Grand Award Jing Mei Automotive Strong teamwork, close co-operation with customers and critical assessment of one's own achievements gained Jing Mei Automotive the grand award for productivity and quality. 'Certainly, winning is superb,' said Ricky Chan, chief executive of Jing Mei Automotive. 'It shows we are up to a certain standard. 'The award not only gives us a very positive image in the eyes of others, but also delivers a reassuring message to the staff who have worked with so much dedication.' Jing Mei Automotive supplies car parts to giant carmakers in the United States and China. Mr Chan believes that close co-operation with customers is one of the keys to success. 'Only if you really understand who you are supplying to, will you be able to deliver top quality. And this, in turn, brings an increase in productivity. That's why we chose this section of the awards for competition, because our business is all about quality and productivity,' he said. The critical assessment is exemplified by its product development. 'Take for example, one of the two projects we submitted: a wheel hub for four-wheelers and light-trucks,' Mr Chan said. 'This project posed a special challenge. There is a lot of pressure in our industry. Every year, we have to show our customers a productivity gain because they want to keep their costs low. 'The wheel hub has been on the market for three years already and the price has reached a pretty low level. We spent a lot of time thinking how we could improve on it.' Jing Mei Automotive emphasises close communication with its business partners. 'Even if you think you're doing good work, you must ask yourself how it looks in customers' eyes. We must pull that perspective into our work process,' he said. 'I sent engineers to our clients in America so that they could find out how we could improve our production. And once our customers saw that, they in turn began sending their engineers to us, so it really works both ways.' Mr Chan, 36, thinks this exchange practice is the reason for the company's big increase in productivity, achieving a gain of 25 per cent in just four to five months. The second product which Jing Mei highlighted in the award competition was an interior car door handle made of plastic with a metal surface finish. 'What's special about this? Well, the two materials show a very different behaviour when they are exposed to extreme temperatures,' Mr Chan said. 'Their thermo-cycles, as we call it, differ. 'The problem is how to ensure a good cohesion of the materials, regardless of the temperature outside. This is important, because certainly carmakers cannot tell their customers that it's all right to drive this car in New England, but if you go to Arizona the handles might fall apart,' he said This product was also to demonstrate that Jing Mei possesses the technological know-how to handle this problem. 'We showed the judging panel that we develop our own technology to satisfy our customers' requirements,' said Mr Chan, who was educated in Canada. 'The high quality of our products in turn attracts new customers. And what could better demonstrate the quality of our products than the customers' vote?' Tsuen Wan-based Jing Mei Automotive has never had any problem meeting the rising demand for quality, according to Mr Chan. 'Our R&D labs have had no difficulties fulfilling these requirements. They tell me they can do pretty much anything. The question is how much money and time you can put into it.' The Jing Mei Group was founded by Mr Chan's father, Chan Lai-shun, in 1968. Trained in metal electroplating, a technique mostly used to apply metal finishes such as glossy chrome surfaces, Mr Chan senior saw business opportunities in the rising demand for plastic finishing. He was among the first to get into the new technology of plastic plating. 'My father was among the pioneers of this technology in Hong Kong,' Mr Chan said. When Raymond Chan, the older son of the founder, returned from his studies in England in the 1980s, Jing Mei was ready to internationalise its operations. By the time his brother Ricky joined the company in 1995, Jing Mei already had a strong footing in the surface finishing industry, producing a variety of products, ranging from water cranes and shower handles to electronic product components. It had also become a major supplier for the US market, but it was eager to further diversify its business. 'Back in 1995, we took a look at our portfolio - kitchen and bathroom appliances, mobile phones - and we figured that we could do much more. After we looked around for new business opportunities, we decided to go into the automotive industry,' Mr Chan said. The road to success, however, was not an easy one - Jing Mei Automotive only got its first commission in 1997. 'Carmakers were simply not used to having suppliers from Hong Kong,' he said. 'They all told us that they knew Hong Kong was good at things such as electronics and toys, but not for the automotive industry. The city seemed to be an exotic choice for them, so we had to make an extra effort to convince them of our capability.' Today, Jing Mei Automotive, the subsidiary of Jing Mei Group, employs more than 4,000 staff and last year contributed 27 per cent to the group's turnover. Jing Mei Automotive runs five production plants in the mainland as well as a customer service and logistics centre in Chicago. Hong Kong remains its administrative headquarters and R&D centre, but operations in the city also include a tool production facility. In the final analysis, the secret of the company's success is its emphasis on teamwork, Mr Chan said. 'It is the people that count,' he said. 'They are Jing Mei's most valuable assets. My vision is to be the best in whatever we are facing, and the way to achieve this is [through] teamwork.' It is no surprise to hear that Mr Chan considers managing the staff equally as important as pleasing the customers. 'Everybody has their strengths. It is our job as managers to provide an environment in which our staff can perform.' And the judges said: 'Many of the entrants have attained a high standard of productivity and quality performance. Most of them have adopted international management systems to foster a culture of continuous improvement. 'During the implementation of total quality management and the KAIZEN concept, most of the companies used management tools such as quality improvement team and work improvement team to achieve their quality objectives. 'A notable feature of the winning companies this year is their commitment to strive towards 'total customer satisfaction' and establish a 'customer focus' culture. In addition, many companies have comprehensive human resources development plans, and some have even set up 'corporate universities' to nurture a culture of innovation and creativity. 'The seven award winners stand to become benchmarks for their respective industries with their original and effective productivity improvement projects, and the successful execution of their corporate strategy through quality and productivity.'