All aboard the China train
THE GLOBAL SCIENCE company DuPont, founded in 1802, is planning rapid expansion in China and aims to recruit 500 employees annually over the next few years.
The firm, which people associate with chemicals and materials such as Teflon and Kevlar, has operations in 33 different locations on the mainland. Most of these operations are small, but there are some large plants too.
The company's five main businesses - electronic and communication technologies; performance materials; coatings and colour technologies; safety and protection; and agriculture and nutrition - employ about 5,500 people.
Thomas G. Powell, president of DuPont Greater China, said there were openings in many professional areas - from sales and engineering, to manufacturing and research.
'I can't think of a skill that we don't need,' he said.
With double-digit growth, the mainland market is perceived as the manufacturing hub of the world.
The company seeks highly trained staff who can deliver what the customers need.
Mr Powell mentioned the case of an auto manufacturer that wanted to produce a lighter car to meet fuel efficiency guidelines. DuPont researchers developed a new, lightweight plastic material that replaced heavier metal parts and reduced the weight of the car.
'We can develop [a new product] and bring the manufacturer into our lab to see it and learn how to use it,' Mr Powell said, referring to the company's 200-person R&D laboratory in Shanghai.
He said such projects made the mainland a principal focus for the firm, along with other developing nations such as those in eastern Europe.
The company has already invested $700 million in China and plans to double that figure in the next two years.
'Our early strategy in China was small investments in a lot of different places to be close to the customer - relatively low investments with relatively low risks,' Mr Powell said.
'We are now moving to a new world of major investments with much bigger plants.
'I am an optimist about China,' he said, adding that competition on the mainland was fierce.
'I don't think anybody would bet against China.'
Mr Powell has been with the firm's Shanghai office for the past two years.
A South Carolinian by birth, Mr Powell jumped at the chance to bring his family to Asia. He thought that if his three sons experienced early life and education in China, they would develop a lifelong interest in the language and culture of the country.
DuPont uses science to develop sustainable solutions for a better, safer and healthier life for consumers.
According to Mr Powell, employees of DuPont must adapt to this philosophy while adhering to the company's long-held core values of safety, environmental protection, ethical behaviour and respect for people.
'We find that these values attract our new employees,' Mr Powell said.
Along with such attributes, the company has a reputation as a steady industrial powerhouse that first sold a product, gunpowder, to the Qing Dynasty of China in 1863.
DuPont, which has been in and out of China over the centuries, reopened its Beijing headquarters in 1984 and has had loyal Chinese employees ever since.
The organisation's typical recruits are people who have worked for two or three companies, with about eight years of experience. People who join the global chemical giant are highly qualified and want to join a leader that has a reputation for respecting its staff and nurturing their careers.
'What we have found is that attrition is much lower for these people than for those in their first or second job,' Mr Powell said. 'People really like the place and don't want to leave.'
Part of the reason may be policies that offer better remuneration compared to other leading firms. There is also ample opportunity for in-house training and education, including degree programmes such as online MBA courses.
Job vacancies in the company are posted openly to encourage career advancement.
Employees who easily adapt to the firm's norms and are able to get things done across the organisation without any formal 'line authority' are successful.
'That's a skill not really prevalent,' he said. 'It's very helpful if you can work across an organisation and have the ability to gain people's co-operation.'
Mr Powell said other factors were 'quite the same' in China as anywhere else.
'People want good and challenging assignments and to be treated well,' he said.
Keys to success
Using science creatively
Maintaining emphasis on safety and environment
Ability to collaborate across the organisation