From jungle to high-tech plant
Our parents always talk about the “good old days” – but were things really better? In the past, people had to perform hard manual labor, everywhere was dirty and loud, workers’ children had limited opportunities. Three generations of one family have experienced how an area of rainforest has been transformed into an advanced production facility for automotive components. And how this area of land has shaped their lives.
Exotic bird calls ring through the air. There is lush greenery as far as the eye can see. It is hot and humid. Looking back, Nadir Risso remembers how, in the early days 54 years ago, Campo Limpo was located right beside a dense Brazilian rainforest with marmosets and hummingbirds. You can barely recognize the former wilderness on new aerial photographs of the site 40 kilometers north of São Paulo. Heute stehen auf dem Gebiet moderne Fabrikhallen umgeben von einer Stadt mit Tausenden neuer Häuser. Today there are modern production facilities surrounded by a town with thousands of buildings around them.
The Risso family experienced this transformation of thyssenkrupp into a modern, global Group and the Campo Limpo plant into the most important economic region in Brazil first-hand. Grandfather Nadir was among the first employees at the Brazilian plant. Son Roberto and his wife witnessed the crisis and the breaking down of old structures, and grandson Lucas is experiencing the digital age and globalization. The history of thyssenkrupp is also their history.
Coffee pickers producing crankshafts
“Most of us were just simple coffee pickers,” says Nadir Risso. thyssenkrupp opened a new metal workshop for crankshafts, connecting rods and other automotive parts in Campo Limpo in 1961. German engineers trained the unskilled farm workers in how to use the machines. “But the working methods back then were completely different from today’s standards,” recalls Nadir Risso. Many of the work processes involved in his first role in gear production were completed in numerous individual steps. Nadir Risso completed evening classes in technical drawing before moving to quality assurance where he instructed inexperienced colleagues. thyssenkrupp invested in its employees back in the early days too, covering training costs and providing healthcare for employees and their families.
Work becomes more effective, safer and cleaner
The 1960s were shaped by technical progress. The advent of new major customers such as VW and Ford led to investments in the Campo Limpo facility; shift work was introduced. In the early 1970s automation arrived at the plant. “We operated the machines manually until then,” remembers Risso. “The new technology used hydraulics and sensors, completed multiple process steps simultaneously, and was up to ten times faster.” Production was ramped up. thyssenkrupp created more jobs. Simple manpower became less important, with smart people needed to service the machines and plan and organize the big picture.
Nadir settled down and found the love of his life. He married and had children. thyssenkrupp paid better than other employers in Brazil. Nadir worked a lot to offer his family a better standard of living.
Nadir’s eldest son Roberto followed in his father’s footsteps and began working as a clerical assistant in Campo Limpo in 1977. The plant benefited hugely from the economic upturn and was looking for new challenges. But that’s not what happened.
Damper on growth
In the 1980s the plant got caught up in the Brazilian economic crisis. Inflation skyrocketed, sales plummeted, and the plant had to reduce production levels by half. As a result, close to half the employees were laid off, and Roberto Risso was one of them. Three years later he had the opportunity to return to Campo Limpo. He worked on the production line where blanks are ground, milled, and drilled for an accurate fit. Robert Risso learned the ins and outs of each and every machine. “From my father I have the Brazilian habit of putting a lot of passion into everything I do and his German tenacity for getting to the bottom of things.” These traits helped him in his career.
Modernization and expansion
Just as in real life, there were also ups and downs for the plant in Campo Limpo. New sales markets were opened up in Mexico and the USA, machinery was modernized and efficiency increased. Step by step things improved.
Increasing the number of women in the 20th century
Another new development was planned: Women were also hired, although initially only to perform office work. Robert Risso began meeting up regularly after work with one of his young female colleagues. Their relationship would go on to last a lifetime. “There were a lot of female secretaries in the plant at that time,” recalls Marilene Risso. “But unlike now, there were absolutely no women in higher positions. We had to keep things between us very formal. It would be unthinkable to show our feelings at work.” In 1987 Roberto’s and Marilene’s first son, Raul, was born, followed by Lucas in 1991. The young father moved into the quality assurance department, where the time he spent working on the machines came in handy.
Breaking down old hierarchy structures
The circumstances then changed again in the working environment of the Risso family: “Starting in the 1990s there was a move towards flatter hierarchies,” Roberto says. “Greater attention was paid to what colleagues in production learned while carrying out their work.”
Campo Limpo had still not overcome the crisis and business remained below the level desired by management. Roberto took the opportunity to undertake further education in evening classes. thyssenkrupp supported him by covering half of his training costs.
Upturn and new opportunities
When the Brazilian economy finally recovered, thanks in part to the currency reform of 1994, things improved for the Group and the Rissos. thyssenkrupp invested in new production locations for forged vehicle components in order to become more independent from regional crises. Further plants were opened in Brazil and Mexico from 1990, and then all over the world from 2010 onwards. Roberto Risso knows the plant in Campo Limpo inside out and speaks several languages. He was just the man to develop a joint corporate culture for the factories all over the world combined in the Forging and Machining business unit. This involved traveling to many thyssenkrupp locations worldwide.
Continuing old traditions
Following the family tradition, Risso’s youngest son Lucas applied for a job in production planning in 2010. Unlike his grandfather, however, he does not have to stand in front of the machines and operate them by brute force. He has grown up in the digital age and completes his work sitting in front of a computer. But still, the volume of data involved in complex production process planning can bring him out in a sweat.
Lucas Risso does a good job and is looking to improve like the other men in the Risso family. He has studied part time in the evenings to obtain an engineering diploma and learned to think outside the box at work. Lucas is currently studying management in the USA as a way of adding to the experience he has already gained. “I’ll be happy to come back to the Forging and Machining business unit, but I really want to go abroad first, at least for a few years.”
A prospect like this was unimaginable for the people at the Campo Limpo plant 54 years ago. Perhaps the old days weren’t so good after all…