PART 7 – “But then why were you sent here to help?”.

Fremont – late June 2017.

In his workshop clothes, including brand new safety boots, Paolo enters the hotel breakfast room. A few moments and he is joined by Don Pritchard:

“Paolo! Welcome. Did you have a good trip?”.

“Hi Don, thanks. Yeah, the trip wasn’t bad.”

“A little spoiled by the time zone change, I guess.”

“A little. I actually got a good night’s sleep. We’ll see if any symptoms show up later.”

“Very good. It is now a quarter past five. You have ten minutes to eat breakfast and then we’ll hit the road. At the factory I will introduce you to the others.”

“Okay, ten minutes is more than enough.”

Paolo knows there will be coffee, tea, and other groceries on site. For today he takes a yogurt, coffee with milk and a croissant.

He goes outside – it’s still dark. They agree that he will follow them in his car to find out the way. Paolo agrees, although he would have had no problem with a navigator. They explain to him that, being a Tesla supplier, they have to park in a clearly defined spot. Following them, he quickly arrives at the right spot. Paolo reaches Don’s car and follows him. After a few minutes, they pull onto the freeway heading south toward San Jose. Traffic is noticeable, but the drive is manageable. Don restricts himself to the first three available lanes, perhaps to avoid embarrassing him. Paolo keeps thinking that Don can’t wait to get put in there so he can get free. He’s going to be very obliging and try to make things as easy as possible for him. This amuses him somewhat. A quarter of an hour later, he sees the man enter the arrow for the exit. He follows him to an interchange that bypasses the highway. He can already see the plant. They go around it, continuing south. To his left, he notices several parking lots hidden by tall evergreen hedges. Don drives to the end of this expansive block and then turns left into a very makeshift dirt parking lot. Although it’s almost six in the morning, it’s already full. Finally, he finds a parking space. He grabs his backpack from the backseat and joins those gathered around Don. The parking pass is made of blue plastic with a picture of a red Tesla T on it. On the back is a photo, first name, last name and company. Don leads him to the entrance turnstiles:

“Now let’s see if the pass works. The first day is always full of surprises.”

Passing it on the detector, the click of the lock is heard. Paolo pushes the turnstile and with a little effort enters this narrow passage with his backpack on his back. Inside, the view is typical of an industrial plant. Within five minutes they are walking to reach their office. It is a mobile home consisting of four large containers. It sits at a height of more than one meter. There are two stairs leading up to the two entrance doors. The office is located between other offices of the same kind, obviously of other suppliers involved in the Model 3 project.

The interior is a single room, except for two areas at the right and left ends. On that side is a warehouse of sorts, and next to it is an office of about 15 square meters. Don tells us that software engineers and electricians work there. On the far left are two more offices of the same size. One is for facility managers and project managers. In the other, he can station himself. These workstations are used on a rotating basis by other coworkers who come to the construction site from Detroit for one or two weeks. The large central space is for a long conference table and other workstations along the walls. He also sees a refrigerator and a desk equipped with a coffee maker. There is a copier and printer similar to those used in the company, which can also scan documents. At one of the workstations sits a woman, probably the site secretary. She is the one he will contact with any questions about his stay at the plant.

Paolo chooses a seat in the small office shown by Don. He searches in his backpack for the plug adapter for his laptop. When it seems to be working, he goes back in there to meet the others.


Don begins, raising his voice to get the attention of those present.

“I present to you Paolo Vinci, our colleague who has agreed to come from Italy to help us. I already know him, as we met in Detroit on the occasion of a project he was leading in the UK that utilized ideas from our Ford project. Paolo has been a project manager for many years and he has already worked with our colleagues in South Africa and Spain. Paolo, let me introduce you to Scott, the project manager for this project. He is leading it along with Darrell, whom you will meet during one of his visits from Detroit.”

Paolo shakes hands with his colleague and many others. Everyone looks at him with interest, some with enthusiasm, others with mild bewilderment. He knows that joining a team that has been working on a project for months is never painless. He expects other reactions, but they won’t come now. He doesn’t know when exactly, but they will come.

After the introductions, what immediately worries Don is that Paolo will have to navigate the construction site. Usually he is introduced to him by the site supervisor, i.e. the owner of the construction site. This time things are different. It is Don who accompanies Paolo to the factory to familiarize him with his surroundings. Paolo wonders why. Apparently, the site manager is too busy. Or is it the fact that they don’t know each other, while Don has his own story to tell? Or is it confirmation that he’s hoping to get into the social circle quickly. Well, you’ll figure it out eventually. All construction sites are similar to each other, but each has its own characteristics. A quick introduction to the space and the relative rules that need to be followed is fundamental. At first, it is very difficult to hit the right spot in the middle of a construction site. The various vendors are all aiming for the same goal – to start production. Getting lost is not that difficult. Don shows Paolo the route they have to walk, starting from the office, to get to the lines they are installing. As they walk, he explains the safety rules that must be followed. Any violation could jeopardize the life of the person who committed it and expose them to sanctions from the plant security that enforces them. Any sanctions against an employee of a supplier also have consequences for their company. This is best avoided.

Paolo inspects the state of the plant. As explained to him in Italy, the plant is now in a very advanced state. But not everything is ready yet. There are still a few robots missing, welding guns, but the lines are almost ready. Now we need to start moving the robots. And that’s where the problem comes in: production, according to Elon Musk’s promises to shareholders, should have started months ago. But what he sees suggests that it will be a while before the first parts start coming off those lines.

He spends the rest of the day finalizing his arrival. Hooking up to the factory network, downloading mail that is practically jammed. He tries to get rid of the most important emails, forwarding them to a colleague who has taken his place on the Abruzzo project. Paolo asks the company secretary for a number of pieces of information he needs to better orient himself at the plant and in Fremont. He identifies the nearest company canteen where he can have lunch. He consults with his colleague, the project manager, on how to secure lodging for the coming months. A hotel room suits him just fine for the period he needs to organize his work. Scott knows how to guide him, since many years ago, on the occasion of his first and second projects at Tesla, he too lived in Fremont for a long time. He gives him the number and contact information of an agency that can arrange housing for him. The evening does not come immediately. It’s still only five o’clock, but when you arrive at six, you feel tired. The change of time zones has not yet had time to make itself felt. He decides to return to the hotel on his own. He walks down the long corridor leading to his mini-room and then receives a text message. He reads it in front of the door:

“Paolo, tonight we are having a barbecue in the hotel garden. Will you come? At eight o’clock at night.”

Great, of course I’m coming!

After an impressive shower, he dresses in shorts and a t-shirt. Goes downstairs and looks for where the garden is. It is next to the breakfast room. Once outside, he finds Scott who introduces him to Darrell, another project manager who is overseeing the project with him. The coworkers explain that they take turns working on the construction site, with Scott spending more time on the site. Darrel is older, even older than Paolo. He has already gotten to know the others present at the plant. They’re dressed more or less like him, at least he’s not wrong on that point. Everyone has something to drink in their hands. From a huge coke on the rocks to numerous beers, as well as some kind of hard liquor, probably whiskey. He is told to go to the counter. Inside, everything is free. He chooses a nice fresh draft beer. When he returns with his trophy, Don is there too, holding some kind of cocktail. Ceremoniously he escorts him further in and introduces him to an older man. It’s one of the station managers, Greg. He’s about to leave though, he has another project in Charleston to oversee. This little party should welcome him. Paolo smiles. He certainly didn’t think it was to celebrate his arrival!

He confirmed it almost immediately. It doesn’t take him long to realize that he, the old site manager who is leaving, is the one who will have to do the dirty work. It is Greg, introducing himself with a learned nonchalance, who starts this conversation. And as he lists them off, the others slowly approach, gathering around to follow this interrogation. Greg is the longtime station chief. Paolo notices that they revere him as an institution. Paolo knows many of them. They are the key people in this business. They manage armies of resources at the site under a thousand challenges and regulations. He could not do their jobs as well. Even the most gentle of them have a residual roughness that can be annoying. Greg turns out to be one of those whose edges are honed by time, already sharp from birth. When he begins the kind of investigation his colleagues have assigned him, the wool fluffs out from under his shirt:

“But that’s how long you’ve been with the company, too.” As if he doesn’t know the situation well.

Paolo realizes that his American colleagues’ acceptance or non-acceptance of him will be played out in the next few minutes, with a beer in his hand. If he passes this Dean of Detroit’s test, the next steps will be much easier. He decides his first response should be to attack:

“I would say yes. I joined the company right after I bought yours, which then became the U.S. headquarters.”

Greg accepts this outburst, scrutinizing it carefully. Paolo gives him a friendly smile. He doesn’t want to give the impression that he wants a confrontation.

“Why didn’t we ever meet then?”.

Well, it’s carrot time:

“Well, since you manage projects here, what’s the point of coming from Italy? The American colleagues I know I’ve gotten to know through other projects. Outside of the US and Italy, where we’ve all traveled to lend a hand.” He continues to smile at him with the same sweetness as the carrot he offered him.

Greg lowers his gaze, confirming that he’s satisfied with the answer. But he also realizes that Paolo has made the point of this conversation clear, so he decides not to skirt around it:

“But then why did they send you here to help? Maybe in Italy they think we can’t handle this project?”.

This is the crux of the argument. Paolo assumes the posture of a man who wants to explain a new concept to an old friend:

“No, Greg, the situation here is different. Mario got a clear request from Elon Musk.” He calls their CEO by his first name because he knows that’s what all people of a certain level do in the company. He wants to clarify what falls within that circle.

“We know that he has asked all the suppliers to send people from Europe. Whether that will help or not is another question. It’s more of a political issue. Mario has to give an answer, and here I am.”

Thus, Greg should no longer have an excuse to show his claws.

“Well, we’ll have to figure out how to do it, how to get organized.”

“Of course, no doubt. However, it’s simple. I’m here to help. What do you need? I’m here to do it.”

This openness somewhat displaces Greg, who by nature was ready for something more akin to an ethnic skirmish. Paolo knows that his American coworkers never fully digested the purchase of the Italian company. Since then, their CEO has always been Italian. Paolo intends to let them know that Elon Musk’s management is at the level of their supreme leader and therefore far above their operations. He is there to give them the most necessary support to manage their project. Scott is well aware of this. Paolo had already noticed that he appeared to be the friendliest among those present:

“Greg, there’s no problem. We are thinking of a role that suits us. We’re not happy with our organization. If Paolo is available, with his experience he can take on any role and help us fill some of the gaps we still have.”

Paolo notices Darrel nodding as well. They had probably discussed this before. Obviously, they just wanted to see who came in – an arrogant pain in the ass or a colleague really willing to help. Paolo definitely feels the latter.

It’s done! The exam is passed, Paolo is accepted, and so the celebrations can continue. It’s actually quite simple. Paolo knows that his American colleagues are good people, they know their job and do it very well. He did not expect great difficulties. It’s understandable that no one would like it if someone came to teach you a craft.

That he has been accepted is immediately clear from the number of offers to taste alcoholic beverages. Paolo dodges almost all of them, but he can’t deny himself completely. Soon he feels invigorated and thinks that this might be a good antidote to the jet lag. Besides, he’s hungry. He heads over to the barbecue to see what’s cooking. It seems that most of the participants are more concerned about the drinks than the food. One of the coworkers is cooking some very tempting salmon steaks. He does not put them directly on the flames, but places them on cedar planks. He explains that the wood, with its unique flavor, promotes less intense cooking but a more flavorful result. That’s right! This is one of the aspects he values in his work. Cultural, culinary and wine gatherings that can take place all over the world. Later, under the sheet, he has confirmation that the dinner was a panacea for jet lag. Partly because of the project team’s approval, partly because of the combination of flavors and alcohol.

(Continua qui:).

(Any references to actual facts or people are purely coincidental. All characters and events described are figments of the author’s imagination).

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