Even the most powerful Asian tigers have been left weakened to some degree by the financial fallout of COVID-19, yet Vietnam has emerged relatively unscathed. The country was already an exceptional economic performer among its South-East Asian neighbours even before the pandemic, thanks to its burgeoning manufacturing sector and friendly, lucrative trade relations with bigger players.
This enviable standing is the result of a concentrated three-decade effort to make Vietnam’s economic virtues – prime geography, low labour costs and a formidable export market – available to foreign investment.
Trade, by 2017, made up a whopping 200% of Vietnam’s gross domestic product – a record in the eyes of the World Bank. Fast forward to 2021, where Vietnam’s economy is expected to grow by 2.4% thanks in large part to its effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Western companies that made Vietnam their home before the health crisis took hold, such as Italian gear motor and drive system manufacturer Bonfiglioli, are beginning to enjoy the dividends of their move east.
“The potential for Bonfiglioli in Vietnam is huge,” says Andrea Genuini, Bonfiglioli Vietnam’s General Manager and Country Manager for Bonfiglioli South-East Asia.
“We are working in one of the fastest-growing regions in the world, and I’m lucky because the company’s top management is very keen to grow the business in SouthEast Asia, so they don’t hold back any resources.”
Founded in 1956 as a designer, manufacturer and distributor of actuators, servomotors and control systems, Bonfiglioli has become one of Europe’s top transmission companies. “It is considered one of the best companies in Italy,” says Andrea, who joined the business 18 years ago.
“At the time I was a young mechanical engineer full of dreams and passion, and I was very happy to become part of the team.” Since then, his own journey within the business has run in parallel to its rise from European powerhouse to leading multinational; a transformation spearheaded by Bonfiglioli Group President Sonia Bonfiglioli.
“She took over in 2010 and grew the company to spread across the world,” Andrea explains. “She’s extremely keen on innovation when it comes to our products and strives to integrate the latest technology in our processes.”
Andrea’s first foreign posting was in Turkey; from there, he was put in charge of a major project in India. “I was asked to set up a new factory near Chennai,” he says. “I completed the project on time and in return I was promoted to Country Manager for the Industrial Business Unit in India.”
Innovation is no longer an option; it’s a must to survive. You either innovate or you’re out of the market.
Heading up one of the most important countries in the Bonfiglioli stable proved to be the most exacting role of Andrea’s career. “It was very challenging, but India gave me so much that I consider it my second country,” he shares.
“I also found my wife there, and she helped me understand the complexities of the culture.” After seven years in India, Andrea was promoted to Plant Director at Bonfiglioli Vietnam.
“That was in 2018, when the company was almost exclusively manufacturing electric motors and small gearboxes for the greater group,” he recalls. Although operations were efficient, Andrea felt they didn’t harness the full potential of the Vietnam facility.
“In my dual role, I saw an opportunity to create many synergies between our Vietnam plant and our commercial branch in Singapore,” he points out. The plan worked; the optimised supply chain was able to dramatically improve Bonfiglioli’s level of service for local customers.
“Today, we leverage our plant in Vietnam to continue to grow in South-East Asia,” he reveals. That growth is dependent on several factors, particularly for a European company far from home. “South-East Asia is a very diverse region with many languages, different cultures and completely different attitudes,” Andrea notes.
“It requires a very delicate balance between maintaining Bonfiglioli’s European style and adapting to the local culture.” The ongoing evolution of manufacturing and engineering presents another challenge for the company.
“We’re evolving towards automation and digitisation, a process that began a few years ago and has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” he says. “This change is reshaping factories, products and people. It changes the way we think about our processes and requires new skills at every level of the business.”
In this regard, Bonfiglioli Vietnam has an edge in the industry. “We’re able to offer one of the best ratios of quality to price in the market thanks to our Vietnamese facility,” Andrea states proudly.
“To shorten delivery time, we keep significant stocks of components and subassemblies here. Our plant is also fully equipped with assembly machines and test benches to provide timely delivery and after-sales support to clients.”
Additionally, the company’s inherent investment in innovation is another boon. “Innovation is no longer an option; it’s a must to survive. You either innovate or you’re out of the market,” Andrea says.
“But Bonfiglioli is a frontrunner of digital transformation, and we’ve received several awards for our innovative products and factories. Of course, it helps that Sonia, our Chair, is the first sponsor of this initiative.”
Bonfiglioli’s innovation-heavy policies have ensured several of its products are integrated with sensors that allow for continuous performance monitoring. “This has multiple advantages, from the optimisation of the system to the possibility of preventative maintenance,” Andrea says.
“Automation has also become the norm in our factories. It permeates every aspect of the Bonfiglioli supply chain and production process.” It’s this innovation that attracts the best candidates. According to Andrea, people are foundational to the company’s success. “In return for their hard work, we can offer opportunities to grow and upskill,” he says.
“In a business like ours, focused on innovation in such a fast-changing industry, it’s crucial for us to have our employees up to date.” Through the promotion of initiatives that aim to preserve Vietnamese customs, Bonfiglioli is harnessing the power of one of the region’s strongest economies in a hopefully soon to be post-COVID world.
“Our people in Vietnam are conscious they work for a big multinational with high standards,” Andrea confirms. “This gives them not only a sense of responsibility and accountability, but pride as well. It’s a very special environment.”
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