Dedicated to Solving Problems
Meet T.M. Kubiak, our 2015 Quality Professional of the Year.
William Israel hired T.M. Kubiak more than thirty years ago and says it was one of the best hires he’s ever made. Although Kubiak had a great resume, he was even better in person, and he only exceeded expectations from there.
Israel was managing a team of about 25 engineers when he met Kubiak, but says he was easy to remember. He was honest, dedicated and always got things done. He never needed help on projects, and if you gave something to him, you knew he would get it done. People went to him for help.
At a Glance
T. M. Kubiak
Performance Improvement Solutions
The Certified Six Sigma Black Belt
The Certified Six Sigma Master Black Handbook
The ASQ Pocket Guide for the Certified
ASQ: CQE, CRE, CQM/OE, CSSBB
IIE: Certified Systems Integrator
SOLE: Certified Professional Logistician
FL: Professional Engineer (Industrial)
ASQ Quality Press Golden Quill Award, 2014
ASQ Quality Press Golden Quill Award, 2012
ASQ Quality Press Golden Quill Award, 2009
Who’s Who in Executives and Professionals, 2006-2007 Edition
ASQ Quality Press Golden Quill Award, 2005
ASQ Board of Directors’ Testimonial Awards, 2001, 2002, 2003
Honeywell Chairman’s Achievement
Honeywell Total Quality Involvement
Society of Logistics Engineers President’s Award of Merit, 1988, 1992
Honeywell Outstanding Engineer, 1989
Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research
Alpha Pi Mu Industrial Engineering
Tau Beta Pi Engineering honor society, 1982
He describes him as “Absolutely dedicated. About as true a professional as I have ever seen. Very focused on his responsibilities—so focused, you almost had to shake him to get his attention.”
This dedication has served Kubiak well throughout his career. His gifts to the quality industry have been great. He’s shared his knowledge through his books, countless articles, courses and consulting work. He’s been a member of ASQ since 1983, and throughout his long career he’s reviewed over 350 books, papers, and mixed media for ASQ. In addition, he’s no stranger to awards. While at Honeywell, he helped two divisions receive state quality awards.
This year, it’s time to honor Kubiak himself. For his dedication and many contributions to the quality field, Kubiak is our 2015 Quality Professional of the Year.
Kubiak began his career as an industrial engineer. Along the way he’s worked in a variety of industries and companies, from Honeywell to Sears to Bank of America. He’s written three books and many articles, edited others, and worked with companies across the country.
He got started with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in industrial engineering, and this industrial engineering background went very well with the quality field. He began his career at PPG Industries in Pittsburgh and stayed for three years. But after several brutal Northeast winters, his family was interested in heading south. He took a position with Honeywell and they moved to Clearwater, FL. He worked his way up the engineering ranks, and became more involved with quality along the way.
This was back in the ‘80s, and the government had been pushing quality programs more with contractors. “I was fortunate to be caught in the middle of it,” Kubiak says. “Moving into that area of quality, there was more emphasis on SPC and statistical sampling, and advanced manufacturing technology. I moved into quality and started working on SPC. I realized at that time, a lot of individuals tended to not understand it as much. They would wallpaper the walls of the organization with meaningless SPC charts. They tried to put SPC charts on everything. That was kind of the mindset. I thought that was wasteful, shooting off arrows in the dark.”
“Processes were fraught with a lot of rework and waste, scrap, repair,” Kubiak continues. He realized: “Nobody’s really doing this right. At that point, it changed my whole way of thinking.”
He says this thinking has served him well in the thirty years since. The quality toolbox has many benefits. “You can do a lot of good,” Kubiak says. “I apply them at home too. It drives my wife crazy. I think a lot of times it became contagious. She’s learned a lot and is guilty by association. She would make a very good black belt.”
And today, after decades in the field, he has formed strong opinions about quality. “From an organizational point of view, I absolutely cannot understand how an organization, in 2015, does not pursue quality,” Kubiak says. “A lot of times people simply want a shortcut. People tend to be process-averse and metric-averse. A lot of times metrics are used as carrot and stick to the extreme. A lot of times management doesn’t know how to use metrics in a way that is advantageous to all concerned.”
But the importance of quality cannot be understated, Kubiak says, which should be familiar to anyone who has seen recalls in the news.
“Today, quality has to be up there. If you put quality up there, everything should align properly. If you do that, with proper strategic organization, an operational plan and a proper reward and recognition system, then the organization can go somewhere. A lot of organizations are in shambles.”
“You can’t not know about quality in 2015,” Kubiak says. “You can’t not know about putting the customer first.”
The problem is he says that many companies plan well but execute poorly, or plan poorly but execute well. However, few companies do both well. That’s why many Lean Six Sigma implementations fail. For example, they may want to implement Lean Six Sigma. The first thing they do is rush to get everyone trained in six months and then expect instantaneous results. That’s the extent of the planning. They forget to build, fund, and execute the infrastructure necessary to keep the initiative sustained. Some organizations actually make participation in the initiative optional.
But the beauty of Kubiak’s work is that he gets to go in and help fix things. After working at Honeywell, Sears and Bank of America—and enjoying great success at each—he decided to go into consulting in order to share his knowledge with a wider audience.
In the many projects he’s worked on over the years, Kubiak says often the hardest part was not solving the problem—it was getting people to recognize the problem. This was illustrated once in a project he worked on years ago. There were five plants and five quality inspection supervisors. The quality inspectors moved around between plants and reported to the supervisors. Though the plants were similar, they did have different products at each one. Kubiak, a quality engineer at the time, noticed that each inspector interpreted what an error was differently. “Each inspector understood what a defect meant at their plant, and carried that idea to the other plants,” Kubiak said. “Two inspectors could look at the same weld, and have different interpretations. One would call it a defect, one wouldn’t.”
It took several meetings until one supervisor realized the issue Kubiak was trying to address. But after he won her over, she started convincing the others. Then finally they could address the problem. It ended up being a two-month project to create a one-page table to identify the defect conditions that could crop up and how that defect condition should be entered in to the quality management system. Once that was done, supervisors held training classes for their inspectors.
And for Kubiak, this was another problem recognized, addressed, and solved.
Success at Sears and Beyond
William O’Hara, Ph.D., met Kubiak when they worked together at Sears. And though they both left Sears and went on to become consultants, they continue to work together.
O’Hara says he is grateful to work with someone like Kubiak, and says his Six Sigma skills are impressive. He’s the “best out there,” O’Hara says. “He’s a smart guy. Six Sigma projects can spin out of control. He’s highly professional and that just doesn’t happen. It takes some pretty talented people to keep things up in the air.”
He describes a project that the two of them worked on at Sears to look into how things got returned. “It seems trivial in some ways,” O’Hara says, “but returned product can go from value to zero overnight if it’s not handled properly.”
At the time, there were more than a dozen different ways of returning something. This meant that products would end up costing their value plus more in handling, especially with large items like appliances. But with the group’s efforts, they found a solution to simplify the process. This was not especially easy, O’Hara points out, since retailers are slow to change. But the group got the attention of senior executives.
“There are go-to people,” O’Hara says. “For me, and for a number of people I know, he’s a go-to person. His team, and my team, liked him. That speeds up the work. Professionally and as friend, I’m glad I’ve been able to interact with him.”