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A brief look at A3 management – Toyota Process, vs the “Lets Talk” program at the Sharonville Transmission Plant sheds light on why Toyota is now the world’s top auto company and Ford is hanging on by its fingernails. First lets look at the Deming cycle, or Deming Wheel.
Dr. W. Edwards Deming , considered to be the father of modern quality control, advised the Japanese on how to build quality products, and did so very successfully. After the war Japan was known for making and selling cheap junk ashtrays. Dr. Deming went to Japan and taught them to manufacture the finest quality products in the world. Dr. Deming also consulted with major American companies, including Xerox, IBM, Westinghouse, and many others. He also consulted with Ford Motor Company.
Dr. Deming’s experience consulting with Ford is covered in a book entitled “The Man Who Discovered Quality” by Andrea Gabor. Deming found the upper management of Ford to be the most incompetent he had ever encountered, and so states in the book. He felt that they were like warring street gangs, with each executive having a personal empire, which he jealously guarded, and viewed any change as a threat to his power within the organization. After weeks of frustration Dr. Deming gathered up his stuff and walked out of Dearborn headquarters because Ford was run in an autocratic style, much like Henry Ford had run the organization. Deming was able to work with defeated Japanese executives, many of which hated and distrusted him. But he could not work with Ford Motor Company.
Demings model for quality improvement involves PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) known as the Deming Cycle, or Deming Wheel. The concept of PDCA comes out of the “Scientific Method” which was developed from the work of Francis Bacon, and can be summarized as “hypothesis” – “experiment” – “evaluation” or Plan, Do, and Check. It is a rather simple, logical concept, and is widely used at Toyota, IBM, Procter and Gamble, and other progressive corporations.
When I worked at Ford in the 70s, and quality was so bad that Toyota, Honda, and VW were taking sales at an alarming rate, Ford devised the “Let’s Talk” program. When 33 states passed legislation to protect car buyers from the products coming out of Detroit, Ford knew that something had to be done to improve quality. A letter was sent to the home of every Ford employee. It stated that Ford wanted the participation of everyone, and invited every employee to submit written suggestions. If a suggestion had merit, and Ford adopted the suggestion, the employee would would be financially compensated.
At first the program received wide support and enthusiasm. Employees clustered in groups, debating how to improve this process and that process, and how to improve quality and productivity. The suggestions piled up on the desks of General Foremen, who made the first evaluation of whether the idea was a good one or a bad one. Unfortunately, few suggestions got beyond the General Foreman.
If he did not like an employee, he would reject the suggestion, whether it was a good one or a bad one. The UAW put pressure on people not to submit suggestions that would eliminate jobs, or eliminate overtime, which most UAW people counted on and budgeted into their household financial plans. The only suggestions that got beyond the General Foremen’s desks were non threatening ones that did not eliminate jobs, or meaningfully change the ingrained procedures that Ford had enforced for 75 years.
A handful of such suggestions actually made it up the chain of command, and a few employees were paid $50 for each suggestion. But nothing significant changed, quality continued to go down hill, and each of the Big Three had massive layoffs and plant shutdowns. In the meantime, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and VW continued to improve quality and take away the American car market. Ford Motor Company received the largest recall in automotive history because of defective transmissions, and only the intervention of the Reagan Administration in the early 80s prevented a bankruptcy filing from Ford.
A wide range of people have purchased the book, with interesting stories. A very interesting one was Alan Malully, who emailed me that he appreciated the book and would be reading it on the plane. But the most interesting people were workers at the Sharonville Ford Plant, and members of their families.
There was the lady who said her father worked at the plant when it opened and retired 20 years ago. He can’t see well, at the age of 80, and his daughter read the book to him. He sent her back to my store to get it autographed, and thank me for telling the story of what Ford workers had to go through back in those years when they were hammered from both sides, management and the union.
Then there was the guy who said he was buying the book in honor of his Dad, who died a few years back, after putting in 30 at the Fairfax and Sharonville plant. His Dad never talked about his job, but everybody knew he worked it only because of the money that it paid, and hated to work at Ford. He went to the plant only once with his Dad, who told him two things. First he took him into the men’s room to show him the cardboard beds UAW guys made on top of commodes to sleep on company time. Then he pointed out a guy on a bicycle. He said the guy rode to one end of the plant, then had himself paged to go to the other end of the plant. When he got there he had himself paged to ride back to the other end of the plant. That way he always looked like he was busy and going somewhere in a hurry.
I cannot forget the email I received from a lady who worked for me. She was outraged that I would write that she was a prostitute who serviced men in her camper in the parking lot. I explained that I was not talking about her, and had written nothing about her in the book. She said “Oh, O.K. Other than that it was a good book and is pretty much how I remember things.”
I would be remiss not to mention a fellow that I worked closely with at Sharonville, and is still there, after 37 years. He has regular arguements with other UAW guys about the book, saying that the book is completely factual, as he can verify, because he was there, and the book is not about the people who work at Ford today.
One of the most moving book buyers was a man from Kentucky, about 90 miles south of the plant. His Dad is dead now. But he bought the book in honor of his father. I knew his father. He worked for me in Department 258. He was one of the best workers that I remember. He drove the hour and a half to Sharonville on Sunday Nights and rented a sleeping room. He worked at Sharonville all week, then drove back to Kentucky on Saturday morning, after the midnight shift. Then he worked his 150 acre farm with his two sons on Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday night he drove back up to Sharonville in time for the midnight shift. He did that for 28 years. Then he died. His mother received nothing from Ford because he had not made 30 years. He bought a book for himself, his brother, and his mother.
Some of them hate me, and some of them thank me. I am talking about the response from Local 863 of the United Auto Workers. Since the articles in the Cincinnati Enquirer and local radio talk shows, I have gotten a definite response from the UAW at the Sharonville Plant, which is what the book is about. But that response has been polar opposites.
The response from current workers in the UAW has been extremely negative. They see my book as an attack on them. Which is strange, since most of them were, I am guessing here, 10 years old when I worked at Sharonville. Are all UAW people as insecure and defensive as the workers at the Sharonville Transmission Plant? Are they so fearful of the mess that they have helped create that they want to silence anyone who writes the truth about how they built the cars that destroyed Detroit?
Look, my book is about yesterday. It is not about today. I certainly have no bone to pick with the workers at the plant today, since I left Ford 30 years ago. So who cares what happened 30 years ago? Everybody should care, because that is when they created the begining of the downfall of the Big 3 by producing junk for 20 years. The cars that were produced by Detroit in the 70s and 80s had historically bad quality. By historically bad I am talking about 33 states passing legislation to create “Lemon Laws” to protect car buyers. I am talking about people that were killed and injured by defective cars. I am talking about the largest recall in automotive history. I am talking about the intervention of President Reagan to save Ford from bankruptcy because they could not withstand the recall of 23,000,000 Fords for defective transmissions.
But there is another, more important thing that I am talking about. A thing that DOES impact today’s auto workers. That thing is two small, weak, insignificant, inexperienced foreign auto companies called Toyota and Honda that came to the U.S. and took the market from the mightiest industrial empire on earth: the U.S. auto industry. How did they do it? They didn’t do it. The American car buying public did it.
I can remember when Ford, GM, and Chrysler dealerships were bloated with inventory that no one wanted. I can remember salesmen milling around, smoking cigarettes, watching cars go by, hoping that someone, anyone, would come in to buy a car. At that same time period, VW dealers were mere order takers, had no inventory, and you had to go on a two month wait to purchase a VW coming from Germany. Quit whining, Detroit. You did it to yourself. You destroyed the faith and trust that had been built up for a half century in American made products. You drove American car buyers to foreign competitors. YOU created the competition that has destroyed GM and Chrysler and is now nipping at the heels of Ford. My book is about how you, and, yes, me, built the cars that lost the global auto war.
So what has been the UAW response to my book? Lets take the haters first. I have received emails calling me a traitor and questioning my parentage. A UAW 863 guy came into my retail store, purchased a copy of A Savage Factory, opened to the first page, wrote “From 863”, spit in the book, told my clerks that I had “better watch my back because a lot of people are out to get me” and walked out. I received an email from a woman who worked for me almost 35 years ago. She was highly upset. She called me a liar. She was referring to the incident in the book where a female Ford employee had a side business of turning tricks in her RV in the parking lot. I answered that I was NOT talking about her. I was talking about a whorehouse on Ford property silently supported by management and had nothing to do with her. She had nothing to do with the mobile whorehouse, nor did she have anything to do with the whiskey and beer serving bar set up behind storage racks, and again, silently supported by management, which got appropriate kickbacks.
Now lets talk about some positive responses. To date I have sold more than 200 books to former Ford workers, now retired, who worked under the conditions that I describe in A Savage Factory. Some of those books, a fair number, were purchased by children of Ford workers, at the suggestion of their fathers, who wanted them to try and understand why they had never been good fathers. Why they were never home, because of the incredible overtime requirements, and when they were home they were exhausted, had no time for wife or kids, and were ready to bite their heads off if anyone disturbed them. No soccer game attendance, no PTA meetings, no playing ball with the kids. Just trudging off to Ford with churning stomachs and balled up fists, waiting for the never ending battle at the Sharonville Transmission Plant. Sure, they brought home fat paychecks. And they tried to buy things to substitute for not being a good father. But things are no substitute. One woman, in her 80s, husband deceased, thanked me for writing the book, because, for the first time, she understood how Ford had changed the man she married into a monster.
UAW local 863, whose members built transmissions that brought the largest recall in automotive history, can’t even get threats and intimidation right. Apparently some members of local 863 do not like my book. Which is odd, since A Savage Factory attacks incompetent Ford management more, by far, than the UAW, and at least 120 UAW members and former members have bought copies and praised the book for telling it like it was.
Speaking of incompetent, an unkempt, possibly boosed up UAW guy came into my retail store yesterday, demanding to see me. When told I was out making deliveries, he picked up one of my books, wrote “From 863” then spit into the book, slammed it on the counter, and told my clerk that “I had better watch my back, because I pissed off a lot of people.” There are defective Fords, defective Ford transmissions, and defective threats.
We have this thug on camera. We have his fingerprints on the book. We have a picture of his car with the license plate. We have his spit DNA. The police are issueing a warrant for his arrest for terroristic threatening. I have not yet decided whether to sue UAW Local 863. They could not build transmissions right and just about took Ford down. Now they can’t even do threats right.
Which is good, because I am armed, my home and business has constant survailance, and I have posted harassment charges with the State Police and two local police departments. I am guessing a story like this will sell a lot of books.
Detroit is a very sad place, reminding me of movies about cities that have been devastated by war. That is what happened to Detroit. It has been devastated by the war in the auto plants. I went to Detroit the day prior to the GM announcement to interview on Chinese television about my book “A Savage Factory.”
I interviewed in the Courtyard Motel, across the street from GM headquarters. Reporters from all over the world were swarming like bees around a honey pot, waiting for the big announcement. Of course it did not come until the next day, Monday, June1.
I felt like I was attending a funeral. The mighty General Motors, largest, most powerful corporation in recorded history was laid out like a corpse. A building a short distance from RenCen was vacant, with a “for sale or lease” sign in the window. One of the Chinese interviewers stated that when communism was collapsing in the Soviet Union reporters from all over the world were there to report the event. Was this the collapse of capitalism? I had no answer. All I had was feelings knotted up in my gut, remembering a similar time in a place where I grew up – Western Pennsylvania.
First I saw the coal mines die. All the coal towns shriveled up like weeds sprayed with Roundup. Old men who gave their lives to mining coal for America sat on porches, hollow cheeked, with blank stares, subsisting on welfare, waiting to die. Many of these men fought for America, worked for America, and that was there reward.
Then Big Steel died. 100,000 jobs in the Mon Valley disappeared. Towns died. Young people left. All that was left were welfare people, retirees too old to suck it up and move on, and armies of blacks subsisting on….what? I do not know. Houses with broken windows. Roofs caved in. Streets with weeds growing up through the tarmac. No money for police, fire, road repairs.
And now we come to Detroit. I drove all over the city. It was the same everywhere. Boarded up houses. Closed businesses. Beggers on street corners with “will work for food” scrawled on pieces of cardboard. I stopped for gas. A guy was sitting in a beat up mini van. Blankets and pillows were in the back. He had two little boys, my guess 8 or 10. Each time a car pulled in he sent one of the boys to the car to hand him a piece of paper. Written on the paper was “discount work. Any kind. Will paint, clean up, carpentry. Anything you got for anything you are willing to pay.” I asked another guy directions to get back to I75. He gave them to me. Said can you spare a dollar? Fifty cents? I ain’t had nothing to eat today. I gave him five dollars. I remembered when I was hungary as my world collapsed around me near Pittsburgh. Some people cared. Some people helped. Most did not.
As I left the devastation of Detroit I remembered my years at Ford. Building cars that were junk. Bowing to UAW demands for more money, less work. And I wondered why the Japanese can build quality cars in this country, at a profit, hire American workers, and the Big Three cannot. What happened to us? The world used to look up to America. Now the world laughs at a stumbling, bumbling America starting wars where we don’t belong, mismanaging our businesses, everything controlled by greed. Sad. Very sad.