Driving Business in Beijing

For an MBA working in engine distribution, the day includes a sunrise conference call, listening to experts, and meals at his desk

I come from a small coastal town in Connecticut and didn't learn to drive until I was 25. My first car had a 1977 diesel engine because it was easy to maintain and the fuel was cheap. It must have been fate, because I now work in the auto industry in Beijing for an American diesel-engine manufacturer.

I graduated from the Yale School of Management in 2004 with a concentration in finance. Today, I serve as general manager for Cummins Engine Company's (CMI ) eight distributor branch offices in China.


  Cummins ranks as the largest foreign investor in the China diesel-engine industry and has six manufacturing plants in China. The company produces engines, turbochargers, filters, alternators, and generator sets. Our organization of around 140 people is responsible for delivering parts and service throughout China.

I report to the general manager for international distribution and have a profit and loss responsibility (P&L), as well as nine employees who directly report to me for the following functions: Branch office operations, business analytics, and new business development. I chose to start my career in distribution because it was the best place to gain operational experience and a deep understanding of customer requirements.

When our customers buy a Cummins Engine or related product, they expect the best. If it breaks, my team will fix it -- we offer 24/7 service nationwide. This is quite a challenge, especially in a country as large as China.

Here's a snapshot of a typical day on the job for me:

6:50 a.m. -- Wake up.

7 a.m. -- Conference call with the U.S. We have regular teleconference calls. The 13-hour time difference means the calls are either early in the morning or late at night. This one is to discuss the aftermarket piece for a new engine-plant joint-venture agreement. We talk about nationwide support for parts, service, warranty claims, and other related issues.

Creating the document requires collaborative work with multiple parties in the U.S. and China. In business school, the cohort culture provided incentive for us to rely on experts rather than reinvent the wheel. In a company as big as Cummins, there are plenty of experts. Learning how to use them effectively is an important skill for general managers to develop.

8:15 a.m. -- Commute to the office by subway -- because the traffic would double my traveling time.

8:45 a.m. -- Read 60-plus e-mails and reply to the urgent ones. Some are from the U.S., but most are from China. We operate a system called "Three Lines of Support," in which the 198 Cummins dealers are the first line of support.

Our regional branch offices manage those dealers and provide the second line of support for issues that cannot be resolved locally. The third line of support comes from the national service team in Beijing. Managing a nationwide retail network is more complex than I had imagined.

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Colm Rafferty can be reached at Colm.Rafferty@aya.yale.edu

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