In the year of 2016, nine Chinese "Iron Man" came to Serbia and created a Chinese Miracle of "1+9=100000".
It is the nine Chinese faces shown in the photo, who have changed the fate of 5,000 employees in a century-old Mill and improved the lives of 100,000 people in the city in less than six months.
A few days ago, the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee of China awarded them the title of "Model of the Times". What is the moving story that goes behind this supreme national honor?
THE PROBLEM AMERICANS FAIL TO SOLVE
The story took place in a century-old steel Mill located thousand miles away from China. The Smederevo Steel Mill, "the pride of Serbia" once upon a time, failed to survive the harsh winter of the economy.
In July 2002, this state-level "Giant" steel Mill had to declare bankruptcy. This indeed was a disaster for Smederevo, since it was the Mill that breeds the city. In September 2003, the world famous US Steel signed an agreement with the Serbian government to formally acquire this century-old steel Mill.
Just five years later, against the backdrop of world financial crisis in 2008, the steel Mill suffered huge losses again. After struggling for four years, the US Steel sold it to the Serbian government at the price of $1 in 2012.
The Mill, a giant in the past, became a big trouble. As it struggled to make ends meet, the Mill was no longer the pride of but a big headache to Serbia.
HELLO! "SUPER STEEL TEAM" FROM HEBEI OF CHINA
After nearly a year's consultations and negotiations, on April 18 of 2016, China Hebei Iron and Steel Group (HBIS Group) acquired this century-old steel Mill at the price of 46 million Euros and established the HBIS Group Serbia. Both sides agreed in full on one term that is to keep the jobs of all 5,000 employees, however difficult the entire negotiation was going.
However, this acquisition put HBIS Group, far away in China, at the center of skepticism and sarcasm. "Why acquiring such an old foreign factory which had suffered huge annual loss of 120 million euros for seven consecutive years?" "What is the point of this acquisition, given such low technical level and extremely backward production capacity of the Mill?".
A "Super Team" of nine people was put together as the Chinese management team of the Mill to go far to Serbia, including Executive Director Song Sihai, Deputy General Manager Wang Lianxi, Chief Operating Officer Wei Dongming, Chief Financial Officer Tang Juan and others. Stepping their feet into this century-old steel Mill, however, they were all shocked by the look of the Mill, because its backwardness was the least expected. Obsolete equipment as old as in 1970s hardly seen in China; a nearly shutdown factory and depressed staff.
However, one detail in the cold rolling workshop excited Executive Director Song Sihai. He saw the Serbian workers producing steel plates with a thickness of only 0.14 mm with an old rolling machine produced in 1970s! The steel plate is almost as thin as a piece of A4 paper, and the production of such a thin plate was never an easy job even with the world's most advanced production lines.
At that moment, he was deeply moved by the craftsmanship of Serbian. It was also at that moment, he was even firmly believed that acquiring this steel Mill was not a bad move.
Europe is the birthplace of modern industry, with the most advanced manufacturing industry and most strict operating process. Doing business in Serbia, located in the center of central and eastern Europe, was not only a key move of HBIS Group to reach out to the global market, but also a practical cooperation project under the Belt and Road Initiative.
THERE IS ALWAYS A WAY OUT
They need to quickly overcome difficulties such as adapting to the new country, to meet new people, to learn different language, different human resource management, business model, production technology, laws and regulations, product marketing, financial settlement and so on. However, the most urgent problem to be solved is the technical and equipment upgrading, which holds the key to resume production and revival.
Wei Dongming, born in 1970, is a technical master with 20 years field experience. As the CEO of HBIS Group Serbia, his suggestions on recycling lump ores and waste residues had not been understood and rejected by the Serbian side.
This gentle but determined man from the city of Tangshan, simply put aside argument and made calculation on paper. Then he confined himself in the workshop and spoke with facts through experiments.
He worked till late night every day, and had no shifts between on and off duty. His face was always hot because of long time work in the workshop.
The young marketing manager Gao Feng was born in 1980s. To earn customer trust and take up market share held the key to profitability of the steel Mill.
He not only visited customers in large numbers and studied the steel market but also established a cost accounting system. When Gao Feng proposed to "make money on scrap steel", Serbian managers thought it was impossible. "How can Chinese company do something that US Steel failed to?" However, it was this undefeatable young man who sold out the scrap steel with a monthly output of 1000 tons.
The most admirable was the old sister Tang Juan, who was born in 1968. As CFO, she was working with a financial team with more than 130 Serbian people with an average age of 51.
Just imagine the difficulties she was facing, a giant team, language barrier and different settlement mode. Tang Juan immediately found out a major financial issue in less than a month after she took office. Serbian currency Dinar was used in the financial statements while the U.S. dollar was used in the settlement. Due to the exchange rate fluctuation, these two often mismatched. The Serbian financial staff thought this was nothing serious and replied, "this has been the case for so many years". However, for the matter of principle, Tang Juan showed her decisiveness and tough attitude, "Sorry, but it has to be changed".
Deputy general manager Wang Lianxi was known as the "house keeper" of HBIS Group Serbia. He signed contracts with 5,000 employees one by one, purchased new kitchen equipment to improve quality of meals, improved the service of commuting buses, negotiated with worker union and ensured the welfare of workers, visited retired workers, celebrated the birthday for employees and gave gifts to children at Christmas.
The warm moves and the care to the employee have made more and more Serbian workers give thumbs up to the Chinese team. These nine people are the only Chinese people in the Mill, the rest are all Serbian people.
Employing local people, following local culture and bringing benefits to the local people helped the Chinese team win the respect from the Serbian and make them feel the kindness and resolution of the Chinese team.
On June 20 of 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping came to HBIS Group Serbia, where President Nikolic and former Prime Minister Vucic warmly welcomed him, joining them were thousands of steel Mill workers and family members lining along the streets.
On the day, President Xi Jinping said to everyone that "home is where one stays", and encouraged workers to strive to forge ahead and improve the comprehensive competitiveness of the steel Mill, so that the steel Mill will bear early-harvest fruit and benefit the local people.
STEEL SYMPHONY PLAYED ON DANUBE RIVER
HBIS Group did not hesitate to invest in capital and technology, and sent 11 teams of more than 200 people to the Steel Mill for equipment upgrades and technical modifications. HBIS Group Serbia takes full advantage of its own global market network to provide large raw material to the steel Mills and sell its production to HBIS's international market.
It was only taking six months after the HBIS Group took over, at the end of 2016, Smederevo Steel Mill finally ended seven years of huge losses and began to profit.
The year 2016 was the eighth year after the global financial crisis. The storm of the crisis swept across the whole world. However, HBIS Group in Serbia drew in the "Spring in the harsh winter!" The spring breeze blew green the bank of the Danube River. More than 5000 employees who once almost had lost their job became the immediate beneficiaries of the Mill.
After HBIS Group took over the Mill, the employees' income was stable, and they used their savings and loans to buy their favorite holiday house. Unlike in the past when they could not even make ends meet, they are now paid on time and even have bonus. Their incomes are growing. Steve Poyan, 37-year-old, is the blast furnace duty manager. His father and brother are also the company's employees. He said that before HBIS Group took over his life was gloomy and worries weighed on his heart every day.
But now, production is in full swing every day. He said excitedly, "China is here, HBIS is here, helping our factory get rid of the crisis and regain its vitality. Our competitiveness has improved, our income has increased. There are more opportunities for promotion. We can make plans for our children's education, family medical care and travels. These were unimaginable in the past. China is amazing! HBIS is amazing!"
The steel Mill had a rebirth. Smederevo said goodbye to the gloomy atmosphere, and has become a city full of energy. Shopping malls, restaurants, bars, cinemas have had more customers.
The steel Mill is alive. Smederevo's fiscal revenue rose from 2 million euros to 5 million euros. Urban environment, education and healthcare all improved. Today's Smederevo has not only the highest employment rate, but also the top birth rate in Serbia.
While the company is developing rapidly, HBIS Group also voluntarily took the social responsibility. In the past three years, HBIS Group donated more than 1 million US dollars to construct local roads, supply water to villages, offer help to children whose parents died in military service, and build schools and etc.
With the expanded fame of HBIS Group, A "Chinese hit" is like a spring breeze. The entire city witnessed a popular trend of Chinese learning! Ms. Visna, who works in a steel factory, has a beautiful daughter who is a Chinese fan. She won the championship in the Chinese language contest, and had the chance to participate a 40-day Chinese summer camp in China.
A century-old factory, and a city of 100,000 people. Together, with the nine "Iron Man" from China, they jointly created a world miracle of "1+9=100000"!
HBIS Group Serbia has not stopped moving forward. In 2017, it produced 1.473 Million tons of steel with sales income of 740 million US dollars, the highest in history; in 2018, HBIS Group Serbia produced 1.769 million tons of steel with sales income of 1.06 billion US dollars, the biggest profit ever seen. The company has become the largest export company in Serbia.
An energetic, green and efficient HBIS Group Serbia is rising at the beautiful Danube River. The Chinese and the Serbian people jointly made this world miracle happen, and it has become a dazzling star along the Belt and Road.