Managing a Manufacturing Plant in Mexico

March 17, 2021

Tips and Best Practices for Finding the Right Managerial Fit

Mexico’s workforce offers a powerful enticement to foreign investors looking for a low-cost country to manufacture complex products. The country’s extensive manufacturing history has given rise to a strong network of training infrastructure and developed clusters where the labor force holds deep experience in specific manufacturing strategies. 

For manufacturers planning a launch in Mexico, the question isn’t necessarily how to find qualified labor but who will manage it.

While some manufacturers may opt to bring in a plant manager already familiar with their corporate culture who can train the new workforce, many others hire a plant manager with local experience. Both options offer advantages and challenges. The right fit will be tasked with navigating cultural differences and managing expectations from the plant floor and management. 

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Different approaches to offshore management 

“We’ve supported manufacturers with very different approaches to plant management,” shares Wayne Heckman, Director of Client Development, Tetakawi. “Ultimately, the right approach to plant management is the one that helps a manufacturer achieve their desired level of productivity.”

For example, Heckman shares, one electronics manufacturer felt the most effective way to replicate the success they’d established in the U.S. in a new Guaymas, Sonora, manufacturing plant was to send a manager from its U.S. headquarters to support the startup process for the Mexican plant. The manager was able to bring to the plant time-tested training, processes, organizational structure, and corporate culture. Having an internal plant manager who was already familiar with this structure made sound sense.

While the company had intended to send the manager back to the U.S. after a year and hire a plant manager in Mexico, they found that having an individual already familiar with U.S. business practices and the main plant smoothed the process of communicating technical information to the workforce operating at the Mexico facility. Having an operator already well-versed in corporate expectations proved to be an asset when it came time to communicate instructions from the main factory to the plant and then back again to the home factory. 

On the other hand, a U.S.-based wire harness manufacturing operation opted to go in a different direction. When they made plans to launch operations in Empalme, Sonora, they prioritized working with a shelter service provider that could connect them with a highly qualified workforce. This extended to identifying a local manager who could lead the Mexico team. Mexico’s technical universities and institutes matriculate many engineering, quality control and management experts each year who can oversee the local workforce. 

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Factors to consider in selecting a manager

There are pros and cons to either approach, whether you hire a local plant manager or bringing in an experienced expert from home. While ultimately, either approach can lend itself to a great (or disappointing) hire, it’s important to take a few additional considerations into account when selecting the right fit. 

  1. Desire to work in another country. Do you have an individual at your home plant who views working in another country as an exciting opportunity and not an inconvenience? Finding that person with a desire and eagerness to learn and immerse oneself in the work and a new culture may be the deciding factor when it comes to making this decision.
  2. Cultural differences. Your plant manager will need to serve as a translator of sorts in navigating cultural differences and attitudes about work. Your plant manager may find themselves serving as an intermediary between the labor force and headquarters. This can range from simple things like managing corporate’s timeline expectations to account for local holidays to more nuanced matters such as understanding why a verbal yes from a business associate in Mexico could actually be a reluctant no.
  3. Corporate values. Your manager will need to be adaptable, while consistently serving as a role model for corporate values. Moving an employee from your home country operations to Mexico could mean simpler translation of those existing corporate values. However, companies with a clear sense of their values and corporate culture, should have no difficulty instilling those expectations into a new hire with clear, consistent communication.
  4. Clear communication. It can be difficult to bridge cultural differences and language voids over emails and cross-time zone phone calls. Poor communication can add tremendous challenge to an already difficult position. Mexico offers managers the advantage of being within U.S. time zones, simplifying communication in that regard. What’s more, today’s reliance on video technology allows team members to more easily communicate, adding in nonverbal context and building familiarity across teams. 
  5. Trust. You need someone you can trust in a management position, but trust doesn’t happen right away. In truth, it comes with results and action that build truth. But, it can begin with getting to know the plant manager through regular communication and by clearly sharing your brand’s core values. Technology can certainly help support more regular communication. Many corporate leaders have the additional benefit of being able to easily travel to their operations in Mexico on a regular basis.
Equally as important, your labor force needs an individual that they can trust to stand up for their interests and keep work flowing smoothly and safely. 

Find the right fit

Ultimately, it comes down to finding the right individual for the position, someone who is a strong fit with your corporate culture and is able to drive forward your productivity and product quality goals, among other objectives. While proven experience in a managerial role may be your final deciding factor in selecting the right person to manage your manufacturing facility in Mexico, it’s important to ensure that this manager can be trusted to back up results with clear communication. 

No matter who you select for this role, you’ll want to provide them with adequate support to get the job done right. This is one more area where it can help to work with a shelter service provider with like Tetakawi. For decades, we’ve helped connect companies around the world with qualified labor, training, and administrative support in Mexico. With a strong network of success in place, it becomes that much simpler to manage a manufacturing plant in Mexico.

If you’re ready to set your operations up for success, contact Tetakawi today.

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