Manufacturer Sans Frontières

Erik Gustafsson, Fortaco Wroclaw’s Sales Director, explains why running a hospital in Liberia is not so different than running a factory.

“I did it for the adventure,” says Fortaco Wroclaw’s Sales Director Erik Gustafsson of his decision to volunteer with Médecins Sans Frontières. “I don’t want to leave the impression I was doing it only to benefit humankind.” In 2008, Gustafsson served as logistics director for a hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, where he was responsible for all non-medical activities of a pediatric hospital, two clinics, and a cholera unit, all with a non-medical work force of 130.

While Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, is often thought of as doctors and nurses, it is, in reality, a major organization active in 70 countries with over 35,000 personnel.

Hospitals and welding factories

„Running a hospital and running a welding factory have many similarities,“ says Gustafsson. „I can’t treat patients and I can’t weld, but both require facilities and equipment. As a manager you’ve got to make sure money is used in the right way and make it possible for skilled people to do their jobs. You give people the tools they need and you track money and performance.“

Gustafsson, one of three Swedes in the Fortaco organization, moved to Wrocław, Poland in 2009 when the factory operated under the Ruukki banner. His task was to move production for two Swedish factories that had closed production. But his boss resigned, and he ended up staying to run the sales department. And he’s been in Wrocław ever since.

The Wrocław factory’s history is long and colorful, but its modern incarnation began in 1999 as a brownfield investment, making bus chassis for Volvo city busses. It soon was producing for other customers, such as Kalmar, Atlas Copco, and Konecranes. Ruukki acquired it in 2005, and in 2012 it became a part of Fortaco. Today it employs close to 500 persons and occupies a 22,000 square-meter footprint.

Today’s factory

„Our job is to start with a steel plate and deliver partly-assembled, painted, and machined products,” says Gustafsson. “We’re focused on complicated steel fabrications. Like mining machines. If it breaks down a kilometer below the earth’s surface, then that’s a problem. We’re making unique investments in machining centers and robots, which help us differentiate by adding value.“ The steel plates eventually take the form of forklifts, reach stackers, harvesters, mining machines, structures for the energy sector, and straddle carriers.

Gustafsson’s vision is a future with more assembly. “Today, assembly is considered a core competency of the customer. But markets are growing and our customers need capacity. We believe assembly is not, in fact, our customer’s core competence. If we do it, there are huge consolidation advantages. Since all customers use similar components, we can produce forklifts next to mining machines and do it with less overhead than OEMs, also focusing on sourcing and production processes.“

Customers are gradually coming around to agree with him. Assembly is already started with one customer, and discussions are underway with others.

More with less

If Gustafsson says he can do something on the factory floor then we should be inclined to believe him. If there’s one thing he learned in Africa with Médecins Sans Frontières, it was how to be effective without unlimited resources.

He characterizes his children’s hospital in Monrovia as „basic.“ The top three causes of death were malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia. But despite these deaths, he did not find it to be a depressing environment. „Kids would come in with malaria and it was like they were in a coma. But two days later you’re playing with them on the playground! The effect of the treatment is sometimes amazing.”

What Gustafsson learned in Africa he still puts to use in his daily work. In Médecins Sans Frontières we had HR, finance, specialists, maintenance, construction, and lots of equipment. The skills managing those neatly transfer. „No organization has unlimited resources, and Africa taught me you can do a lot with limited means.“