Thomas Faustmann gave up his position as president of the management board at Audi Hungaria Motor Kft after 13 years at the end of September. He has moved on to lead the Audi factory in Neckarsulm, in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, and Peter Kössler will replace him in Győr.
Why are you moving to Neckarsulm right now?
This decision was not specifically about my person, rather about all three factory directors involved. Audi AG wanted to rotate all three of us. Now is the right time to do it. Peter Kössler is coming to Győr and I am will succeed Fred Schulze in Neckarsulm, who is moving to Ingolstadt, replacing Peter Kössler. The main reason for the change is to share and transfer our know-how and experience.
Which experiences gained in Győr do you think you will be able to profit from in Neckarsulm?
We set up a completely new factory here in Hungary in the past four years, with new structures and new employees. We have introduced four new car models, including two very complex constructions. One of them is the TT, which is a car made of aluminium. I will have the same in Neckarsulm as well, since the A8 is also an aluminium car. Just like in Győr, we will also be manufacturing a Cabriolet. Besides engines and vehicles, I was also responsible for tool production in Győr. These tools are used to produce the aluminium outer skin panels for the production of the Audi R8 in Neckarsulm. We also produce exterior bodywork parts for the RS models, namely the RS7, RS6 and RS5 Cabriolet, which three models are also produced in Neckarsulm. So a large part of the manufacturing experience that I gathered here can be used in Neckarsulm too.
In general, your specific knowledge about Győr should be able to help you in strengthening the collaboration between the two factories.
Yes, it’s already planned that we will try to further leverage the interlocking of the plants, and for one location to benefit from the already existing know-how at the other one. “We Hungarians” are already supporting our colleagues in Neckarsulm locally in the case of start-up projects. We are sending employees who were trained here in Győr specifically for such start-up processes. In return, colleagues from Neckarsulm are coming to Győr to help with technical development, and we also have technical developers working in Neckarsulm at the same time. Hungarian toolmakers are also assisting the creation of the A5 Cabriolet’s successor. Just considering this existing strong interlocking of personnel, it’s already presumable that I will continue working a lot with Győr during my daily job.
That should make it a bit easier for you to say goodbye to the factory in Győr.
For sure. Thirteen years is a very long time. There are many things here that carry intensive memories, and I am starting to remember them especially now: memories of the struggles and persuasion that we have finished, but also the feeling of satisfaction when things were finally in their place. I still have to make the last trip through the factory. That’s… I can’t deny it… That’s a bit painful indeed.
How do you handle that?
I am already preparing for my new task professionally. I have already met the mayor of Neckarsulm and the members of the district council. I am learning about the local infrastructure and I already had my first conversations with my new colleagues.
How did the factory in Győr evolve during the 13 years you spent there?
When I arrived we had 4,800 employees, now we have 11,400, so more than double the local staff. We used to produce around one million engines a year, today we produce twice as many. We used to produce 30,000 vehicles a year. This year this number will be over 150,000. Thirteen years ago the production area was about one million square metres, today we occupy five times as much. I could go on with many more of these numbers. The growth trend is clear in all areas.
To what extent did you have to fight personally for this highly dynamic development?
Sometimes we fought downright battles. It cost us a lot of work to get the amount of attention from the Hungarian politicians and administrative bodies that we enjoy today. Then there was the fight against the sister factories, with which we are of course in sharp competition. Every product that is coming here for production must be won at a competition. At first we fought to be noticed, especially in the case of new investments. We needed to make it clear that money invested here is well-invested and secure, especially despite all the news that we sometimes read in the German newspapers about Hungary…
Do such things have a say in investment decisions?
People living outside Hungary mostly only know about the country from what they see in the media. Since German media prefer to report about Hungary when they have something negative to say, in time a negative image is created in the mind of the public. They hardly report anything positive about Hungary. For example that this government also did something good for the people, such as the tax benefits given to families with children, which has never been mentioned in the German newspapers so far. With all that negative influence in the background we had to convince our management and supervisory board again and again that it’s a good decision to invest in Hungary. We had to do the same with the workers council in Wolfsburg.
And you would think that important decisions about investments are made in a completely rational way!
Of course, when deciding about locations there is always a given procedure that needs to be followed. However, there are many different stakeholders involved with many different interests. And as I already mentioned, we are in a tight competition that is fought with a hard ball. An automobile factory is just like winning the lottery for a region, since it has an infinite number of positive effects, which everyone would like to have. Just look at how beautiful the town of Győr has become: without Audi the town would not look like that today.
How could you finally manage a permanent growth trend in your factory?
We have built a very good image of us over the years. Our flexibility has earned a lot of respect within the group. For me the basic principle is: It does not matter which services we are currently delivering – it can be building an engine or answering an e-mail – it all must happen in a quick, clear and professional way. When people get a piece of background information from us quickly, they are happy and they get the impression that we are working on the topic. There is nothing worse than when you write to someone and you do not hear anything back for long, long days, not even “I got your message” or “We are working on it”. One of our mottos sums it up very well: “While others are considering, we are already delivering.” This is one of our strengths.
Most companies are striving to achieve the highest possible flexibility today already…
However, we are striving to achieve a flexibility that is – compared to our size – above average. Let me give you an example to clarify this. Once I was on my vacation in Neusiedl am See in Austria and I was lying in the sun at the beach. The phone rang and a colleague from Salzgitter in Germany was on the line: “Thomas, we need help. I urgently need 500 engines for Wolfsburg, otherwise the assembly line will stop early tomorrow morning.” “Don’t worry, I will arrange it,” I assured him without even thinking about it. I immediately called the factory and the responsible leaders gathered their workers. We built some of the engines and we got some more from the warehouse. Then the engines were sent to Wolfsburg by special delivery in trucks the same night, and at six in the morning they arrived at the assembly line, ready to be built in. While others might have been overwhelmed with concerns in such a situation, we just solved it quickly. This is the special flexibility of Audi Hungaria that I was talking about.
How is the increasingly growing size of your factory compatible with this sort of flexibility?
That’s exactly my point. On one hand there is the large factory, which is working very professionally and just like clockwork, of course. Still, we are in the situation to be able to handle things in a flexible way. This is a very important strength of this factory. This is possible among other things due to the fact that I know all 263 managers personally here. They have all sat at my table and I have had an eye-to-eye conversation with each of them alone. When there is trouble I know immediately who I can turn to. I can also go down personally and organise help for the site that needs it. The planning may be very precise but sometimes situations like this still happen. Let me tell you another story right here: we are producing a five-cylinder engine at our plant, the same type of engine that is used in the VW Touareg. A few years ago the secretary of the manager in Salzgitter called me on a Sunday morning when I was out jogging. She told me, just one day before the Paris-Dakar Rally began – from Spain that year – that the engine of a VW Touareg was dripping because the shaft seal ring between the crankshaft and the gearbox was leaking. Next evening the rally was going to start and they needed to get a spare part quickly. I immediately called my logistic manager and asked him to get such a shaft seal ring. He went to the factory and got the part, sent it right away on the plane from Győr-Pér Airport to Frankfurt, and from there on to Spain. The replacement part arrived on time and the Touareg was able to start the race. Such actions do contribute to our image. After some time people know that they can rely on us.
With the size of the factory continuously growing, did the intensity of the relationship with your colleagues decrease?
I have spent more than 13 years with this team, which is a huge advantage. I always pay attention that there is enough opportunity for informal conversations. For this reason I regularly spend time in production. Of course I have to do a lot of organising to be able to have time for everything. My time frame can’t be pushed any further. With a lot of discipline and good planning a lot can be done though. Everything is on the clock in my calendar, even travel times within the factory.
Which projects are you especially proud of? Which did you particularly have to fight for?
I invested a lot of work and time in many projects. When I look out of this window here, I can see the silver building out there. This is our technical development department. We have doubled the size of that building. The relevant plan and the demand behind it is already seven or eight years old. We tried year after year to realise this project. However, we simply were not able to convince the people in Ingolstadt to give it the green light. I really can’t remember any more how many times we negotiated over this. Still, I always said again and again: “Guys, keep cool, we are fighting for it.” At last we were successful. The installation of the test stands was just as difficult but finally we achieved that as well. The most important thing is that you always stick to things that you believe are important and right, and you should never get discouraged by defeat.
Just like you stuck to vehicle production ten years ago.
Just so. The first generation of the TT left the factory in 2005. At that time we said that it was the last time we had done automobile assembly. We even went down to producing 45 vehicles a day. We built cars only during the first half of the morning shift. In top times we produced 300 cars each day. The workers were resigning and looking for other jobs. But I said: “Boys, keep calm. Hold out! Keep working, build good quality cars and deliver on time.” Finally we managed to bring the second generation of TT to Győr. Production started in May 2006. Everything got up to speed quite fast, our colleagues did not have a lot of time. The group management simply came to the conclusion that maybe it’s not wrong to keep building vehicles in Győr. It’s cost-efficient, the quality is right, and timeliness and flexibility are also assured.
In 2005 development could have taken a completely different course…
We were virtually done for. We were just about to turn off the lights. Only the last ones were still on. And then we managed to turn it around. I am not sure if we would have got permission to build a complete vehicle production plant without having continuous vehicle production already in place…
You had to fight your battle with the global economic crisis recently as well.
In 2008 and 2009 the global automotive industry was suffering together, including us. In 2009 we produced 524,000 fewer engines than one year before. This meant a decrease of 30%. We were considering what could be done. We wanted to keep our complete team and assure them that they wouldn’t lose their jobs and they didn’t have to worry. In the end we managed to solve the situation via different, sometimes very creative solutions across the different sectors so that we did not have to let any employee go. Thus, when demand was growing again we were able to react immediately and get back up to speed quickly. There it was again, our motto: “While others are considering, we are already delivering.” The good crisis management and after that the quick return to normal production earned us a lot of respect within the group. Proven flexibility surely played a role in the later decision to install a complete vehicle production plant.
To what extent was choosing the way of surviving the crisis your decision? If you would have chosen to dismiss some employees, would Ingolstadt have accepted?
Around that time we had a management meeting in Mallorca, when we also met the board members and the top management. I presented there the impact of the crisis for Győr. The management board answered that they were sorry but they could not help us at the moment, since they could not provide the necessary order volumes to us at that time. Sure, if we would have decided on layoffs, they would have had to accept it, given this situation. Ultimately what happened is that we had to help ourselves.
There must have been a certain risk taken with the solution that you chose. What would have happened if the losing streak had proven more persistent?
Then we would have needed to think about another way to solve it. The decisive factor at that time was that we could keep and strengthen the trust of our employees in leading positions. The many good steps that we took made us confident in our competences to some extent, so we trusted that we would be able to solve other problems successfully as well. Ultimately it was this confidence that backed us up when we were fighting for the large investments for the vehicle factory.
How did the positive decision finally happen?
Besides the things that we have already discussed, we always brought up the question of development when talking about many small individual decisions. First we bought a bit of land, and then we explained to the decision makers that we had a piece of land on which we could build the factory.
So you constantly pushed the development towards the final decision?
Yes, but every step was professionally covered by the responsible decision takers. With this procedure we saved a lot of time. Of course we always took not only the possibilities and chances but the potential risks as well into our consideration. But I can say that we pushed our decision options all the way to the boundaries.
How do you evaluate the development of the local environment conditions?
Working together with the relevant Hungarian government we have always developed the conditions into the direction that we needed. Today we have a very good labour code here. It allows us to stay very flexible. We have trained our employees over the years very well, and we give them such a good salary that they realise an increase in real wages each year. Still, we manage to stay the most cost-efficient engine production site in Central-Eastern Europe.
In the past the expansion of the airport in Pér did not go as fast as you would have preferred. Same thing happened with the logistic park. Could such a thing happen to your factory again?
Those environmental conditions did not change much here. That can happen to us any time again. I am sure that it will happen again. Simply because sometimes there are people working in the administration who make their decisions quickly and finish their tasks in a timely manner, and sometimes not. On the other hand we have developed good relationships with important Hungarian institutions. We keep knowing better and better who to turn to in case we need help. Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó for example helped us a lot with the construction of the airport. It took a lot of conversations. You simply cannot let such things go.
How well is the factory in Győr prepared for e-mobility?
Very well. We have dealt with this topic extensively and we have taken the necessary steps concerning development and planning preparation. We are in the process of implementing the arrangements for the production of electric engines by us. We will also set up a patent department because we have many ideas that we could develop and patent here in Hungary. When the time comes to decide which vehicles are to be produced, we will be ready to start. We will fight to be able to manufacture such vehicles here.
Will you keep in touch with Hungary besides doing operative business with the factory?
I expect that I will be invited to one or another event organised by our local colleagues. Or sometimes to give a lecture at one of the Hungarian universities. I would be happy to come back of course, if I have the time.