Bill, iTeam director
In the last 30 years, China has been transformed. On a local scale, these changes have been felt strongly among inhabitants of China. Take Bill Zhang, 48 years old, born in Changshu in the Jiangsu province, around 2 hours bus ride from Shanghai. Set on the Yangtze Delta, the city and its 2 million inhabitants have become a major economic player in the region in the space of decades. As a result, the Changshu platform is now one of the biggest worldwide with more than 800 employees.
Bill is one such employee, grown with the Changshu platform almost 20 years ago. He has witnessed Arkema expand along with whole city and he has very much lived the transformations in Chinese life himself.
“Born in Changshu in 1970, I lived with my parents: my father worked in Compensation & Benefits and my mother as an artistic designer in lace. They are now both retired and still live there,” he recounts, “I've been living Changshu with my wife and son who is now at the University. It is a very beautiful city.” Bill himself graduated in the late eighties in industrial electronic equipment management at Changshu Institute of Technology.
From electronics to logistics to computers
After college, he went straight into work: “I was first hired by the government as a product and equipment compliance officer, inspecting weights and measures, standards, pressure, and temperature; then I moved to a private company dealing with logistics agency, but in, I began working with computers, which had only just arrived on the scene in China. I built up my skillsets in IT and began to forge ahead."
His switch from civil servant to the private sector and IT is indicative of the way Chinese businesses have boomed. While Bill was honing his tools, China's business world underwent massive expansion. China entered into double digit growth for over a decade, as the worldwide community gazed in awe at the Asian giant's industrial comeback. In the process, the professional environment in China changed so drastically that when Bill Zhang relates his past, it sounds like he's talking of some ancient bygone age. His great moment of revelation came in 1991 when for the first time he sat at a computer. “Getting Chinese workers to get used to this new way of working was a huge upheaval in their lives,” he explains.
In 1999, Bill joined AtoFina in the IT department. At that time, the company was just starting out in China. His department felt like a small provincial company office. Here he worked hard on his IT skills. “I spent a lot of time learning from other internal or external IT technicians, and also underwent additional training, the Microsoft Certified Database Administrator and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert training programs, for example. As an IT engineer, my mission was to maintain all our IT facilities, ensuring operations and maintenance. At that time we had less than 100 employees and only one server for 30 or 40 computers.”
Since then, his career has progressed, and he is now the IT China Director. “Arkema gradually grew; The Changshu platform soon expanded to 500 computers, with 100 for industrial process facilities used by 600 users, I now manage more than 1900 computers across the country.” Today, having moved from IT to management, he finds himself at the head of a 22 strong team, 8 of which are based in Changshu. “With more than 1900 computers, we focus mostly on delay operating, partnering with the business to deliver value-added IT services and innovative digital solutions."
Surely it must have been a challenge to work in such a changing and fast-growing environment? “Sure, but I like a challenge. Arkema is expanding worldwide, developing new products and appealing to new customers. My team is playing a key role in this.” From his early start, he feels now at home among his team and he knows them well. The respect, it seems, is mutual and when the labor union was created in 2007, Bill was elected as representative. He has been chairman of the union for 8 years. “I like the position but I am thinking about retirement. It's not good to hang around too long. It's important to let new people in, bringing fresh ideas and innovations.”
For him, Arkema in Changshu is the right place to be. “The company is open-minded, it encourages employees' personal development in line with company growth; the personnel is highly motivated; the team spirit is strong.” There is unfortunately one downside however: as chairperson he often finds himself sitting on a chair. To solve this, Bill has found the perfect outlet: sport – ever since childhood he has been a fanatic.
Badminton, perspiration and happiness
“As an office worker, sport helps me feel healthy and stay in good shape; as a manager, I want my teams to work together and create personal bonds. I encourage them to air their minds to improve their work performance and daily operating skills. Sport also gives them a huge happiness boost.” Such is his faith in physical activity, as Labor Union chair within the Changshu plant, Bill has championed the creation of social and sports clubs. “I've tried to create a number of social clubs such as badminton, cycling, fishing, photography and cookery; both management and the Labor Union together promoted clubs with funding or by finding them facilities,” he explains.
Sport is a familiar buddy to Bill. In his childhood, as well as fizz-boarding around the streets of Changshu, like many Chinese kids, Bill played table tennis. “I played a lot of table tennis. It was already so popular in China that a lot of people started getting interested in different sports like marathon running. I moved on to tennis for a few years and then when I was about 30, I discovered badminton.”
You never walk alone
Bill made swift progress on the badminton court. The thrill of swatting the shuttlecock is all about speed, accuracy and energy. “Badminton is as much demanding as relaxing. You build up a good sweat, much more than table tennis. It's a challenging sport: when faced with a strong opponent, you have to find some way to work around their strengths. Or simply work harder to unsettle them. Most of all, badminton is really good for my health.”
It's a sport, Bill Zhang is good at too. After founding the Badminton club in Changshu, he held the number one ranking for years. But the clock ticks on. “I played singles for years, but now I have switched to double. In badminton you have to move fast and with age, singles is too frantic. So now I prefer doubles with a partner.” This is not to say that life is cruel and our best days are always behind us. Bill enjoys doubles just as much and is still perspiring in bucket-loads. Increasingly for him, sport is a way to bring people together. Badminton club has now become a team for him and in October, badminton clubs from all over China met in an internal industry championship. The Changshu club sailed through with honors in all five categories.
For Bill, the best support is a good team. His personal motto? “When I go walking, I like to walk with someone else.” As all at Changshu know, Bill is his own team.