The piece I wrote last week concerning the elite Eastern colleges and their misguided stranglehold on the American economy raised a bit of a stir, including a contrarian opinion from a long time valuable member of the Evolving Excellence community, Costikyan Jarvis. Costikyan is a good guy and a good manufacturer and it is hard to find fault with him, but he is a New Englander, so being contrary and stubborn come naturally to him.
Costikyan is the 5th generation to keep things moving in the right direction at Jarvis Cutting Tools, and he went to an MBA program at Harvard, and, before that, a couple of other highfalutin eastern schools. Maybe he's right and they taught him everything he needs to know to keep Jarvis Cutting Tools on top of their game, but my money says that when the going gets tough (as it always does for everyone and every company sooner or later) the 20 year or so year apprenticeship Costikyan served under his dad, Marshall, is what is going to get him and Jarvis Tools through.
In any event, Costikyan correctly pointed out that the new boss at Toyota – Akio Toyoda – went to a Massachusetts school for his MBA.
Let me get one thing straight. I have no issue with schools or people from any place, and I apologize if using the Google Map graphic to make a point led some to think that I am down on the east. It is the elite private schools that so dominate I have a problem with. There's a guy named Larry Grasso at Central Connecticut State U – about a half hour north of Yale in New Britain, CT - who is out on the front edge of lean thinking. Larry is teaching kids lean accounting in a public school. Down the road, Yale is teaching the Skull and Bone boys in the MBA program that "Knowing how to analyze and redesign existing processes, design new processes, make a case for change, implement change in an organization, and use IT/IS to make it all happen are key skills for managers, consultants and entrepreneurs."
C'mon folks – "using IT/IS to make it all happen" is a "key skill"?
So Costikyan, when you say that these schools attract the best professors, that is only because they get to define "best professor". Fact is, they attract more professors like the ones they already have. The President of Harvard is from Penn; the Dean of the Business School is from Cornell and, you guessed it, Harvard. Of the 12 folks that specialize in Operations Management, there are 6 Ivy Leaguers, 3 from MIT, a Carnegie Melon, a Cambridge and a token westerner from Stanford. As I said – they have decided that the best is them – and they only hire the best, hence the inbreeding problem.
They don't want guys like Larry Grasso. He went to Utica College, for cryin' out loud, and landed at Central Conn via Arizona State – that perennial contender for Playboy Magaizine's award for the best party school in America. That isn't Ivy League material. But real live manufacturing managers pay good money every year to listen to what Larry has to say at the Lean Accounting Summmit because he is telling them very specific things they can do right now that help them become leaner and save money.
But I digress … let's get back to Toyota, and Mr. Akio Toyoda. To Costikyan's point, he went to Babson College in Boston. (Babson's a fine place - their President is a Harvard man.) But it gets worse than that. Akio went to law school first. Then, armed with his law degree and his expensive MBA, he went to work for Merrill Lynch investment banking in New York, and then went on to work as a consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton. Same path I slammed as the one that creates the sort of thinkers and thinking that are leading us down the road to ruin.
But a funny thing happened next in Akio's career: After Booz Allen assigned him to an auto industry project, he stopped and thought, "My question to myself was who am I? People look at me and think I am an expert in the automobile industry and I am not." What ??? A high-priced consultant with an elite MBA acknowledging that he is not an expert???
He openly admits that he went into law and the MBA program because he isn't "smart enough to be an engineer"
But the story gets better. He quits Booz Allen and goes back to Japan to ask his father, Shoichiro Toyoda who was President of Toyota at the time, and is the son of Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda, for a job.
His father tells him that no one at Toyota wants him because he has no useful skills and his last name would make him a burden. The only way into Toyota was the entry level management training program with all the rest of the new hires. So in he goes and 25 years later he makes it to the top.
The moral of the story is that Mr. Toyoda is now the top dog at Toyota in spite of his Boston/Babson education – not because of it.
So Costikyan, I'll make you a wager. Let's test whether the Ivy League has any sense of manufacturing reality. You and your Dad go to the Machine Tool Show every two years in Chicago, which is the most important gathering manufacturing has concerning the state and application of technology. I attend the Lean Summit every year, which has evolved to be the most important gathering lean has regarding financial and managerial optimization. If either of us spots an Ivy Leaguer at either show – either teaching or learning – other than you, of course - then you win. I will retract my piece and buy you and your dad dinner anywhere you choose in Greektown. If we can't find a single one, however, then you are buying, and I plan to be a very expensive date.