First the good news:
There is a Chrysler (DCX for sticklers) engine plant in Toledo that is doing some extraordinary things – extraordinary for the UAW and the auto industry, anyway. Everyone ought to read this article. The employees are multi-functional and compensated based on skills. They even work on teams, and apparently are doing pretty well. Such a plant is more remarkable for the UAW, than for Chrysler – and for Chrysler it is pretty amazing. Just when you think the whole US auto industry should be put out of its misery, something like this happens and gives hope that they may see the light after all. The UAW seems to be a long way from allowing this anywhere else, and one plant, of course, is hardly a trend. After all, GM has been unable to learn a darn thing from NUMMI for over a decade. But, just maybe…
Then the bad – unless the reader is from the auto industry. In that case it is more good news, because I have stumbled across a new Poster Boy for everything that is wrong with our efforts to turn the ripple of lean manufacturing in America into a wave.
For most readers, however, Molex is the saddest, most absurd, ridiculous lean manufacturing case you will ever come across. Not only is Molex the farthest manufacturer from lean you can find, they are an insult to lean manufacturing.
Of course, they are guilty of all of the usual nonsense. Their corporate website proclaims that "Molex employees are the company’s greatest assets", yada, yada, yada, while they are closing US plants and building plants in China. 1,200 of their ‘greatest assets’ just hit the unemployment line here, while about 1,200 new Mandarin speaking ‘great assets’ became part of the Molex team. And of course they proclaim to be lean and to be committed to lean, while the Molex inventory is spinning – scratch that – oozing at a whopping five point something turns a year. But this is nothing new. Lots of manufacturers spew lean and people fiction while operating based on the tried and true principle of LAYOFF + INVENTORY = EXECUTIVE BONUS.
But then it gets plain ugly. What sets these guys at Molex apart – what makes them the true bottom feeders of lean manufacturing begins with the incredible fact that their lean transformation has been spearheaded by their Corporate Treasurer, rather than anyone in manufacturing. That, of course, explains the confusion about lean manufacturing and outsourcing to China. Treasurers and other big time finace people often think that canning people and moving to China is the very essence of lean. But it gets worse. The Treasurer just got kicked off the board of directors and removed from her job as VP and Treasurer in order to placate the auditors and NASDAQ folks. It seems as though there were some financial shenanigans that got Molex in some hot water under her reign.
The Treasurer was kept on the payroll, however, because she is vital to continuing the lean effort. Her keen grasp of the Toyota Production System that enabled replacing 1,200 Americans with a comparable number of Chinese employees is the sort of performance the honchos at Molex can ill afford to lose, apparently. No, what slathers the icing all over the Molex Lean cake is the nature of the financial shenanigans. Their former Treasurer; their Lean leader; their indispensable employee was sacked from the board because of what their auditors (and some stockholders in ensuing lawsuits) described as blatantly using inventory accounts to overstate profits. The corporate lean visionary deliberately goosing the inventory numbers to create artificial profits in order to placate Wall Street beats everything I have ever come across.
If there is anything more pathetic than Molex’ version of lean, it is that there are web sites out there in which various consultants, and equipment and software peddlers boast of their contribution to Molex lean success. You would think that these people would be so ashamed of ever having done business with Molex, they would lie to their friends, families and potential customers and deny ever having heard of the outfit.
I suggest that a new measure of ‘leanness’ be created called the Molex-Toyota Scale. Under the MTS, manufacturers can be rated from manufacturers who hijack lean manufacturing for no purpose other than to con Wall Street into thinking they are state of the art (M) to true manufacturing excellence (T). Whaddya think?