Guang Dong Province, China, in 1989.
Sprawling expanses of construction sites give evidence of big changes ahead. It is a country extricating itself from a painful past, a country experimenting with new systems. One easily senses the collective strength of an impatient youth, fueled by hopes for a better live ahead, ready to swell into an economic force, beyond expecations.
Union Way Factory, in 1989.
A cluster of simple structures on top of a hill: a modestly sized production floor, dormitories with bunk beds, the canteen with open fire places and large cooking-wogs on top. There were no phone lines. Flickering light bulbs gave evidence that there was electricity, again.
The posession of copy machines was unlawful. We used a wax-covered piece of silk, stretched across a wooden frame, with the image of office forms scratched into the layer of wax. Forcing ink through the scratched-in image, an alike image was rendered onto a sheet of thin rice paper, placed underneath the screen. The wax wore off fast, ensuring that the bureaucracy of ours was kept slim.
The summer heat was paralyzing, with soaking-wet shirts clinging tightly to the skin. The nights, spent under the mosquito net and wrapped into sweat-soaked linen, were filled with the nerve racking buzz of insects, keeping sleep away until tiredness took over. The damp-cold winter seasons, spent inside unheated concrete structures, were preferable to the laundry-like summer days.
Our workers mostly came from the northern provinces of China. Herded into rattling rail cars, they often arrived in a very sorry state after days spent on clanking rail roads, sleeping on shabby train platforms or on the floors of dingy railway stations. Along with a small bundle of personal belongings, they brought with them the resilience of the offspring of Chinese peasants.
They worked skillfully with the outdated machines, simple tools and fixtures. In hindsight, it was the lack of almost everything that made us think of ingenious methods and devices to achieve results. Our people would often be on their feet feet all night through, they understood that companies can quickly fail if the prevailing cut-throat conditions were not met with resolve. The general mood was, even after long night hours at the work tables, mostly cheerful.
Our workers workers would often emerge from their dormitories before sun rise and gather under the nearby Lichi-trees, playing their self made flutes and string instruments, or read from tattered books. They regularly remitted a good part of their small income back home, paying for a siblings’ primary school. There was no free schooling back then. It says much about our workers, in 1989.
Union Way Factory, in 1992.
Local officials sent note that our factory on the hill top had to give way to a new road project. It was only weeks later that our buildings were dynamited, that the hill was flattend by an armada of bulldozers of the brand 'The Red East'. Whenever I now happen to drive along this new road, I always slow down at the point at which I am crossing the old shop floors of ours.
During the ensuing months of uncertainty our people loyally stood by the company. We kept producing under impossible conditions, in the nearby city. We soon acquired a plot of land and built on it the factory we are still in, to this day.
As time moved on we became adept at manufacturing an ever larger number of very distinct OEM-products. We began with the in-house production of inductive components, the design of plastic- and metal molds, the construction of metal processing tools with an adjacent stamping- and powder painting department. This degree of self-sufficiency enabled us to flexibly provide our electronic assembly lines with quality parts, on time and at the right quality. It was a time of growth, a time of optimism.
Union Way Factory, in 2000.
When our most important OEM-partner jumped ship on short notice, we faced a precarious situation. Within weeks we created a product of our own, we needed jobs for our workers. A grueling work schedule was the price to be paid for the road to lesser dependence on unequal agreements. This near-disaster turned out to be a blessing in disguise; it meant a new beginning, rather than the end. We established our own brand of products.
MEC, in 2007:
It is the year MEC-Energietechnik GmbH was established in Austria.
Prior to setting up in Europe, direct communication between our European customers and our Chinese colleagues was not always easy. Our staff in Austria, well understanding the constraints and possibilities of our customers and our factory in China, serves as the link in-between, to the advantage of both sides.
The above account of the company history of MEC, experienced during a period of great economic optimism in China, I am thinking of as a long-distance run, with grinding miles of tiredness being interspersed by unexpected stretches of lightness. But It is the loyality of those having been with us for many years, it is their perseverence and their quiet achievements which compensate for much of the toll the process of building a company is taking on one.
It is my wish that this outline of the making of our company can illustrate that perseverance, paired with a forward looking mindset, is a source of strength that makes things happen.
Wilfried Steger, founder and MD of MEC