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Introduction to Operational Excellence by Jacques Leger

When I had the opportunity of visiting Toyota and its equipment manufacturers in Japan for the first time in October 1980, the visit was more than a revelation. This meeting changed my entire life.
Towards the end of 1978, I had been appointed as the Managing Director of Valeo’s Spanish Clutch operations. This was hardly two years after the death of Franco.
Spain wanted to join the EU. We had just a few months to catch up with decades of industrial progress!

On site discovery visits to the Japanese shop floors

We made ten identical visits, each starting with a classroom presentation followed by shop floor visits in the morning and in the afternoon there would be discussions between our company personnel and their Japanese counterparts.

The manager in charge of the press shop in Valeo Spain asked his Japanese counterpart: « How do you manage to change your tools in 20 minutes whereas I take 16 hours! ». The Japanese manager replied: « By doing this I can adapt my Production to my clients needs every day whereas you manaufacture each article only once a month! ».

What can I say about the conversation between the Union Representatives when the Japanese counterpart explained to our personnel that when there was a strike « We wear an armband to show that he was on strike but continued to work with his hands? This made one of our colleagues say: « When we are at work in Europe, we work like the Japanese who are on strike! ».

Our team was stunned to discover that « the contribution of each office employee and each shopfloor operator was practically equivalent to that of a methods engineer! »

We also discovered « just in time » in workshops without containers whereas ours like our warehouses were full of them.

Finding the right benchmark

At that point of time, we were no where near Operational Excellence.
In fact, this term did not even exist. The diagnosis of experts in the parent company was that our productivity when compared to the parent company was 1: 2. This meant that I had twice the number of workers required! How could I get them to understand?

Funnily enough they couldn’t see this difference when they came to visit our French factories.

At that point, a friend who had contacts in Japan suggested organizing a visit to the Toyota factories. Instead of going there with a team of top executives, we decided to create a multifunctional team composed of employees from all hierarchical layers : directors, executives, employees, workers and two union leaders.

Toyota told us that this was the first time that a « vertical team » had visited them. This is why they were so open with us.


I discovered what the Toyota Production System calls this beneficial shock : « The KIKI »

No improvement programme can be implemented without this KIKI.

We were not two times oversized but 4 times so! We had had our KIKI! We could now begin our Operational Excellence Journey!

This was the starting point for our work on Production Systems, an endeavor which is progressing successfully even thirty years later.

Toyota has initiated this approach in 1950 and continues to pursue it with the same passion even though it is now the world leader.

Therefore, should you wish to implement an improvement programme, do not think that it is enough to do so over one or two years. It is a long lasting change which must be implemented continuously. It is not a trend! Excellence is a long term progression.

Globalization has changed everything

Globalization has changed the pace at which western industrial groups must progress.  

When China is competing with us with salaries that are so much lower, we cannot afford to work without excellence and without value creation.
Improvement cannot be improvised. It must be organized. Acquiring methods is not the most difficult part.
The challenge lies in involving all the departments and all the hierarchical layers in implementing the improvement programme.

This is the goal of a sustainable Operational Excellence Programme.

However, over the last 30 years there has been a profusion of  different methods such as  Total Quality, Production System, TPM, Re-Engineering, Kaizen, Six Sigma, Lean, you name them etc.

With globalization, there has been further instability as far as methodology is concerned since “Outsourcing to China” yields more spectacular results than “Lean in Europe”.

This lack of continuity in the application of methods is not only a factor that induces failure but it also discourages the personnel who quickly understand that this lack of continuity from managers will finally result in off shoring.

However, Outsourcing is not an inevitable solution.

The « Arc de Triomphe » model

The Experience behind OperExcel

  Valeo : 1969-1993

• Group Financial Control Director: 1969-1978
• Managing Director of  Valeo, Clutch Division, Spain : 1978-1981
• President of  Valeo  Clutch Division worldwide : 1982-1993

  CarnaudMetalbox : 1993-1998
• Industrial and Technical Director : 1993-1995
• President of Food Packaging Sector : 1995-1998 

  Alstom : 1998-2004
• Industrial Director of the Group

Valeo Model

CarnaudMetalbox Model

Alstom Model


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