Interview Transcript

What was your biggest challenge in organizing the supply chain and the procurement, in China?

I suppose, in terms of the supply chain and procurement, the biggest challenge is training. Tianjin is a good example. Airbus put huge resources into training the workforce in Tianjin. From the outset, there were many people who were concerned about quality and whether an aircraft, assembled in China, would be of the same quality as an aircraft assembled in Toulouse or Hamburg. I’m glad to say that that challenge was met, because the first aircraft that was delivered, in June 2009, had 100% dispatch reliability, during its first year in service. There was, in the end, no quality issue, but it did require a massive effort, in terms of training the workforce. It was an expensive thing to achieve, but well worth it, because there have never been serious quality issues in the final assembly line in Tianjin.

In that respect, it’s been a great success and if had got that wrong, it could have been disastrous. The last thing that you would want is for there to be two classes of A320 – those delivered in Europe and those delivered in China. On the strength of the Chinese experience of proving to ourselves, I guess, as well as to the market, that an Airbus could be assembled in China, there was, subsequently, the decision to set up an A320 family final assembly line in the United States, in Alabama. I think the biggest challenge was to get that right.

What did you learn about organizing teams, training teams, to deliver on such a complex product, like an A320, for example?

I guess, the main message that I retained from all of that is that you can never really do enough training. You really have to put in the resources that are required, to make sure that you do the job absolutely top-notch, that no corners are cut and that you give your local staff all the training and tools they need, to do the job properly, which they subsequently did. I think everybody involved was very proud of what was achieved.

But it’s not guaranteed, in advance, that you are going to achieve that. I think that taking full responsibility for all the technical issues, training everybody to the highest standards, for this kind of project, is absolutely essential and proves that you can achieve the same quality as in Europe, provided you do that right.

What was the approach that you took to training? How did you recruit people? What was the program and how did you look at the outcomes?

There was a huge HR initiative, to recruit the right people. This was a joint effort, because the final assembly line, in Tianjin, is a joint venture, between Airbus and Tianjin Free Trade Zone. Both sides put in quite a considerable amount of HR resources, in order to find the people and then train them. They were sent to Europe, for on-site training in the final assembly line, particularly in Hamburg, because the Tianjin final assembly line is modelled on the one in Hamburg.

Sign up to read the full interview and hundreds more.