TEM Lab - Fall, 2017
Romania, Montana
Written by Nate Flake

We are hitting the home stretch as we come into week four at Montana MG here in Campulung, Romania. This past weekend we took to the road as we spent almost 15 hours between two days in the car traveling to see some of Romania’s famous sites and cities. The first day we drove over the mountain on Transfagarasan highway, touted to be one of the most scenic roads in Europe. The views were unbelievable. We then made our way to Sighisoara, that is the known for being the most well preserved medieval town in the world. The cobblestone streets and endless stairs made for sore feet at the end of the day, but the colorful architecture and views from the old clock tower made up for it.

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At the top of the Transfagarasan highway

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Old town in Sighisoara

The second day we woke up early to start our second road trip through Transylvania to see the two most famous castles in Romania: Bran Castle--where Dracula lived--and Peles Castle, the summer getaway of the Romanian Royal family. We quickly found out that Bran Castle is the main tourist hotspot of the area as we heard English for the first time since we’ve been in the country. The inside of the castle was a lot less scary than we thought it would be, mostly painted in white and brightly lit from all of the windows. I imagine if you were to go there at night by yourself it would be a different story, maybe we will have to save that for our next visit to Romania. 

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In front of the famous Bran Castle, where Dracula once lived 

We then traveled to Brasov to get to Peles Castle, another picturesque town where a lot of the young people from Campulung move after high school to go to university. We also saw posters up in the town for Oktoberfest going on in the town square over the next month (looks like we have our plans for next week). Peles Castle was the fan favorite for our group. The castle sits up on a hill away from the road in the town of Sinaia, and the site is quiet and peaceful. We didn’t see as many tourists at Peles, mostly Romanian families out probably taking advantage of the last days of summer before school started here on Monday. The castle itself looks like something from one of the Disney artists drew up for the next princess movie. We “strolled” the grounds for a while as the Romanians like to say, took some pictures, and then we were back on the road to head home for Monday morning start at work (yes,we are actually working here, I promise).

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Peles Castle

This week at the office has been focused on conducting research for the first drafts of the recommendations we are creating for Montana. We have been narrowing down the different department needs as we try to prioritize our recommendations for the client next week. We have been working with our liaison Razvan to get more feedback from the different departments on which processes are working and which processes could use improvement.

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Getting staff suggestions on what they think could be improved

We have also been learning about the manufacturing software that Montana uses, called ClareVision, in order to figure out how they can better utilize all of the functionality that if offers. We decided to take a trip up to Brasov to meet with the providers of ClareVision, a global company called NTT data in order to have a more in-depth conversation about the software and get our questions answered. Their representative, Alin, was gracious enough to give us a couple hours of his time in their office and gave us a good idea of the gaps that need to be filled by Montana as far as utilization of the software goes. The meeting was well worth the two hour drive.   

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Meeting with Alin at NTT Data's office in Brasov

One of the things that is frustrating for us is not speaking the language. If we knew Romanian, we could spread ourselves out a bit more with the work and getting to know the employees. When we walk through the plant, we want to get to know the employees and learn a little bit more about their story. One of my favorite things about my job as an implementation consultant before coming to Thunderbird was just learning people’s stories at the companies I would visit. Having to use a translator obviously limits us in this regard as we can’t just shoot the breeze with the employees the same way using a translator as we could if we knew Romanian.

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Watching the engineer and machinist do a test run on a die

Determined to at least get some of that connection here, I decided to enlist Razvan’s help in interviewing Cristian Vlajoago, a technical advisor who has been working at Montana longer than almost anyone else-for 41 years! I can't imagine doing anything for 41 years straight, let alone work at the same place. This is his first and his last job, it's incredible actually. It takes a certain type of dedication to stay in the same profession for that long.

Cristian kindly agreed to the interview, which I have included below. He showed enthusiasm in the way he spoke and he was more than happy to share some of his personal life with us. Even after the interview I asked him if there was anything else I didn’t ask that he would like to share and he just told us that he wishes he had more time to take us to dinner and learn more about our backgrounds. A class act and a genuinely kind person.

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Cristian and Nate on the factory floor

Interview with Technical Advisor Cristian Vlajoaga

Nate: Hi Cristian, let’s start by talking about your life before working here. Have you lived in Campulung your whole life?

Cristian:Yes, since I was young. I was born in a village not for from here. I actually have a house now out in that same village by where my parents live.  


Nate: What is your best childhood memory?

Cristian: When I was younger I met the first love I had in my village. We were 15 years old.


Nate: How long have you worked at Montana MG?

Cristian: I’ve worked here 41 years. I started here when I was 18 years old, right out of high school in 1975.


Nate: What was your first position?

Cristian: I worked on the 3D machine, it was a wood modeling machine that was done manually. You would use two mechanical arms to shape a wood block and then the machine would copy your work onto a metal block. It was stressful because the machine was new and so were all the workers. But I mastered that machine after about two years.


Nate: What roles have you had since?

Cristian:  I was the team lead for a long time and then my current position, technical advisor.


Nate: What changed for you when Montana took over this factory from ARO?

Cristian:The biggest change was that ARO was a Romanian (state-owned) company under the Soviet Union rules. If you didn’t like your job, it was harder then to find a job, so you had to just live with it. Once Montana took over and the Soviet Union collapsed you had choices, so a lot of people left. We went from 1000 employees to 300 employees after Montana did an analysis of the workforce and other people just left. Technical advisors were safe from these cuts.


Nate: What is the funniest thing you’ve seen here while working?

Cristian: One of the employees would bring in canned food for lunch. One time we carefully removed the label and cut it open in the middle with one of the machines. After we emptied the can and ate it all, we stuffed the can with wood chips and oil and then put the label back on so it looked new. The funniest part was that when the employee came back and found what was inside the can, he thought the food company did it and was so mad that he wanted to file a complaint.


Nate: What is the favorite part of your job?

Cristian: The fact that it is a “clean job”, meaning that it's not manual labor on the machines I used to work on. I’m very grateful that I can come to work in a nice outfit and feel good about this job.  


Nate: Do you consider your workers your friends?

Cristian: Yes I have a good, friendly relationship with the employees, but we don’t spend time outside of work together.


Nate: Have you operated all the machinery in the factory?

Cristian: I have operated a lot but not all. I know exactly how they all work though and what they are used for. I have to know for my position.


Nate: Are you married? Tell me about how you met and a little bit about your family.

Cristian: Yes, I’ve been married for 31 years. I have a daughter that is in college in Psychology in Bucharest. My wife is also a psychologist in town, although she doesn’t use her tactics on me. We met his wife through friends because everyone knows everyone. I mistook her for another girl I had a crush on at a dance in town. When I realized my mistake I asked her to dance anyways and the rest is history.


Nate: What is your favorite hobby?

Cristian: I like to play tennis, maybe because all of Romania would watch the famous tennis players from Romania in the 80’s and 90’s. I still play sometimes. I also really like to swim.


Nate: What is your favorite place to visit in Romania?

Cristian: Speaking of swimming, I love the Danube Delta. It’s the second largest delta in Europe and has all sorts of wildlife and amazing landscapes. I’ve been there 9 times.


Nate: What makes Romanians unique?

Cristian: I think that Romanians as a whole are a very friendly people.


Nate: What is your favorite Romanian food?

Cristian: Sarmale! (Cabbage Rolls are made with sour cabbage stuffed with pork and beef and little bit of bacon)


Nate: What is your favorite music?

Cristian: 80’s American rock. Some of my favorites are Abba and Boney M.


Nate: What is your biggest fear?

Cristian: God (as he laughs)


Nate: Do you keep things for a long time that you find important (antiques, collectibles, etc)?

Cristian: Yes I do actually. The village I used to be live in used to have an old mine. I have a lot of the old tools from the mine in my house in a case, like a museum. I also likes to collect traditional Romanian pottery.


Nate: Okay last question, what would be your best piece of advice for someone just graduating high school and starting life as an adult?

Cristian: Don’t ever stop learning. If you want to be somebody in this country you must learn. As the saying goes, “The more you learn the less you know”.


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Cristian Vlajoaga has worked for 41 years at Montana MG