The Fourth Brother

The Rest Is History.

Shandong Engineering Machinery Co. Ltd (SEM) became a wholly owned subsidiary of Caterpillar in 2008. Located in Qingzhou, China, SEM has a rich 60-year history in the Asia Pacific region with humble beginnings that provide a strong foundation for the company we know today.

Focused initially on manufacture and repair of small agricultural tools, SEM was founded in 1958, operating out of a handful of cottages and sheds in the Shandong Province wilderness. By 1976, the Chinese industrialization was well underway. SEM Factory Director Wang Guocai saw a golden opportunity to expand into machine manufacturing, but only a few companies were authorized by the Chinese government to produce construction equipment. And SEM was not on the list.

Not to be deterred, Mr. Guocai embarked on a multicity search and purchased wheel loader drawings for 100 yuan – roughly the equivalent of $300. Although the company had no professional R&D staff, within eight months, the SEM team had produced the first trial JZ425 wheel loader. In 1978, the National Ministry of Metallurgy – impressed by their quality and reliability – purchased SEM machines to support key national metallurgical departments.

And that was just the beginning.

This is a story of spirit, hard work and determination. The Ma family have been loyal SEM customers for more than a decade. In many ways, the Ma brothers’ journey mirrors that of SEM itself – passion fueled by the promise of a better future, resolve in overcoming obstacles and compassion to bring others along the way.

The rainy season in the southwest region of China begins in June. No matter. In the Xinying brickyard of YanShan County in Yunnan Province, workers are clad in rain hats and boots – otherwise seeming not to notice Mother Nature’s torrential downpour. Still, the work at hand continues as do three yellow SEM wheel loaders, moving material at a steady pace. Bad weather hasn’t affected production here for decades.

In the corner of the yard, there’s a carefully placed, retired SEM 50F wheel loader, representing 11 years of determination and achievement. All the workers know why it’s there.

The story begins with the Ma brothers: Zewen Ma, the eldest; Ma Di, the middle brother; and Zebin Ma, the youngest. In early 2007, the brothers – noticing a thriving construction industry – pooled their funds to purchase a brickyard. At the time Zewen Ma was engaged in retail, Ma Di was in the transportation business, and Zebin Ma was a truck driver. It was a leap of faith for the brothers, and, though a bit risky, for Zebin Ma the change was a welcome end to the dangers of being beaten and robbed while driving a truck.

Preparing for operations, the brothers traveled to Kaiyuan City to purchase a wheel loader for the fledgling business.

“We didn’t know how to choose among the variety of brands,” recalls Ma Di. “SEM wheel loaders attracted us as soon as we laid eyes on them, providing us with a feeling of durability and safety. We felt destined for success.”

The brothers bought an SEM 50F wheel loader and returned home. Once in the brickyard, the 50F did not disappoint. It was durable and could work in punishing weather, lifting stones and cement, digging foundations, and transporting steel and wood. To the brothers, the machine worked like an energetic youngster, supporting all facets of the brickyard operations.

Settling into individual roles, Zewen Ma assumed responsibility for operations, Ma Di drove the 50F, and Zebin Ma led workers who produced the bricks. When business increased, the brothers worked even harder, paying careful attention to product safety and quality. As they learned, the business grew, and so did profits.

Five years later, by 2012, the brothers had purchased two additional brickyards, one in Pingyuan County, to meet increased demand. In 2017, they added new wheel loaders to the Xinying operations: In 10 years, the Ma brothers had purchased five SEM wheel loaders for their three brickyards.

“Every business must begin to be profitable within three years,” said Ma Di. “SEM wheel loaders greatly improved our work efficiency, making our business profitable within one-and-a-half years!”

Along the road to success, the brothers were committed to giving back to the community and improving local living conditions – assisting in emergencies, helping rebuild roads and moving mud during devastating rains. When heavy rains pushed a nearby reservoir to the breaking point, threatening neighboring farms and cottages, the Ma brothers gathered together workers and the old 50F to build a new dam.

Future plans include a modernization of the original Xinying brickyard, with an eye toward improved safety and sustainability processes. SEM will be there – helping the brothers and their customers build a better world.

As for the old 50F? It’s retired from daily work, instead standing in the yard – a testament to what perseverance can achieve. To Zebin Ma, it’s more than just a machine. “The old wheel loader helped us through hardship, and we all have brotherly emotions about it,” he says wistfully. There have been offers to purchase the machine, but the brothers agree: It’s too valuable to be sold for any reason. They still bring it out occasionally for small jobs or as a temporary replacement for machines in repair. And sometimes they drive it just for the memories.