About an hour’s drive away from Belgrade, capital of Serbia, stand some blast furnaces and cooling towers, in a centuries-old Serbian city called Smederevo.
The facilities once belonged to Smederevo steel factory, which was founded in 1913 and is a legend in the history of the city and the country. One fifth of Smederevo’s population has ties to that place.
Yet the factory was plunged into a crisis and struggled on the verge of bankruptcy several years ago, due to fierce market competition and management problems. But that changed in 2016 when a Chinese company bought it.
In 2016, the Serbian government signed a deal with HBIS Group, China’s largest and the world’s second-largest steel and iron producer, to sell Smederevo steel factory, which was then renamed Hesteel Serbia, with the over 5,000 employees staying on at the new company.
The steel plant began to deliver profits by the end of the year, the first time it had in the past seven years.
Zivorad Pavkovic is a senior worker in charge of quality inspection at the steel factory’s hot rolling workshop. He has been working at the factory for 39 years.
“Our job is guaranteed now, the feeling is totally different,” said his son Aleksandar Pavkovic, 34, an electrician at the steel-making workshop of the steel plant.
“There is less work pressure now, the Chinese management not only cares for the safety of equipment, but also values the health of the staff,” Aleksandar added.
Zivorad has grandchildren. He told Xinhua that his son can take his own two children to the seaside to spend their holiday and do not need his parents’ financial support for that now.
In the past, his children usually needed some financial support from him to vacation at the seaside, he added.
When the factory was undergoing a crisis before the Chinese owners came, nobody knew whether they would have a job the next day, recalled Vladimir IIic, who now works as a security and firefighting services manager at the factory.
“Chinese companies came at a time when we did not know what to do and were merely killing time,” said IIic.
After the takeover, Hesteel Serbia selected elite technical staff to work in Smederevo to repair and revamp the old facilities at the factory, while the management and technical staff from Serbia were also invited to HBIS Group for exchanges and training.
Hesteel Serbia currently has thousands of employees, but only has several management staff members from China. The Chinese company enjoys significant autonomy.
Ivan Matkovic, deputy head of the steel factory’s hot rolling workshop, said he is very satisfied with the management model of the factory and he has very smooth communication channels with the Chinese management.
The steel factory’s history is very much intertwined with that of Smederevo city. The reborn steel factory has contributed more than double revenues to the city.
Smederevo Mayor Jasna Avramovic told Xinhua that the Chinese enterprise has found a way out for more than 5,000 people and the city’s unemployment rate has dropped to 6 percent from 18 percent.
Thanks to Hesteel Serbia, the city is making progress in its development, revamping roads and enhancing education, she said.
The 60-year-old mayor proudly announced that the city’s birth rate ranks first in Serbia.
Avramovic visited China in 1986 and was greatly impressed by the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. She said that Smederevo city is currently also planning to revamp the Smederevo Castle in a bid to promote the city’s tourism.
“We welcome Chinese to Smederevo,” she said.