A week in the life of a Volvo Group Trainee
Hard bargaining in a Beijing flee market, working on strategic projects and building friendships that will last a lifetime. Global News asked Mukul Lagu to blog from the second common week for Volvo Group trainees from all over the world.
Mukul Lagu is an associate business consultant at Volvo IT, based in Gothenburg. This is his story.
Day 1: 17th May – “To the far east!”
Nine hours after boarding a half empty and almost sleepless flight from Copenhagen, we landed at Beijing Capital Airport on a Friday afternoon.
We arrived at what apparently is the world’s second largest passenger terminal building. This feeling of everything being too big of a size stayed with us everywhere in China. On our way towards the city center we realized how warm it was and how hazy it was compared to the weather in Sweden. It was infamous Beijing smog. It is easy to imagine the challenges faced by rapidly evolving urban areas in developing countries and the real need for the sustainable transport solutions.
We arrived at the hotel earlier than our other group members and headed out to see the sights. The Temple of heaven is China’s most important temple, where emperors offered sacrifice. It is surrounded by a sprawling garden where local people were playing traditional music, dancing or enjoying some sort of ancient games. Out first glimpse to the everyday life of Beijing!
Coinciently I found an old DongFeng truck parked outside the temple. Volvo group is planning a new joint venture with this Chinese company and it was lot in news for last couple of days. Seeing their products first hand was actually a pleasant surprise.
Day 2: 18th May – “Buddha, bargain and chopstick”
Next morning as even more graduates started arriving in the hotel the atmostspehere was really chatty. All the 21 graduates in this programe came from different Volvo Group business areas, countries and cultures. It is truly the most diverse group I have ever been part of.
Food is an essential part of understanding any culture. That’s why while planning the activities in China we specially emphasized on having only Chinese food throughout our stay. Our Chinese speaking colleagues came to our rescue in taking care of ordering food and making sure that everyone understands what they are eating. The food we tried was way different than the Chinese food we tasted elsewhere in the world.
Day 3: 19th May – “the Great wall”
This was the action packed day for the sigh-seeing as we visited two prominent tourist attractions, Forbidden City and the Great wall. Our bus ride to the Forbidden City was again full of random chats and catching up with each other.
Day 4: 20th May – “Back to the business or wait a minute, meetings?”
The three common weeks during the trainee year are planned with specific objectives in mind, such as building an international network spanning various businesses. The common weeks also puts the focus on Volvo Group’s complex global business scenario. China is a very important market from Volvo Group’s perspective and getting first-hand knowledge just at the start of one’s career is a definite gain.
After a short walk from our hotel we arrived at Volvo China’s office in downtown Beijing. We spent about first half of the day on a really practical problem of “how to conduct effective meetings”.
Later that day we had an Asian human resources overview and got introduced to the Chinese job situation with its state owned and privately owned businesses. It was followed by a business update on region China with information regarding the Chinese business model, market scenario, products, competitors, future prospects and challenges.
Day 5: 21st May – “ Bafa’ Bafa’ and cultural intelligence”
With more than 120000 colleagues spread around 190 countries in the world cross cultural communication pose a distinctive challenge. We started the session with an interactive game named Bafa’ Bafa’. All of us were divided in two groups representing two cultures, each having a peculiar social structure and code of conduct. The task was to observe each other’s behavior and figure out what kind of culture they have and then try to interact. We were given instructions to express ourselves only with some weird gestures and unintelligible language, so the interactions were quite hilarious. Nonetheless the message was really effective, we see cultures through our own lens and what is “normal behavior” is based on our beliefs and values.
It was a really long work day and we had a free evening for some personal activities. This time we revisited the Silk market with a fresh determination and some new skills gathered in these two days. With the new game plan and of course each other’s help we were able to win the bargain battle.
Day 6: 22nd May – “Flying on the rails”
Back in January during our first common week in Sweden all the graduates were given a project from Volvo Group Headquarter’s corporate strategy. The aim was to add our inputs to various strategic studies currently running. At the same time it is an excellent opportunity for the graduates to work together on an assigned task in a globally dispersed team. The first two teams were supposed to present their finalized projects in Shanghai. In a workshop named “Performances and Preparations” we figured out how we can make the presentations interesting for the audience, what kind of presentation techniques to use and how we can use our individual strengths to benefit our teams.
After lunch we were supposed to go the train station to catch a high speed train to Shanghai. As we came out of the office with our luggage in hand we realized a small flaw in a plan, the bus which was supposed to take us to train station was really small. In the cluelessness of the moment we just started laughing like crazy. How to stuff 22 people with their luggage in such a small place?
About in half an hour we arrived at a huge swanky train station. All of us were seating together and as it was going to take five hours to reach Shanghai the plan was to spend some time working on our projects. Going at a speed of 300 Km/hr., it was a good chance to see some lush green fields, lakes and rivers instead of the usual concrete jungle.
We arrived in Shanghai late evening that day. As our bus took us to our hotel in city center I noticed how different it was from Beijing. It was faster, taller and flashier. Beijing is China’s cultural capital and political center, bit historic and conservative in nature. Shanghai is China’s financial capital with an international culture, showcasing the strength of Chinese economy to the world.
We went out at 9 in the evening and the city was completely alive. People were shopping, dancing, or enjoying the music right on the streets. Even my friend Sofie couldn’t resist hitting the dance floor.
Day 7: 23rd May – “Diversity and Inclusive leadership”
One of the objectives of the Volvo Group international graduate program is to develop future leaders. So it is critical to develop the awareness, knowledge and skills required to become inclusive leaders and build and inclusive organization.
The presentation started with a clear analogy with the food. If you want to make delicious food you have to combine the diversity of ingredients. Similarly an organization must be able to leverage the diversity in the workforce in constructive ways.
With this in mind we went through the efforts Volvo Group is making to build an inclusive organization including different guidelines, KPI’s for managers, employee satisfaction surveys etc. the results so far and action plans for improvements.
Then we got introduced to concepts like insiders, outsiders where we added our own experiences from past where we felt either excluded or included in a group setting. As we identified undesirable exclusion behaviors, we also discussed how to tackle those from a denial to adaptation phase.
Later, some of us decided to explore the Shanghai night life. We landed up in the most happening place in Shanghai, “Bar Rouge” with its spectacular view over “The Bund”.
Day 8: 24th May – “All’s well that ends well”
We started off early morning to visit the Volvo Construction Equipment factory at the outskirts of the city. It was quite amusing to go through the maze of flyovers and never ending hi-rise apartments. Evidently Volvo Construction Equipment and its joint venture in China, SDLG played a major role in providing machines for such big infrastructure projects.
For a mechanical engineer like me who spent his most childhood playing with the toy excavators, going through an excavator assembly process was a wonderful delight. Moreover it actually helped me in my regular work as I understood about how the IT systems are integrated in manufacturing systems.
We spent the afternoon back in hotel where two of the groups presented their projects for Corporate strategy. Of course it was a bit tense situation because everyone wanted to do the best possible job. The project coaches and other stakeholders joined in an online meeting and both teams presented flawlessly. During the intense question answer sessions we all noted how hard they had worked and how well they knew the subject. The project work was really appreciated by Corporate strategy and they also invited the teams to present their projects at Volvo Group Headquarters.
It was time to wrap up with amazing week with a final dinner at a revolving restaurant on top of the “Oriental Pearl Tower”, with a breathtaking view of Shanghai city.
Day 9: 25th May- “Adios Amigos”
This week we learned a lot together, both inside and outside the office. We challenged our thoughts, behaviors and point of views during various workshops. We got a unique opportunity to explore a major country and its culture. During the week we also started to know each other even better. This is the best part of having 20+ friends around the world. The friendships we have developed during this program are something that we will cherish for rest of our life.
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