In April it will be ten years since Thomas Faustmann took over the management of Audi Hungaria Motor Kft. At the beginning of his jubilee year we spoke with him about the high points of this year, and how he plans to continue the twenty-year history of success at Audi Hungaria.
What have been the high points for Audi Hungaria in the past year, aside from the well-known opening of the new auto factory?
2013 was very successful for us. In motor manufacture, the assembly line production of 14 new motors has gotten under way, setting a new production record. We have also expanded our tool production. In our brand-new plant we have begun mass production of the Audi A3 limousine and the A3 cabriolet. In 2012 and 2013 we hired more than 3000 new employees. However, the highest point of the year was undoubtedly the opening of our new auto plant.
A year ago you presumably would have had less time and leisure for such a lengthy interview.
The whole previous year was very stressful, even if it was a very positive kind of stress, since we were always up to the tasks before us. Our list of tasks at the beginning of the year was quite formidable. Although we have already tested our team’s abilities in the past two decades, the job of getting the new auto plant going was a massive challenge. We sent Hungarian engineers to Germany, the United States and China to build up experience and to prepare our human resources strategy for the new plant. Our plant expansion thus played a role in our reflections from 2005 on, even if not in a completely concrete manner. Even at that time we had begun to purchase the land for the expansion site. Concerning further expansion of auto production we still have growth potential at the Győr site. We still have to keep our feet on the ground though, and shouldn’t let our growth outstrip our competencies or our circumstances.
You mean the supply of qualified labour?
We have the best preconditions for attracting qualified labour. Last year, for the fifth time in a row, we were selected as the most attractive employer in the country. Naturally that helps us cover our demand for personnel. There is one special area where we would like to have more people: tool manufacturing, where we still have a lot of growth potential. In that area we would like to employ more skilled workers and engineers. Also in the fields of technical development and logistics.
How are things going with the supply of qualified managers?
In my opinion more value should be placed on a practical orientation in the training of managers in Hungary. That’s why we’re working together with the Hungarian government, trying to reflect on this matter, and to plan how Hungarian high schools, and even the Győr University, can be made to fit in with the needs of the industry. I believe that management is a profession that, like any other, can be learnt. However, a good manager must not only dispose of the requisite expertise but also of totally different skills. Practical work experience is extremely important, as is experience abroad. In Audi Hungaria we are very consistent on this matter: in middle and upper level management an executive must have at least two years of experience abroad. Currently many Hungarian managers within Volkswagen (the parent company of Audi) are active globally, from China and Germany to Mexico.
Is that not a bit risky considering the higher incomes in many countries?
Certainly salary is an important question but on the other hand Hungary, and especially the perspectives of our firm at the Győr site, are so attractive that all of them would rather come home and continue their careers with us.
A little glimmer of hope at the time of the brain drain from which Hungary is now suffering.
Together with the Hungarian government we are considering how to make this country so attractive for people that they are happy to come back or don’t even leave in the first place. For that we need a slight, but continuous, growth in real incomes. When people have a clear, reliable perspective before their eyes, then they are much more motivated to stay – even if the West-East wage gap continues for decades.
What other themes are addressed in your conversations with the government?
Training and education is very important. I personally and intensively intervene in this domain to campaign for understanding and support. We must raise the university in Győr to a still higher level. It should become the centre of practice-oriented technical studies in Hungary. The opportunities are there, even considering Audi Hungaria alone, and we aren’t the only prosperous enterprise in the city. There are currently four chairs at the Győr University that, through the massive support provided by Audi, are teaching the most up-to-date knowledge in the area of auto manufacturing. The graduates of these programs will never need to worry about finding employment. In exchange we expect, however, that the country and the city will take care of the necessary infrastructure. We need laboratories, office space, computers and much more.
Are the other players pulling their weight?
Yes, but not always at the same pace, and in many projects it’s done in a rather splintered way, often too slow and clumsy. The chances that offer themselves should be seized much more quickly. Often there isn’t that much money available and it has to be managed with resoluteness, in a concentrated way. In this matter I would absolutely like to see more enthusiasm from the Hungarian government. We’ve been doing successful work here for the past twenty years. The Hungarian side should be building on that and looking to stand in a closer alliance with us. We know what we’re doing and we’re tackling all of the right themes.
Who or what are the main obstacles?
At the university bureaucracy and the limited financial means are slowing progress; the city and the government must better understand how strategically important qualification is for Hungary and its economic climate.
Are there similar problems with support at other Audi production sites?
I was in Mexico last year at the opening of a new motor factory for Volkswagen. The Mexican government had provided a large piece of land and built the necessary infrastructure, including a four-lane highway, a large office building and a rail connection. There they understood very quickly that infrastructure is the basis for growth.
But aren’t you preaching to the converted? Representatives of the Hungarian government, above all Prime Minister Orbán, insist that they want to make Hungary into the most attractive production site in Europe.
The problem is not the will of the government but very often its ability to follow through and apply its decisions. Allow me to provide another example from abroad for comparison: just as we were signing the contract with Parliament for the construction of the auto plant in 2010, an agreement for the construction of a new Volkswagen factory in the USA was reached. The state of Tennessee made land available for a symbolic price. In addition four buildings were constructed as communication and training centres, so that Volkswagen could come and train young people. Division of labour means we bring the knowledge and the other side provides the infrastructure. Experience shows that this works.
Certainly also in Hungary.
Hungary is a country poor in resources. However it has people with a lot of potential. If these human resources were cultivated, fantastic things could be achieved in Hungary. Every day I see what well-trained Hungarians are able to do. In our factory we have first-class people who are passionate about their work and capable of monumental achievements. During factory visits our directors are regularly tremendously impressed by the expertise and passion of our Hungarian employees.
What are the main challenges in logistics?
Just so your readers get an impression of the dimensions of our production process, I’ll mention some details: a vehicle consists of up to 6,000 parts. Every day we receive commodities with a value of about EUR 22 million from 1,500 different suppliers with the help of 2,400 logistic personnel. With this in mind, it’s easy to imagine why we need good logistics people.
How satisfied are you with the transport infrastructure?
South of Győr there is unfortunately only a single bridge. That is insufficient. Each day 4,000 employees and 200 transport trucks travel over it to get to work and back, so occasional traffic bottlenecks are inevitable. The problem would be resolved by building one new bridge. We are working with the government and the city towards a solution. The same goes for transport links in the direction of Slovakia. In general a more intensive exchange concerning these themes is absolutely necessary. From a planning perspective, infrastructure must be taken into account two or three years in advance of economic projects.
Has the airport issue been addressed?
We are on a good path. We now have a longer and wider runway, on which large aircraft like an airbus can land. For the reliable and safe use of the airport we still need an instrumental landing system. The official call for tenders needed for that is complicated and time-consuming.
Why is this airport so important for Audi Hungaria?
In the last year alone more than 30,000 people have travelled between Győr and Ingolstadt by means of this airport. For a return trip we are talking about eight hours, that means a whole work day, that we save in travel time by using this airport. It’s a matter of saving time, pure and simple, not of comfort or prestige. For us time is the decisive resource. In the end we need to get our product on the market as quickly as possible. From this perspective it would be a considerable failing to waste tens of thousands of working hours every year. Besides people we also transport engine and vehicle components by plane when necessary. It is decisive for our production that we have the airport in our portfolio as a fast and flexible supply option. That’s why I am engaging myself so strongly to get it totally completed. It’s like in an orchestra: when only one instrument is not properly tuned, it ruins the whole performance.
How many non-Hungarians are currently working in Győr?
We have long-term contracts with just under 100 such employees. If we take into account the specialised experts that are active in support roles in special areas, then we can add another 100 to that figure. In relation to our total personnel of 10,300 that is thus a very small percentage. It shows just how qualified our Hungarian employees are, and just how capable they are of manufacturing world-class products.
What are the highlights of this year’s agenda?
The mass production of new motors will be started, and we will continue to make our motors more efficient in respect of their CO2 consumption. Currently we are seriously involved in preparations for the production of the third generation of the TT model line. We will also expand our tool production. Investments for the enlargement of our production area have already been approved. This year we will also be working on our management development. The speed with which we now have to operate on the world market has become so lightning fast that we have to continuously develop our management and make them qualified for the growing demands.
What are your ideas in this respect?
In principle we need a kind of “management campus” so that our management is capable of keeping pace with the market’s speed and challenges. It’s a matter of permanent training. That is a tremendous challenge. Here international issues are very important, that is, that people also build up experience abroad and expand their perspectives. For the future, I’ve been considering whether internationally renowned universities, that have a good reputation in management training, might work with us to help us with our management training. Perhaps local workshops, seminars or lecture series with teachers from external universities. In connection with this I can easily imagine cooperation with the German-speaking Andrássy University. Competence in German is very important for us. All of the developers in Volkswagen speak German.
How have you managed that? Other global German enterprises have given in to the pressure of English.
Naturally our executives also speak English, no question about that, but in Volkswagen German is the standard language. We have 550,000 employees worldwide, of whom few are native German speakers. When it’s a question of technical matters though, then everyone speaks German. The German language is very precise, and precision is very important to us. Excellent knowledge of the German language is thus also vitally important in Volkswagen’s subsidiary companies.
Where do you see a need for action on the part of the Hungarian government?
The technologies that firms based in Hungary need in order to be successful on the world market now come essentially from large international companies. For these companies to find their way to Hungary, remain here and invest further, Hungary must do everything possible to ensure that it is attractive for them, concerning the level of qualification of its workers, the predictability of its legal system, business friendliness, regulatory policy and the condition of its infrastructure.
How much hope do you have that these themes will be better addressed?
One can have mixed feelings about the current government and other political representatives. That is the basis of a democracy. For me however it is clear: the sitting government is daring and ready, sometimes against powerful resistance, to go in an unconventional direction. With the same resoluteness with which the IMF issue was dealt with and with which the Parliament was made more efficient, the important problem areas we have discussed in this interview could be tackled. Resolute and visionary, since when you have no vision, you shouldn’t even start marching.
One gets the impression that you care about more than just the success of your firm!
In April it will be ten years since I took over at Audi Hungaria. I feel very at home in Hungary and appreciate the realities of this country, in particular its enthusiastic and capable people. This is why I am convinced that it is worth it to fight against whatever stands in the way of developing these resources. Hungary is a great country, a country with incredible potential. It is up to all of us to activate this potential. I am conscious that firms like Audi Hungaria carry a particular responsibility.
How does your orders situation look?
Our orders situation for 2014 and 2015 gives us cause for optimism that the economic circumstances will continue and that in total more cars and motors will be produced. But independently of that the customer buys what offers more value to him personally and what pleases him. We need to further develop our vehicles technologically so that potential buyers are particularly interested in them. We need to manufacture cars that make people say: “I want to have one like that!” Cars like the Audi A3 Limousine for example, precisely the one that I drive. That’s a fantastic car. Driving cars like that is certainly not only fun for me.
In closing, a question about Győr. What do you show foreign guests who visit your city? What restaurants do you like to take them to?
For a walk I would recommend the Széchenyi tér. When you stroll along there on a summer evening it’s like you’re on the Riviera: pulsing life, packed cafés, nice people, families with children, the little ones playing by the fountains. As for restaurants, I can recommend the Patio and La Maréda. Another restaurant that really stands out is Viator in Pannonhalma. Another is the Szél Fiai fogadó in Nyúl , which has now become a kind of second home for us. All of my guests have liked it, including football players from FC Bayern.