No, I’m not talking about Bill’s recent posts… but more on that in a minute.
That is what the state of California apparently thinks of manufacturing. How do I know that? Because I recently applied for a personalized license plate with "MFG GUY" on it… what better way to show my passion for manufacturing? Then yesterday I received a letter from the DMV saying "unfortunately we are unable to approve the requested plate because it is offensive to good taste and decency." After much thought I was able to conjure up a potentially offensive meaning, but it was a stretch.
I own and run a manufacturing operation in California, and I know it’s tough here. According to the California Manufacturing and Technology Association we have the fourth highest cost index. Every day I am faced with arcane regulations on overtime and non-exempt classifications that are significantly out of step with the rest of the country, let alone our competitors overseas. Every day I run into colleagues who are thinking about fleeing to more "manufacturing-friendly" states and countries, and some eventually do.
But guess what? Companies also succeed at manufacturing in California every day. Toyota’s joint venture up in Fremont, NUMMI, continues to crank out the cars. The annual AME Lean Tour, which takes a bus load of manufacturing execs around southern California for a couple days, also highlights some of those successes. These are companies with a long-term vision, with a passion for continuous improvement, and who recognize the true off-balance-sheet value of their employees. NAM and CMTA may focus their efforts on improving the regulatory and cost environment, which can help (especially the owners), but to succeed you need to look inside.
Which brings me to Bill’s recent posts. When I asked him to join me as co-blogger of Evolving Excellence last year, I knew he had a blunt and in-your-face style. But I sensed he was also pounding his head against the wall with the idiocy of manufacturers chasing the ever-elusive fountain of low labor cost without understanding the inherent cost, and opportunity, of internal waste. A frustration I share. And I knew his writing style could express it far better than I ever could.
Some of you have called Bill negative, irreverent, and depressing. But most of you obviously get it. He is not attacking GM, Delphi, and Ford… he is attacking poor management. Management that can’t find the factory’s doors, let alone go to the gemba. Management so inept that it really believes it has executed a lean transformation in 18 months when Toyota hasn’t finished theirs after more than 25 years. Management that continues to embrace the Sloan financial model that has destroyed so many companies…and families. Management that falls for the one-week "lean certification" that so many street-corner consultant pawn, and has the gall to gloat about it in their annual reports. Management that chases the ever-elusive lowest labor cost to Mexico, then China, then Malaysia, then… well, who knows. All the while not realizing that they could trim far more cost by simply leveraging the knowledge of their employees to reduce internal process waste. Management that doesn’t realize that home-grown companies in India and China and elsewhere are looking inside, are becoming innovative, and will become powerhouse competitors over the next decade.
Bill has a positive vision that I share. A vision of companies with true leaders, with the guts to dig deeper to find a better way to long term success instead of taking the easy road to short term profits at the expense of their employees. Companies so good they can outcompete and sell to countries like Japan and China and India. Companies like Sherrill Manufacturing, American Coil Springs, DeCardy Diecasting, Grand Haven Stamped Products, and Harley-Davidson.