profiles in business

 

At EDS, it’s not too good to be true

Rodd Monts

 

 

     One of the cardinal lessons taught in Business 101 classes across the country is the adage:  “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”

     It’s a lesson students carry with them through their careers.  Ultimately, it becomes a decision-making cornerstone in organizations everywhere.  Those who don’t learn the lesson are likely to find themselves left by the wayside sooner or later.

     So don’t blame Bill Gust, materials manager at Lear Corp.’s Bowling Green, Ohio, plant for being skeptical when EDS approached him with an unbelievable offer.  Representatives from EDS’ Manufacturing Professional Development Group in Troy would send in a team of consultants to spend three to four weeks evaluating the seat system supplier’s plant.  They would suggest ways to streamline Lear’s operations and increase its productivity.

     The kicker?  EDS would provide the services at no cost to Lear.

     “How do you have a company come in and help you run your business more efficiently, send a team of five or six consultants to analyze your operation, then tell you they’ll do it for free?” asks Gust.  “Yes, at first I was skeptical.”

     He wasn’t alone.  Many companies thought the EDS Manufacturing Enter-prise Leadership Program – MEL for short – sounded too good to be true.

     And today, they’re running tighter ships thanks to the innovative training program created five years ago to help select senior executives and middle managers at EDS increase their manu-facturing acumen.

 

Key EDS managers and

executives are helping area

manufacturers run more

efficient shops – and they’re

doing it for free

 

     “We recognized a need to increase our manufacturing expertise,” explains Charles Adams, EDS manufacturing specialist in charge of the MEL pro-gram.

     To meet that need, EDS rounded up a team of noted consultants, trainers and industrial manufacturing faculty at the University of Michigan to design a program that would help their managers strengthen skills, shore up core com- petencies and even learn a few new tricks in the process.

     EDS had a number of objectives.  It wanted a first-of-its-kind training series. It wanted a program that would stress business on the global front.  It wanted to broaden its employees’ management skills by exposing them to a variety of settings and alternative business philo-sophies and leadership styles.  And fin-ally, and perhaps most importantly, it wanted to create a program that would leave an indelible impression.

lined step-by-step on oversized index cards, the exhibit fills two conference room walls.  As Adams

explains, each phase of the MEL program and each step its students take are intended to produce well-rounded managers for EDS.

     “Not only in manufacturing, but building relationships and under-standing what goes on in the board-room as well as what goes on on the plant floor and the spaces in between,” Adams asserts.

     For nine weeks, MEL students in classes of about 30, study manu-facturing concepts while - rotating between plant simulations at the Troy facility, classroom sessions led by noted guest lecturers and host companies like Lear, where they apply daily lessons to actual business environments.

     “As you can imagine, taking someone off their job for a straight nine weeks – they’re not making you any money, they’re actually eating it up – it’s a very expensive investment.  So we wanted to make sure the investment was doing something,” says Adams.  EDS spends roughly $15,000 to send each employee through the MEL program

     The “host” company concept, he explains, grew out of discussions on how best to monitor student progress.  Analyzing various host firms gives students a chance to show off what they learned during the first five weeks of the program.

     Most hosts are Metro Detroit-based, but the program has expanded to include

 

FAST FACTS

 

Company:  Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS), Troy

Business:  Global information services; about 95,000 employees in 42 countries; more than $12 billion in annual sales

Program:  Manufacturing Enterprise Leadership Program, created by EDS’ Manufacturing Professional Development Group

Participants:  EDS senior and mid-level managers and executives

Statistics:  650 employees from EDS facilities in 25 countries have completed the nine-week course

     The result was a program that met all those criteria—and more.

     The strategy team that de-signed the program “decided to take a different approach to things,” Adams explains.  We know from educational studies you retain about 10 to 20 percent of what you hear or see.  And we know from those same studies you retain about 70 to 90 percent of what you experience or attempt to teach others.”

     EDS keeps a MEL model on display at its headquarters.  Out-

manufacturers and a few other select companies across Michigan, into Ohio and Indiana and across the boarder into Ontario.  The course incorporates teamwork, leadership, communications skills and global awareness as recurring themes.  These are the talents EDS hopes will ensure its success in the global marketplace into the next century.

     To date, EDS has sent about 650 employees from its facilities in 25 countries through the program.  This summer, EDS began offering the MEL program to executives outside the company.

 

 

 

MEL students work hard in the classroom as well as the shop floor.  Students map out ways manufacturers can turn out better products, faster and at less cost.  But they also examine philosophical approaches, including personality typing, and how different psychological traits affect the way a company operates.  EDS brings in an array of  speakers, including diversity consultants, to help MEL students learn to better manage cultural differences.

     To date, more than 130 companies have hosted MEL students.  While the program focuses heavily on manufacturing companies, “hosts” also include firms as diverse as OJ Transport Co. and Piston Packaging in Detroit,  Vlasic Foods Inc. in Imlay City and NuVision Inc. in Flint.

     It’s a win-win situation,” says Adams.  “We get to use them as a medium for our folks who demonstrate ability to participate in the program.  And they get four or five top-notch, very experienced employees to come into the company and help fix it.  And guess what?  It works.”

     It certainly worked for Lear.  As part of a comprehensive assessment, MEL students examined Lear’s plant layout and the way material flowed into and out of its warehouse.  The MEL team noted that forklifts carried materials through the main aisle of the Lear plant, creating far too much congestion.  Their report included a reconfigured plant layout with separate incoming and outgoing aisles for forklifts.

     The students also helped Lear managers design two extra bays for shipping and receiving inventory.  The relationship has been so productive that Gust is recommending the MEL pro-gram to Colleagues at other Lear facilities.

     For Don Bailey of Suburban Tool in Auburn Hills, the solution to his problems came wrapped in a small binder, four inches thick, full of colorful graphics and slides.

MEL students produced the sleek binder for Bailey’s machine and accessory and inspection tool supply firm.

     Bailey was never big on consultants.  In fact, if someone were to show up at his door offering to evaluate his business and put together a report, he might have warned them not to let the door hit them on the way out.  But he figured the MEL offer was worth a shot.  After all – it was free.

 

 

“They looked at where we are today, where we want to go in the future, what we must do to get there and what that bridge is,” asserts Bailey, who has owned the company about 20 years.

     At Suburban Tool, the MEL students brought a different perspective to the table.

     “They weren’t just engineers alone, they were engineers and marketing or accounting people second, so that allowed us to gain a greater under-standing, and made for a better working relationship because we spoke the same language,” he recalls.

     Suburban Tool hopes to expand its export business, using recommendations the MEL students passed along..  The firm had already penetrated markets in Mexico, Canada and the Pacific Rim, and it’s looking to expand its reach even further.  The students helped the tool manufacturer evaluate strengths, weaknesses,  new markets and expansion costs.  They developed a strategy to help Suburban Tool improve its position in the international marketplace, and eventually increase exports.

     The students also make it a point to highlight their host companies’ strengths.  Sometimes a fresh set of eyes see things companies take for granted, as a matter of daily routine.  In Suburban Tool’s case, it was the empowerment philosophy and communication with its employees, which makes for a  more harmonious and productive workplace, the MEL team found.  The pat on the back was appreciated.

     “They brought to our attention all of our core competencies that we normally don’t consider on a regular basis,” says Bailey.  It was nice to hear about things his company was doing right, in addition to the things it could do better, he says. Today, his only regret is the MEL students he befriended are gone, although he manages to keep in touch with some of them.

     And despite any apprehension he had initially when EDS came knocking, Bailey is glad he opened the door.  It was a rare exception to that old adage they taught back in Business 101.

 

 

 

^  Don Bailey of Suburban Tool in Auburn Hills hopes to expand his export business, using recommendations from students in the Manufacturing Enterprise Leader-ship Program devised by EDS.  The students helped the company evaluate new markets and expansion costs.