Volume 3, Number 9 - September 7, 2005

In difficult situations, people look to leadership for assurance that “they” know what to do. Unfortunately, those in positions of leadership don’t always look back. Poor leadership can create panic, or in the worst of cases, cost lives. Seen as a steady hand following the September 11 attacks, Rudy Giuliani helped calm a nation. On the other side, then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig added to the worries of a concerned country when, contrary to the U.S. Constitution, he declared himself in charge when President Reagan was shot. When your company faces important and confusing situations, your employees look to you. Be ready to look back.

Transfixed by the wrath of Katrina, we witness the destruction of a major American city and significant portions of 3 coastal states. As the estimates of death and damage rise, we see anger and frustration with a lack of preparedness, communication failures, and a perceived leadership vacuum that will be analyzed for years to come.

It was well known that New Orleans was built below sea level and protected by a levee system that would not withstand a category 4 or 5 hurricane like Katrina. Yet there was no viable response plan in place when one hit.

Even a “100 year storm” happens every 100 years. A decision to not invest in prevention may obligate a decision to plan for response. The known weakest link broke, causing the entire chain to fail. This time it meant lives, businesses, families, homes, and billions of dollars.

In your business a critical raw material could become unavailable. A key employee could resign. A major customer could move their business to a competitor. A new technology with competitive advantage could enter your market. Perhaps you believe those to be unlikely and choose to take only minor preventative steps. If one occurs your employees will look to you for assurance that “they” know what to do. Leaders are ready to look back.


In preparation for their 35th anniversary issue, Industry Week asked me which doer or thinker of the last 35 years I think had the most impact on manufacturing. Now there’s a tough question!

President Kennedy’s 1961 challenge to safely land a man on the moon fostered miniaturization that dramatically changed manufacturing. His challenge occurred too long ago to make him eligible, and no dominant name is associated with the resultant microprocessors and computerization invented in the 1970’s that triggered much of the automation we see today.

Orlicky, Wight and Plossl contributed greatly to the formalization of the body of knowledge of materials management in the early 70’s. But their work changed planning and scheduling more than manufacturing itself.

Richard Nixon ended the trade embargo on China and visited that country in the early 1970’s. The resultant thawing of relations between the US and China and China’s subsequent move from a closed economy continues to change manufacturing in many ways.

While Eli Goldratt’s The Goal may be widely read, Theory of Constraints has not been widely implemented. The question was about impact, not potential.

Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo developed much of the Toyota Production System prior to 1970, but continued to enhance it afterward. Demming’s work was valuable on its own and he was an important contributor to the work of Ohno and Shingo. While Demming, Ohno, and Shingo shared what they knew and were published, it was Dan Jones and Jim Womack who increased awareness of TPS in this country by writing both The Machine that Changed the World and Lean Thinking.

But there is only one who had “the most impact:” Richard Nixon.

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