WASHINGTON, D.C.-More than 400 people crowded a ballroom in Washington, D.C., on March 9. In contrast to the mood one might expect when the President of the United States, the Secretary of Commerce and Secretary of Education appear to present awards to the best in quality manufacturing, services, education and healthcare, the audience had the energy of a high school pep rally. Loud applause and even an impromptu cheering routine set the stage for the 2003 Malcolm Baldrige Quality Awards ceremony.

Seven companies, in five categories, were recognized for performance excellence in the award's 16th year of existence. Medrad Inc. (Indianola, PA) won for manufacturing, Boeing Aerospace Support (St. Louis) and Caterpillar Financial Services Corp. (Nashville, TN) won for service, Stoner Inc. (Lancaster County, PA) won for small business, Community Consolidated School District 15 (Palatine, IL) won for education, and Baptist Hospital Inc. (Pensacola, FL) and Saint Luke's Hospital of Kansas City (Kansas City, MO) won for healthcare. This is the first time an award has been given for all five categories in the same year.

"Each recipient of today's award earned it," said President Bush. Bush said he was impressed by the stories of each award winner and how they run their companies. He said their stories should instill confidence in the United States' business capability.

"However, there are no easy answers here," said Bush. "This is a tough award to win. It has to be a part of the company culture."

Since its inception in 1987, more than 930 companies have applied for the Malcolm Baldrige Award, while only 58 have received awards. More than 68 companies applied for the 2003 award, which is administered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The actual screening process is conducted by hundreds of examiners who make a recommendation to a select board of overseers.

For most of the recipients this was not their first experience with the Baldrige Award process. Robert Marchalonis, general manager of Stoner Inc., the smallest company to ever receive the award, said his company's journey began 11 years ago.

"We quickly adopted the Baldrige principles for our survival," said Marchalonis. "By submitting Baldrige-based applications, first at the local level, we received much needed feedback and began to make improvements."

Medrad Inc. also began its Baldrige journey 15 years ago and had submitted four applications prior to being named a 2003 Baldrige winner.

While all of the award winners expressed thanks for the process and the benefits it has brought their companies, they all acknowledged that undertaking the task of becoming a Baldrige quality company was daunting at first.

"I'll admit that in the beginning I was a skeptic," said David Spong, president of Boeing Aerospace support, who has been personally involved in two other divisions of Boeing also receiving Baldrige Awards. "I'd ask myself, ‘I have a business to run.' Ironically, that was the point. We could run a decent or a great business, but is that what we wanted? Why not strive to be the best?"

Unlike other awards where the recipients get to relax after winning, Baldrige Award winners are charged with sharing their insights with other companies and industry at large. Many of them will be traveling throughout the country making visits and hosting visitors who want to know what it takes to be a Baldrige winner and a quality-based company.

"Our country is better off when we share quality information," said Bush.