I had already heard the story from a third party, but on the way to a U.S. shipyard in 1991 I wanted to hear it first hand. What could I say that would prompt the head of the yard’s design organization to describe how he suddenly came to accept the modern managerial thinking for shipyard operations that I advocated?
The design boss was typical of virtually all traditional managers in positions of power. They had worked for years in the shadows of their predecessors and when they reached the pinnacles of their careers with traditional boundaries of responsibilities, along comes another so-called expert. This one advocates a change to a different corporate culture, one that is said to have its origins in America and to have been proven in Japan. One that features decentralization of authority!
The design manager hadn’t been cooperative. But there was a force in motion that I had been unaware of, that caused him to change his mind.
I breezed into his office presumably just to say, “Hello.”
The design boss was unaware that someone had informed me about why he had become a convert. I didn’t have to prompt him. He broke into a big smile at the sight of me and, to the extent that a borderline curmudgeon could be bubbly, exclaimed, “Let me tell you what happened to me. My daughter, who is studying economics in college and who is taking a required management course, read in the newspaper that my yard retained consultants from Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI) of Japan, the world’s foremost manager of shipyards.”
As the design boss continued, the tale unfolded. The reporter was astute and had command of the proper terminology and all the right buzz words, for example: abandonment of traditional functional organizations and substitution of product organizations, the direct relationship of accuracy and productivity, and the use of statistical control techniques. So at dinner one evening, the young Miss said, “Dad, please bring me everything you can of what IHI is introducing. It is exactly what I am now studying and it is exciting.”
Her father, who had refused to accept any of my pertinent literature, had to go hat in hand so to speak, and ask for copies. The design boss talked on, “It’s fantastic. Before, each evening when the three of us had dinner, my wife and daughter had some girl-talk conversation and there didn’t seem to be any topic of mutual interest for my daughter and me. Now every evening there is spirited conversation between us, with my wife chipping in, about IHI’s approach and progress being made in the shipyard.”
Considering the slowness with which the modern logic is being adopted by both public and private U.S. shipyards, the combined initiatives by the Maritime Administration and the Naval Sea Systems Command have yet to equal the persuasive powers of the extraordinary Miss.
Copyright © 2006 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo