Huntsman Alumni Magazine

Spring 2007

Jon M. Huntsman School of Business promotes philosophy that saves military dollars

Utah State President Stan Albrecht flew to Las Vegas last fall to meet with key military leaders from the Army, Navy and Air Force and celebrate with them recent victories they’ve had in a war that many Americans don’t even know is being waged.

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It’s a budget war that has grown from the U.S. Armed Services’ need to meet the significant increase in demand for its services around the world at a time when there has been no matching dramatic increase in funding. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have managed to improve their ability to respond by implementing a philosophy that Utah State has been championing for years.

In the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business there is a small business, of sorts, that has developed a national reputation for its work promoting a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of showing respect for employees, while eliminating waste, saving money, increasing productivity and improving quality. The approach was originally articulated by Shigeo Shingo, a widely-respected industrial engineer in Japan whose teachings have been key to Toyota’s success. In 1988 he came to Utah State University and was recognized with an honorary doctorate in business.

It was soon afterward that the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business launched the Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing. The organization, led by Executive Director Ross Robson, administers the prize and has built its reputation nationally. It is now often called by those who know of the award as the "Nobel prize of manufacturing." Dr. Robson has led the Shingo Prize efforts almost since its beginning and is credited with being a national expert on the philosophy.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Donald Wetekam described the Shingo Prize as a "worldclass award" and said the prize, coupled with the measurable results that have been achieved, have gotten the attention of others in the service.

Last fall, representatives from several military units and leaders from the Sandia National Laboratories, a facility that makes neutron generators for nuclear weapons, were honored at the conference. The event drew high-ranking military leaders including three, three-star generals and a vice admiral.

The philosophy that has grown from Shingo’s teachings is now often referred to as "lean" by experts in the area, with the word "lean" being used as a noun, not an adjective.

At the conference, lean was credited with helping the military dramatically eliminate waste and make more equipment available to the troops. The three-day conference featured several presentations that detailed the dramatic improvements that had been made as these techniques were mastered. President Albrecht spoke before the awards dinner and paid tribute to the work the award recipients do for the Armed Services.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Donald Wetekam said the use of lean tools has been spreading in the Air Force but was initially viewed, even by himself, skeptically. He believes that this approach has made their efforts to improve much more effective. He described the Shingo Prize as a "world-class award" and said the prize, coupled with the measurable results that have been achieved, have got the attention of others in the service.

The lean philosophy is now being promoted, to a greater or lesser extent, in all four branches of the U.S. Armed Services, the generals said.