In the ever-evolving world of industry and innovation, the path to career success is not always paved with tradition. Sometimes, it takes a unique journey filled with first-time experiences, challenges, and colorful twists and turns.
My first steps at Schneider Electric as Line Operator
I started as line operator in Tianjin China for Merlin Gerin. Although a challenging position, especially because of the night shifts, the production was fully manual and it’s almost impossible find those type of assembly lines now. To be honest, back then, my only motivation was to earn money to help my family, but I still wanted to do my best and I wanted to learn.
I worked in this role for 6 years, and I still remember the first time I felt truly recognized in my job. It was during one of my night shifts, our general manager and the entire management team were visiting the factory and suddenly, the general manager came to us and put some chocolate on our desks. Although it was a small gesture, but it had a huge impact on me.
It means something when the front-line operators feel recognized by the top management. I felt really acknowledged and the respect I felt that day is one of the reasons I stayed in production. At that time, I used my spare time to learn English and I trained myself to learn how to use a computer. Eventually, my manager asked me to become a shift leader. I was directly supervising other operators. It was time that I was responsible of other people.
Schneider Electric gave me the chance to experiment a lot of firsts
My career path is full of milestones and I’m actually grateful because Schneider gave me the opportunity to try new things and I’ve never felt limited because of my background. For example, during the 8th anniversary of the plant, I had been asked to be the one of the hosts of the event in the “Great Gall of the People”.
On a different occasion, I gave a full speech in English for the first time in my life. It was our Plant General Manager’s farewell party, and I was talking as the representative of the first line operators while my manager was translating everything in Chinese. This provided me with a lot of exposure by doing so.
I also travelled abroad for the first time. As a team we travelled to our Zala Plant in Hungary for a training and discovered the city thanks to the local line operators who proposed to show me around. I was thankful. Our company didn’t only give the chance to engineers to be trained abroad but they also sent us, the line operators. We were able to learn from other teams and to share our knowledge. I thought that it was meaningful.
Growth and Comfort Do Not Coexist
I had to overcome some challenges along the way. For example, I met my first two foreigner managers when I was still early on in my career. I knew I needed to improve my level of communication, so I started to study English. More than learning a new language, they taught me a lot and pushed me well out of my comfort zone.
My managers trusted my capabilities and my motivation, and gave me the occasion to acquire new skills, including leadership skills. They believed that I was able to switch roles and teams and that I didn’t have to stay in production line. By giving small responsibilities a first, like organizing dinners on a regular basis to increase our team cohesion, they helped me realized how “people oriented” I was. After that, I’ve started to have bigger ambitions and I wanted to have more responsibilities.
Discovering my own strengths
The first time I joined a project team, it was for a lean manufacturing project. I was not used to that ideation process and working with a global team was a first for me. We were learning by doing, everything was new. From managing the expectations of our stakeholders, leveraging resources coming from difference places, trying to respect the deadline and to achieve our goal. I gave myself time to discover and understand those ways of working and what this ‘project mode’ implied.
Consequently, I discovered my own strengths. I was working with technical people and although I was not engineer myself, I realize that I was able to plan tasks, give directives, supervise, and prioritize and it appeared that it was a real added value to project members and eventually, I became project leader. That first experience was not easy, but it was a blessing in disguise. I became more resilient, I learned how to find solutions when problems keep showing up and how to coach a team.
After that, I’ve never stopped working in project mode. I’ve managed several teams, drove the implementation of new manufacturing execution systems in different factories, supervised the transformation of an assembly line from manual to automate. By keeping an open-mind, I am always ready to discover new topics and to work with new people.
I don’t have a traditional career path and that’s why my journey is so colorful!
I can’t say that my linear career. I’ve been in Manufacturing, Production & Operation. Then working on strategic project implementation and now I’m managing Supplier Quality for China. Internal mobility is one of the biggest strengths of Schneider Electric. If you’re curious and thirsty to learn you can go anywhere.
That’s what I did, I showed my determination and accepted several positions that were really different from of each other. The diversity of experiences I had at Schneider is one of the reasons I stayed so long with this company. I’ve never stopped developing myself professionally. I am always meeting people who want me to seize all the opportunities that come along.
I feel like I’m learning every day as the days go by, and the digital transformations take place. Being able to work in different business functions, you have countless career possibilities.
If I had any advice for the next generation of talents, I would say that you should surround yourself with supportive people. You should identify sponsors who will support your growth and who will accompany you in developing your skills. I had managers who did that for me. Now that I’m manager myself, I try to do the same every day for my team. I spend time to coach them and to help them explore new opportunities at Schneider Electric.
Through my story, I also would like to inspire other women to join industrial functions. Supply Chain is not what it was years ago. Our functions are more and more inclusive. Nothing can stop you as long as you’re bold enough to say yes to new adventures!
About the author
Fengjing SUN works in TianJin, China, and spent almost 30 years in Schneider Electric and has climbed the corporate ladder from front Line Operator to Supplier Quality Management Director.
Her main goal now that she’s managing a dozen of talents is to do what her previous manager did for her; empower her team members to make sure they fulfill their professional goals. She wants to help them explore new opportunities and most of all, wants to create a fun work environment where learning is the top priority!