Ian Shih drives Rockwell Automation's efforts to give manufacturing the smart edge
A year ago, Rockwell Automation's China unit welcomed a president of Chinese origin for the first time ever.
Ian Shih, 40, born in Taiwan and educated in the United States, has been leading the local arm of one of the world's biggest industrial automation and information companies by market share. He joined the company in 2008.
In his latest role, he hit the ground running by refreshing the company's strategies with a spark of Chinese inspiration.
"As many Chinese companies are keen to upgrade their products and boost work efficiency for the new stage of development, investing on new plants is no longer our top priority in China," he said.
Rockwell will seek robust growth by focusing on aspects like safety, environmental protection, energy saving and efficiency improvement, he said.
Smart manufacturing, he said, is about connecting intelligent systems. It gives businesses hitherto unavailable data to be more efficiently applied to manufacturing processes and supply chains.
Years of experience abroad have endowed Shih with a rich perspective on different cultures. Having worked in North America, Latin America and Asia for over two decades, leading people from different backgrounds is not a tricky thing for him.
Demand for the development of high-end manufacturing in China is among the world's fastest-growing, but many domestic companies are seeking solutions to get products to market faster at lower costs, to improve their asset utilization and cut associated risks.
As demand for high-powered drives has surged fast in the past several years, the US company opened a late point configuration center late last year. The assembly line allows its Shanghai factory to build high-power, low-voltage drives for the China market.
According to the company, the drive products are suited for complex applications common in heavy industry. Its clients can now receive customized products in eight days compared with 45 days in the past.
Given China's ongoing manufacturing transformation and consumption upgrade, and the growing number of middle-income earners, rapid growth is possible in automobiles, heavy manufacturing, infrastructure, healthcare, petrochemical, mining, and fast-moving consumer goods, Shih said.
Agreed Sun Fuquan, a researcher at the Beijing-based Chinese Academy of Science and Technology for Development. He said manufacturers today confront a challenge - producing efficiently to remain profitable. Those who have committed to upgrading their manufacturing capabilities either for higher profit margins or to become a well-known export brand, are moving toward automation.
Supported by over 22,000 employees globally, Rockwell Automation saw its sales revenue jump by 5.62 percent year-on-year to $6.67 billion in 2018.
The Wisconsin-based company said China is its largest overseas market while the US remains the largest of all markets.
Rockwell entered China in 1988. After growing solidly across industries, it has established itself in the fields of life sciences, semiconductors, oil and gas, chemical, water and wastewater treatment, food and beverages, auto and certain heavy industries.
It has more than 2,000 employees in China working at its 27 sales offices, two application development centers for original equipment manufacturers, two factories in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, and Shanghai respectively, a research and development center in Shanghai, and a software center in Dalian, Liaoning province.
"In addition to the manufacturing business, we are now combining operational technology and information technology to dabble in the field that is far greater than our original framework, including providing big data services and operational solutions to non-industrial businesses such as amusement parks," he said.
While large companies are making notable strides in terms of digital transformation, many global technology and solution providers have already allocated financial resources to innovation and marketing channel expansion for small and medium-sized enterprises. They are keen to restore their core strength, as well as forming new cross-industry partnerships with other players, he said.
Shih and his wife live in Shanghai. He enjoys meditation, reading books of traditional Chinese medicine and philosophy, playing tennis and spending time with his little daughter during his spare time.
As a fan of Yunnan ancient wild tree black tea, Shih tends to meditate a lot on the correct path to take in his spare time.
By reflecting on the value of the company as a whole and himself, he proposed to build employee confidence by relating them to the company culture.
"I believe that companies don't innovate, its people do. Therefore, I make sure our employees are engaged and excited about the work they are doing," Shih said.
"We encourage continuous and lifelong learning for our employees and try to create a place where they are empowered to take control of their careers."