What's Good for ...

You probably can't count all the people who have taken offense at the statement by Charles E. "Engine Charlie" Wilson that "what's good for General Motors is good for the country."

It's a phrase that has been used as evidence of corporate arrogance, executive narrow-mindedness and the manipulative tendencies of businessmen who become government officials. Wilson was a president of GM who went on to serve as secretary of defense under Dwight Eisenhower.

What all this rancor obscures, however, is that there is an awful lot of truth in what he said.

When GM, and the other automakers, are doing well, the rest of the country is almost certainly prospering. Although the automotive industry does not dominate the economy as it did decades ago, it still exerts enormous influence.

This relationship is particularly significant for the quality professional. That's because whatever the automakers are thinking about and doing with quality is likely to spill over into the rest of the economy. In other words, what's good for automotive quality is good for the rest of the quality profession.

It was, after all, the automakers who brought W. Edwards Deming into their executive suites starting in the late 1970s and drew national attention to his management philosophy. At various times, automakers have also thrown their considerable weight behind standards, statistical process control and a variety of other quality tools. Ford's announcement in January that it would be adopting Six Sigma has already set off a chain reaction among its suppliers.

But in an industry as vast as automotive, there is no single approach to quality that predominates. There are many different viewpoints, and in this month's issue we have tried to cover as many as space permits. Our authors offer a variety of perspectives and discuss customer satisfaction, auditing, Robust Engineering, linkages between Six Sigma and QS-9000, and changing management methods.

When you look at all of this activity, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that there is a quality "war" being waged within the industry to see which one approach will reign supreme. But I think that is incorrect. Instead it is more accurate to say that what's happening in autos is the deployment of a range of quality strategies that share certain common features: market focus, systems thinking, problem prevention.

The war, such as it is, will be won by those companies that prove most adept at wielding the appropriate mix of quality tools to exceed customer expectations. 

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  Miles Maguire

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