Quality Magazine

Probing the Limits: Building a Quality-Focused Company

October 1, 2005
Running a company with a true quality focus may be a path less traveled, but a path I've decided to take.

A while back, I asked one of W. Edwards Deming's assistants if she knew of any truly quality-focused, Deming-based companies. She could not name one that was currently in business. I'm hoping to change that.

After a lifelong dream of starting my own company and a decade of saving and planning, I quit my job as COO of a high-tech computer company to become an entrepreneur. It took a long time to get to this point because I'm committed to doing it right. In order to attain the freedom to do it right, my wife and I are attempting to self-finance this business to be free of outside and short-term pressures that impact quality and impede the ability to take a long-term focus.

My wife and I are going into the creativity development business. We are developing contemporary, convenient art kits that will be used as a vehicle to teach creativity methods and creative self-

discovery to children and their parents. With overseas outsourcing continuing and schools eliminating their creative arts programs, we feel there is a great need for this type of product to bolster American ingenuity. My hope is that we do a high-quality job with a product that fills this critical need. With my quality background and the groundwork I've laid, I'm excited that unlike most companies, I'll have the freedom as the CEO to take on this challenge and address it in a high-quality fashion.

Being a CEO gives me a very different perspective on things. Now I'm top management-the person everyone complains about and blames. As Harry Truman said, "The buck stops here." So be it. I'm totally committed to building a high-quality product that I'm proud of. I'm also totally committed to building a well-run, streamlined, optimized business where the CEO genuinely cares, listens and is committed to doing the right things. Even if the business fails, I hope that I can stay true to doing things the right way.

In addition to focusing on quality products and processes, I'm also hoping to build a company where quality of life is just as important. As a joyful father of a young family that is selling products to children and parents, it is critically important to me to give quality-of-life issues as much emphasis as quality issues within the company. I feel that if companies put a major emphasis on process improvement and optimization to gain optimal efficiency, company success and personal quality of life are both achievable.

It's obvious to me that the only way to approach this new business is with a quality focus. I can't imagine any CEO having a careless approach to quality, but it seems from the e-mails that I receive from readers that a careless attitude toward quality is common.

As my wife and I launch this company, maybe we will find out why the Deming-based quality way is rarely taken. Maybe I'm naive. Maybe short-term pressures and the temptation to take shortcuts will be too great. Maybe people don't really care about quality, and price is all that matters. I doubt it, though. I'm still placing a very large bet-literally speaking-on the quality approach.

When I think about the exciting and frightening adventure that my wife and I are about to take, I think of Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken." We are hesitating just like Robert Frost did in this poem-looking at the worn path and looking at the path less traveled. Like most people, companies usually take the worn path-the easy path that puts little focus on quality. For now at least, my wife and I are going to try the path less traveled-the more difficult path that makes quality the foundation of all decisions and actions. Where will the path less traveled take us? I don't know.

While many people advocate taking that path, I don't personally know anyone who has done it. In any event, I'm betting that I'll come to the same conclusion that Robert Frost came to when he ended his poem by saying, "I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."

Stay tuned to see how it unfolds. Please send me an e-mail with your comments. I'm looking for feedback and guidance as I start this new venture.