Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Note: This is a repost of something I wrote back in 2005.

From late childhood through adolescents I was told over and over again by teachers, parents, even my grandparent how important it is to have an understanding of history. “History has a way of repeating itself if we don’t learn the lessons from the previous generations.” My grandfather told me when I was about 8, that thought has stuck with me. As I have been researching the history of quality I came across a website that was in memory of Homer Sarasohn. You are probably wondering who is Homer Sarasohn? (As I was when I first came across it.) So I give to you a brief history lesson in American and Japanese quality taken from A Lesson Learned and a Lesson Forgotten by Robert Chapman Wood.

In 1946, shortly after American occupation of Japan began, General Douglas MacArthur urgently wanted Japan to mass-produce radios so that U.S. Occupation authorities could reach every Japanese village quickly with its messages. A young radio product engineer during World War II who had become radar engineer at MIT and Raytheon shortly after the war, received a telegram from General MacArthur requesting he report to headquarters at the earliest possible date. At 29 years of age, Homer Sarasohn was instructed to help the Japanese produce radios and communications equipment.

When arriving in Japan, Sarasohn found that the Japanese knew about electronics, yet the philosophy on production was making half of your products okay and throwing the other half out.

A couple of years of unreliable radios Sarasohn along with Charles Protzman a Western Electric engineer concluded quality products would never be produced in Japan without basic modern management training. Sarasohn and Protzman developed a training course that would teach the Japanese the basics that they needed to know.

‘The Occupation's Economics and Social Section objected to the seminar."They said we might be too successful," recalls Sarasohn. It was perhaps the understatement of the century. But both the ESS people and the CCS engineers made 20-minute presentations before MacArthur. The ESS warned of the perils of Japanese competition. Sarasohn insisted that it would ultimately be more practical to teach the defeated and starving nation to be self-sufficient. After both sides had finished, says Sarasohn, MacArthur turned to him, snapped, "Go do it," and walked out of the room.’

On the first page of the courses text, a motto used at Newport News Shipbuilding was cited: "We shall build good ships here; at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always good ships."

The gist of the message that was imparted to his Japanese pupils:

Every company needs a concise, complete statement of the purpose of the company's existence, one that provides a well-defined target for the idealistic efforts of the employees.

Companies must put quality ahead of profit, pursuing it rigorously with techniques such as statistical quality control.

Every employee deserves the same kind of respect follow managers receive, and good management is "democratic management." Lower-level employees need to be listened to by their bosses.

Sarasohn and Protzman's pupils went on to become a Who's Who of Japan's electronics industry. They included Matsushita Electric's Masaharu Matsushita; Mitsubishi Electric's Takeo Kato; Fujitsu's Hanzou Omi; Sumitomo Electric's Bunzaemon Inoue; Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka, the founders of what is now Sony Corp. This cadre of leaders spread the principles throughout Japanese industry.

I wonder if much of this is lost here in the U.S. now. The evening news tells of CEO’s milking U.S. companies in the name of money and greed. It seems to be all about profitability and “shareholder value”. I understand a company can not survive without being profitable but at what expense?

So this is my brief history lesson for what it is worth. If you are interested in more information I recommend:

A Lesson Learned and a Lesson Lost: http://deming.eng.clemson.edu/pub/den/files/lesson.txt

And Honoring Homer http://honoringhomer.net/