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February 09, 2006 - Image 15

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2006-02-09

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Honda. Sure, there are recalls and questions about how excit-
ing designs are, but when sales are not up from last year at
this time it is surprising. And market share in America and
globally only seems to go in one direction: up!
Why are there so many ups and downs for the traditional
powerhouses in the American auto industry? Executives of
these companies will blame it on external factors, or at least
factors beyond their control, and there is certainly truth in
this. They made huge profits per vehicle on large gas-guzzling
trucks and SUVs, which covered up many sins. With fuel
prices sky rocketing, sales of these profit makers are down.
They also suffer from an accumulation of obligations to retir-
ees for pension and health care costs that grow every year as
people retire and healthcare costs grow. Any company that
has committed for decades to cover health care costs for life
will struggle as time goes on, especially with people living
longer than ever before. While these are legitimate challenges
for the Big Three, I do not believe that is the entire story.
In my book, "The Toyota Way" (McGraw Hill, 2004), 1

discuss the underlying principles that have allowed Toyota to
be so successful, so consistently, for so long. Often, as a foil, I
refer to an example from the Big Three of how they fail to fol-
low comparable principles. The fact that Toyota has any set of
principles that are diligently and consistently followed gives
them a huge competitive advantage. If you can summarize
the underlying management principle of the Big Three, it is:
Look at the current situation and maximize quarterly earn-
ings (or minimize losses) for today. Tomorrow will take care
of itself ... or we will worry about that tomorrow.
I summarized Toyota's philosophy in a "4P" model. The
foundational P is philosophy: "Base your management deci-
sions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-
term financial goals." Toyota is always thinking about how
they can thrive in adding value decades out. As such, they
keep large cash reserves to handle any downturn, and think
about investments in terms of long-term payback. The invest-
ment in the Prius hybrid was never cost-justified based on
forecasted sales of Prius versus R&D and capital expendi-

.. _

It is hard to find bad news
about Toyota and Honda.
- Jeffrey Liker
Prof. of Industrial and Operations Engineering
tures. It was part of preparing for the 21 century. And the benefits have been so
strong in so many ways that they dwarf any early investments.
The second P is process and the belief that "the right process will produce the
right results." Toyota has evolved through trial and error, learning a whole set of
beliefs about what makes an efficient and effective high value-added process. The
Toyota Production System, the new model for manufacturing globally, reflects
those beliefs about the right way to do things. Toyota has certain precepts about
the right way that they rarely violate. This consistency helps in achieving the last
two principles.
The third P is people. Toyota believes in investing in and developing its people
and partners (including suppliers) for the long term. The right process only works
because of exceptional people who know how to continuously improve processes.
Toyota will spend years rigorously developing shop-floor employees, to the point at
which they can become team leaders to develop new employees and lead continu-
ous improvement activities.
The final P, problem solving, is about that continuous improvement. It is really
continuous learning - trying things, measuring results, reflecting, and incorporat-
ing what is learned into today's best standard practice. Toyota's learning enterprise
is getting a little bit better every day - like the tortoise, slowly and steady wins
the race.
It is interesting that Ford, GM and Chrysler have all made major investments
during the last 15 years in learning from Toyota, mostly in manufacturing but also
in product development. For Ford and GM, these efforts have, to a large degree,
been put on hold as their attention is focused on downsizing enough to stay afloat.
Chrysler seems to be newly invigorated in their efforts to learn from Toyota, hav-
ing recently hired a number of former Toyota managers into key leadership posi-
tions. But how come this has not worked to erase any competitive advantage of
Toyota? Fundamentally the problem is that they have not been able to stick with it.
The "lean program" gets a great deal of management attention, the best consultants

here is a myriad of ways people interact
with me. There are people that get the "deer
in the headlights" look on their face when
I wheel toward them. There are also people that
don't even see me - since I am so much lower
to the ground - until it's too late and they are
now on my lap (this is most awkward when the
countering partner is riding a bicycle). And then
there are the most annoying: the overachieving
helpers. For some reason, these people have it
ingrained in their brains that people who use
wheelchairs can't do anything for themselves.
Now, I'm not talking about all of the very kind
people that hold doors and pick up books that
fall on the floor - that is just common cour-
tesy for everyone, whether they use a wheelchair
or not. The people I am talking about are the
ones like the aunt that you only see one time,
and even that once a year is too much. They
just don't leave you alone! They talk to you as
though you are five again and insist that you are
"so brave" and "you can do it" (Apparently I am
now the Little Engine that Could). These people
are everywhere, and make blending in much
more difficult.
Imagine yourself walking down the street to
class when all of the sudden, you are being picked
up and whisked away by a stranger, only to be
dropped at a point they feel is convenient and
then they vanish with a self-righteous "You're
Welcome!" This has happened to me numerous

times. I will be wheeling down the sidewalk and
someone will just come up behind me and start
pushing me. There are times when assistance is
welcomed, but the majority of the time, I'm doing
pretty well on my own.
These overachievers also seem to have the idea
that since my legs don't function properly, neither
does my brain. On numerous occasions, I have
been shown how to use the vending machines and
how to cross the street. But my all-time favorite is
the day I was shown how to grocery shop. I was
happily going through the aisles, when a woman
just came up to me and picked my basket off my
lap. I was slightly stunned, but when I regained
my composure I told her I was all right and didn't
need her help. She didn't listen to me. This went
on for three or four rounds, until I finally just had
to break it to her that I was doing fine on my own
and she should just get back to her own shopping.
As she walked off in a huff, I wondered if I was
transmitting a signal saying I was helpless.
While the previously mentioned "random
acts of kindness" are annoying, they are also
tolerable. The one thing that is not tolerable
under any circumstances is when people don't
treat me like a human being. If I am sitting in
your way, please tell me because I will move,
for you, do not just pick me up and move me
like a chair or a couch. I also know how to use
the vending machines, but thanks for buying
me a Snickers with my money when I really did

Rolling by
Disabled students struggle
for equality on campus
By Jolene Brcker

Jolene Bricker sits in the Tap Room of the Michigan Union

want the Twix I was going for. I am not deaf
either. Speaking loudly isn't going to make a
difference in how I can hear or understand you.
Hostesses, when finding a table where a wheel-
chair user can sit, occasionally refer to them
as "the chair" or "that wheelchair." We are not
made of metal and paint, and we would never
say, "Shoe, party of two, your table is ready,"
(unless of course, your name was Shoe). When
seating a wheelchair user, please do not say,
"So, do you want to sit in a real chair? Or are
you just going to stay in yours?" The patron
will most likely use their own. They brought it
for a reason, didn't they?

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Detroit's already-dilapidated streets will likely continue to deteriorate as
the Big Three lose ground to Toyota and other foreign competitors.
8B - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, February 9, 2006

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