CNN recently published a list they called the 50 People Who Matter Now. The ‘professional’ business community’s love of fads, numbers games and short term thinking – and their corresponding disdain for manufacturing – could not be much clearer. The Chairman of Toyota made the list, representing the only serious manufacturer in the bunch. A couple of major league outsourcers who still try to hang on to the title of manufacturers – Motorola and Hewlett Packard – are there as well. The rest are money changers, techies and various other non-value adding sorts. Oprah Winfrey and a guy who wrote a book called "Getting Things Done" apparently ‘matter’ more now than the heads of any manufacturing companies.
You might be surprised to know that I have a different view of who – and what – matters today. Manufacturing in the United States is at a crossroads, which means the economic health of the nation is at a crossroads. It may come as a shock to the boys on the Street, but there is nothing that Oprah or the author are doing that is going to have a whit of impact on whether my children and grandchildren live in economic prosperity or not. Same goes for the investment guys and most of the techies who are little more than living proof of Andy Warhol’s 1968 prophesy: "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes."
Riding the crest of a wave in technology or popular culture does not mean that someone matters to much of anyone other then him or herself. Making a killing in the market doesn’t matter to anyone outside of the circle of people who will help squander the money.
Manufacturing, however, creates wealth, security and long term prosperity. Manufacturing excellence really does matter to everyone. To set the record straight, I put together my own list of the "10 People Who Not Only Matter Now But Will Matter Long After The CNN List Is Dead". What these people have done in the last several years matters. What they will do, or not do, in the next few years matters even more.
1. Fujio Cho
The new Chairman of Toyota has the task of continuing to set the standard for manufacturing excellence – a responsibility Toyota has born for more than forty years. It is a big responsibility. As Toyota becomes a truly dominant global force, keeping the factories running as they have – and maintaining the pace of continuous improvement – will be a challenge. Size and success have ruined just about every big manufacturer eventually, and it will fall on Cho to assure that Toyota does not slide down the road to ruin that has snagged all who came before him.
2. Bill Ford
You would think that Wall Street would appreciate some real juicy inside information. Insider trading is illegal precisely because it provides the benefit of detailed knowledge about a company that the investing public is not privy to. Insiders know what the future holds.
In a story in the Detroit News titled WOW! 47,600 Buyouts, the mass exodus from GM and Delphi is chronicled. The number of folks taking the cash and bailing out is exceeding all projections. To me, that looks like 47,600 people with very close, detailed and extensive knowledge deciding not to bet their future on GM and Delphi. Wall Street should take note of this ominous warning, rather than celebrate.
With almost 50,000 insiders making it clear that GM’s turnaround is unlikely, it falls on Bill Ford to demonstrate that America has the ability to manufacture with the best in the world. He has given a lot of signs that he may well be up to the task. He certainly fell out of the right family tree. What he does at the helm of Ford over the coming years matters quite a bit to everyone.
You can see more about the Ford crossroads – inlcuding the first installment of their Change Or Die video – in my latest post at Lean Executive.
3. Jim Womack
The man who coined the term "lean manufacturing" (with a little help from his friends), Jim is the spokesperson, the guy the press goes to, the man who puts lean in the public eye. Through his vision and leadership, lean has become widely known and widely discussed. Yet lean has not become the standard in industry nor has the education system and government understood and embraced their responsibilities for ‘leaning’ American manufacturing.
In the next few years, the lean effort will either gain traction, or be tossed onto the heap of failed management fads. Jim’s prominence in the public eye will be a vital platform in our efforts to keep lean momentum going. His message must become tougher and more demanding. He needs to raise the bar for manufacturers and the institutions that support it, and act as a stern taskmaster, challenging those companies that forsake lean for quick solutions.
4. The American Math Teacher
This is Ginny Hinckley, Maryland’s Math Teacher of the Year from Havre de Grace Elementary School. She represents the people on the front lines of America’s manufacturing competitiveness. In many ways, the decline of American manufacturing mirrors the erosion of American education. While the think tank folks can wax about the need for more scientists and inventors, the factories really need more people with solid skills in statistics and problem solving.
The educators need to understand that the standards of the No Child Left Behind Act are pathetically low, and that the children of America have the ability to far outstrip the expectations the education system currently puts on them. A rebirth of American manufacturing will follow a resurgence of education – especially math, and the Ginny Hinckley’s of America must continue to lead the way.
5. Senator Charles Grassley
The senior senator from Iowa and Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee recently demonstrated a willingness to take on the powerful Wall Street lobbies and challenge the LIFO tax break system. LIFO, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg in the tax and regulatory code that undermines competitive manufacturing and rewards manufacturers for outsourcing and building inventory.
Grassley is in a position to have a profound impact on manufacturing. He has only to look at Pella and the other outstanding lean manufacturers in his own state for input. And he has only to look at Whirlpool-Maytag to see the alternative. His own constituents know quite well what the privately held lean manufacturers are doing for communities, and how the Wall Street driven publicly traded companies are devastating them. He is in the right place at the right time to have an enormous impact on America’s manufacturing future.
6. Small and Medium Manufacturing Company Owners
This is Chuck and CJ Buck, owners of Buck Knife in Idaho and true representatives of manufacturing excellence. A few years ago, the company was uprooted from southern California and moved to Idaho, and CJ has led a top to bottom lean initiative that has been an extraordinary success.
The strength of American manufacturing lies not in the big names but in the thousands of small manufacturing companies like Buck and the people that drive them. Lean success in America is almost exclusively among this group, and much of the credit goes to the MEP’s that support them. The continued drive to become leaner and globally competitive by the small and medium sized manufacturers is stemming the tide of America’s manufacturing job loss.
7. America’s Next President
Regardless of who the next ‘Leader of the Free World’ is, he or she must be someone who can go beyond the outdated thinking that manufacturing is a titanic struggle between capital and labor. Decades of Democratic leadership have resulted in absurd union influence and power, excessive overhead costs, and work rules that make it impossible for manufacturing to succeed.
Decades of Republican leadership have created a financial structure that has manufacturing companies jumping through hoops to satisfy Wall Street’s short sighted demands. Republican driven economics drive manufacturers to abuse labor for the sake of dividends – Democrats counter with stifling union demands and legal protection of unions – then Republicans counter with offshore outsourcing in search of non-union labor to dominate … While we lurch from one extreme to the other, manufacturing slowly goes down the drain.
America’s next President must be someone beholden neither to Wall Street nor the union halls. Instead, we must be led by someone who has the vision and courage to look at the Toyota model and see that manufacturing well done can serve both labor and capital, and every other stakeholder.
Whether that person is John McCain or someone else, the right leader for the American manufacturing economy will be someone the idealogues who blindly follow the advice of either Hollywood or Rush Limbaugh cannot stomach.
8. The Military Leadership
Major General Michael Collings from Warner-Robins Air Force Base is in charge of the lean efforts that have accomplished spectacular improvements in the C-5 maintenance efforts and broader Air Force logistics. He is representative of a growing number of military leaders who are quietly, seriously, effectively and forcefully driving lean principles through the defense industry.
I could have just as easily put general Pillsbury’s picture here – the man who told the defense suppliers that it ain’t lean if the lead time isn’t dropping. While the big defense companies are angling to try to outsource even critical military components to cheap labor countries, leaders from the military have recognized that lean manufacturing is a vital element of America’s security. The continued leadership of people like Collings and Pillsbury will be a huge factor in assuring the future of American manufacturing.
9. Ross Robson
Ross Robson is the Director of the Shingo Prize and the man the lean community looks to to serve as the final judge and jury regarding manufacturing excellence. It is a thankless job, and one that brings pressure and criticism down on him no matter who wins and who loses.
The Delphi debacle was a great learning experience for all of us. I know Dr. Robson has learned more than anyone from it. He will need broad shoulders to set the Shingo Prize criteria high and to demand that no company receive the ‘Nobel Prize for Manufacturing’ unless they truly deserve it.
No matter who wins and who loses, American manufacturing wins when Dr. Robson sets the Shingo Prize as a true gold standard for manufacturing. His ability to withstand the heat and keep the pressure on American manufacturing to meet that standard will affect us all.
10. The Production Workers
American manufacturing workers have been been conned. lied to, used, and abused by managers and labor unions for better than a century. Through it all they have shown up for work every morning and done the job of making what America and the world has needed.
They have been led down so many primrose paths of management schemes and false union promises that their skepticism of lean manufacturing initiatives is easily understandable.
The future of American manufacturing rests in very large measure on their willingness to give us another shot – to take us at our word when we promise true involvement and participation in the continuous improvement of our organizations. In the end, American manufacturing depends on lean manufacturing, and lean manufacturing depends on the people in the factories to commit to contributing their knowledge, creativity and experience, then on our willingness as managers to treasure that contribution.
These are the people who really matter in my book. The CNN list, as far as I am concerned, consists of people who my Texas friends would describe as all hat and no cattle.