As a student of everything having to do with lean manufacturing, and Henry Ford, in particular, I have long been stymied by Ford’s racial and ethnic contradictions. In particular, Ford launched a campaign, ranting against the "International Jew" through a local newspaper he bought, The Dearborn Independent, that was incredibly vicious and completely absurd. It tainted his place in history and embarrasses the Ford family to this day.
At the same time Ford published the vile things he did, he actually maintained good relationships with a number of Jewish folks who worked at Ford or lived in the Detroit community. Somehow, Ford was able, in his own mind, to separate the Jewish folks he knew personally from Jews as a whole. It makes no sense to me, but my grandmother, who was not much younger than Ford, had the same completely illogical ability to separate incredibly racist general attitudes from individuals.
I grew up in the most racially integrated area of Cincinnati, Ohio. If my ever worsening memory serves me correctly, my high school was about 45% African American. While nobody kept score, it is a safe bet that the makeup of the guys my brothers and I ran around the streets of Cincinnati with was close to 45% black, as a result. My black friends were welcomed into my grandmother’s home with the same affection as my white friends. One on one, I cannot recall her ever sharing her warmth or her cookies to any lesser degree because someone was black. Her genuine affection for every black person she knew individually, however, did not stop her from frequently making the most sweeping, degrading comments about "the coloreds", as she referred to them. Again, while she harbored no individual racism toward anyone, she held onto incredibly cruel and ignorant general racist beliefs. It was a contradiction I could never reconcile.
What this has to do with Superfactory is this: I have noticed that I probably appear to be just as contradictory in my own life, and it may be just as confusing to Superfactory readers. No, I could care less what color you are or language you speak, individually or collectively. As far as your religious beliefs are concerned, if you believe there are things in this world more important than yourself, you have my respect, no matter what book you read to help you with those beliefs. No, I am talking about manufacturing.
Superfactory is not only an American lean manufacturing source. Its readers and subscribers are global, many from some very obscure places. I get email from all over the world as a result of the Superfactory blog, mostly, it seems from enthusiastic young people who are eager to absorb every scrap of knowledge they can find about lean manufacturing. From Turkey to India, from Sri Lanka to Iowa, or from Germany to Brazil, it is heartening to me to answer questions, respond to comments and send what information I have to share on lean with people from all corners of the globe. Many of the people I hear from are from low labor cost countries who are trying to make the very plants lean that took work from American plants that failed to become lean.
It must appear to be quite a hypocritical attitude on my part, when I use the pages of Superfactory to slam companies that outsource American manufacturing to Asia, rather than becoming competitive through lean, while doing everything I can to help the individuals in the countries that are taking the work become better manufacturers. I can’t explain it. To each Superfactory reader – I honestly hope you succeed in driving your company down the road to lean, and that your factory and all of the folks in it prosper as a result. Collectively, though, I hope you never get another American product in your factory. As illogical as it may seem, that’s the way it is. I guess this is my way of saying, to all of the lean folks outside the U.S. who must have to hold their noses to read my blog posts from time to time, please don’t take it personally. In spite of my occasional ranting, I am the biggest supporter you have.
To show that my heart is in the right place, I want to share a little bit of American outsourcing wisdom with all of the Superfactory readers from low labor cost places. There is an old American saying among unmarried women, that says you don’t want to meet your potential husband in a bar; because if you found your husband in a bar, you will inevitably lose him to some other woman in a bar. There is a parallel with the American manufacturers who are moving production into your country. If you got the work through low labor costs, you will lose it to low labor costs.
The pattern repeats over and over. The American companies all moved their work to Mexico for the $1 an hour labor, then eventually moved across the Pacific to Korea, then China, and now India for even lower labor. The company that has so little loyalty to America that it would layoff its workers and move into your country will have even less loyalty to you. The Intel Chairman recently said that a new manufacturing plant was good for 5-7 years. After that, the product and manufacturing technology would be obsolete, the plant would have paid for itself, and it would be time to build another plant somewhere else.
The fact that these companies are in your country to begin with demonstrates that they do not think much of lean. Their cost view does not go far beyond hourly wages. So either your people continue to work for a pittance, or the next plant will be built in another country. Either way, you lose.
So what should you do about it? The key to success for you personally is to find a manufacturing company owned by people in your own country. If there are none, badger every rich guy you know to build one, harass the government to invest in manufacturing. Do whatever you can to create your own manufacturing sector. In the meantime, take every scrap of knowledge you can from the American, European or Japanese manufacturer you work for who has temporarily set up shop in your country. Don’t bother learning much about management – the fact that they are there indicates that they are poorly managed. Instead, learn the technology. Become a walking encyclopedia when it comes to the machines and products. Then take that knowledge, plus whatever you have been able to learn about lean on your own, and make your own country’s manufacturers as competitive as possible.
Mexican resorts are filled with waiters and bartenders who used to be part of production management in the Maquiladoras. As a nation, they failed to see that the maquila train would not run forever, and they failed to build their own manufacturing base. When the Americans left, the employees were left out to dry. Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t stake your career on any of these companies being around for long. They left long term employees by the side of the road when they came to your country, and they will leave you by the side of the road as soon as they find someone on the globe who will do your job cheaper. Make sure that when they go, they leave a wealth of knowledge behind, and that you have a place to apply that knowledge.