Still Passionate About Manufacturing

When we started publishing Automation World in June 2003, I wrote my first editorial on being passionate about automation. In the ensuing 27 issues, we have highlighted the efforts of many manufacturing professionals who have found success in a number of ways.

During my research for this month’s article on lean thinking, I interviewed many people with that passion for manufacturing. Or perhaps better said, a passion for making manufacturing better.

As I’m composing these thoughts, automotive parts supplier Delphi has just filed for bankruptcy as a method for bringing costs down. William Clay Ford made headlines predicting more losses for Ford Motor Co. and subsequent plant closings and layoffs. We need manufacturing leaders more than ever.

Every one of the leaders I interviewed discovered that simply implementing a new tool does not solve the problem of making manufacturing more profitable. It is the combination of a basic tool set and a different way of thinking and acting. As one person told me, “You really are trying to change the world.” The real challenge is to change the way you and all your colleagues think about problems. Then to change the way you all relate to each other. Another person told me that managers must begin to think of themselves as coaches or teachers—not as dictators.

Those of you who follow my blog (radio.weblogs.com/0133292/) know that I spent much of late September and early October on the road. The good thing is that I was able to meet many industry leaders and learn from some experienced teachers.

The organizers of the Invensys Process Systems User Conference this year featured Gordon Bethune as keynoter. Brought in to bring Continental Airlines back to life, Bethune made it one of few profitable airline companies. In a highly entertaining and captivating speech, Bethune highlighted his four-part plan for resuscitating the company.

The first thing, he said, is to sell people on the plan. That meant finding ways to not only get vice presidents on board, but also to motivate mechanics and flight attendants. His four plans were: market, financial, product and people. His marketing plan was “fly to win.” He said it was amazing how many people in the company didn’t think in those terms. Looking at the routes Continental was flying at the time and their loadings, he asked, “Why don’t we fly to where people want to go?” Again, he asked, “Why don’t we stop doing things that lose money?” Great questions for us today.

People dictums

You have to finance the operation and have a good product to offer customers. But he said the people plan was key. “Nothing happens without people to do it. And people have to enjoy coming to work,” are two dictums he offered.

From the Invensys conference, I went to the Emerson Process User Conference. There, retired Senior Vice President Dave Beckman offered a leadership course, then had to repeat it several times due to its popularity. Some of the best takeaways I received from his presentation included this tidbit—the key element of motivation is significance. He cited Peter Drucker’s comment that if you want to know what makes people tick, go to churches and non-profit organizations. Think about it. How do you get people to go to church and donate their money? How do you get dads to volunteer time with the Boy Scouts? How do you motivate people in your organization to help it succeed?

Beckman left us with the thought that true leadership is moral leadership. Famous football coach Bear Bryant said a leader’s character is more important than his skills.

And St. Francis of Assisi said, “Go and teach values every day, and, if necessary, use words.”

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