Editorial

Continuous Not Occasional

It’s often said that even the best laid plans can go awry. These unexpected departures from the course usually happen at the worst possible times and are caused by influences heretofore unseen and beyond anyone’s control.

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Case in point, the recent – and some would say ongoing – plummet in everything trucking. While no one was expecting 2008 or 2009 to be record years, and some predicted our cyclical industry was due for an economic wane, the severity and duration of the downturn caught everyone off guard. Coupled with one of the worst global recessions in history and, well, if you’re reading this you know how bad things got.

For many, inventories and headcounts were trimmed to bare essentials, growth plans were put on hold and every aspect of every business function and operation came under scrutiny.

Survival meant leaner, faster and more efficient.

In other words, it meant laying the foundation for a continuous improvement program.

This month’s cover story [see page 20] is an overview of some of the continuous improvement programs being used by businesses of all sizes in every type of industry. Some aftermarket companies are using these programs and enjoying the benefits. Some distributors and service shops have been using these programs for many years and did not let the unexpected and unwelcomed derail their commitment.

It never hurts to be better prepared than the other guy.

That’s why you have to admire people like John Minor and his team at Midwest Wheel Companies, based in Des Moines, Iowa. Minor, who is chief operating officer, helped bring formalized quality and continuous improvement programs to the company more than 15 years ago – well ahead of when many of these programs became popular in the U.S.

But more importantly, Minor and Midwest Wheel stayed committed to its quality and improvement initiatives – total quality management, as they call it internally – all those years, regardless of adversity. And there has been adversity, including having warehouses devastated by natural disasters. In fact, Minor credits having the quality systems in place with being able to continue operating with minimal disruption and being able to rebound quickly from those unfortunate scenarios.

The economic downturn also couldn’t keep Midwest Wheel from staying the course.

“The challenge is being able to keep it going,” says Minor. “We’ve gone through so many cycles in business. For instance, 2009 was urgent and it was tough to get everybody together and thinking about these issues. Although, we did well.”

Keeping the quality framework in place, the processes active and frequently reviewed, and making changes when necessary to achieve the overall goals have allowed the company to continue to thrive regardless of the challenges that came their way.

They went from being early adopters to model examples of how continuous improvement can effectively take a business to the next level. They have 30 total quality management teams that together involve almost every employee. Each team focuses on a particular operation or issue, and each documented process is regularly revisited to make sure it’s still effective and to determine if further improvements can be made.

So while there are some things you just can’t predict or prepare for, it never hurts to be better prepared than the other guy. n

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