Remembering Bob Galvin and Steve Jobs

America and the world lost two business visionaries and leaders this month: Steve Jobs and Bob Galvin.

I knew Bob well enough to call him Bob. He wouldn’t have expected Mr. Galvin, although he wouldn’t have corrected anyone for using either. I can’t imagine anyone calling Steve “Mr. Jobs.” Funny how comfortable we become with our great leaders, as if they are somehow friends. Both men had genius, and through their vision and leadership both men created industries– at least one each. They were much different people–different generations, different educations, and different paths to the top. Steve built his own business; Bob took over his father’s business. Each had different gifts of leadership.

I always thought of Bob as the Dean of American business. I don’t think Steve would have made that claim, or even wanted the title. Bob gave quality a lot of visibility, both in the way he approached leading his business and in his public leadership. I think everyone would agree Six Sigma was birthed at Motorola. Bob wasn’t the father, but he nurtured it none the less. Bob provided the leadership that set Motorola on its journey to receive a 1988 Baldrige Award and then had the courage to tell Motorola’s supplier community that if they wanted to do business with Motorola, they, too, would have to apply. He knew what the benefits would be to his business and the country.

Bob took an early position on ISO9000 and said its requirements weren’t strong enough to drive excellence. Dr. Juran had said the same thing. I’m guessing Bob asked Dr. Juran about it. Bob gave Dr. Juran a lot of credit and a great deal of respect. Bob left us with a raft of sound bites of wisdom. A couple that come quickly to mind are, “Start with a billion dollar business and grow it by 15% for 10 years and you got something.” He wasn’t a status quo guy. He said, “No dollar invested in developing people was ever wasted.” He believed in the value of people. In the 1980s, Bob followed the lead of David Kearns, then CEO of Xerox, and hosted a summit of business and engineering school deans. In a meeting room filled with the who’s who of the country’s elite education leaders, he was posed this question: “Mr. Galvin, what do you do if you’re unable to convince your senior executives that this quality stuff is the right thing to do?” It didn’t take Bob more than a heart-beat to answer, “I fire them.” Of course the room burst into applause and laughter. But when you looked at Bob’s face on the screen – bigger than life – he wasn’t laughing. He was serious.

Mr. Galvin last joined ASQ in 2009 when he attended the World Conference on Quality and Improvement in Minneapolis. He attended ASQ’s Executive Roundtable along with Val Feigenbaum. They had great stories about the early days of quality. Their presence was a real gift.

It seems important to thank Bob for his leadership, for his vision, for the jobs and careers his vision helped create. To thank him for taking risks. And in the case of quality, to thank him for speaking up. He knew quality was essential to success and the quality he spoke about was more than the quality of products. He cared about the quality of his business. Mr. Galvin was a pioneer. His legacy lives on in the hearts of his family and in the hearts of the tens of thousands of people who worked for Motorola under his leadership. His legacy lives on in the companies now led by Motorola’s executives. His legacy lives on in the millions of people inspired by his example of leadership and his conduct.

Bob said once that he didn’t really know what responsibility was until his father handed him the keys to the business. In that metaphor, I think those who understand quality should feel similar responsibility.

Steve and Bob changed the world for the better, and they both understand that they had a responsibility to do so. Who are the great business leaders who have inspired you to raise your voice while they made the world better?

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