‘Adversity is a part of life’

The arc of Gail Marsh’s personal and professional life is part success story and part cautionary tale – and she’d acknowledge that as much as anyone.

Gail was gracious enough to share that story as part of a regular series of women’s leadership breakfasts the Center for Operational Excellence hosts, sparking a discussion with nearly two-dozen women from our member companies and students at the Fisher College of Business (check out more photos here). The strategy chief for the gargantuan operation that is the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University, Gail also is actively involved in community efforts around town. Those garnered her the honor of being named one of six Women of Achievement by the YWCA of Columbus last year.

Gail Marsh Wexner Medical Center
Gail Marsh shared her story and offered insights at a COE women's leadership forum.

If that isn’t enough, she’s a mother to three children she raises with her husband, Dr. Clay Marsh, an OSU professor and vice dean for research in Health Sciences and the College of Medicine.

Listening to Gail speak last week, I was impressed with how her story contains not only great wisdom for women but for anyone who works hard for what he or she earns and takes a step back, wondering how to balance it all. An undergraduate and master’s degree-earner from OSU, Gail was the proud owner of post-graduate student loans as she worked her way up in the male-dominated world of health-care administration, found love and started a family. It was the loss her mother that prompted her to realize she was moving too fast, life was too short and she needed to hit the reset button. With that, she began to create a work-life balance she says she’s still working to perfect, even though it has the flexibility she needs.

Not that her flexible schedule came on a silver platter.

“You have to be stellar at what you do for people to give you flexibility,” she said. “Everybody is balancing things.”

Some other wisdom Gail imparted at our event:

On taking the plunge into community service: “If you wait until all your work is done, your laundry’s done and all your kids have straight As you’ll never do it.”

On the secret to her own life: “Understanding that adversity is a part of life is the secret to my life now. It’s just going to be that way.”

On career mobility: “I like to think my promotions in the medical center have been because I know how to solve problems.”

Check out more from Gail in a video tied to her Women of Achievement honor.

A great idea without data = Whining

Matt Burns

The Center for Operational Excellence earlier this week hosted a kickoff event for the IT Leadership Network, a new subgroup of COE you’ll be hearing more a lot more about in the future. While turnout – for an offsite event at Nationwide Insurance – was great at nearly 200 people, I was equally impressed by our keynote speaker.

Mike Orzen, who quite literally wrote the book on lean and IT (it’s, uhh, called Lean IT), emerged as one of the most dynamic and engaging speakers I’ve had the pleasure to hear since joining the center several months ago. While the content of his presentation was tailored to an IT audience, the kernels of wisdom he shared about lean thinking and its place in an organization were universal and applicable to anyone at any point in their lean journey.

Speaker Mike Orzen
Speaker Mike Orzen

That’s why I’d like to share some of them with you right now.

“We’re really really good at describing what lean is. We don’t have a good track record of being lean and staying lean.” – This quote speaks to a topic of rising importance to our membership: Sustaining process improvements after the tools initially have been used. This is a challenge many of us face and is often tied to the level of engagement or buy-in at all levels of the organization.

“When everything’s a priority, nothing is a priority.” – Orzen was a wizard at getting to the heart of problem solving in a lean culture: Identifying what the problem truly is, not through the prism of our own work but in the prism of how it’s affecting the customer experience.

“Lean is invented by everybody in this room. It’s a growing body of knowledge.” – These are, I believe, the most important words Orzen spoke on Tuesday. Lean isn’t just a collection of scholarly articles and books. It’s a living, breathing way of doing and thinking that can take the shape of whatever problem is before you.

“The No. 1 value I see in many organizations: Self-preservation.” – No explanation needed here.

“We often see things from our paradigm. The hardest thing to do is to see reality.” – File this bit of wisdom under “Siloes,” what Orzen wisely describes as a necessary evil in organizations as they create and nurture specialization, but a factor that can complicate communication and efforts to see the whole value stream.

“A great idea without data – some people call that whining.” – Indeed.

COE member Giant Eagle gets national TV spotlight

If any of you watch CBS Sunday Morning and live in Columbus, chances are you paused mid-coffee sip this past edition during a five-minute segment on the capital city.

The five-minute piece, which you can watch in its entirety here, starts with a look at how Dublin-based Wendy’s tests its new products, pointing to the Columbus area as a perfect place for product testing for a diverse population that creates “a near-perfect cross-section of the country’s consumers.” That’s thanks in part, of course, to Ohio State University and its international student contingent.

Along with tips of the hat to restaurant upstart Piada and the Jeni’s ice cream empire and a brief appearance by Center for Operational Excellence member Nationwide Insurance, the piece broadens into a look at the uniqueness of the city and what makes it tick.

Make it to about 3:13 in the videoand you’ll recognize another COE member: Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle, whose Market District concept in Upper Arlington was dubbed by the segment as “the mother of all grocery stores.” If you’ve been there and seen the store’s blend of restaurant-quality meals on the spot, wide selections in every category and the biggest sweet potatoes and onions you’ll ever see, it’s hard to disagree. 

Giant Eagle’s Market District
“Giant Eagle’s Market District location in Upper Arlington is a jaw-dropping shopper’s paradise.” Photo courtesy columbusfoodie.com

Giant Eagle is just one of our many COE members making waves with innovative new concepts, driven by an underlying focus on operational excellence. Whatever lean thinking led the chain to try selling wine by the glass in the Market District store to allow sipping while you shop, well – keep up the good work.

Aggreko runs into face of disaster while others flee

An interview I conducted a few weeks ago with an executive at British temporary power generation company Aggreko was a little more complicated than your standard call. David Campbell, who worked with a team on a remarkable project you’ll read about soon in our newsletter, was on assignment in Africa for Aggreko, a Center for Operational Excellence member. After arranging a time that split the time-zone difference and setting up the conference call, I was horrified when the signal dropped mid-conversation.

Reconnected again, I told David I wasn’t sure what happened. Had I pressed a button? Had the signal faded?

“Africa happened,” he said.

Aggreko, at any given time, is at work providing generator power all over the world, ranging from major sporting events to mines and in the wake of devastating natural disasters. In a fantastic interview with CEO Rupert Soames in the U.K.’s Telegraph, he recounts his team’s arrival in Japan three days after the tsunami. The reporter also poses a provocative question: When disaster hits the news, “does a little cash till ring in his head?”

“No. Naturally my thoughts go out to the full horror of the event,” Soames tells the reporter. “And the next thing is we book a ticket.”

One thing Aggreko can’t complain about is having a boring CEO. Winston Churchill’s grandson, Soames recounts once having DJ’d the engagement party for Prince Charles and Lady Diana and tells the reporter his plans for the evening: “Take my ferrets to Hyde Park and see if I can catch a rabbit.”

Aggreko’s next big gig is the London Olympics this summer. The company will be providing all the power that isn’t taken from the nation’s grid. That’s a giant leap for a company that only several years ago had its stock trading on the London stock exchange for the equivalent of a few dollars. Its stock today converts to nearly $40.

We’re confident at least a small debt is owed to Aggreko’s relentless pursuit of operational excellence – and we’re happy to help.

Huntington’s Buck ID deal shows customer savvy

Like many great innovations, Center for Operational Excellence member Huntington National Bank is adding a lean flourish to some of its customer interactions in a way that begs the question: Why hasn’t it always been like this?        Huntington Bank

The bank this week announced a deal that links Ohio State University student ID cards with some checking accounts at no additional card. As Columbus Business First explains it, the ID essentially becomes a debit card for Huntington’s Asterisk-Free and Plus accounts.

As someone always wondering how he can get one more card out of his wallet, this would have greatly appealed to me as a student. As someone watching Huntington progress on its operational excellence journey, I’m impressed with the move’s combination of ingenuity and loyalty building.

This bit of Buck ID reform isn’t an out-of-the-blue innovation. Huntington recently announced a $125 million deal with OSU to make it the school’s official bank for consumer accounts, which will increase the presence of its ATMs and branches on and around campus. It’s partnerships like these that make great strides – often with very simple improvements – in giving students up-close access to the growth and evolution at one of the city’s most important corporate institutions.

We’re proud to call them an important part of what we do at COE.

What a wonderful World Café

As a journalist, I was taught to eschew jargon and cut to the heart of the matter, sending corporate buzzwords like “synergy” to the trash bin along with serial commas. I’m pre-emptively asking for forgiveness, then, as I describe the great things that went on in a recent Center for Operational Excellence-sponsored event. If our first attempt at a World Café wasn’t a textbook example of synergy, I don’t know what is.

If you’ve never heard of a World Café (or, like I did, immediately think of the NPR music program), here’s a crash course: A group of people assemble with the goal to tackle a topic in an actionable way. They’re split up into small groups, each at a table, and switch at regular periods with the exception of that table’s moderator. For the event we hosted with the Operations and Logistics Management Association last week, we put the spotlight on logistics and opened the doors of the Blackwell Hotel ballroom to Fisher faculty, students and industry players, some of whom were COE board members. Check out a slide show of the event here.

World Cafe
The World Café event allowed Fisher students and faculty to interact with logistics industry players.

Like any maiden voyage, nerves were on high alert and expectations were uncertain, but a healthy and enthusiastic turnout led to rounds of stimulating discussion. We design the COE experience for our members in ways that connect them with faculty, students and industry peers but it’s rare that this occurs, well, at the same table. Just strolling around taking photos, I could feel the energy, and the session-ending report-outs were rich with thought-provoking conclusions on a range of different facets of the logistics trade.

Tom Goldsby, a Fisher logistics professor and COE associate director, tells me “our students benefited from the viewpoints offered and the very interaction with business professionals. The business professionals, meanwhile, seemed to enjoy the interaction just as much and indicated that the students provided fresh insights on the table topics.”

A crucial sign things were going well: Goldsby says several participants wanted to linger at the tables longer.

“In sum, it seems this first-ever event was a great success – one that we will repeat soon,” Goldsby said.

Show me what you got

I got my first real taste of old-fashioned, machismo-fueled negotiation when I wrecked my car earlier this year. Thankfully, I wasn’t the driver to blame, wasn’t hurt and was driving a 15-year-old parental hand-me-down I secretly wished would suffer that fate. Nonetheless, one totaled vehicle meant finding another with a settlement check from an insurance company in tow – and both of those would put me face-to-face with people who assured me they were giving me the best deal they could but were clearly lying through their teeth.

In both scenarios, I (naturally) feel I came out on top in retrospect. Talking an insurance adjuster into a few hundred extra dollars is no small feat and my performance in the car salesman’s office would make Ryan Gosling jealous.

I thought about both of those negotiations last week, when the Center for Operational Excellence hosted a forum for our member companies’ administrative assistants. The brave souls that trekked through an unusually blustery and snowy Columbus day got a hands-on crash course in negotiation from Maggie Lewis, a lecturer in the Fisher College of Business. Unfortunately, that thinking led me to realize the kind of negotiating I did wasn’t that tricky. I cared nothing for the results or the feelings on the other end of the table, a classic “win-lose scenario.”

Maggie Lewis
Maggie Lewis, presenting at COE’s administrative assistants forum

The kind of negotiating we do in our lives as lean thinkers is much tougher than balking at a sticker price. In a realm where responsibility is shared, blame is avoided at all cost and flow requires buy-in and cooperation from everyone involved, negotiation is a tightrope walk. On one end is the current state, riddled with problems and inefficiencies, and on the other is the future state your pursuit of operational excellence will take you. The last thing you need is a disgruntled colleague with a good pair of garden shears.

Lewis during her presentation made a few comments that struck me for their deep relationship to lean principles, chief among them: “Negotiation is just problem solving.” Any manager could tell you that sentence works in both directions.

Practicing what we preach

Even if many of the speakers who come before COE members have lean-transformation success stories to share, all of those tales have to start with some gory details about problems at their organizations. In the spirit of quid pro quo, I’d like to share one of ours and fill you in on what we’re doing to make it better. Think of it as the Fisher College version of US Weekly’s “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!”

Our Dec. 2 seminar featured fantastic and well-received presentations from Cardinal Health Inc. and Starbucks Corp. (don’t believe me? Check out these pics). If you logged in to watch either of these events via a live webcast, however, you got a front-row seat to some technical problems we had in the morning and afternoon. Live audience members in the afternoon were privy to an audio glitch at the start of the Starbucks presentation as well.

Fisher College COE cause mapping
COE joined with the audio and visual teams that helped with the Dec. 2 seminar to dissect some of its glitches.

In a world without lean thinking, we’d hoist the blame on the shoulders of the good folks at Fisher and the Blackwell Hotel who handle audio and video for us and be done with it. Easy? Sure. Fair? Not at all. So in the spirit of lean thinking, we spent a half-day this week creating cause maps with the audio and visual teams that revealed a number of issues that fueled the fire. And like the dutiful lean thinkers we are, we emerged with some proposed changes to our event planning and execution next year that should boost the quality of COE members’ experience and lower our blood pressure readings.

It’s disheartening and even scary to dig beneath the surface and expose the frayed wires in our process but they remain a problem waiting to happen until you do.

Discuss: How has operational excellence influenced the way you or your organization dissects problems after they occur?

COE member Cardinal Health gets supply chain honors

Sometimes the scope of the machine can obscure the beauty in the little cogs that make it all work. Take Center for Operational Excellence member Cardinal Health Inc. for example: It’s a $100 billion-plus company, highly profitable, one of the largest employers in the Columbus area and manager of a network of distribution centers so vast its products can reach a staggering share of hospitals nationwide in no time flat.

It’s also an extraordinarily efficient and nimble enterprise, having navigated through the recession with few bruises, shed a piece of itself to create a new West Coast entity and plotted an ambitious expansion into Asia that could pay untold dividends in the future. It’s the efficiency and its translation into high-quality service to customers that has captured the attention of the number-crunchers at research firm Gartner, which recently named the Dublin-based company the No. 1 health-care supply chain in the nation.

To reach No. 1, Cardinal moved past last year’s holder of the top spot, Owens & Minor, which slipped to No. 5 this year. Nos. 2-4, in order, were Mercy, BD and the Mayo Clinic.

It’s reasons quantitative and qualitative that got Cardinal the honors. Gartner perused data on financials and inventory levels, combining that with other survey data and peer opinions (Cardinal’s top-notch there, in specific). The company in bestowing the honor called Cardinal “a complex combination of well-connected businesses … (that) combines the varied strengths of a medical-surgical distributor, a pharmaceutical wholesaler and a large manufacturer.”

So why all the hoopla over a health-care supply chain? Gartner gets at a key distinction that strikes at the heart of why operational excellence in the health-care realm is so important: “Losing sight of the customer, in most industries, results in frustrated tweets and blog posts about a product or service that may lead to lost sales opportunities. Losing sight of the patient, however, can reduce the quality of life for particular patients and, in the worst case, can lead to the loss of life.”

So congratulations to Cardinal, an all-star on COE’s roster that recently came to Fisher to share its lean story at our Dec. 2 quarterly seminar.

A congratulations by proxy goes to fellow COE member Abbott Nutrition, whose sister pharmaceutical operation made Gartner’s top 10.

Stepping outside the COE box

Attendees of last Friday’s professional development meeting hosted by the Center for Operational Excellence can thank the executives from Cardinal Health Inc. and Starbucks Corp. for the insights they carried into the office Monday. Those of us at COE owe them gratitude for a pair of touches outside the norm for our programming that proved wildly successful.

T-shirt folding activity led by Starbucks
Seminar attendees participated in a T-shirt folding activity led by Starbucks

In the morning session, at the suggestion of lead speaker and Cardinal executive Whitney Mantonya, we devoted the entire second half of her time to a panel discussion featuring her colleagues who have helped with the Dublin company’s lean transformation. A panel on a topic featuring all employees from the same company? It isn’t something we’ve tried before and it’s not even the traditional form of a panel.  What transpired, however, was a detailed dissection of the bird’s-eye view Mantonya provided in the first half, the exact kind of sleeves-rolled-up scrutiny our knowledge-hungry members want. It seems the group’s favorite part of the morning session was the very section we didn’t originally plan.

Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to step outside the box.

That’s exactly what we did in the second half of our afternoon session as well, when we escorted the entire crowd of attendees from Pfahl Hall to the Blackwell Hotel for a hands-on T-shirt folding activity suggested and led by Starbucks that taught the basics of standard work. We’ve been hands-off with hands-on activities at our seminars before, but the overwhelmingly positive feedback (and happy faces on our Flickr page) indicate it was exactly what the doctor – err, barista ordered.