Where Did This Year Go?

The New Year Countdown. Venue: Marina Bay, Sin...

Image by williamcho via Flickr

I was finally able to take a couple days off for the holiday this weekend.  As part of my normal routine I took advantage of the time to go online and catch up with all of my social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and my emails.  I noticed that I hadn’t done a blog in almost two months and it actually really bothered me.  Not because I feel that I have expert knowledge to share with the world but rather because there has been so much activity within my life and my lean journey and I have failed to properly document and reflect on the changes that have taken place.  So one of my New Years resolutions is to take this blog serious and to make sure I post at least once or twice a week so that I might be able to look back and reflect.

2010 In A Nut Shell

2010 was “the best of times and the worse of times.”  It started out surviving a recession that I hope my kids and their kids never have to experience.  I was working on my tenth year at an incredible company that had taught me more than any of my years at college.  My wife and I were looking for our first home to purchase and in May we were two weeks from closing on it.  Rumors had begun to saturate the shop that they were going to have another “Black Monday” and that a lot of people were going to lose their jobs.  We had been assured in our plant that it wasn’t going to impact us because our numbers had already been cut so low.  For some reason however, I knew it was coming.  It was as if God had literally spoke to my heart in preparation for what was coming.

The day before I went in to be “downsized”, I actually sat my family down and prepared them for what I felt was coming.  I told them that if I was home by 9 am, that it was because I had lost my job and not to worry.  Sure enough, the signs were prevalent as I walked in that day.  My email would not allow me to send messages and the managers were circling my desk as if it was a viewing at a funeral.  Then it happened.  The plant manager approached my desk and said that he needed to talk to me in the front offices.  I didn’t and still don’t hold any grudges against any of them.  After all, they were just doing their job and their job was a difficult one to do.  The rest is history.  After 9 years of 60 plus hour weeks, blood, sweat and yes even tears, I was on the outside of the world I had known for so long.  I was unemployed.

Throughout this whole process, I had a very weird sense of calm.  I talked to many who had the same experience that week and some were very hurt and bitter.  I had come to the realization that maybe God had wanted me out of that job for some time now and that since I hadn’t listened to Him, He had finally made it happen.  My wife and I sat down and talked and decided that it was time for me to reconnect with my kids and I took the summer off to simply be with the family.  We traveled and spent every waking moment together and let me tell you, it was the best summer we have ever had.  In September when the kids were going back to school, I told my wife I should get serious about looking for work.  I interviewed at one company, Sara Lee and felt confident that I was going to get the job but in the end I wasn’t “what they needed.”  Again, I figured God had a different direction and simply kept my ear out.

One thing I had promised myself was that there were two industries that I did not want to be part of: Office Furniture and Automotive.  So it only makes sense that the next two companies that would open their doors to me was a drug manufacturer and a automotive supplier.  I visited both companies and ironically began to have a change of heart.  The drug company was awesome.  It was neck deep in the Six Sigma culture and was standardized above and beyond anything I had ever seen. The automotive supply company I looked at was at the very beginning of their lean journey.  Their management had been exposed to lean concepts and had a desire in their eyes to learn and apply it.  That made all the difference in the world to me.  I was going to work in the industry I swore I wouldn’t, the automotive experience!

I started there the beginning of October and let me tell you, it has been one heck of a ride.  I have almost 70 employees that report to me on the weirdest shift you might have heard of.  We are a weekend crew that works Friday, Saturday (day shifts) and Sunday, Monday (overnights) and take Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday off.  Out of the 70 employees on my team, approximately 24 of them are currently hired in and the rest are made up of temporaries that are working on getting their foot in the door.  I often refer to our team as the “bad news bears” as we are typically the last crew anyone would want to work.  However, things are starting to turn around.

Setting The Priorities

After about six weeks of pure observation and learning of the policies and procedures, I finally realized that I needed to set a vision for my crew and my plant.  I have determined three easily repeatable standards for my crew and have shared it at least 500 times with them.  If you talk to any of my team members, whether it is their first day or they have been there for years, they can repeat them verbatim.  They are:

  1. Safety is our number one priority.  My job is to send you home tired and dirty but in the same shape that you came in.
  2. Quality is our number two priority.  The products that we make are considered “safety critical”.  That simply means that if we make a mistake, people could die.  In my old job a customer might be upset because of a finish issue or a flaw in the veneer.  In my new job, if we fail to do our job correctly someones spouse, child or grandchild may not make it out of an accident alive.
  3. Production Numbers are our third priority.  My goal is to be the best and to have the highest numbers in the division.  This however is having to set on the back burner a s there are many foundational concepts that first must be accomplished.

The two “programs” that I am currently rolling out coincide with the priorities I have set.  The first is introducing true 5S into the shop and the second is developing a training program for the team members that join us.  I will talk about this in future blogs as the learning and reflection I have had has been phenomenal.  The best part is that I have a leadership that is allowing me to do this.  They understand the unique situation that I have with being a “weekend crew” and the consistent changeover of people we have because of it.  The proof will be in the pudding but I am confident that as long as we keep our focus, in six months our plant will look totally different and our turnover issues will disappear.

Good Things Come To Those That Wait

On a personal note, my life is more complete and satisfying than I have ever had before.  This summer was incredible and I did get to make up for some lost time with my kids.  It also help me set my priorities for me and my family.  On Thanksgiving weekend, we moved into the house of our dreams.  I am not exaggerating.  If I could have drawn the plans myself and built it, I couldn’t have done any better than what we have now.  Finally, I am in a job again that I look forward to going to and gain more and more excitement from the work that I do.  I get to work with young and old minds and expose them to lean manufacturing in ways that they have never heard of before.  It is not only exciting for me, it is rewarding as I know that I am not only making an impact for the company that I work for but I am also making an impact on the people that I am working with.

2010 was the best of times, gone to the worse of times and ended as the best of times again.  It was a roller coaster of a ride and I never knew what laid around the next turn.  In the end however, I am confident in saying that God had His plan and in the end it was all for the best.  For the first time in a long time, I am actually excited about the year ahead.  2011 is going to be a great year not only professionally but also personally and I can’t wait to dig into it.  Happy New Years to all!

Gallery | This entry was posted in Just Lifes Observations, TPS / Lean Manufacturing. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Where Did This Year Go?

  1. steve szucs says:


    Good to see you writing again! It has been a wild ride hasn’t it!?! It’s funny how our feelings and experiences mirror each other, except that I took the drug path. It is exciting and rejuvenating to go into a new experience. I think so much of it has to do with your attitude and openness to change, much like the lean experience. Isn’t that ironic. May God bless your work!

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