Luk Thep, Chapter 2

Ram Thongchai was Khajee’s boss, the deputy plant manager. Jane was well aware that Ram’s ongoing resistance to the supplier change had little to do with quality data or the profitability of the company. His reasons were personal, political, and probably more than a little corrupt.

Jane reflected, for the umpteenth time, how much business practices differed by country, especially in those countries that formed the so-called “developing world.” It was never just about the numbers. There were always so many extraneous factors to be considered. Issues of what some Asian cultures called “face”, issues of local politics—and yes, issues of corruption and bribery.

“The supplier change is a good decision for the company,” Jane replied. If Ram wanted to pitch a fit, Jane felt more than prepared to refute his half-baked, thinly disguised arguments. “I think Ram will be okay with it, once he sees all the data.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Khajee said.

We aren’t alone in this room, Jane thought. 

The thought was unbidden and sudden, and totally at odds with their discussion of sub-suppliers and factory data. Despite the stuffiness of the room, despite the grime, stickiness, and perspiration that clung to her body beneath her business attire, Jane felt a chill, of the Michigan-in-winter variety. 

Jet lag, Jane told herself again. Jet lag and the unfamiliar surroundings. As much as she traveled, it was not entirely unusual for Jane to feel uneasy in foreign locales, especially after dark. When abroad, the unfamiliar sometimes appeared sinister. 

There were so many unknowns, after all. It was difficult to know which strangers might offer you a hand of assistance, and which ones might pick your pocket—or worse—harm you. It was difficult to tell which neighborhoods were safe, and which ones were dangerous.

Every foreign country, every foreign city, really, was like a world unto itself. After two years as TRX Automotive’s Asian supply chain manager, Jane found that the foreign could simultaneously attract and repel her. 

Nevertheless, regular travel to China, South Korea, and Southeast Asia was a key element of her job. There was a mix of perks and sacrifices that went with an impressive title, and a salary that was high for her age and number of years in the automotive industry. 

TRX Automotive, a manufacturer of automotive ignition systems, had factories all over the world. Many were in LCCs (“low-cost countries”) like Thailand. Jane was grateful that she was permanently posted to the company’s corporate headquarters in Novi, Michigan, just outside Detroit. She was able to get her job done by traveling about once per month. 

But travel could never be completely eliminated. Despite all the high-speed Internet connections and digital communication tools, sometimes you simply had to board a plane and visit a production facility.

This was especially true when there was a change of component suppliers, as was the case this time—not to mention a TRX manager with questionable motives.

Chapter 3

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