Fisher's Lean Manufacturing Visionary

When it comes to lean manufacturing and Six Sigma, few business colleges compete with Fisher's national reputation. Led by Peter Ward, the Richard M. Ross Chair in Management, Fisher is a premier destination for students looking to master continuous manufacturing process improvement. Ward also co-directs Fisher's Center for Operational Excellence (COE), a unique partnership between academic and business leaders.

Each year, Fisher exposes 1,600 undergraduate and MBA students to basic lean management coursework. Approximately 700 MBA students completed Fisher's lean Six Sigma track over the last decade. Some 75 undergraduates earned Six Sigma Green Belts over the last three years.

Fisher's lean journey began 12 years ago. Ward was part of a Ford Motor Company-sponsored supplier group that brought business leaders together to explore how to more firmly establish lean practices in the supply chain.

"This led to a lot of questions from executives that I was working with about why universities in general didn't have more lean programming in degree programs," recalls Ward, who asked for their assistance in developing a Fisher program.

Fisher offered the country's first Six Sigma undergraduate program in fall 2006. Two years later, it launched the nation's first master's degree in lean management. In 2008, Fisher tied for 3rd nationally in number of scholars in production and operations management, based on research published in The Journal of Operations Management.

Ward, a former manufacturing engineer and manager who also served as a Bureau of Labor Statistics economist, says his early work experiences allow him to be "more relevant to students."

Ward's external focus is core to his research and teaching, as he constantly seeks the voice of businesses to drive Fisher's lean curriculum. For example, Fisher's Master of Business Operational Excellence (MBOE), an intense one-year program offered through Fisher's Executive Education, provides managers with tools to reduce waste and improve value stream management. Besides classroom exercises, students develop and implement a process-improvement plan within their organizations.

"The professors in the program are very in touch with what's going on in the marketplace and in the manufacturing communities," says MBOE student Don Buckingham, executive vice president of Perio, Inc., a privately held Dublin, Ohio, firm that owns the Barbasol® shaving cream brand. Buckingham, who has no manufacturing experience, enrolled in the program to gain knowledge to oversee the opening of Perio's first manufacturing facility, as the company moves a portion of the Barbasol manufacturing in-house.

"We have an American-made brand with a long history, and it's very important to continue to fulfill the quality promise that the brand has built its reputation on. To do that, we need access to the raw materials and the manufacturing process to ensure our position as the value leader in our category," explains Buckingham, describing the coaching as world class and worth the cost of the tuition by itself.

"It's a great investment. My coach came to my company five times already, met with my team, reviewed the work we're doing and made suggestions." Buckingham adds that as Perio implements day-to-day lean practices from the start, it gains a "huge competitive advantage."

MBOE classmate Greg Leach, operations manager for Ohio State's Campus Dining Services, shares Buckingham's enthusiasm. His project involves implementing a buying program to bring more local produce suppliers into the university.

"The professors are showing us examples of lean systems and lean implementation on every level. It's not just focused on manufacturing; they're really guiding me on my process, learning lean through a service operation," he says.

Leach receives support from his senior director and executive chef, and has launched a website to facilitate local growers registering as vendors so they can purchase with his department. Leach says the department hopes to increase the percentage of local growers Ohio State buys from by up to 10 to 15 percent of annual purchases.

"We want to make an impact across the board - creating jobs for Ohio industry, Ohio agriculture, Ohio shipping," says Leach.

While proud of Fisher's lean accomplishments, Ward would like to see U.S. colleges adopt more of a lean focus. "I'd like it if there were more schools working hard to teach lean enterprise in their curriculum because I think it would be better for our competitiveness overall."

In Their Own Words

Don Buckingham
Listen to Don Buckingham (left), executive vice president of Perio, Inc. discuss the Master of Business Operational Excellence Program.

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Master of Business Operational Excellence program