Quality Magazine

Manufacturing Excellence: Excellence in National Leadership

April 25, 2008

Manufacturing excellence, or lack of it, has affected employment levels in the United States. It is not the workers’ aptitude, attitude or capability, nor the cost of labor that has affected the manufacturing leadership. Instead, it is the will of corporate leadership and its trust in its employees’ capabilities.

I can tell from my personal experience that in 1985 manufacturing was sent to another country because of our inability to fix quality problems caused by marginal product design or the poor design of manufacturing processes. This ineptness at the middle management level leads to justification by corporate executives because there is no better information available.

I have seen middle management making decisions to support unreasonable promises made by executives to customers, compromising manufacturing discipline and rushing the product to customers, knowing it was not up to quality standards.

I have the utmost respect in employees, confidence in middle managers and respect for executive leadership for achieving manufacturing excellence, but the “manufacturing ship” has already left the shore. We need to bring it back. It takes guts, sacrifice, wisdom and, most importantly, extraordinary leadership.

We need leadership that creates a vision for manufacturing excellence that goes above corporate leadership, similar to President Reagan passing the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Act that raised awareness of quality-but it was more award driven and did not create the desire to excel in everything the right way.

We all talk about the vision to excel in space by President Kennedy that made us all proud of our leadership. Similarly, we need to create a vision for the U.S. economy that includes manufacturing excellence for value creation and export instead of exporting insurance services. We need a vision that talks about promoting innovation in a real sense at the grassroots level instead of at some policy level that does not go anywhere. We need a vision that stirs corporate leaders to create jobs similar to what we accomplished through construction of roads and infrastructure during President Roosevelt’s era after the economic depression. We are in dire need for a national vision that would challenge business leaders to create jobs through manufacturing excellence, empowering employees for innovation and respecting workers through proper recognition.

Listening to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain makes me feel that these potential candidates have missed clues to provide leadership that really would help the country. Without such a vision, how could they fulfill their universal insurance, support military or realize the benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)? Without such a vision, how would they maintain economic leadership, military superiority or space leadership of America?

American people are very caring, sensitive and understanding and deserve better treatment by our leadership. We must learn from Roosevelt for revival, Reagan for communication, Eisenhower for military, Kennedy for visioning and Clinton for economic shrewdness.

Media must ask these questions from the presidential candidates about the issues that affect the common person, instead of all the other extracurricular topics. Media must challenge these presidential candidates to offer a vision that will help the common citizen by creating jobs through resources for research, excellence in manufacturing and service, and aspirations to be the best. We have become accustomed to being the best in the world, but we are tolerant of only marginal and acceptable performance from our leadership.

The new national leadership must challenge every citizen to be his best, demand business leaders to support the national vision and prioritize national assets to achieve this common goal. Only a successful nation can provide the international leadership that we all aspire to protect. In absence of extraordinary leadership our economic, military and political decline will be unstoppable.