A Publication of WTVP

As Advanced Technology Services (ATS) continues to
expand its business in the United States, the Peoria-based company
has also turned its attention to creating an international presence.
The company’s international business is headed up by Jim Cote,
who came to the company with a rich background in international
experience from his early career with Rockwell Automation, General
Electric and another Peoria-based company, ROHN Industries. Since
Cote put the full court press on international business, ATS now has
operations in the U.K., China, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

ATS is a very people-oriented business, and the challenges of growing
internationally are markedly different than in the U.S., according to
Cote. As a critical part of its customers’ global manufacturing strategies
and certifications, it is important that its processes are established so
that performance and results are consistent across all of its locations
in the world. Language, culture and tradition all play a part in how a
standardized service is implemented on a global basis.

A Growing Workforce in Mexico
In 2007, ATS established a branch
office in Monterrey, Mexico. Growing
with both American-based and Mexican
companies, its main presence is
located in the industrialized Maquiladora
areas along the U.S.-Mexican
border, with several locations
in the Monterrey-Saltillo area. Since
beginning operations in Mexico, ATS
has grown to a workforce of more
than 200 professional maintenance

“Maintenance in manufacturing
is considered a professional career
choice in the Mexican culture,” says
Cote. “That’s why we see a large
number of university-degreed professionals that have chosen a
career in manufacturing specific to maintenance activities.” There
is an abundance of skilled labor, and the workforce has a very
strong work ethic. “The challenge in Mexico,” explains Cote, “is to
harness the employees’ enthusiasm into our defined processes for successful maintenance.”

Another area of expansion comes from companies that want ATS’
services to help them relocate to Mexico. According to Cote, Mexico
offers some extraordinary opportunities for the company. “More and
more, our customers are asking us to expand internationally with
them. In fact, we offer a service for those companies to relocate their
plants in Mexico on the condition that we take over the maintenance
process when the move is complete.”

This new service offering was validated by a recent Nielson
Research survey sponsored by ATS. Of the 100 manufacturing executives
polled, 44 percent indicated that they were considering relocating
their plant to Mexico in the next six months.

In addition to helping Caterpillar plants run better in Nuevo Laredo,
Monterrey and Saltillo, ATS works with other top manufacturers,
including Honeywell, Eaton and Textron, to help with moving plant
operations to Mexicali, Durango and Tijuana. Cote notes that Mexico’s
proximity and strong relationship with the U.S. makes expansion
there less challenging than some other countries.

The U.K., China and Beyond
In 2007, ATS set up a U.K. office in Birmingham, and the company
is now working with Eaton and Johnson and Johnson. Says Cote,
“Although the culture and the language are similar, establishing a
business in the U.K. can be trying due to the number of regulations and
work rules that exist there.” For example, the licensing requirements to
do a variety of maintenance activities in the U.K. are quite a bit more
extensive than in other parts of the world, including the U.S.

On the other hand, getting started in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory,
was relatively easy. Operating just outside of San Juan, ATS provides
maintenance services for a large Eaton manufacturing plant that
assembles power consoles for use in high voltage regulators. The staff is comprised of 47 maintenance technicians, including a site manager
and site administrator recently relocated from South Carolina.

As in Mexico, the business challenges in Puerto Rico center
around language and culture. Fortunately, much of the company’s
documentation had already been translated into Spanish from its
Mexico operations. In addition, the Mexico team provided significant
assistance during the start-up process to help address language
issues with the new employees. “One nice thing about Puerto Rico,”
Cote says, “is that the island is so easy to get around and the climate
is great. So there is never a shortage of volunteers to travel when
needed to help out, especially in the winter months!”

But perhaps ATS’ biggest opportunity has been in establishing
a regional headquarters in China. “Who would have thought just a
few years ago that U.S. companies would be operating so easily in a
Communist country—much less ATS?” acknowledges Cote. “Frankly, I
have found that the new generation of China bureaucrat is very bright,
friendly and helpful. While there were many, many details of our business
organization to attend to, the government team that we worked
with in China did a great job and made it happen smoothly.”

ATS sees China as a land of great business opportunity, with many
of the same challenges facing us here in the U.S. regarding a shortage
of skilled labor. This problem provides many opportunities for ATS to
help its current US customers as they expand in the China market, not
to mention the ability to replicate successful maintenance strategies
much more quickly and reliably.

As in other international markets, culture and language are common
challenges. “It’s important to understand the nuances of this
very polite culture in order to be successful,” according to Cote. “We
have hired a local general manager with a lot of experience working
with U.S. companies. This has been very helpful in assuring we have a
good blend of culture without sacrificing the consistent maintenance
processes used in the rest of the ATS world.”

Cote has these final words on the company’s global strategy. “ATS
is committed to being a global partner with its large multinational
customer base. While current economic conditions may affect some
of the anticipated growth in the short term, our feeling is that international
business is a long-term investment that is not only smart, but is
also a requirement by many of these same companies as they choose
to deal with a smaller group of more integrated suppliers.” iBi