Art Byrne and his use of Lean

Art Byrne is a CEO with whom many people in the world of manufacturing are familiar. Over the past few decades, Byrne has worked with 30 companies in 14 different countries and has helped them transform into successful organizations.

Perhaps the best example of Byrne's impact is Wiremold. In the 1990s, the company's earnings had dropped 80 percent in consecutive years. When Byrne came to be the head of the business, he integrated the Toyota Production System. After training employees in Lean manufacturing, Byrne was able to improve company value by 2,467 percent, Industry Week reports. On top of that, productivity improved by 162 percent across a number of different metrics. In fact, the company was so successful that it was bought out by a French organization in 2000.

Lean leaders

According to Byrne, the key to successful integration of Lean is getting people behind it. Everyone from new recruits to upper management must have faith in Lean in order for it to work. If entry-level employees don't believe in Lean, they may not contribute in meaningful ways and help the company improve operations. If managers don't believe in Lean, then they may be quick to give up on the practice entirely if things don't go well.

“The leader's behavior is really critical in this – much more than almost anything else,” Byrne told the news source. “You can't lead from your office; you have to lead from the shop floor.”

Of course, Byrne had numerous other success stories before and after Wiremold. Prior to Wiremold, Byrne was a group executive at Danaher Corp, where he helped to create a Lean culture. The system implemented at Danaher is now known as the Danaher Business System. More recently, Byrne worked at the private-equity firm J.W. Childs Associates. Again, his integration of Lean could serve as a case study for other businesses.

The important part of implementing Lean – regardless of whether a business is in the manufacturing industry or any other sector – is having a leader who is willing to champion it. This is a person who is a dedicated believe of Lean and has a full understanding of the concept. He or she must view everything through the lens of Lean and be willing to stick through setbacks to complete the vision.