This interview is with Juan Antonio Alvarez-Ossorio, Chairman of the Board of Michelin Polska sp. z o.o. and General Manager of Michelin’s tire plant in Olsztyn.
What is the secret to success of the Michelin brand?
It is not easy to sum up Michelin’s success in a few words. First of all, we need to go back to the origins of the company founded in 1889 by two highly creative and innovative engineers, brothers André and Edouard Michelin. Two enterprising industrialists whose first passion was cycling, had the extraordinary ability to question and challenge the world around them and a character built on extremely solid education, moral principles and ethical values. It is this background, which now defines Michelin’s DNA, which underpins the company’s success. Clearly, throughout the company’s more than 130 years of existence, its managers have managed to preserve our corporate culture and timeless values.
At Michelin, the customer is considered our patron. Our almost obsessive attention to product quality is the best proof of our respect for customers.
Innovation, which is at the heart of our philosophy, has left its mark on our history. The invention of the radial tire marked a turning point in the company’s global expansion. Thanks to this major step in tire design evolution, we have become who we are today and Michelin’s contribution to tire technology can now be counted in thousands of innovations.
The company’s most important asset is the people, who are part of it, and this concept determines the way we work and the importance we place on people’s management. Respect for people is one of our five values, alongside respect for facts, customers, shareholders and the environment. These values have always been part of the company and have not changed over time. It gives you an idea of the visionary capacity of Michelin’s founders.
Our excellent and continually upgraded product ensures the safety of our customers. The company is committed to its employees, our planet and the society around us. Adhering to ethical values results in our profit being based on customer trust, which I believe, goes a long way to explaining Michelin’s success and brand image.
Michelin’s Polish plant employs around 5,000 people, making the Olsztyn factory the largest tire production plant in Poland and one of the largest in the world – it’s incredibly impressive! Why did the management decide in 1995 to sign a privatization agreement with Stomil Olsztyn, and to put their money on Poland?
In 1995 I was already working for the company, but of course I was not part of the team that experienced privatization first-hand.
The change of such magnitude is always the mixture of many concurrent circumstances. In 1995, Poland was undergoing major changes. The country was opening up to the world after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the world was looking at Poland in a different light. Poland is the place where two Europes, unfortunately separated by history, come together. From the same point of view, France and Poland are two countries with a long shared history. It is not without reason that Napoleon is part of Poland’s history and was mentioned in its national anthem. This geopolitical situation raised great hopes for expansion in many companies, which saw good business opportunities in the center of Europe, such that were not expected in other regions.
In the specific case of the Michelin Company – whose boss at the time was François Michelin, grandson of the founders – the important decisions were made with professional prudence, but the final decision belonged to François Michelin, who visited Stomil Olsztyn. As always, he focused all his attention on the men and women who were part of the company. The technical team that accompanied him did their job and saw no technical obstacles, so the decision was solely François Michelin’s. The human values he found in the company left him in no doubt. Stomil Olsztyn was waiting for Michelin, and Michelin was waiting for Stomil Olsztyn. The sense of unity was extraordinary.
Of course, no one expected at the time that Olsztyn factory would develop to such great extent and that it would become the largest Michelin factory in the world. This is primarily a consequence of the excellent results achieved by the plant over the years. Investment in Olsztyn had continued throughout the transformation and continues to this day. The 180-hectare factory still has plenty of potential for future growth.
In your opinion, what is the reason behind such a good production output of the Polish Michelin factory in Olsztyn?
After the takeover of the factory in 1995 and during the period of major investment between 2004 and 2008, the plant employed many foreigners, all of them experts in their respective fields. This massive influx of exceptional skills left its mark on the development process. Add to this an optimal environment: highly skilled and perceptive local teams with a strong industrial culture and a strong willingness to improve. Today, Olsztyn has one of the best teams at Michelin. The team that has grown with the industrial development of the factory, increasing in size, sophistication and performance.
We have been constantly investing and improving our processes over time, but the basis for the results has always been a highly competent team.
In today’s reality, technological progress is taking place day by day, almost before our eyes, which obliges companies, especially industry giants, to implement newer and better solutions in terms of technology, production, the environment and human resources. What does this process look like at Michelin’s Polish plant in Olsztyn?
The process itself is no different from that used by other companies. Today’s world is characterized by VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) features that make us live in constant unpredictability. Added to this is the acceleration of change and the exponential increase in quantity information. Change is happening faster and faster, and more and more information, not always truthful, needs to be assimilated.
Adaptation is like an obstacle course and all of us are doing more or less the same thing: we are constantly improving our ability to adapt and to be flexible, so that we can keep up with changes. Of course, some are doing it better than others.
It is easy to summarize the concept of adaptation, but very difficult to implement it in a way that it becomes a regular success.
Small start-ups are the most flexible and most easily adaptable. They do not have to contend with great inertia, they are enthusiastic and have virtually no structural constraints that would neutralize the will to change. We, on the other hand, are part of a multinational group, which entails inertia, our factory is huge and very structured, and every change has to be very carefully thought through before it is implemented. It might seem that we have everything to lose in this race, but this is not the case.
A small start-up company cannot operate on 50 fronts at the same time. We here can focus on one topic and 50 other factories can focus on 50 different topics at the same time, and then copy us. The strong culture built throughout our history is invaluable when determining the right path, even ‘in the fog’. Our experience turned us into great explorers and therefore we are more effective at making choices. Many times we hit the target first time round, because there’s no need to fire a lot of arrows, the key is to hit the target faster. The scale factor slows us down at the beginning, but at a global level we are able to create solutions much faster. Our competition is in the conquest phase and we are in the change introduction phase.
But to make it all work, we need to cultivate a culture of innovation and non-conformism, constantly questioning and taking risks. We need to foster creativity and avoid stagnation, and for this there is nothing better than keeping the flame of change alive. We need to constantly transform ourselves and face challenges with buoyancy and confidence.
The Olsztyn plant, like all the group’s factories, upholds a vision that serves as our guiding star and our signpost. This vision, which is consistent with the group’s vision, allows us to develop a transformation plan, which is our roadmap. We know how to keep it alive and adapt it, if necessary, according to the changing context. Increasingly, we are becoming change experts, and when we ‘catch the rhythm’, transformation becomes natural.
There are technical, production, environmental and human resource solutions, and it is indeed necessary to see change as a whole, where nothing can be overlooked. We understand that we have a responsibility that goes beyond the quality of our products, the satisfaction of our customers or our economic performance. We have a responsibility to our employees, society, our planet and the future….
To be responsible is to incorporate all these aspects into our decisions and our vision in a sustainable way. My main task as factory manager is to make sure this is done correctly, and to help my team along this path.
Highly qualified employees are the backbone of an effectively operating company; they are the company’s capital, which needs to be managed wisely and which is worth to be invested in. Would you agree with this statement and how is it reflected at Michelin Poland?
I completely agree. If someone thinks that investing in competition is costly, all they have to do is put the cost of incompetence on the other side of the scale. Our conviction here is absolute and I think it is very clear in the various answers I have given to your questions.
Our company’s greatest asset is its employees, and investing in them certainly brings greater benefits. It seems like a truism, but in the end it is just that simple.
It is also no secret that the Michelin factory in Olsztyn is active in the social area, e.g. as a partner of medical, cultural or educational institutions. Could you say something more about these initiatives?
We are returning to the question of our responsibility. In this case with the society around us.
Our company and our plant are both very active in the social sphere because we understand that this is part of our responsibility.
Our factory in Olsztyn is the largest tire factory in the country and a major employer in the region and, of course, in the city. This situation entails a responsibility towards our social environment, as our decisions have a major impact on it. Our relations with various administrative bodies and charitable associations are excellent. Cooperation and solidarity are an essential part of these relationships.
I can give some examples of such initiatives. At the beginning it is worth mentioning those that are inspired by the employees themselves. The Employee Volunteer Program, “The Power of Good” („Moc dobra”), is one of the hallmarks of our charitable activities. The program, which was launched a few years ago, relies on employees being able to submit volunteer ideas and Michelin funding the implementation of the 25 best ones each year. Our volunteers help renovate kindergartens, build cycle paths or refurbish rooms in hospital wards, help senior citizens, clean up the Lyna River and surrounding lakes, build playgrounds for children, take care of animals in shelters and also organize therapeutic activities, theatre shows and concerts dedicated to local communities.
Of course, our involvement is not limited to our employee volunteering program. We support Olsztyn’s hospitals, particularly the Provincial Children’s Hospital in Olsztyn, which, with the help of the Michelin Corporate Foundation, received two ultramodern incubators for its neonatology ward, worth more than PLN 650,000. We do not forget about the other hospitals. At the end of last year and the beginning of this year, we made donations to the City Hospital for the purchase of an incubator and to the Department of Child Psychiatry at the MSWiA Hospital in Olsztyn for the construction of an external therapy center.
Everyone in the region is also familiar with the ‘Kilometers of Help’ (Kilometry pomocy) campaign, an event that supports the health services. Every kilometer driven or run by participants is converted into zlotys, which are then donated for the purchase of medical equipment. The most recent beneficiary of this action was the neurology ward of the Provincial Hospital in Olsztyn.
An important pillar of our CSR activities is the education of safe behavior on the road. Michelin’s flagship campaign in this area, Junior Bike, promotes the use of bicycle helmets among children.
Safety also comes with Michelin tires, which the company donates to various institutions. In 2021 and 2022, we donated more than 250 tires to those most in need. More than half of them went to the families of children under the care of the Future for Children Foundation, and more than 100 tires were donated to Olsztyn firefighters, police officers, ambulance stations and the Children’s Health Centre in Warsaw.
Michelin Poland does not forget about cultural institutions. We are permanently involved in and cooperate with the Warmia and Mazury Philharmonic, Stefan Jaracz Theatre, Olsztyn Puppet Theatre, BWA, MOK.
The factory is also a regular sponsor of the SMOK Integration Sports Club, which brings together athletes with disabilities from the region of Warmia and Mazury. The company also helps the children’s amputee football section and the girls’ football team ‘Stomilanki’.
Of course, our CSR activities also promote the responsible use and care of the environment.
Is there a difference in work culture and organizational culture between the Michelin plants in France and Poland, and how big is it?
Recently, in another interview, I was asked a similar question. Our company culture is deeply rooted and universal. It knows no borders. The organization of our factories is the same in France and Poland. Our operating methods and basic industrial principles are strictly the same.
There is clearly the question whether the cultural and legal differences between France and Poland can affect the way our factories operate. The answer is yes, there are always some details and nuances that affect operations. Each country has different legislation, which affects certain management processes such as the organization of working time, relations with trade unions, salaries, etc. Nevertheless, the differences within Europe are minimal. Legally and culturally we are very close to each other and whatever differences their impact on the operation of the plant is almost imperceptible.
I believe, as I have said on other occasions, that generational differences are more important than differences between countries within the European Union. A great deal of work also needs to be done to reconcile our job offer with the expectations of new generations whose concerns and motivations are very different from those of previous generations.
Above all, we will have to revolutionize our work and organizational culture to accompany this generational change, and we will have to do this in all countries.
What is your vision of the further development of the Michelin plant in Poland?
We are talking about a very large and extremely dynamic factory. I will concentrate on the main directions of transformation rather than on individual projects, especially as I cannot talk about many of them.
As every year, we are updating our transformation plan. This time we are focusing very strongly on three themes:
Attractiveness of the plant: We are living in times of high instability in the labor market, with historically low unemployment rates, high inflation and high expectations of job seekers. As a company with highly skilled positions, we need to attract new talent and ensure job stability, as our training periods are very long and investment in skills is very high. We are one of the few companies whose production runs continuously 7 days a week and 24 hours a day. We have to reconcile our reality with the expectations of the labor market. How to do this is a real headache and we could write a whole book about it.
Modernization: our plant is very modern in terms of production processes, but we are not the best in terms of productivity. This is natural – large multinational groups put productivity investments in countries with high labor costs as a priority, because their profitability is logically higher. Poland is making great strides in narrowing the wage gap in relation to Western Europe, but the factory needs to remain competitive, so productivity growth is essential. There’s a great potential in the automation of flows and robotisation of operations. We are moving very fast when it comes to digitalization and Industry 4.0, but we still have a long way to go. Our dream is for our plant to become a true technological showcase. But modernity goes beyond efficiency. We want to be innovative in our management models and distinguish ourselves from market standards. We want to be seen as a center of modernity in the broadest sense of the word.
Responsibility: a topic that is sometimes misunderstood because it is easily confused with empowerment. We are not talking about autonomy or delegation, but about taking responsibility, which, as we understand it, is a very broad concept. For us, being responsible means managing the factory in a sustainable way, taking into account three aspects: the profitability of our operations, the planet and the people who live on it. It is essential that these three aspects are treated with the balanced attention and to be fully aware of the impact that our decisions have on the environment.
The trio ‘attractiveness/modernity/responsibility’ is an inseparable wholeness. Responsibility, as we understand it, is part of our modernity, and responsibility and modernity are key to our attractiveness.
I will give a few examples to illustrate what I am talking about:
We are implementing an energy transition program at our plant. Currently, the cheapest energy on the market is coal, but it is also by far the dirtiest. In our program, we have planned to stop using coal by 2025. To this end, we are installing two new gas boilers (one of which is already in operation). The environmental impact is very important, as we are reducing CO2 emissions by more than 80%. At the same time, our energy costs are increasing significantly. Our responsibility commits us to contributing to the protection of our planet above and beyond any economic considerations, and we will continue to do so until our emissions are zero and our environmental impact is neutral. The Michelin Group aims to achieve this goal by 2050. For us, sustainability is a conviction, but we understand well that our position serves our employees, our customers and the society around us, and is therefore the pivot of our factory’s modernity and attractiveness.
We have a diversity program, which is initially focusing on the feminization of our workplaces. We want to reach a 30% feminization rate by 2030. It is a big challenge, not only in terms of job rotation, but also in terms of the adaptation and ergonomics investments that need to be made in order to make our workplaces accessible to women. Once again, the concepts are mixed. We are talking about modernity, about investments made to reduce the restriction of certain professions. We talk about the accessibility of our workplaces to a large part of the labor market, about balance and social responsibility.
We have a very ambitious digital program. With digitalization, the job content is changing and becoming richer, more modern and more attractive. This will make us more competitive and cost-efficient in our operations. Through automation and robotisation, we will drastically reduce the constraints on many jobs, while significantly increasing productivity. This will allow us to free up staff, which in turn will allow us to meet the new needs of the plant, reducing the tension related to recruitment.
We have a health program that primarily aims at improving the health of our employees, but also contributes to the development of healthy habits in the society around. We want to help our smoking employees to give up the habit, which is why we have launched the ‘smoke-free factory’ program. This not only contributes to improving the health of our employees. We also help to reduce some of the costs of smoking borne by public health systems. What’s more, we anticipate that legislation will gradually restrict smoking in the workplace in the future.
We have a program of integration with local community life. All our social activities, which I mentioned earlier, are carried out through this program and are part of our responsibility. Also, nobody today wants to work for a company that is unsupportive or irresponsible. Our employees expect the company to be a role model in this area, and for the younger generation the responsible implementation of social solidarity is very important. We are currently involved in helping refugees from Ukraine in cooperation with the administration and charitable organizations.
I hope that these examples clearly demonstrate the way our transformation is taking place, how we are progressing in terms of modernity, responsibility and attractiveness.
Our transformation program is the cornerstone of our factory development. It is our strategic objective and the focus of the teams involved in building, structuring and managing it over time. Our vision is well developed, we know where we are going and why. The Olsztyn plant has a fantastic future ahead of it, which we hope will be well appreciated by our current and future employees, our customers and the surrounding society.
Juan Antonio Alvarez-Ossorio
President of Michelin Poland Sp. z o.o. and General Manager of Michelin tire plant in Olsztyn
Juan Antonio Alvarez-Ossorio has been part of the Michelin Group for more than 30 years. During this time, he has held a number of management positions related to semi-finished products – he was involved in the process engineering at the Group’s various plants, strategic management, leading industrial projects and managing production.
For several years, he managed the production of semi-finished products in all Michelin Group factories worldwide.
Prior to taking up his current position as President of the Management Board of Michelin Poland, he worked for 15 years in Michelin Group structures in Spain, for 8 years in France, and also in Poland, where he held managerial positions and managed projects at the Olsztyn plant from 2004 to 2012.
He graduated with a degree in Industrial Engineering from Valladolid University.
His is a great passionate of music, and in his spare time he plays the guitar, paints and makes models. He is a big fan of jigsaw puzzles, wooden Casse-têtes logic puzzles and cooking accompanied by Spanish wine. He is married and has 3 children.
Last Updated on August 3, 2022 by Anastazja Lach