Who Would Know: Alain Barblan

0715_who would knowA Day in the Life

Can you imagine traveling to Paris, sitting in a hotel room reading a Paris guidebook and then leaving the city? Alain Barblan can’t, and didn’t. But the question, a paraphrasing of his favorite Steven Spielberg quote, put into perspective his appetite for adventure.

Barblan is a family man, an amateur film maker and photographer. He is also the factory manager at Nestlé, Dongguan’s oldest international factory, and a member of the SwissCham Guangzhou board of directors.

He believes life needs to be experienced. Reading about it in books and downloading ‘listicles’ of the world’s top spots is a fallacy of existence, but traveling is second nature to some like Barblan, whose parents, “in love with North Africa” and traveling, infected him with the passion at a young age.

Barblan was basically born with the travel bug, so as soon as he finished his degree and served his conscripted military service, he began sending out resumes in search of the career he demanded for the lifestyle he desired.


Which has created some challenges most of the time, but now I think they have a better vision of the world …

After meeting his wife Sandrine they moved together to India, his first overseas station, and they’ve had two children. One son now studies in England and the other is still in Dongguan preparing for his college years. They’ve moved from place to place as a family—India, Switzerland, Mexico, Switzerland, Vietnam—which may sound difficult to some, but the Barblans think they are stronger for it.

“You see, every time we move, the first few months there was only the family. My wife, me, the children, we support each other to start creating the social network, what we need to be able to live properly,” said Barblan. “As you know, the first six months you start from zero to bring it to 100.”

The children have had to adjust to new languages, foods and cultures. They’ve been in French, English and Spanish speaking schools. “Which has created some challenges most of the time, but now I think they have a better vision of the world and an openness some other children might not have.”

Benefit of Experience

Like his outlook on life and the homogenized milk in much of its products, Nestlé, one of the world’s most recognizable brands, integrates into local lifestyles. Barblan studies Chinese twice a week and enjoys badminton. Coffee flavors made at the Dongguan factory accommodate the local palate.

“And this is where it is interesting. I mean the dynamic in the meeting if you have 12 Mexicans around the table or if you have 12 Chinese around the table. At the end of the day you still want the same result and I would say output, but the way to arrive to the conclusion—the consensus, the working motivation—this is what is great, because they are totally different.”

In any leadership position, human resources, the people doing the work and sitting next to you in meetings are the real estate of management, not because of location, but rather because they are one of few bona fide assets.

We can assume quality is a must for multinational manufacturers, and cost is an obvious component to success. But how to maintain these variables across the planet when cultures are so varied?

To capture maximum efficiency, Barblan maintains a presence on the factory floor and advises that managers, in any industry, need to coach employees so that they understand in detail what and why they are doing certain procedures.

“With the productivity we need, with the quality we need, with the speed in action we need—the cost consciousness we have these days— you can not make waste like in the past. And saying to them, ‘Do it,’ and then five out of 20 are bad and have to be reworked. We can not afford that. And I bet many industries can not afford that these days.”

Alain Barblan

Factory Manager – Nestlé China Ltd.

Q: Describe your first cup of coffee.
A: Hot, harsh, bitter and thinking I will not like it. My first cup of coffee actually I got it really late. I must have been about 20. And now 25 years after, I love this product and I don’t know how I can say I didn’t like it. Hot, harsh and bitter—I probably did not even finish the cup at that time.

Q: Milk chocolate or dark?
A: Not even. Worse than that—white chocolate.

Q: Favorite type of Chinese tea?
A: Pu’er.

Q: Tie or bowtie?
A: I wear a tie in official meetings, but otherwise I don’t wear a tie so much. I enjoy wearing a tie. As I’m not wearing it every day, when I wear it, I enjoy. Though, I have a uniform for when I’m spending time in the factory.