Right on the mark
Everyone knows that the best information in the company can be found in the office kitchen. That’s where Project Manager Kassem Chaou tells us what his work is about.
My typical working day begins with a meeting, where I am joined by colleagues from very different areas: Controlling, Technical Design, HR, or Taxes. This mix gives you an idea of the complexities involved in project management at Dürr. We design and build paint shops for automakers all over the world.
Our customers are willing to pay good money for this. The order value usually ranges between 20 and 200 million euros. It is vital that nothing goes wrong. Tons of steel, miles of cables, robots, control cabinets, and a lot more must be on site at the right time. It ultimately falls to me to ensure that every work stage can start as scheduled. This requires functioning supply chains. Since 2020, this has become an ever-increasing challenge. But so far, everything has worked out.
Adherence to schedules is very important for our customers. When the contract is signed, the deadline for when the plant goes into operation is already set. Within the project team, we work toward this deadline for months and, in many cases, even years. I will never forget the order we had from the Vietnamese automaker Vinfast, which established its first factory in 2018. Our job was to build the paint shop. Normally, this kind of project takes between 16 and 18 months. The customer gave us 12. It was rather ambitious.
Together with an international team, we looked for suppliers, conducted interviews in the hotel lobby in Haiphong, and stayed in the bar late into the night to do our planning. It was a hell of a project. Some said we’d never manage it. But we never lost our confidence, and in the end we were right on the mark. Production could start on the scheduled day.
Project managers need not only technical knowledge, but also diplomatic skills and sensitivity to go with it. Some customers have special wishes that are not part of the contract. When this happens, I have to break it to them gently that the project will be more expensive. I can never lose sight of the profitability of a project.
At Dürr, it is normal that young project managers are given a responsible task early on.
Kassem Chaou, Project Manager at Dürr
Managing projects abroad
At Dürr, it is normal that young project managers are given a responsible task early on. When I started here as a business management graduate 20 years ago, I was put on a flight to Alabama six weeks later. That is the US state where Hyundai wanted to build its first large foreign factory. Dürr was to deliver the paint shop. I stayed there for three years as part of a team. After that, I went straight to Korea. I have also done stints in India, Brazil, and China.
Now I am a Senior Project Manager. That’s a job in middle management with good opportunities for development. Currently, I am not spending time abroad. On the contrary: I am supporting the construction of a new paint shop at Audi in Neckarsulm — that’s only half an hour by car from our headquarters in Bietigheim. Quite unusual in my job.
The 48-year-old has been working in project management at Dürr since 2003. When new paint shops are designed and built, he keeps track of things. Despite dealing with contracts worth millions, tight deadlines, and supply chain bottlenecks, he manages to keep a level head.