After two years of study in a time of near-constant global disruption, Andreas Hornfischer and his Global EMBA 2020 classmates were finally able to enjoy their well-earned moment of recognition during their long-awaited graduation ceremony in April.
Looking at 2023 with fresh eyes and new ambitions, Andreas is already putting his Global EMBA knowledge to good use.
With his background in mechanical engineering coupled with nearly 20 years of management experience, Andreas’ work has taken him from his home nation of Germany to the UK, China, Thailand and back to China. Today, he leads E.G.O. Components (China) Co., Ltd. as its General Manager, having overseen the group’s critical manufacturing operations in Taicang, Jiangsu Province, for the past five years including the local R&D centre and regional Sales office in Shanghai.
General Manager, E.G.O. China
Global EMBA 2020
Valuing the direct application of knowledge
“I’ve been living and working in China on and off for over 10 years. I’ve settled here, I’ve put down roots. It’s my home, it’s my family’s home. I’ve seen this business from both the European side and the Asian side, but I really wanted to consolidate everything I knew while staying open to wholly new perspectives. So, CEIBS was really a no-brainer of a decision when it came to choosing an EMBA programme.”
The more you know about yourself the better leader you can be. This is Andreas’ simple and direct approach to leadership. It’s a style that he has honed over a long career serving as a bridge between the European and China elements of major global suppliers such as E.G.O., and it has served him well.
Despite starting his Global EMBA journey at the height of the pandemic, Andreas was quick to find ways to take everything he learned in and out of class – particularly the self-discovery elements of the leadership module – and apply the same learning approach to his daily work.
“After everything I learned in the leadership modules, I thought: “Is this just for me? No, my employees can learn just as much about themselves too.” So, I directly contacted CEIBS, I talked with coaches, and we found a way to bring this style of learning to E.G.O. We felt its benefits almost immediately. Now, we talk the same language, we have the same understanding and vision, it’s like having a shorthand that really helps us move quickly and decisively.”
Such a shorthand was particularly useful during the various lockdowns of the past two years, according to Andreas. With members isolated in their homes or even in the workplace, is was vital to adapt to the ‘new normal’ quickly to keep operations running smoothly. With their common practices in place and an emphasis on leanness and communal problem-solving, Andreas and his team were able to overcome the most difficult logistical challenges of those lockdown periods. This kept the disruption of E.G.O.’s operations to a minimum while also ensuring that supply chains remained viable.
While companies across the world quickly found themselves out of stock and out of options, E.G.O.’s customers continued to receive their much-needed products, no matter the difficulties involved.
Walking it off – Andreas’ personal LEAN initiative
It's not just Andreas’ management style that has become leaner in recent months, so has his physique! Turning confinement into an opportunity, he used the months-long Shanghai lockdown to walk as much as possible, with short strolls gradually turning into epic hikes in and around his building.
In a single day, Andreas climbed 342 floors-worth of stairs – that’s the equivalent of climbing the Shanghai Tower (128 floors), World Financial Center (101 floors), Jin Mao Tower (88 floors) and the Oriental Pearl TV Tower (25 floors), one after another!
“It started quite organically, but I wanted to push myself and quickly it became one of those positive habits that come out of challenging circumstances. I’ve kept it going and 7 months after lockdown started, I’ve lost 22kg and am feeling fit as a fiddle! It’s important to remember that you can always improve yourself by making the most of any situation.”
From racetrack to factory floor – The ultimate lesson in LEAN
The lessons learned in lockdown have clearly stuck with Andreas, as he is more determined than ever to apply as much of his CEIBS journey as possible to his professional environment.
“Soon after graduation, I went on the initial GEMBA Plus course to the Shanghai International Circuit F1 Racetrack. It was simply the best training experience I’ve ever had. As an engineer and a manager, it was perfect for me. Even as we were learning, I was thinking about how I could bring this learning back to E.G.O. This is exactly what CEIBS means when we’re talking about lifelong learning; you always keep learning, and I always want to keep applying it to my work. When you start as the student and become the teacher or coach, you’re learning about the subject from both sides.”
At the world-renowned racetrack, Andreas and fellow alumni saw how the pit teams could replace the tires and key parts of a Formula 1 race car within just three seconds. This is the ultimate expression of how even the most challenging processes (involving extremely complicated and delicate moving parts) can be stripped down to the absolute fundamentals. The constant search for leaner ways of doing things allows you to consistently shave off vital minutes, then seconds, then fractions of a second.
Inspired by what he saw, Andreas is now bringing plant performance with his E.G.O. TEAM up to a new level. His thinking is: if F1 teams are aiming for SSET (Single Second Exchange of Tyres) then why should his industry settle for SMED? SMED is the acronym for: “single minute exchange of die” — a lean approach that minimises the changeover or setup time in a process so that it can be accomplished in less than 10 minutes. Back in 2021, Andreas initiated the “E.G.O. SMED Olympics” to drive further competition and subsequent improvements. Today, the team measures success in seconds, not minutes, and a Gold Medal is awarded if a changeover can be performed in under 288 seconds. This is a key milestone towards the ultimate target of achieving single-second changeovers.
“It was exciting to bring the learnings from F1 to the factory. Even more exciting was when Shuwei Wang, who is also responsible for the Shanghai F1 racetrack, accepted our invitation to the factory to witness our first EGO SMED Olympics Gold Medal attempt for <288 seconds!”
As the guest of honour, Shuwei, a fellow Global EMBA 2020 alumni gave the signal for the start of the changeover and the team stepped up to the challenge, completing it in just 278 seconds. To put this in proper perspective, previously this process took more than 25 minutes!
Shuwei was clearly impressed to see how Andreas had brought the Shanghai F1 GEMBA Plus learning back with him to benefit his company and the wider industry. So impressed, in fact, that this month, Andreas and his team headed back to the high-octane learning environment of the F1 Racetrack, at the invite of Shuwei. This allowed the EGO team to experience a tailored version of leadership training in the ultimate test of precision teamwork that tested both humans and machines to their limits.
Being the bridge – Fresh thinking in 2023
Andreas’ advice for 2023 is simple – apply whatever you learn. As the world continues to settle and reorganise itself in the wake of covid-19, it’s more important than ever to make your learning practicable and applicable to your operational circumstances.
“There’s a lot of geopolitical tension right now, and global decoupling looks set to continue. Still, as leaders, we have to do the best we can. We must be the bridge between countries, between companies, between ourselves and our colleagues. It’s our job to ensure that there is a steady flow not just of ideas but also of encouragement to make them workable.”
Despite the uncertainty of recent months and years, Andreas feels confident that now is the right time to think big and act decisively. This is the way for companies of every size and sector to differentiate themselves from the competition, by seeing today’s difficulties as a means of facilitating tomorrow’s improvements.
“There’s no ignoring the current problems in a global enterprise, but neither can we ignore the opportunities. Things are opening up, so it's a time for building trust and transparency, while also thinking with ambition. So, if you see a big idea, pursue it! Go after it, bring it to your team and together you can make it work.”