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Book review: Leading the lean journey

CEOs tell their success stories.


September 18, 2015
by Joe Terrett, Editor

book1Lean manufacturing succeeds best with the CEO and senior management onside. Toronto business writer Jacob Stoller demonstrates how pivotal the chief executive’s involvement can be in his new book, The Lean CEO, Leading the Way to World-Class Excellence (McGraw Hill).

Stoller (who has written for PLANT) has interviewed 28 mostly US corporate leaders to discuss their companies’ lean journeys. What’s most striking about their stories is how they shifted away from traditional hierarchal and/or autocratic management, standard cost accounting, and producing stuff in large batches.

Lean is all about eliminating waste and to do so everyone must pull together to continuously improve processes, but it only happens when people on the plant floor and those working in the front office are believers. These CEOs recognize the people closest to the work aren’t mere units of production: they know what’s going on; they know where the problems are and will most likely be the ones who provide solutions. They also recognize the importance of eliminating silos, changing the corporate culture and aligning what’s going on in the plant to the company’s strategic direction.

Stoller provides many examples of impressive outcomes. PLZ Aeroscience, a designer and manufacturer of specialty aerosol products, nearly tripled revenues to $425 million over its five-year lean journey. Dan Ariens, chief of Ariens Co., recounts how lean saved the family business (manufacturing lawn and garden machinery, and agriculture equipment). And many others describe how lean helped get them through tough or stagnant times with impressive financial results, ultimately creating much stronger businesses.

The details of their journeys, challenges, successes and failures will be useful to anyone embarking on, or is involved in a lean transformation. But the key take away is the importance of lean’s philosophical underpinnings. The CEOs demonstrate a workforce that believes is the foundation of a sustainable lean culture, but that belief must also come from the top.

The book is available in bookstores and on Amazon.ca in digital and hard copy.

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