Art Byrne, retired CEO of The Wiremold Company, on Lean Transformation

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 07-04-24

In the latest episode of the People Solve Problems podcast, host Jamie Flinchbaugh sits down with Art Byrne, the retired CEO of The Wiremold Company. Art’s profound influence on the lean community is well-known, having introduced lean principles to over 30 companies from his positions as CEO and author of seminal works such as The Lean Turnaround, The Lean Turnaround Action Guide, and The Lean Turnaround Answer Book.

Art’s journey with lean management began during his first General Manager role at General Electric Company. He later introduced lean to the Danaher Corporation as a Group Executive. However, his most notable achievement was leading The Wiremold Company through a lean transformation that increased the company’s enterprise value by nearly 2,500% over nine years. This conversation covers the principles, challenges, and successes Art experienced throughout his career.

Art discusses the purpose and genesis of his latest book, The Lean Turnaround Answer Book, which compiles his insights and solutions to common lean questions accumulated over decades. He explains that the book is structured as a reference guide, addressing both the foundational concepts of lean and the practical, day-to-day challenges companies face during their lean journey. Art emphasizes that lean is not merely a cost-reduction strategy but a comprehensive, strategic approach to running a business better than the competition.

One of the key points Art makes is the importance of leadership in lean transformation. He illustrates this with a story from his time at Wiremold, where he challenged the team to reduce the changeover time of a machine from 14 hours to under 10 minutes. Through persistent effort and kaizen events, they achieved a changeover time of just six minutes. This dramatic improvement not only boosted operational efficiency but also significantly enhanced employee morale and engagement. Art highlights that challenging teams to achieve seemingly impossible goals can result in extraordinary outcomes and deep buy-in from employees.

Art also addresses the critical role of problem-solving and learning in lean management. He contrasts the traditional approach of lengthy problem analysis and planning with the lean approach of immediate, hands-on experimentation, and iteration. By empowering employees to stop production lines to solve problems on the spot, companies can create a culture of continuous improvement and learning. This approach not only resolves issues more effectively but also fosters a deeper understanding of the processes and a stronger commitment to ongoing improvement.

Throughout the episode, Art underscores the necessity for CEOs to be actively involved in leading lean transformations. He believes that only through visible, committed leadership can organizations overcome resistance and achieve lasting change. Art’s experiences and insights offer invaluable lessons for any leader looking to implement lean principles and drive their organization towards greater efficiency and competitiveness.

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