COE at 25: A look back – and ahead

The following is a lightly edited version of remarks COE Co-Director Peter Ward delivered at COE’s 25th anniversary celebration on Sept. 15, 2017.

peter ward coe 25th anniversary
COE Co-Director and Fisher College of Business Senior Associate Dean Peter Ward delivering formal remarks at COE’s 25th anniversary celebration.

We spend a lot of time as organizations preparing ourselves for the future, and that’s a smart move given the change we see all around us. But on the occasion of the Center for Operational Excellence’s 25th anniversary, let’s take a moment and look back.

In 1992, the then-new dean of today’s Fisher College of Business, Joe Alutto, visited the Department of Management Sciences with a compliment (of sorts) – and a challenge. The department, he said, was making strides in academic research and students loved the classes, but a disconnect existed with local industry. Can that change?

Our journey started there, with the founding of the Center for Excellence in Manufacturing Management, which the university recognized in the summer of 1992.

Getting started

After our first four members signed on — Central States Can, Lennox Industries, Copeland Corp. and Ross Labs — we quickly realized a very important lesson that’s become central to everything we’ve done in the quarter-century since: Our best ideas came when we listened, rather than when we talked. Hearing our members’ needs has directed COE’s path from the beginning and that continues. Our members’ issues are our issues, and our members lead the way.

That same momentum from our members helped us understand in the center’s first years that operational excellence wasn’t solely for manufacturing. Leadership, problem solving and process improvement are key to all industries – and that’s what led us to change our name to the Center for Operational Excellence little more than a decade after being founded. As we welcomed into the fold companies from the banking, insurance and healthcare industries, our members once again helped set our course and, ultimately, bring meaning to our work.

In 25 years, we’ve racked up some impressive numbers: five summits; 95 quarterly meetings; 300 COE-sponsored research papers; 500 workshops, seminars and tours; 700 student internships secured through COE member companies; and more than 20,000 admissions to our events.

But the true measure of the impact our members have helped make, for me, is in the moments that don’t have a number: The manager who lost his job in tough economic times and leveraged his center relationships to bring new vitality to his career; the MBA student who struggled to define herself until she tapped into the world of operational excellence; or the executive struggling with a seemingly insurmountable problem who turned to center colleagues for a solution. Our journey is teeming with these stories.

The next 25 … 

brutus buckeye peg pennington
Brutus Buckeye stopped by COE’s 25 anniversary celebration to ring in the occasion with Executive Director Peg Pennington.

After 25 years, a big question looms: Where to from here? The pace of change increases every day, and it’s by no means a stretch to assume the business world will evolve more in the next five years than it has in the last 25. One thing will hold constant, though: We’ll still need problem solvers, we’ll still need leaders, and we’ll still need people like our members, who work at the intersection of problem solving and leadership.

As we begin our next 25-year stretch, it’s the ideas and challenges of our members that will determine our future. Thanks for making us a part of your journey – I can’t wait to see what’s next …

Peter Ward
Co-Director, COE
Senior Associate Dean, Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University

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