Engineer, Teacher, Chess Enthusiast: A Polytechnic University alumnus shares his perspectives

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Nikita Kondrashov is a graduate of Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University (Russia), and he currently works for a major European company Daimler AG and teaches at the University of Applied Sciences of Economics and Management in Dusseldorf (FOM University of Applied Sciences).

Nikita in this interview shares his perspectives on why is it important to develop a quality management system in a company, the relevance of this area, and the advice to future specialists who plan to build a career in foreign companies.

Why is it important to implement and develop a quality management system in a company/production processes?

One of the main reasons for the introduction of a quality management system at an enterprise is gaining trust from potential customers, which creates a competitive advantage for the company on the market. For example, Daimler, when working on new projects, in the overwhelming majority of cases selects suppliers certified according to a certain industry standard (IATF 16949).

Companies whose quality management system does not meet the requirements of this standard are merely not allowed to participate in tenders. The situation is similar not only in the automotive industry, but also in pharmaceuticals, the production of medical equipment, the aviation industry, and many other areas.

Also, we must not forget about the legal aspects of quality assurance. The implemented quality management system, together with documentary certification of product conformity, is among the essential factors for reducing the legal liability of the enterprise in case of litigation.

Does each company implement its own quality management standards?

There is a firm hierarchy of standards in the area of ​​quality management. It is based on international standards, such as ISO 9001, complemented by national standards (e.g., in Russia these are GOST R); there also are industry-specific regulations. For example, in the automotive industry we have IATF 16949, while the aviation industry has EN 9100. Large international corporations, leaders in their field, often have higher quality requirements than industry as a whole and international standard. They are specified in specific customer requirements and are binding on all suppliers. Daimler has Mercedes-Benz Special Terms, Volkswagen has Formel Q, and Ford even certifies the best suppliers according to the internal Q1 standard.

Is quality management a popular area for specialists in Germany and Europe?

In recent decades, European manufacturers have been forced to compete with numerous Asian firms that have lower prices due to lower labor costs. In this regard, one of the main advantages of Europeans is the high quality of goods and services. Quality management remains a priority in Europe, which is reflected in the continuous improvement of existing standards and the progress of new methodologies in this area (e.g., the EFQM Model 2020).

Perhaps you are following the situation with quality management in Russia. How would you assess it?

In 2013-2014, I took part in the launch of the first production line of Mercedes in Russia and was engaged in the audit of suppliers of auto components. We were pleasantly surprised by the high qualifications of specialists in the field of quality management; this is due to the presence in our country of such key players in the automotive industry as Volkswagen, Ford, Nissan, etc. However, due to the high level of equipment wear and tear and insufficient investment in advanced production technologies, Russian suppliers often lose to European competitors in terms of quality.

How strongly did the coronavirus pandemic affect the activities of the company where you work??

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a significant drop in demand for new cars and has affected almost all manufacturers around the world. But this was not the only challenge the carmakers faced. Due to the closure of European borders, as well as the forced shutdown of production due to the quarantine of several contractors, automakers had rather serious difficulties in the supply of components.

One solution to this issue was the transfer of equipment from the most affected regions, such as Italy, Spain and China, back to Germany. My supply quality department, of course, accompanied the entire process of relocation and restart of production, so the work in the pandemic was carried out in a rather intense mode.

These days, many graduates want to build a career in a foreign company. Based on your experience, what would you advise them?

-Start thinking about their future speciality while still studying at the university, make the most of the opportunities: for example, Polytechnic students can go abroad for exchange to hundreds of partner universities. At one time, this was how I ended up in Germany, where I studied in a Master’s degree program on exchange.

Many companies give students the opportunity to do their internship or practical training: for instance, I wrote my master’s thesis at the BMW Advanced Development Center in Munich. This was one of the first steps on the way to the Daimler concern: immediately after writing my thesis, I got a job at a design bureau working with Audi, and two years later, I became a full-time employee of Mercedes-Benz.

What do you think, is it more difficult for today’s graduates to start a career? Is the competition more severe compared to the events of 10 years ago??

On the one hand, today’s graduates have many more career opportunities. Many global concerns, such as Bosch, Siemens, Nissan, and many others, offer the most promising students to undergo internships both in production and in management companies, to plunge into the work process and make the necessary contacts.

Now it is not necessary to quit school and go abroad for an internship. Already during your Bachelor’s degree studies, you can try yourself in various companies and fields, which will undoubtedly help in choosing a further area in the Master’s degree program and specialization in general.

On the other hand, foreign companies are interested in the best specialists, so there is a lot of competition for vacancies. Today, many students are planning their future careers already in their early years, and by the time they graduate they have a decent amount of theoretical knowledge and additional practical skills. It is always worth looking for an opportunity to undergo additional training and improve your qualifications.

We know that, in addition to working for Daimler, you now teach at the University of Applied Economics and Management. Why did you make this decision?

-I’ve always liked science and teaching; still studying in the Master’s degree program, I was happy to stand-in for a teacher at Polytechnic University and conduct laboratory work for junior courses. For the same reason, I decided to go to the correspondence postgraduate study at our university, which I successfully graduated in 2015.

It was interesting to realize myself not only as an engineer but also as a teacher; besides, in Germany, it is a genuinely respected profession. I had the opportunity to combine both of my interests, so I gladly accepted an offer from the University of Dusseldorf.

-What subjects do you teach and what language do you lecture in? Was it easy to find contact with students?

My first subject was “Fundamentals of Higher Mathematics” for students of economics department. It was an interesting exercise for the mind and an opportunity to recollect the first years of study at Polytechnic University.

In the second semester, I already taught the course on “Quality Management” for Master’s degree students of the engineering department. This subject was the most interesting for me, since by then I have been working in quality management for over 7 years and I could share a lot of practical examples with students. Lectures are taught in German, although the university also has several international exchange programs in English. Welcome!

Would you like to read lectures for students of Polytechnic University in the future?

I would like to get back to the premises of my alma mater university and share my experience with the students of Polytechnic University. I hope that in the future I will have such an opportunity.

With such a busy work schedule, do you have time for hobbies and activities for the soul?

Sure! For example, at the end of July, I organized a closed mini-chess tournament dedicated to the memory of the sixth world champion, a graduate of the M.I. Kalinin Leningrad Polytechnic Institute (now SPbPU) Mikhail M. Botvinnik. The tournament even turned out to be international, as representatives of four countries took part in it: Germany, Russia, USA, and Ukraine. By the way, I am a graduate of the Mikhail Botvinnik chess club at Polytechnic University. The contest turned out to be intense and interesting!