‘Volkswagen’s most valuable asset is the human one’

2016-02-11 06:00
=Thomas Schaefer

=Thomas Schaefer

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The beginning of February 2015 was a significant day at Volkswagen Group South Africa, as the helm changed from well-known South African David Powels to former Head of Overseas Manufacturing VW Group, Thomas Schaefer.

A year on Schaefer, now both Chairman and Managing Director of Volkswagen Group South Africa is optimistic: “Our most valuable asset at Volkswagen is the human one – our valued VWSA employees.

“In the last 12 months our employees successfully completed 7 917 training interventions, underwent 1 223 health checks, which is 30% of our employees. 2015 saw us over-achieve our Production targets of 120 000 vehicles with some 53 623 Polos manufactured for South Africans and 66 377 for overseas markets.”

Billions invested in U’hage plant

Arguably the biggest acknowledgement of the work done in Uitenhage came from within the Volkswagen Group itself. In August 2015 the Board in Germany approved investment of over R4.5 billion for new models to be produced at the factory by 2017.

Approximately two thirds of that will be invested in production facilities and quality, R1.5 billion in local supplier capacity and a further estimated R22 million in the development and training of employees. The investment ensures that the next generation of products will be manufactured in Uitenhage.

This was the first major new investment announcement in the automotive industry for some time, which proved to be a catalyst for other manufacturers to follow suit with their own investment news. The investment, despite a generally poor economic outlook is the reinforcement of the belief in South Africa and Africa as a whole as a viable investment location with serious future growth prospects.

When the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (NAAMSA) released its annual statistics on vehicle sales in 2015, one position, once again, hadn’t changed. VWSA has maintained its number 1 position in the passenger market, for the sixth year in a row.

At the same time the Polo Vivo and Polo models have defended their ranking as the number one and two best-selling passenger cars respectively since they were launched in 2010.

Getting to know the people

One of Schaefer’s key focus areas in his first year, has been getting to know the people who build and sell the vehicles at VWSA. Through the “MD Meet & Greet” Initiative, he walked the lines and office areas meeting VWSA employees in their work environments and, in each instance sharing a meal.

From the day to day challenges of running a company to reaching out and pushing himself out of his comfort zone for charity by sleeping on the streets in the CEO Sleepout Challenge, he has certainly become the people’s MD.

CSI investments have exceeded R10 million for 2015, which shows that as a company VWSA is not just concerned about employees but about their families and communities too.

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