Friday, March 29, 2013

Ten Questions With... Paul Piechota

By Keith Klein (City of Dayton)

For our next installment of “Ten Questions” we return to the University of Dayton. Paul Piechota is the Director of UD’s Center for Competitive Change. His background includes degrees from Wright State University and the McGregor School of Management at Antioch College. Like many leaders in our community, his career began at NCR as a field instructor. Later, he moved into quality management and developed a passion for the latest cutting edge quality control methodologies.

Today, his Center has over 20 years of training experience and a team of experts dedicated to helping the business community with relevant courses and timely consulting services focused on Lean management techniques. Paul has authored over 50 publications and he is an active member of DRMA. He recently shared some thoughts with the “Made In Dayton” blog team.

1. How would you describe your current position in your organization?

I am the director of one of the University of Dayton’s outreach Centers, the Center for Competitive Change. We are located in the School of Engineering – a great place! My role is to set strategic direction, support, serve and create – it’s the art and science of the organization.

2. How did you get started in your field?

It all started in 1981 with NCR hiring me as a system & field engineering instructor for the Financial Systems Division for ATMs, Teller Machines, Back Office, Item Processing, etc. I taught NCR financial customer engineers how to program and maintain their financial machines. After a couple of years, I started my rotation throughout the company, learning about the cost structure. During this time one of my stops was in Quality. This is where I began learning about Total Quality Management (TQM) - just in time, actually - with folks like Deming, Juran and Taiichi Ohno. From what I learned and witnessed in results, I decided to continue my career in leadership and process flow training and consulting for NCR, then Texas Instruments and so on.

Paul Piechota
3. How would you describe the current state of manufacturing in the Dayton region?

In a major morphing, we are in the Second Industrial Revolution! The entire world is rapidly changing - everyone, and not just manufacturing. Our region accounts for a very large sector of small to mid-sized manufacturers. What's changed is the number of large companies who supply in this region. They had to change, but they also moved to gain "better business economies." I call it chasing cheap labor! Nonetheless, they continue to put more pressures on all suppliers. It is the suppliers’ responsibility to learn, change and conduct business more efficiently and effectively ... differently. The world's common measurement is speed, without any loss in quality or functionality. It is a challenge if the smaller supplier can't compete profitably in this new global marketplace.

4. What are some emerging trends or opportunities for the industry in Dayton?

That’s a very tough question, and by the way, our manufacturers are also tough. Our region has made some great focused choices like targeting aerospace. We have the opportunity to help them, but this will also take extreme focus. The trend is change, and how we can support and encourage our manufacturing base to make the change through the training and absorption of new knowledge and skills that will become the "new" core competencies.

5. What is the most important challenge facing the manufacturing industry today?

The most important challenge is the ability to compete globally and quickly, no matter what the size of your operation. We are no longer "next door" to our customers. Our customers’ expectations continue to change, as do their locations. We need to become experts of quickly understanding specific client needs and then turn products and services around even faster.

6. How can the manufacturing industry attract more young workers?

We need to become more connected to the school systems. Waiting to hire a student out of college is too late, even if they are working while they are in college or a tech school. I learned many years ago from Harley Davidson that you need to begin talking with your future workforce as early as possible, even at the junior high level. Help cultivate and sponsor their learning to meet your future needs. But this requires companies to project what they will need 5-8 years out. Not many companies are capable of doing this without guessing ... but the top companies sure know how to work the process and many successful companies are getting much better at predicting needs.

7. How can your organization help manufacturing companies?

Our number one mission is to help companies understand how to not reduce their workforce - kind of a "No Layoff Game." We spent over 3 years researching over 1500 U.S. based companies, learning why they are still in business. Companies such as Slinky, Buck Knives, Hamilton Casters, The Dupps Company, and Midmark were instrumental in our understanding of how these companies are keeping core operations in the United States while competing to be profitable anywhere in the world. This study was published in our book, “Keeping your Business in the USA.” We believe that these companies out-live economic changes thrown at them through the development of a “core recipe”. The results of our research were the common “Top 7 core recipes” and the” ingredients” for each. Successful companies require many outside service providers to teach them and help them practice, not to do their work. The Center, using the Lean Six Sigma methodology, works with organizations to create and teach the use of these highly successful tools and methodologies.

8. What are the keys to your professional success?

Change! I've always embraced change and moving to where the company needed me to be. Sometimes I was not where I was comfortable or felt knowledgeable. Throughout my career, I've been very successful in adapting to support the company's needs. The bottom line is that unless you are planning on becoming a specialist or scientist, you need to keep growing yourself, changing your skills, adding new competencies, and heightening your proficiency levels. In addition, you need to help the cause by finding problems before they are noticed and then, figure out how to solve them. It is no longer good enough to just be able to put out fires. It is now all about coming in to work every day looking for possible problems that could inhibit the company or organization or product from succeeding.

9. What is the best leadership advice you can offer to the business community?

Get involved. Great people are doers; they are visible, supportive coaches and mentors, but the top attribute is always helping your team and workforce to become better. Leadership is always participating, not initiating and watching. We need more people actively finding ways to lower business costs, how to avoid costs or cost reductions from returns, as well as finding "new" revenue streams that can advance the company.

10. Finally, if you could say just one thing to the manufacturing industry, what would it be?

Successful companies are learning companies - from the top leadership to every worker.

How do you manage quality in your organization? For more information on quality management techniques, visit or contact your local economic development professional to learn about other resources in your community.

You may also want to check out Ten Questions With... John LelandSteve Naas and Kerry Taylor

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