China is set to maintain its status as one of the largest players in the global automotive industry, and Netherlands-based company Inalfa Roof Systems has taken this cue by expanding its footprint in the world’s leading manufacturing hub.
Heading up the China region is Linda Gao, who joined the company’s Shanghai regional head office in 2015 as the CEO of its Chinese operations. Her 20-year career in the automotive industry, with a background in chemistry and marketing, has led her to focus on developing new centres in China to continue the company’s global footprint expansion.
Inalfa designs, develops and manufactures sunroofs for automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) globally across Europe, America and Asia, including supplying sunroofs for the likes of BMW, Chrysler, Volkswagen, Audi, Honda, Ford and Land Rover.
Since joining, Linda has built up a management team of seven, as well as opening four new plants in China in just three years, including developing a 350-employee-strong facility in Chongqing, opening a facility in Beijing in 2016, which shares 500 staff with Langfang, and launching a Guangzhou facility in 2017.
The company’s expansion has been an important move to contest with market rivals.
“Every OEM is trying to compete with the market in Chongqing, including Germany, Japan and local manufacturers, too.
Market share among local OEMs in China is growing very fast,” she notes.
Despite the growing pool of competitors, Inalfa has been awarded many projects in the past couple of years, and Linda adds, “We’re anticipating an average business growth of about 25% based on the already awarded projects over the next three years.”
With the rapid growth, the fairly young teams in China are challenged with meeting strong customer demands, and Linda has taken this head-on. “We’re lucky we are growing so fast, but it’s been a challenge to build up the capability to meet complex customer requirements in China and globally,” she reflects.
“The team in China is quite young and I’ve needed to develop them in a short time frame, but I’m enjoying coaching and training the team to support their growth. I have been very happy and proud of how far we’ve come in the past three years.”
Successfully building up management and operational teams across five plants comes down to working collaboratively towards the same goal. “It’s important to develop a team that works as one,” she says. “Even though there are seven of us in the leadership team, I think we work like one person. We have one direction, one voice, one team, and one purpose.”
Linda strongly believes in providing opportunities for team members, and growing talent from within. “People are a company’s key asset,” she says. “I fully trust and respect the core team members and support them in growing their careers to help make them successful.
People are a company’s key asset
I always offer opportunities to grow internal talent. Most of our key positions have been internal promotions. As the company grows, the team can benefit from career development and gaining knowledge, which also motivates them.”
With a strong team, the company can drive its research and development growth to keep up with technological trends. “We have had very good progress in R&D capability, which has supported our growth to meet customer satisfaction,” Linda says, adding that it all starts with the customers’ needs. “We firstly think about the customer and have a clear strategy to meet their expectations.”
Staying ahead of trends and understanding aesthetics that appeal to customers keeps Inalfa ahead of the game, from making bigger sunroofs, to integrating voice control, and considering environmental concerns. “We have developed new products with both excellent functionality and aesthetic appeal that attract end users.
It’s important that it not only functions well, but it also meets safety requirements and is attractive to the customer.”
Keeping up with market demands involves more than offering larger panoramic sky views. “We are working on special requirements customers expect, such as sunroofs that open and close with voice control.” Sunroofs with solar integration are also in demand due to environmental considerations.
“We’re talking more about solar functionality incorporated into sunroofs with environmental protection in mind, which requires the integration of new materials,” Linda says. “We also have an idea to develop a sunroof with a sky view complete with clouds or stars in the future.
We aim to be a market leader in new technology
“We have a strong R&D team to advance in technological research and support these trends. We aim to be a market leader in new technology. I am really confident Inalfa will grow quickly to have a very strong product that stands out in the automotive market.”