Guang Dong Province, China, in 1989.
Sprawling expanses of construction sites give evidence of big changes ahead. It is a country extricating itself from a painful past, a country experimenting with new systems. One easily senses the collective strength of an impatient youth, fueled by hopes for a better life ahead, ready to swell into an economic force, beyond expectations.
Union Way Factory, in 1989.
A cluster of simple structures on top of a hill: a modestly sized production floor, dormitories with bunk beds, the canteen with open fireplaces and large cooking-wogs on top. There were no phone lines. Flickering light bulbs gave evidence that electricity had been restored back to normal.
The possession of copy machines was unlawful. We used a wax-covered piece of silk, stretched across a wooden frame, to scratch text blocks and lines into the layer of wax. Forcing ink through the scratches in the wax, an alike image was rendered onto sheets of cheap paper, placed underneath the screen. The wax on the screen wore thin fast, the scarcity of pre-printed forms kept bureaucracy low.
The summer heat was paralyzing, with soaking-wet shirts clinging to the skin. The nights, spent under the mosquito net on sweat-soaked linen, were filled with the nerve-racking buzz of insects, keeping sleep away until tiredness took over. The damp-cold winter seasons, spent inside unheated concrete structures, were preferable to the laundry-like summer days.
Our workers mostly came from the northern provinces of China. Herded into rattling rail cars, they often arrived in a very sorry state after days spent on clanking railroads, sleeping on shabby train platforms or on the floors of dingy railway stations. Along with a small bundle of personal belongings, they brought with them the resilience of villagers to whom hardship was no stranger.
They worked skillfully with the outdated machines, simple tools and fixtures. In hindsight, it was the lack of almost everything that made us think of ingenious methods and devices to achieve results. Our people would often be on their feet all night through, they understood that companies can quickly fail if the prevailing cut-throat conditions were not met with resolve. The general mood was, even after long night hours at the work tables, mostly cheerful.
Our workers would often emerge from their dormitories before sunrise and gather under the nearby Lichi-trees, playing their self-made flutes and string instruments, or read from tattered books. They regularly remitted a good part of their small income back home, paying for a siblings’ schooling. So much, in short, about our workers, back in 1989.
Union Way Factory, in 1992.
Local officials sent a note that our simple factory, located on a hilltop, had to give way to a new road project. It was only weeks later that our buildings and the hill were flattened by an armada of red little bulldozers, of the brand 'The Red East'. Whenever I happen to drive along this new highway, I can not help slowing down at the point at which our old little factory once stood.
During the ensuing months of uncertainty, our people loyally stood by. We kept producing, under impossible conditions, in a rented place in the nearby city. Soon later we acquired a plot of land and built on it the factory we are still in, to this day.
As time moved on we became adept at manufacturing an ever larger variety of OEM-products. We started with the in-house production of inductive components, the design and costruction of plastic- and metal stamping tools with an adjacent stamping- and powder painting department. This degree of self-sufficiency enabled us to flexibly provide our electronic assembly lines with quality parts, on time and at the right quality. It was a time of growth, a time of optimism.
Union Way Factory, in 2000.
When our most important OEM-partner jumped ship on short notice, we faced a precarious situation. Within weeks we created a product of our own, we needed jobs for our workers. A gruelling work schedule was the price to be paid for the road to lesser dependence on unequal partnerships. The perceived near-disaster turned out to be a blessing in disguise: it meant a new beginning, rather than the end. We established our own brand of products.
MEC, in 2007.
It is the year MEC-Energietechnik GmbH was established in Austria.
Prior to setting up an office in Europe, direct communication between our European customers and our Chinese colleagues was not always easy. Our staff in Austria, well understanding the constraints and possibilities of our customers and our factory in China, serves as the link in-between, to the advantage of both sides.
The above outline of the company history of MEC I am thinking of as a long-distance run, with grinding miles of tiredness being interspersed by great moments of lightness. But It is the loyalty of those having been with us for many years, it is their perseverance and their quiet achievements which compensate for much of the toll the process of building a company can take on ones live.
It is my wish that the founding story of our company can show once more that perseverance is a source of strength that makes things happen.
Wilfried Steger, founder and MD of MEC