I was delighted and surprised to see Armand V. Feigenbaum included in your profile of quality gurus ("Guru Guide," November 2010).
During a conversation with him several years ago, I elicited his opinion of this stature. Interestingly enough, Feigenbaum did not believe guru was an appropriate characterization of his life’s work, as he prided himself on being a practitioner of science and objective evidence, and operated in the rational realm of systems management.
In contrast, Feigenbaum described his view that a guru represents a sage who provides esoteric wisdom on vague and mysterious subjects, and thus had no place in quality. Due to his courteous nature, however, he did not overtly object to this label, as he felt it was reflective of a compliment to his efforts.
Our profession is unique in that it provides cross-functional communication and serves as a bridge between disparate business areas, combining facts and ideals to generate and drive overall improvements. Using terms such as guru implies an irrational approach bordering on a cult mind-set, which contributes to diminishing quality’s reputation in favor of generic terms such as performance excellence. For example, it is not a coincidence that the Baldrige award has shifted its emphasis from quality to performance excellence.
If we follow the examples of foundational leaders such as Feigenbaum, W. Edwards Deming and Kaoru Ishikawa—with the humility and professionalism they displayed throughout their illustrious careers—we can produce value on our own merits and rebuild the stature of the quality profession to its rightful place.
Surrey, British Columbia
I had the privilege of meeting and having brief conversations with W. Edwards Deming at one of his public seminars and Philip Crosby following my completion of his Quality College. Crosby made it clear that my decision to use the best guru practices was fine but also said "I was old enough" to formulate my own approach to quality. Time has proven him to be quite right.
Spirit Lake, ID
I can think of two names to add to the guru list. William A.J. Golomski was an ASQ president in the mid-1960s whose leadership led to the first ASQ certification in 1968: the certified quality engineer. He also played a role promoting quality in numerous industries. His use of the least square determination was critical in saving the food industry $1 billion during the 1970s and 1980s.
A second name to add is John Surak for his leadership implementing ISO 9000, ISO 14000 and ISO 22000 in the food industry. His leadership was also one of the factors in establishing the manager of quality/organizational excellence certification in 1995.