Sunday, November 6, 2011

Chinese Pumpkin Pie for Thanksgiving!

I like most of you understand our standard of living has been artificially propped up with cheap goods from China. I accept the fact that much of what I buy in U.S. retail stores is made in China – I was in a Wal-Mart just yesterday. But I will not eat pumpkin pie made with pumpkin from China as I celebrate Thanksgiving with my family.

Recently my wife purchased a can of pumpkin from our local independent grocer (IGA). I have for 30 years supported this store. About eight years ago a large local grocery chain built a new store about 1/2 mile from my home. I rarely visit that store because of my unwavering loyalty to my local independent grocer. That may change. Since the canned pumpkin had a brand label, Polar, that I was not familiar with, I read the back of the label. I was more than surprised to find out it was from China. I thought, OMG, we could have made our Thanksgiving pumpkin pie with pumpkin from China! How would the average Chinese person feel if they discovered that the traditional Spring Festival sweets served at their family celebration were made in Mexico? Some things are just wrong.

I have known for about two years that the fresh garlic from the same IGA is from China. I rarely buy it for it is never very fresh and lacks the flavor fresh garlic should have. I cannot understand why fresh garlic is sourced from the other side of the world! What happened to Gilroy, CA the garlic capital of the world? The self proclaimed pumpkin capital of the world is Morton, IL where Libby’s grows and produces canned pumpkin. It is only 138 miles from my local IGA to Morton, IL! China is over 10,000 miles away! Are the margins at the IGA stores so tight that they have to resort to sourcing fresh and canned food products, which are available regionally, from the other side of the world to save a few pennies? The management team at the Independent Grocers Association should understand that the customers who support the IGA stores are the farmers and produces of food products that populate small town America where most of the IGA stores are located. Makes you wonder if the IGA in Morton, IL carries canned pumpkin from China. If so the employees from the Libby’s plant might want to talk with the store manager.

I was again in my local IGA a few days ago and as I walking down an aisle I noticed some fruit preserves that were priced at half the price of every other brand. The brand was the same as the pumpkin - Polar brand. Food safety in the U.S. has had some problems as witnessed by numerous food recalls and the illnesses and even deaths from tainted fresh produce like spinach and cantaloupe. But, at least I know we have an agency that monitors and inspects our food products. I personally have no idea how that is accomplished in China. And please do not think I am some prejudiced flag waver. I love to cook and visit ethnic grocery stores including a large Asian grocery store where I often purchase products produced in China. Ethnic groceries are a real joy for they provide me with new and unique ingredients that challenge me to prepare new dishes I have never tried before. They offer specialty products I cannot source from a U.S. supplier. If my local IGA, that I have supported for 30 years, cannot support the farmers and producers of food from the U.S and continues to stock their shelves with both the Polar brand and their own private labeled products produced in China I will start spending my food money elsewhere. Garlic and canned pumpkin are not specialty products.

Now back to the can of pumpkin. After reading the pumpkin label I returned the can of pumpkin and asked for a refund. When asked what the problem was I simply stated that the pumpkin was from China. The clerk did not look up or react in any way to my comment. She simply completed the transaction and refunded my money. If you and I do not react someday we may all be eating Thanksgiving pumpkin pie made with pumpkin from China. That just doesn't seem right.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Living the Dream

When I decided to change careers at the beginning of 2010 I had a vision of my future life. I had always worked for others during my 40 plus years of full time work and I was determined to change that by starting my own consulting business. My motives were many but first and foremost I wanted to stay engaged and active by helping others improve their business operations. I have been living my dream.

In August I received an email informing me that the participants in my July Shanghai, China Lean Safety workshop had formed an informal lean safety group and had shared their company’s evacuation plans with each other when a typhoon threatened the East coast of China. A small step indeed but it supported my goal of making a safety difference while in China.

Then in mid-September Sandy, my wife, and I headed to Australia. I had been invited to keynote at a manufacturing conference in Melbourne. Following the conference, arrangements had been made for me to facilitate a 2-day Lean Safety workshop/kaizen event in a chemical plant. The conference was sponsored by the SIRF Roundtable, a consortium of around 60 companies, and Leverage Lean, a local consulting firm. Attendance was around 100 with representatives and presenters from a variety of companies like Toyota, Kraft, Wilson Transformer and diverse industries including dairy products, mining and sheep processing. Just as in the U.S. most businesses in Australia are on the lean journey and it was a great two days of meeting and talking with many new people which allowed me to become very adept at saying, "How ya goin?".

Following the conference I facilitated the 2-day workshop/kaizen event at Nufarm, a global chemical company. 30 attendees from a variety of industries participated in the workshop held on the first day. A combination of presentation material and small team exercises provided them with the Lean Safety knowledge they would need the next day. On day two they were split into four kaizen teams and were sent to four different work centers to observe a work process with the intent of reducing soft tissue injury risks. Real learning occurred based on the survey results. Almost every attendee noted they now understood how you could anchor lean in a business culture by focusing on improving safety with lean tools.

We had a wonderful time traveling around Australia for two weeks following my week of work. The people who entertained us during the conference week and those we met during our travels were friendly and always helpful. The Aussie's pace of life seems a little slower than in the U.S. and their economy still seems strong. Their historical problem of being so distant from their export markets has lessened with the rapidly growing Chinese economy. Someone I talked with noted that ships carrying iron ore valued at 40 million dollars leave Western Australia for China weekly. I may have the opportunity to return to Australia next year to conduct additional Lean Safety events and I am already looking forward to seeing my new mates.

During a week at home, while recovering from serious jet lag, Sandy and I, along with three other couples, served homemade pizza to around 70 people at a homeless shelter. The individuals at the shelter were so appreciative of the meal they gave us a standing-O as we were departing. We also reduced the cycle time to feed 70 people to nine minutes. In January we will be back and I believe we can get the cycle time to 5 minutes or less. Then over the weekend I went back on the road. I traveled to Athens, Georgia to visit Power Partners. They are a manufacturer of power transformers and have a lean culture developed by a leadership team committed to growing their people.

Two of the staff from Power Partners had attended my Lean Safety workshop at the AME conference in 2010 and I was invited down to expose more of their employees to the concept of getting lean by focusing on safety. My time at Power Partner included an assessment of their safety culture. This was accomplished by observing some of their safety processes like a safety meeting and an incident investigation meeting. On day two I conducted a Lean Safety workshop. The day ended with a tour of three work centers where the kaizen teams would spend the following day. On day three all three teams observed individuals performing their work steps while trying to identify safety improvements that would in turn reduce the cycle time of the operation. At the end of the day each team completed a report out to the management team on the results of their efforts. It is always so rewarding watching kaizen teams amaze their managers with what they can accomplish when given the gift of time.

After returning home for a few days I headed to the largest lean conference in the world. This year the AME international conference was held in Dallas, Texas. My week started by facilitating a full day Lean Safety workshop on Monday and the balance of the week was filled with a variety of volunteer activities. I had a wonderful week during which I had the chance to catch up with many friends and acquaintances. It is almost like a reunion of lean thinkers. Consider attending AME's annual lean conference in 2012 when it will be held in Chicago if you have never experienced a lean conference of this size and depth.

Now home for two weeks, the longest stretch since June, I have a chance to catch up on some home responsibilities. I only have one more scheduled trip this year. That will be a two day event in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Then it will be time to relax and enjoy the holidays with family and friends. Since my dreams have already come true someone please tell Santa no gifts this year for Mr. Lean Safety! I am having the time of my life.