I have had a chance to get to know Norm Bodek pretty well over the past few months, which has been a great experience. For those who don’t know his background, Norm created Productivity Press and led the first American study missions to Japan to learn the Toyota Production System. He has been going back for years – in fact he’s over there now. Along the way he got to know Taichi Ohno and other early Toyota manufacturing people.
His relationship with Shigeo Shingo, however, went deeper than any of the others. They grew to become friends and Norm developed enormous respect, both personal and professional, for Shingo.
I have had a chance, through Norm, to learn a few things about Shingo I never would have guessed. For instance, he left the Japan Management Association and went out to consult on his own because he felt JMA was charging too much for his service. He wanted to reach more companies and the only way he could do so was to become independent and charge less. His personal income suffered quite a bit as a result, but he was a teacher, first, and a business person second.
I was also surprised to learn that Toyota was not pleased with him for sharing the secrets of their success. They weren’t happy with Ohno, either, for that matter. As much esteem as Norm Bodek holds for Toyota, he believes they should have done much more for Shigeo Shingo and his wife. At the time of his retirement, they gave Shingo a dinner and a gold plaque and that was the end of it. Norm thinks – and he is right – that Shingo’s widow should be living her golden years in luxury as a result of his contribution to Toyota.
Norm was the driver behind creating the Shingo Prize after running into a brick wall in his efforts to have Shingo nominated for the Nobel Prize for economics. It seems that revolutionizing manufacturing is not an economic endeavor. Only arcane theories written by academic folks have merit, according to the Swedes.
I am starting to cobble together some information on this incredible man’s life. He had a very sharp sense of humor and an incredible mind. You can see what I have assembled at :
Shingo is a guy worth learning about. He gave freely, and at some degree of personal expense, to America. Norm Bodek is an amazing guy too. One of the things that keeps me going – probably the main thing that keeps me motivated to pursue manufacturing – is the wealth of great people who love to do what we do for a living.