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Thoughts from the IndustryWeek Operations Leadership Summit

July 05, 2024 4:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Authored by Dave Rizzardo, MWCC Associate Director 

Joyce La Padula, (MWCC Managing Director), Carl Livesay (General Manager of Mercury Plastics), and I attended the inaugural IW Operations Leadership Summit in Indianapolis, IN, June 26-28. As a Summit sponsor, we had an exhibit table, and Carl and I presented on “Sustaining Your Lean Gains”.

The Summit featured keynote speakers, breakout sessions on "Continuous Improvement" and "Technology Adoption," and end-of-day networking. We focused mainly on Continuous Improvement but also attended combined sessions on technology. Key topics included Lean/Continuous Improvement, Technology, and addressing the challenges of filling the employee pipeline. Here are a few highlights from the Summit.

Brett Wood - North America President & CEO, Toyota Material Handling North America

The opening keynote speaker was Brett Wood, North America President & CEO, Toyota Material Handling North America. They make forklifts, not cars. What struck me is that this is a top executive of a $6 billion company, but his presentation largely focused on the basic building blocks of Lean. Their dedication to developing people was captured in the phrases, “Making things is about making people” and “Engage-Educate-Empower.” He talked about involving people in improvement and encouraging small ideas (kaizen), the 8 wastes, their standard daily meetings, and 5S principles. He mentioned the old Tom Peters acronym, MBWA (Management by Wandering Around), and Genchi Genbutsu which is more commonly used in the Lean community.

He even showed the short 5-Why video on the deterioration of the Jefferson Memorial which is often shown as part of a Lean introductory session on root cause analysis. Keep in mind, this is a top executive within the parent company, Toyota Industries Corporation, and currently the only non-Japanese executive in his role, and he’s focusing on the nuts-and-bolts of problem solving and the fundamentals of Lean. He also shared a short video on an improvement in the factory by a gentleman named Al who worked on the production floor. It involved a jig that Al made. This short video captured perfectly the essence and power of employee engagement. Mr. Wood covered more topics too extensive to elaborate on here, but I felt that his keynote clearly showcased his respect for people, focusing on core Lean principles and values, and excelling in the basics. A message any company who wants to develop a Lean culture should heed.

IndustryWeek Best Plants Winners

Following Brett Wood was a panel of current and past IndustryWeek Best Plants winners. As would be expected, they all focused on leadership development and workforce engagement as key components of their culture. I appreciated the response from Tom Lego, Toyota Material Handling, regarding an audience question on how to handle employee ideas that are not really feasible or practical. He emphasized having a discussion to uncover the reason for the idea. Maybe this can be turned into an idea that is feasible. I believe this is so important, to not only get to the root of the issue, but to show respect, and it becomes a coaching/development opportunity.

Another interesting comment from Mr. Lego was that they don’t document all of the small ideas so much any more since the team leaders are leading their teams in improvement activities in their work areas. I am not sure that I agree with “not documenting,” but likely there is another capture mechanism not mentioned to enable sharing and monitoring of improvements. However, the mention of the role of front-line leaders leading their teams in improvement is what I appreciated.

Mayville Engineering Company (MEC)

One of the later breakout sessions in the Continuous Improvement track was by David Higgs from Mayville Engineering Company (MEC) who reviewed their 2-year Lean progress. David described their processing environment as high mix/low volume. Besides their improvement activities, top leadership commitment was noted again, a common Lean theme throughout the Summit. David also mentioned their vision of having the front-line leaders leading the kaizen activity, and the importance of early involvement of front-line leadership to gain ownership. However, admittedly, they are not at their vision yet, but their progress within two years was impressive, and I like their vision.


As mentioned, the first day of the Summit included a couple technology sessions which we attended which were put on by celonis and amentum. Both sessions focused on the integration of information. One of the amentum key discussion items was predictive maintenance approaches rather than relying on preventive maintenance activities. Though not a new topic, the sensing and information technology of today increases the feasibility for more organizations. Both technology sessions highlighted to me the need to investigate and learn more about the capabilities of the latest information technology and how this may help organizations meet their goals.

Professor Phil Powell, Indiana University

The final day of the Summit started with the news that the scheduled keynote speaker was replaced with Professor Phil Powell from Indiana University. He is the Executive Director, Indiana Business Research Center and Clinical Associate Professor of Business Economics and Public Policy. Immediately, some of us prepared for a dry, theoretical, academic discussion sure to put us in nap mode even though the day had just begun. However, we were pleasantly shocked by Dr. Powell’s energetic and real world talk on increasing productivity. He had a pulse on the business community as deep as any of the participating companies. His insights could only have been formed by a deep engagement with the business community.

The four categories that he focused on were Better Technology, Better Infrastructure, Better Talent, and Better Management. Regarding Better Talent, Indiana’s apprenticeship approach was highlighted not only by Dr. Powell, but by other speakers as well. Regarding Better Management, he stated something to the effect that this is the most cost-effective approach that you can do to increase productivity. His one slide noted, “Modernize “old school” approaches to managing workers. You can accommodate a younger generation and still hold them accountable.” He raises the question, “Have you made your shop the most exciting and fulfilling place to work in your industry?” Good question! Think about the ramifications of this, both short and long term.


Following Dr. Powell’s surprisingly impactful keynote, we heard from a couple folks from the Subaru Indiana facility and their impressive Lean journey. They reviewed several topics that were right in line with the major Summit themes of continuous improvement and embracing technology. However, there were a couple specific comments that struck me. One was “Focus on what is going right, not only what is wrong.” I can’t remember what their exact context was surrounding this statement, but I feel that it is a good reminder for a few reasons, not only to highlight and recognize “right” behaviors, but also to get to the root causes of the right behavior and apply this knowledge to improve the deficient areas.

The other comment from one of the Subaru presenters was something that their CEO had stated. He said that there are two jobs here, those who build cars, and those who support the folks who build cars. Determine which you are and get good at it. This quite simply puts a manufacturing organization in perspective…those who add value, and those who support those who add value. They ended their presentation by showing a short video that is shown to all Subaru employees. It was a story of how the safety features of the Subaru saved a gentleman’s life when he was involved in a terrible accident in a snowstorm. The presenters didn’t elaborate too much on this video, but to me, it strikes right at the topic of “purpose.”


The two final breakout sessions in the Continuous Improvement track focused on Sustainability Excellence in Manufacturing, and Timken’s Lean Transformation Journey. Both were as impactful as what I already highlighted. There were plenty more takeaways from the Summit, but this message is already excessively long, so I will end my thoughts on the Summit here. I strongly recommend that you consider attending the 2025 IndustryWeek Summit. IndustryWeek will surely embrace continuous improvement, learn from this year’s inaugural Summit and make it even better next year.

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