A Tribute: Philip B. Crosby

by Gregory H. Watson, Chairman of the Board, ASQ

Writing about the passing of a colleague is difficult. It is even harder to write about someone who became a friend. Although I had read books by Philip B. Crosby in the 1980s and was profoundly affected by his pragmatic approach to quality, it wasn’t until the past few years that I really learned about Phil as a human being and came to appreciate him as a man.

Often we spend time with colleagues and never penetrate the boundary separating the work personality from the real being. It was an honor for me to get to know Phil as a person, not just as an icon of our profession. With a deep respect for his life and works, I would like to celebrate his gift and the role model he bequeathed through the example of his life and career.

Phil was born on June 18, 1926, in Wheeling, WV. He served his country in both World War II and the Korean War. Between those services he graduated from medical school. He worked for the Crosley Co. from 1952 to 1955, where he first became acquainted with quality and joined ASQ. He moved on to quality manager at Martin-Marietta, where he continued to develop his theories, including the concept of zero defects. Phil went to ITT in 1965 as corporate vice president of quality. He served in this position until 1979, when he established his own consulting firm. That same year Phil was elected president of ASQ and was subsequently awarded the Edwards Medal.

By any measure, Phil’s quality career was exemplary. But it wasn’t sufficient for him. Phil also strove for excellence in his next career as a business leader. He wrote 13 books that have been translated into 16 languages and sold more than 2.5 million copies. In 2000, the YMCA International Management Council presented Phil with the McFeeley Award, an honor given to such leading business thinkers as W. Edwards Deming, Peter Drucker and Norman Vincent Peale.

Phil worked to significantly advance the cause of the quality movement through his many personal contributions over the past four decades. His philosophies have been ingrained into the fiber of many corporations both large and small, and his book Quality Is Free was one of the initial signals of the decade of quality in the 1980s, when quality emerged as a viable career.

I spoke with Phil in February just after the ASQ Board of Directors voted for him to become our newest Honorary Member-the highest honor accorded by our society. He told me then he was undergoing medical treatment and didn’t know whether he could make it to the Annual Quality Congress. He asked if he could do a video as a backup to the speech, which he then made as a gift that will be distributed to all ASQ sections for use in local programs this coming year. During the next week, while he was undergoing treatment, he provided a keynote speech to the Quality Management Division’s annual conference.

These two recent events help illustrate an important point about Phil Crosby I want our community to know and appreciate. Phil loved quality and cared deeply for those people who have committed their life’s work to it. He had an attitude of service to the greater good-to quality-in every dimension of his life: family, church, business, as well as his work with ASQ and Rollins College in Winter Park, FL, where he mentored students. Please enjoy his video in your section meetings, and remember both the philosophy and the man who provided us with his insights into the meaning and nature of work and life.

I am thankful for the opportunity to know Phil. In my opinion, on August 18, 2001, the global quality community lost one of its most prolific commentators.

Editor’s note: To view the entire tribute, visit www.asq.org.

If you would like to comment on this article, please post your remarks on the Quality Progress Discussion Board, or e-mail them to editor@asq.org.

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