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Love of machines

Updated: Sep 30, 2015 Print


David Beatenbough, a 58-year-old mechanical engineer from the United States, didn't expect to join a Chinese company in its bid to go global.

In fact, it took him a while to decide that he wanted to work for Liuzhou-based LiuGong Machinery Corp in South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. He met Zeng Guang'an, president of the State-owned enterprise, two years after he began to work for an international machinery company in Shanghai in 2001.

Beatenbough has a degree in mechanical engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology.

Impressed by his background and insights into the global market, Zeng invited him to join LiuGong, but Beatenbough wasn't sure about joining a Chinese company. Zeng's persistence finally persuaded him to change his mind.

"The management group here is smaller than my former employer's, so we can make decisions and move faster," Beatenbough tells China Daily.

LiuGong was looking to expand globally when he joined it in 2007.

But Beatenbough, realizing that the company was mainly a maker of wheel rollers, found the challenge greater than he had expected.

"We needed to expand the product line to attract quality dealers in the international market," he adds.

Beatenbough helped the company form the LiuGong Development Process, a system based on teamwork for new products.

The model, still used by the company, managed to improve the success rate of such projects and shortened the launch time of new products.

"It forces our engineers to look at what our customers really need and want," he says.

The company's D series excavators, developed by following that model, won the company immediate attention in the market following their launch in 2010.

The model has contributed to the company's growth in the past few years, helping it enrich its product line and turning it into a full-scale manufacturer of construction equipment that makes wheel loaders, skid steer loaders, motor graders and excavators.

But Beatenbough wasn't satisfied with just developing new products for the company as he thought most wheel loaders made in China looked the same no matter which company they came from. Then, he tried to build a brand for LiuGong, with methods including the distinctive use of industrial designs so people could recognize its machines easily.

He also played a leading role in establishing the LiuGong Global R&D Center that opened last year. So far, it is the only unit of its kind for earthmovers in China.

"It has always been my dream to build a world-class R&D Center in LiuGong," says Beatenbough, now the company's vice-president in charge of R&D.

A research unit should be a place where people sit down together regularly, brainstorming plans to get every detail right, he says.

Although Beatenbough cannot speak Chinese, he says language barriers largely don't bother him.

"In term of engineering, the ideas are quite similar. It involves numbers and graphics a lot, that's why we have whiteboards everywhere," he says of the company's meeting rooms.

He has paid great attention to the design of the R&D center itself by even buying books on office decor.

He has made a "wall of history" with photos of products from LiuGong.

"Actually it is a history of our industry rather than the company's history," he says.

"If you don't know where you came from, you also don't know where you are going."

Devoting himself to the development of a new generation of wheel loaders in the past year, he has helped the company successfully launch two core products that are globally competitive.

"We are on our way. That goal will definitely come true before my retirement," Beatenbough says of his and the company's ambition to become a world-leading player in this field.

His work in the sector has been recognized by the Chinese government as well.

In 2015, he won the Friendship Award, a top honor for foreigners who make significant contributions to the country's development in different fields.

"The award is a great honor. It's an important event in my life," Beatenbough says.

For him, Liuzhou, small as it might be, is nice to live. He enjoys riding his bike to explore different aspects of life in the city.

But some famous local delicacies are hard for him to handle as they are spicy, he says. He prefers to buy raw ingredients from the local markets and cook Western food in his apartment.

Many of his local friends and colleagues describe him as the "best steak chef in Liuzhou", Beatenbough jokes.

He has quite a few hobbies, such as cooking, reading, gardening, working with wood and taking or collecting antique industrial photos. These activities not only help him relax but are also sources of inspiration for his main job-machines.

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