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No Titles Except “Plant” Manager

I arrived in Sarasota a couple days early for the quarterly AME board meeting so I could attend an AME Champions Club meeting.  The Club is a unique group of senior executives from some of the most progressive lean companies who meet a few times a year to discuss the leadership of company-wide lean manufacturing transformations.  Although membership is a bit pricey, members get a variety of discounts on other events such as the AME Annual Conference, which can easily offset the cost.  I highly encourage you to check out the Club.  By the way, the trip to Sarasota brought to 24 my lucky string of consecutive flights that have been right on time.  Anyone want to go halfsies on a lottery ticket?

A typical Champions Club meeting is hosted by a company or organization that has a rather unique application of manufacturing excellence, and Sun Hydraulics was no exception.  Although they don't claim to embrace lean, their culture is really something to see.  A $170 million public company that manufactures high end hydraulic manifolds and values, profitable since it was started in 1970, six plants around the world employing roughly a thousand people.

What's unusual about that?  How about this:

  • There is no organization chart
  • There are no job titles or job descriptions
  • No performance criteria
  • No bonuses and no perks
  • No regularly scheduled meetings
  • No approval levels for capital or expense spending
  • No goals
  • No offices or high-walled cubicles
  • If the peers accept the idea, then "management" is presumed to accept it - hence the need for very little management
  • Every employee is simply expected to figure out where they fit

They are definitely not lean in the traditional sense...

  • There are no kaizens - everyone is expected to create change, and must "sell" ideas to their peers
  • There are no 5S lines on the floor, and nothing is bolted to the floor... that just "inhibits immediate change"
  • They use an MRP and they have conveyors full of WIP, although they are transitioning to kanban "where it makes sense"

Their mantra is simply "do the right thing."  How does a company grow to that size with such an organization?  By spending a lot of time hiring the right kind of collaborative idea-generating individual who doesn't need to be told what to do. And they readily admit that the cultural aspects of growth, new factories, and "management" of hundreds of people is increasingly difficult.  One Club member asked if the culture helped them get to $170M, or did it keep them from being at more than $170M.  The answer is unknown.

There is one honorary job title: Plant Manager.  But it's not what you think.  This facility, what amounts to a very large machine shop filled with heavy 5-axis CNC's, has hundreds of live plants hanging from the ceiling.  The Plant Manager is the person in charge of maintaining the plants.


Want to see some other similar interesting organizations and interact with a group of very passionate senior executives?  Check out AME's Champions Club.

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2 Responses to "No Titles Except “Plant” Manager"

  • Nivi
    30 December 2008 - 4:01 pm

    Thanks for the article and I love the picture.

    There were some questions here regarding whether there are titles at Sun Hydraulics:


    Do you have any thoughts on this?

  • Kevin Meyer
    30 December 2008 - 4:03 pm

    They do have the handful of titles required as a public company… CEO, CFO, and the like. As of last January when we visited, that was it. Presumably they also have to “title” job postings so people know roughly what skills they’re asking for!