Tom Anbin Tong

Saving a Glass-Plant: The Rise of Oulian Glass…!

Tom Tong

Tom Anbin Tong

Interview: May 2017

GPC sits down with Anbin Tong (affectionately known as 'Tom' to his western colleagues), and discusses his remarkable career in the Chinese glass manufacturing industry.

Tom Tong Oulian GlassTom's hometown is Wuhan, the capital of central Chinas Hubei Provence. It was here that Tom lectured at the local Wuhan University of Technology - his teachings including a large range of 'social science' related subjects: Social linguistics, lexicology, communication skills, second language acquisition, and business management and communication. His lecturing also expanded into a range of 'scientific' related courses including Technical (English) reading & writing for the Silicate, Glass and Cement Industries.

In 1996 - after more than a decade at Wuhan University, Tom departed to join the ranks of O-I Glass Manufacturers (Wuhan). The plant was the first O-I plant in China to be set up to supply AB Budweiser Wuhan Brewery.

Like many experts in the glass-manufacturing industry, Tom started from the floor and worked his way through the ranks, gaining great experience as he did so. After working as a mould engineer, he moved into the forming department, and his timing could not have been better! O-I USA was sending many of its skilled forming experts to OI Wuhan over an extended period, to introduce the required manufacturing skills and quality standards required for a global manufacturer. Tom's exposure to these glass-making experts ensured he developed his glass manufacturing skills in quick time.

Over the next few years Tom devoted himself to recruiting and training young forming workers, building up a highly skilled and capable team. This new generation of ware makers ensured the O-I Wuhan plant remained one of the most highly regarded and best performing in the O-I Asian Pacific group.

Toms ongoing training including spells in O-I plants in the USA and Australia - further enhancing his knowledge and leadership skills. He was ultimately promoted to the role of General Manager at the O-I Wuhan Plant.

Tom and Steve from Glassplant Confidential

GLASSPLANT CONFIDENTIAL asked Tom to answer a few questions about his career in the glass industry, and the direction his life has taken since those early days at O-I Glass:
GPC: Being a lecturer at Wuhan University is a great step from being a manufacturer of bottles and jars! How did you first become interested in the glass-manufacturing industry??
Tom Tong: "My family had a glassmaking background - being involved in the flat/float glass industry in Wuhan in the 1970's. I was brought up in the factories and was widely exposed to the glass-making atmosphere and environment. It was here I began to understand the glass making process, and the engineering principles & practices of the industry".
GPC: Tell us about some of you main achievements/highlights during your first assignment at the O-I Wuhan plant.
Tom Tong: "As discussed previously, my efforts in recruiting and training a new generation of skilled ware makers was a highlight in my career. Also during my time as Manager, building a unique culture and seeing the Wuhan plant become the most profitable in the O-I China group. This due to having the lowest manufacturing cost, the most efficient machine speeds, and the highest quality. The result being the Wuhan plant was regarded as a model factory in the O-I Asia/Pacific group".

In 2011, after a 2 year break from O-I, Tom returned to the company, and in 2012 undertook the General Managers role at the O-I Xianxian and Cangzhou glass plants. Little did Tom know that major opportunities and challenges were heading his way! In 2014 O-I Glass made a commercial decision to shut down the Xianxian and Cangzhou manufacturing facilities.

In true fighting spirit, Tom could not sit back and let the closure of the plants adversely affect the lives of the many hundreds of dedicated employees. His entrepreneurial spirit set in, and he set about saving the business from certain closure.

With Toms wide network of contacts, a deal was brokered that ensured the ongoing operation of the business.

GPC: How did you manage to put together such a complex deal to save the plants from closure?
Tom Tong: "O-I had faced many challenges with their glass plants in China, and ultimately made a tough decision to shut down a number of plants. I was acting as to the Operational Manager to the Xianxian and Cangzhou plants, and in 2013 was instructed to close the plants down within 12 months. Knowing the major chaos and social problems such closures create - particularly with respect to the 1000 employees, I refused to close the plants, and instead stood up with the Management Buy-Out concept".

"Following this proposal, I spent a lot of time in communicating with and convincing the local labour force, labour union and management that we unite together and create a big difference! Finally, I won the support of most people and started the long, painful period of discussion and negotiation with O-I. Eventually, through hard work and compromise, we reached an agreement. I arranged sufficient finance to pay OI China, and promised to keep the factories running for at least two more years, facilitating a smooth and peaceful transfer of ownership".

GPC: How did you manage to get the plant back on track, and attract major customers (e.g. Asahi) onboard?
Tom Tong: "Our first job was to get the right setup in the plant. We upgraded the furnaces and refurbished the IS machines. We started the training programmes and implemented glass making 'best practice' that was suitable for the local glass factory. We did this in steps as follows:"

  • Step 1: Raise the skill levels and quality standards; Standardise the SOPs; Upgrade equipment.
  • Step 2: Focus on training and building a 'wellness culture' and motivation; implement a 'reward system'.
  • Step 3: Move away from the local customers (low pricing, poor quality standards, corrupted morals, etc).
  • Step 4: Find and pin down good business partners like AB, Suntory, Asahi, and increase exports.
  • Step 5: Set up customer / biz data-base. Cut out all the non-profitable SKUs and concentrate on good business and profitable jobs. We reduced our SKUs from 450 jobs (30 different customers) to 15 -20 jobs (for just 5 -6 customers).
  • Step 6: Focus on what we are good at - making quality bottles every day!

"The overall concept: Set up a practical structure ; 'make and ship' ; 'make it simple' and 'concentrate'!"

Today, the Xianxian and Cangzhou plants operate as successful local businesses under the banner of the OULIAN GLASS Company Ltd - thanks to the remarkable ingenuity of Tom Anbin Tong.

As well as being a Director and Shareholder of the Oulian Glass company, Tom also uses his extensive knowledge and 'people-skills' to assist other glass-manufacturing plants throughout China. His aim is to improve the manufacturing capabilities of Chinese glass manufacturers - including opposition plants - thus making him one of the true personalities in the Chinese glass manufacturing landscape!