Passionate, dedicated and mentor are a few words that describe Jimmy (Jim) L. Smith, Quality Magazine’s 2007 Quality Professional of the Year. I had the pleasure of spending some time with Smith and meeting many of his colleagues at Caterpillar’s Mossville Engine Center (Mossville, IL). Smith is a well-respected and inspirational quality professional. His pursuit of quality is relentless and contagious.

By Caterpillar’s estimates, the programs Smith helped implement have saved the company millions of dollars through cost reduction and quality improvement. But, it is Smith’s dedication to people that stands out. He’s quick to point out that the human side of quality is as important as the technical side.

At any given time, Smith is mentoring 10 to 12 people. In his free time, he develops and teaches ASQ preparation courses. This last semester Smith estimated 250 people went through the training classes, and he says it is not usual for him to have personal contact with every student.

In talking with Smith’s colleagues I repeatedly heard how he takes the time to help develop people and encourages them to better themselves. Ken Wright, assembly engineering manager, has worked for and with Smith during the past 20 years. Wright says that Smith has always set the bar high, but Smith’s philosophy “isn’t simply to tell you to get over the bar; it’s, ‘Let me help you get over the bar.’ He’ll do whatever it takes to get you to step up, and he’ll reach out more than halfway every time to help you get there.” That’s refreshing to hear in a society where we often hear how people only tend to look out for themselves.

Often we’re so busy hitting deadlines and trying to improve the bottom line that we forget that there are people behind those dollar signs. Rather than stare at the ground and grumble a “Good morning!” as you quickly walk past your colleagues, take the time to ask how they’re doing. Give them the recognition they deserve. Thank them for a job well done. And, do it on a regular basis.

When asked what legacy he wants to leave, Smith took a moment and reflects, “I think I would like to be remembered as somebody that cared and was ethical. I think above all, I’m a man of my word.” He continues, “I don’t want to be known, at that end of the day when I walk out of here, as the guy who helped lead that quality improvement effort. If that is what I’m known for, I don’t know that I would feel that I’ve been successful. It’s about the people.”

In the end, many people hope they will make a difference in the lives of others they encounter; Smith has already made a difference. What legacy do you want to leave behind?

I’d like to extend a hearty thank you to Jim Smith and his wife Dianne for their hospitality. I’d also like to thank everyone at Caterpillar that shared their experiences and insights on Jim.