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American Factory Documentary – Diminished Expectations

american factory documentary

American Factory documentary on Netflix is a riveting film about reality. It’s a compelling microcosm of the challenges faced by western nations competing with Chinese manufacturing.

People say that “perfect is the enemy of good”. As a management consultant, I found this was mostly true. The American Factory documentary is not perfect. But it certainly is good, perhaps even great.

American Factory is a film currently running on Netflix. It tells the story of a shuttered General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio, which was reopened under Chinese ownership. When the plant closed in 2008, ten thousand American jobs were lost. Perhaps permanently. Seven years later, in 2015, one of the world’s largest auto glass manufacturers bought and reopened the American factory.

You may never have heard of Fuyao Glass Industry Group. Over time it is investing a billion dollars in the US and hopes to employ 5,000 Americans in Ohio.

The American Factory documentary does a great job of dealing with cultural differences between Chinese and American workers, who seem to get along fine as people, but less so as workers and managers. It becomes increasingly clear that in the 21st century, Chinese have much higher expectations about productivity, quality and workforce cohesion. To bring this Ohio factory forwards, Fuyao transferred thousands of Chinese workers to America to show the U.S. workforce how to do things better.

You may feel that globalization is a good thing or a bad thing. Either way, it does not matter. It is a real thing that western Countries have to come to grips with if they hope to reclaim manufacturing parity, never mind greatness. It was American industrial might that won WWII for the Allies, but those days have gone.

American Factory Documentary – Production Value

Two things are quite appealing in the American Factory documentary. First, there is no narration. Participants tell the story directly though their own words and deeds, both Chinese and American.

Second, I found it truly amazing how candid the production was. For some reason, Fuyao agreed to a very high degree of openness about what was said and shown. Behind the scenes management meetings, board meetings and factory floor exchanges – both good and bad – are exposed to the audience.

Sort of like here is what the people have to say – you make up your own mind, audience.

American Factory was made as an independent documentary, and later purchased by Higher Ground Productions, owned by Barack and Michelle Obama.

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