Chennai Journal
Sunday, September 25, 2005
A Day at Work
Several people have asked me to write about working here. I've been reluctant to put too much in writing about work, but also realize that since it's the main reason we're here, I can't avoid it altogether. So here's a typical day in the life ...

Two or three days a week, I get up around 5:15 and walk over to the Madras Club where I walk five or six rounds at the track (the track is 500 meters). The track backs up on the Adyar River, and on most mornings, as soon as it gets light, the rowers from the Madras Boat Club--on the other side of our apartment building--are gliding down the river. A few days ago, I even saw a crew of women, which I think must be quite unusual. The birds are absolutely raucous at this hour as well. When I succeed at getting "mind over mattress", it's a great way to begin the day.

I walk back to the apartment where Leela has breakfast waiting--usually yogurt, a bowl of papaya, and a piece of toast and coffee. About 6:30 I leave the apartment for work. Antony, the driver, is waiting at the gate for me in the Ford Endeavour (a sport utility vehicle that looks a bit like an Explorer). The ride in takes about 50 minutes in the morning, and goes past the airport on a road called the GST Road to Maramalai Nagar, the town where we have our plant. This road is an absolute microcosm of humanity---cows, autorickshaws, cars, buses, lorries, and motorcycles all sharing the same space--and passes through several towns. Although I often do work in the car or read the newspaper, sometimes I still can't resist just watching this tableau, which never fails to contain some small, odd tidbit of culture---one morning a group of women dressed in identical orange saris were walking along the side of the road, on their way to a place near Bangalore (several hours drive) for a pilgrimage.

Our plant is an oasis in the middle of this chaos. Surrounded by gardens and palm trees, there is a long and pleasant walk into the administration building. Women from the surrounding village are employed to keep up the gardens, and flowers that would be annuals in North America flourish here all year round. One of our safety challenges is getting these women to wear shoes--it's a constant battle. The grounds are regularly sprayed for snakes; more than annoyance, the snakes crawl into the plant and if they get into the machinery can cause a lot of damage.

Like any office, the day may include several meetings, including audio meetings with our regional headquarters in Bangkok. But one nice thing is that in the morning, the canteen staff brings me fruit and a glass of either thandu (banana stem juice) or sweet lime juice to make all those meetings more palatable. On some days, I also visit our IT operation in central Chennai---usually timing these trips for the beginning or the end of the day because of the long haul to and from the plant. As a member of the operating committee, I participate in all the key business decisions and programs---ranging from approving a marketing or promotional plan to reviewing the annual business plan and financial status. This is probably the most interesting part of the job, for it involves learning about the whole business, rather than just operating in one function. But I keep busy in the functional work, too---HR manages everything from the usual recruiting, performance management, labor relations, safety, career development, and policy setting to overseeing the buses that transport most of our employees to and from work. In a country where vehicle production has only just passed the 1 million mark, most employees do not own a car. In addition, I have to sign a gazillion papers every day---everything from letters for visa applications for business travelers to employment offers and purchasing requisitions.

On some days I might also get invited to be the "chief guest" at a plant celebration or competition. On Friday, for example, we had awards for the best kaizen projects in the trim and final assembly area. I make a short speech and hand out the gifts. I've learned a few words of Tamil for these occasions, such as "Vanakkam" which means "hello". The employees really appreciate this and always clap and cheer loudly whenever I make the attempt.

The end of the day is usually not until at least 6:30, and often later, and it may already be dark by the time I get on the road. Although sometimes I make phone calls to the States or turn on the backseat light and do a Sudoku puzzle (http://www.sudoku.com), sometimes I'm just beat and take a nap. The trip is usually about double the ride in, although on a lucky day we hit a sweet spot in the traffic and make it in an hour and ten or fifteen minutes. A couple of hours of relaxation, and it's time to go to bed.
Looks like a really packed schedule.
I have been to the Ford plant before. I was quite impressed by the cafetaria and also noticed that there were quite a few women employees in the shop floor. My knowledge other Indian manufacturing / automobile firms tells me that Ford must be having one of the highest percentage of women employees at the shop floor level. I think the Indian firms have not embraced the concept of "Equal Opportunity Employer" that much.

I guess there is cricket ground also nearby.
Yes, I nit pick but I think you should remove the ambiguity over this statement:

In a country where vehicle production has only just passed the 1 million mark

Does that refer to Ford's total production, India's annual production? Just curious about that figure...
Btw, the orange-sari clad pilgrims were probably off to this church in Bangalore for this feast.
post-Nice. Merci
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