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Whirlpool scores big points with suppliers, employees

Over the past five years, the only Whirlpool plant in the former eastern bloc, the Poprad based Whirlpool Slovakia, has swirled to the top of the Slovak appliance market by pooling domestic suppliers and bathing its employees in care. On May 14, the plant welcomed company big shots from around the world to celebrate its fifth birthday and show off its squeaky clean record.
At a press conference, Whirlpool's top management declared that the key to their success in this part of Europe has been their ability to establish a sturdy base of local partners and suppliers. "We have gone from only 7% of our supplies being locally supplied in 1994 to 59% today, which I think is quite a remarkable achievement," said Jeff Fettig, President of Whirlpool Europe, adding that this achievement has not only improved the company's competitiveness, but "has also created jobs in this [Eastern Slovak] community."


Lean and mean. Whirpool Slovakia's labor force has been slashed but workers like Jaroslav Jopek (above) are happy with the American style of management.
Courtesy of Whirpool

Over the past five years, the only Whirlpool plant in the former eastern bloc, the Poprad based Whirlpool Slovakia, has swirled to the top of the Slovak appliance market by pooling domestic suppliers and bathing its employees in care. On May 14, the plant welcomed company big shots from around the world to celebrate its fifth birthday and show off its squeaky clean record.

At a press conference, Whirlpool's top management declared that the key to their success in this part of Europe has been their ability to establish a sturdy base of local partners and suppliers. "We have gone from only 7% of our supplies being locally supplied in 1994 to 59% today, which I think is quite a remarkable achievement," said Jeff Fettig, President of Whirlpool Europe, adding that this achievement has not only improved the company's competitiveness, but "has also created jobs in this [Eastern Slovak] community."

However, the creation of further job opportunities is becoming problematic in light of the company's new and fully automated production line. Developed to carry out the company's newest 'Tatry' project, the line will produce Whirlpool Slovakia's latest type of front-load washing mashines.

The new line, in consequence of its automated nature, will require less and less labour, which may result in employee layoffs. But the company's top management denies any plans to cut the current workforce.

"We don't plan any downsizing," said Antonio Casaluci, Vice-President of Whirlpool Europe, who is responsible for the manufacturing and technology of washing machines. "[On the contrary], due to the increase in production and sales connected with the new product, the number of employees will be increased," he added.


Squeaky clean. David Whitwam, Whirlpool CEO, believes that his Poprad workforce will keep getting bigger.
Courtesy of Whirlpool Slovakia

David R. Whitwam, Chief Executive Officer of Whirlpool Corporation, seconded Casaluci's statement. "Employment at this plant has increased every single year," he said. Errico Biondi, the Poprad Plant's Director, labelled the company's social program as highly above standard. "We have a conditioning program, which gives our workers opportunities to use a fitness center, to go on foreign vacations organized by our company, to visit our newly-equipped health-care center, or to use any of the other services we provide," Biondi said.

Satisfied workforce

"I think the company works very well, and so far I haven't had any problems with management," said Jaroslav Jopek, who works on the assembly line that produces the newly introduced front-load washer. "[To me], the factory is very close to what they have in western industrialized countries."

Biondi said that Whirlpool workers can directly influence their earnings, since wage increases are tied directly to increases in the factory's productivity. "30% of our employees' salaries is connected to the factory's results," he said. "Last year [our] employees received the highest salaries in this region," he added, without specifying any concrete figures.

Over its five years on the Slovak appliance market, Whirlpool has become one of the leading brands, according to a survey done by the market research agency GFK.

In July 1993, Whirlpool created a joint-venture with Tatramat, a Slovak producer of washing machines, buying a 50% stake. Over the next three years, the American giant gradually bought the rest of Tatramat shares and became the company's sole owner. Since their establishment in Slovakia, Whirlpool has increased its turnover more than threefold.

An important indicator of success for Whirlpool Slovakia is exports. 85% of the Poprad plant's production is exported, and 31% of exported washing machines end up in countries like the Czech Republic, Poland and Argentina.

Whirlpool has already invested over $6 million in its Tatry project, and doesn't plan to stop there. "We plan to invest another 10 million dollars in a new production line, which will start here next year," said Casaluci.

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