5 Process Improvement Pioneers in Their Youth

Process Improvement Pioneers - Young Henry Ford - Featured

The People Who Would Develop Modern Management and Industry

We tend to think of famous historical figures frozen in time. Usually, a few portraits come to define them in the public consciousness. Many of the process improvement pioneers who inspired modern management practices are remembered with gray hair and distinguished faces. It’s easy to forget that, like all of us, they were once young and full of ambition; not yet aware of what their destinies would hold, and how they would change the world. To look at their youthful portraits is a humbling reminder that everyone starts somewhere. Let’s start in the 1800’s and work our way forward in history.

Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856 – 1915)

Process Improvement Pioneers - Young Frederick Winslow Taylor

The “Father of Scientific Management” was once a boy. As a young man, he had the opportunity to follow in his fathers footsteps by studying law at Harvard University. However, Taylor opted to take a different road in life. Instead of going to Harvard, he apprenticed with a machinist, worked his way up to management, and the rest is history. Although management techniques and attitudes have changed considerable since Taylor’s time, his fundamental principle of basing management decisions on observation, analysis, and quantifiable data is as relevant today as it was at the turn of the twentieth century.

Henry Ford (1863 – 1947)

Process Improvement Pioneers - Young Henry Ford

Perhaps the most recognizable figure in this list, Henry Ford pioneered mass-production, the assembly line, and the automotive industry itself. Long before he put automobiles within the reach of middle class families with the Model T, he was just a farm boy growing up in Michigan. Having a keen interest in machinery from an early age, Ford started his own shop at twelve. Like Taylor, he went on to work as a machinist’s apprentice. Although many of his mass production techniques have now been replaced by other innovations in management, it is hard to deny that the world would be a very different place without Henry Ford.

Sakichi Toyoda (1867 – 1930)

Process Improvement Pioneers - Young Sakichi Toyoda

Although he may not be as recognizable as Henry Ford, Sakichi Toyoda’s namesake corporation (with slightly different spelling) has surpassed Ford’s in the very industry it invented. Toyoda was born only a few years after Henry Ford, and the Meiji Restoration that would open up his home county of Japan to foreign influences occurred roughly a year after his birth. This opened a floodgate of new technology, and Sakichi, the child of a poor carpenter, grew up in a rapidly changing world. He would go on to be known as the “King of Japanese Inventors.” The automated loom company he founded, Toyota Industries, would branch off into one of the largest car companies in the world by the end of the twentieth century. His innovations, such as 5 Why analysis and Jidoka (Autonomation) are still major parts of the Toyota production system today.

Joseph M. Juran (1904 – 2008)

Process Improvement Pioneers - Young Joseph M. Juran

In a life spanning more than a century, Juran had time to gradually refine his ideas about Quality Management over a 70-year carrier. Since he consulted on management techniques well into his 90’s, it’s easy to forget that he was once a starry eyed young man filled with intellectual curiosity. Born in Romania, his family immigrated to the United States when he was still a boy. He excelled in school and was the first in his family to receive a college degree. He was a pioneer of statistical manufacturing methods with Bell Laboratories and Western Electric. After World War II, Juran was hired to help rebuild Japan’s industrial capabilities. Along with W. Edwards Deming, he helped lay the foundation for the revolutionary Japanese methodology knows as Lean.

Taiichi Ohno (1912 – 1990)

Process Improvement Pioneers - Young Taiichi Ohno

In 1912, the same year that Juran’s family immigrated to America, Taiichi Ohno was born to Japanese parents in Dalian, China. After his family returned to Japan, Ohno was educated at Nagoya Technical High School. Shortly after graduating, he was hired by Toyota Industries, and in 1943 Ohno moved to Toyota’s struggling automotive division. It is said that he saw the Charlie Chaplin film “Modern Times” as a symbol of what modern manufacturing should never be. Chaplin’s depiction of a highly automated and wasteful assembly line as an example of the flaws in traditional mass production, and the negative effects it has on people. At Toyota Motor Corporation, Ohno would become known as the “Father of the Toyota Production System.” This system, which focuses on Just-in-Time production and waste elimination, would become known in the West as “Lean Manufacturing.” As a business philosophy it is now being used to reduce waste in almost all industries, from online startups, to healthcare, to government administration.

For more on these and other key player in the history of Lean and process improvement, check out uttana.com’s Introduction to Lean video courses: Key U.S. Players that Influenced Lean Manufacturing, and Key Japanese Leaders that Influenced the Toyota Production System. You can also see these videos on enna.com’s Introduction to Lean – Key Players and Principles of Lean DVD. Let us know if you have any more historical Lean photos to share!