The largest of the three business areas is automotive components, employing 60% of the group's workforce. The division is a first-tier supplier, dealing with several of the multinational final producers of cars, and is less concentrated in the UK than the company as a whole; Table 11.2 shows that only a small proportion of the division's sales are made in Britain, while an even smaller proportion of the workforce is employed there.
Continental Europe is the base for a much larger proportions of sales and employment, with most of this being in Germany, France and Spain. The case study concentrates on this division of the multinational.
In recent years the pressure from the automotive division's customers has become a central force in shaping how it manages its international operations in general and its international workforce in particular. The customers themselves have sought to standardise their methods of production and working practices through a process of sharing 'best practice' across sites. This has meant that, while the cars sold vary in minor respects between countries, they are produced in increasingly similar ways. One consequence has been that the components they purchase need to be of exactly the same specification in different countries. Since many of the first-tier suppliers in the motor industry are themselves multinational and in many cases supply the same companies in different countries, the effect has been to persuade the components manufacturers to standardise their own operations internationally.
The Standardisation of Production across Borders
The impetus for international integration in Engineering Products, therefore, came from the demands of its customers. Management at the HQ of the division have been faced with the task of integrating what had previously been disparate plants, serving customers in their own country and operating in a largely decentralised way. A key part of forging greater integration was to create management structures at the international level in order to bring together managers from different parts of the group, facilitating the exchange of information between them.
In Engineering Products there are several such structures which serve this function. The division operates 'manufacturing councils' which periodically bring together senior manufacturing directors from the plants to examine the processes which are adopted in each of the plants. A different structure fulfilling a similar function is the 'International College of Engineering', located in Germany, at which engineers develop and learn about new manufacturing methods. A further way in which the HQ has sought to drive integration at the international level is through the creation of an international cadre of managers who are expected to spend time on assignments in countries other than their own. One element of this has been the creation of internal consultants; these are managers who have been responsible for pioneering a new practice and who are subsequently given