In-Depth Interview with Colm Rafferty of Vermeer

Colm Rafferty’s commitment to China extends far back to his early employment at Alibaba, and he hopes that the impact of his work at Vermeer extends far into the future of China’s development.

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You grew up in Connecticut before coming to China and joining Alibaba one of the earliest employees. What brought you here in the first place and what made you stay?

I majored in East Asian Studies with a focus on China, and graduated from university with a “fire in the belly” to try to make the world a better place. As part of achieving that, I decided to get involved in tackling big problems, especially the ones that other people may feel are insurmountable.

In 2000, I joined Alibaba because I was drawn to the mission of making it easy to do business anywhere by helping Chinese small- and medium-sized enterprises go global. Today I am working for Vermeer, and our mission is to make a difference in keeping people connected to the necessities of life, nourishing a healthy food supply, and ensuring efficient and responsible use of natural resources.

You’re currently working for Vermeer, an industrial equipment manufacturer that is involved and invested in China. What is something that Vermeer has done in China that you’re proud of or wish more people knew about?

30 years ago, Vermeer started exporting track trenchers to China. With globalization and Asia's rapid growth, Vermeer established a design and manufacturing facility in China, to support the expanding business in this region. Since then, Vermeer equipment has been used in many ways that positively impact people’s lives, which people rarely think about.

One thing that I’m proud of is how our products are not ones that most people encounter in their daily lives, but the benefits are enjoyed by millions of people across China. When a family uses their electricity or internet or local authorities tackle disaster recovery or green energy, Vermeer is often a key partner to those activities.  Let me share a few of my favorite examples:

  • Since bringing horizontal directional drilling technology to China in the 1990’s, our Vermeer drills have been used on projects across China, to help build out underground electrical, water, sewage, and fiber optic networks. Through this work we seek to improve the quality of people’s lives who use these utilities every day.
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  • Vermeer grinders are also currently operating throughout China, processing materials in the country’s largest biomass power plants. Through this important work, we help to bring renewable energy alternatives to support China’s rapid economic development.
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  • Our Vermeer brush chipping technology is now being actively used by various municipal authorities in Southern China, providing rapid response during natural disasters like typhoons.
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  • Vermeer pile driving technology is being used to construct various solar projects around China, including the Apple solar project in Southwestern China, operating at an altitude of over 3,500 meters!

What do you think is the best opportunity and biggest challenge you face in the next three years in the Chinese market?

China aims to have 60 percent of its population living in cities by 2020. That means increased opportunities for companies like Vermeer, as China develops underground infrastructure for fiber optics, water, and electric utilities to support this urbanization.