In August 2015, during the first week of orientation in the Collaborative MBA, I found myself distracted by the metrics of our company’s performance, which were being fed to me through email from our largest customer. The metrics were not good. Throughout that entire week, we, as a poorly-performing vendor, were on the verge of shutting down the production line of the customer that is most directly responsible for our position as an employer that provides 500+ jobs in our small community of New Paris, IN.
Those were tumultuous times, yet the message of servant leadership still resonated with me that week. I felt newly-compelled as the General Manager of Veada Industries – a manufacturer of marine seating, canvas products, and medical tabletops – to go back to work and forge a new path.
Part of my time in the Collaborative MBA was spent doing an independent study on lean manufacturing. What stood out most to me about lean was the consideration of servanthood in its principles. Workers must have a forum in which to be heard and respected, as well as the ability to influence the decisions made by the management team. As part of my coursework, I was asked to attend the Lean Accounting and Management Summit in San Antonio in August 2016, shortly after returning from Costa Rica, the Collaborative MBA’s international residency. This experience introduced me to Jean Cunningham, co-author of Real Numbers, which was part of the curriculum for my independent study, and also strengthened the already-formed mentorship and personal friendship I had with Steve Brenneman, CEO of Aluminum Trailer Company and local lean guru, who happened to be the keynote speaker of the summit.
We’ve now had two very positive, challenging, and highly-productive kaizen events here at Veada – where employees and leaders alike meet on even standing and are charged with the responsibility of putting into action “change for good.” Jean Cunningham led both of these events. The first focused on improvement of our processes from the point when the cutting department receives an order from the order entry department through the point when they pass a cut bundle of parts on to the sewing department. Two months later in December, a second kaizen picked up where the sewing department received the bundle, sewed it into a completed cover, and passed the bundle to the upholstery department for stapling and assembly prior to shipping to the customer.
We realized through both of these events that the best way for us to improve the performance and throughput of the sewing department was to improve the accuracy of the bundles they were receiving from the cutting department. By cutting a single boat at a time (which we decided collectively to do as a team in Kaizen #1) and additional kaizen-driven improvements, we dramatically reduced the amount of rework by radically increasing the accuracy of cut bundles. Furthermore, for those times when we do err, we established an appropriate feedback loop where a sewer can simply report objectively that the bundle was flawed in some way. Throughput has increased radically, accuracy has improved substantially, and overtime hours in the cutting department are virtually a memory.
I am indebted to the Collaborative MBA program for the direction it provided me while I embarked upon a path of self-discovery. I am also indebted to the other members of my class, many of whom I consider to be dear friends and trusted business advisors today.
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