Our Duty

April 1, 2003
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“And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

John F. Kennedy spoke these words at his inauguration in 1961. It was a rallying cry for the Cold War. A call to think beyond one’s self and strive to do more for the common good. Kennedy’s words still echo true.

The cover story in this issue of Quality magazine features Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., the manufacturer of the Apache and Blackhawk military helicopters. As I write this column in early March, we are poised on the brink of war—with Iraq and possibly with North Korea. By the time you read this, the war could have been won, still be in progress or averted altogether. If we do go to war, our soldiers can rely on the quality that goes into each helicopter Sikorsky builds.

In writing his story, Senior Editor Larry Adams discovers that quality is a personal commitment made by every person at Sikorsky. The company’s mission statement calls for ensuring the safety of the men and women who fly and are transported in each helicopter, and Larry found that commitment being lived daily.

In light of that, I went back to the Quality archives and pulled out a bit of impromptu research we did immediately following 9/11. In a quick survey, we asked whether manufacturers felt any more call to produce quality products for the sake of national security. A surprising number of respondents said they thought that was someone else’s responsibility. I was shocked.

I have to believe that most people, in their day-to-day job routines, simply do not see how the products they make and how they make them affects national security. They think of “national security” as only being something that belongs to defense contractors. But national security is at risk with every manufacturing job we lose. With every product made that comes out substandard. The Bureau of Economic Analysis has recorded a downward trend in manufacturing as part of gross domestic product over the past 30 years, and it is accelerating. A country that has a weak or nonexistent manufacturing base is at risk—economically, socially and politically. That is national security.

So who must react? Everyone. CEOs and CFOs must decide they will no longer ship jobs overseas simply for cheap labor. Engineers must design, build and test products together to ensure the best products are made for the best possible price. Unions must look to workplace issues with a lens other than protecting the status quo. Floor personnel must commit to being the best at their jobs rather than doing what it takes to get by. And, consumers must look beyond the price tag and ask if what they buy adds to, or takes away from, American manufacturing.

This is not an easy shift in attitude to make. Results don’t happen overnight. But as JFK asked, and as the men and women at Sikorsky have proved, every task is an opportunity to contribute to a better product, a better country and a better future.

What are you doing to help manufacturing remain firm in the United States? Tell me at williamst@bnp.com.

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