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Scott M. Paton

Joseph M. Juran Remembered

Juran’s life serves as an excellent example of the power of hard work and determination.



As you probably know by now, we lost the last of the quality greats: Joseph M. Juran died on Feb. 28, at the age of 103.

So much of what has been written about Juran focuses on the awards he achieved, his managerial concepts, his books, and his work later in life with Juran Institute. I want to reflect on the circumstances that made Juran the man he was and which allowed him to attain so much despite starting out with so little.

Juran’s life serves as a shining example of the power of dedication, determination, and discipline. Juran was a survivor--someone who, despite numerous obstacles in his lifetime, not only survived but also excelled in many areas.

The deck was stacked against Juran from the beginning: He was born a poor Jew in a backwater part of Europe just after the turn of the century. His father somehow managed to emigrate to the United States and bring the rest of the family, including young Joseph, a few years later. The move to the United States spared the family the ravages of two world wars, the bitter anti-Semitism of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and, of course, Hitler’s holocaust. One-third of the residents of Gura Humora, Juran’s home town, died in concentration camps.

Merely immigrating to the United States was no assurance of a secure future. The family’s first home in the New World was a one-room, 360-square-foot tarpaper shack with a cast-iron wood stove for heat and cooking. They had no running water, sewer, gas, or electricity. The family of eight lived in that shack for six years.

Eight-year-old Joseph and his brother sold newspapers on the street, making a combined total of 30 cents a day, boosting the family income by 10 percent. In his autobiography, Architect of Quality: The Autobiography of Dr. Joseph M. Juran (McGraw-Hill, 2003), Juran credited this hard work and his family’s focus on education for much of his later success.

Juran survived the poverty, the death of his beloved mother, and his father’s indifference to the family. Indeed, he did more than survive; he acquired the skills he needed to thrive later in life: an insatiable thirst for knowledge, a drive to succeed against all odds, and a quest for a normal family life. He also managed to become the first Juran to graduate from college, earning a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota in 1924. His grade point average was just 2.02.

He had survived his humble beginnings. Fortunately for the quality world, his next step was to take a job at the famous Hawthorne Works of Western Electric, the manufacturing arm of AT&T. There, he was assigned to the inspection branch, a fortuitous appointment. In later years, when asked why he chose managing for quality as a career, Juran answered, “I didn’t choose it. It was chosen for me by the powers that be.”

When he was hired in 1924, the inspection branch of the Hawthorne Works employed 5,200 people out of a work force of more than 40,000. Part of his new-employee training required him to spend time in each of the inspection branch’s 36 departments and to write a report about what he observed. It was this intense focus on inspection that set Juran on his life’s work.

He barely had time to settle into the working world when the Great Depression struck. In time, the massive Hawthorne Works facility would shrink to 7,000 employees. Juran lived in constant fear of being laid off--of returning to that world of desperate poverty that he knew so well. Yet he survived the layoffs. In fact, he thrived. The family’s standard of living actually rose during the Depression. Because prices fell, he was able to go back to school and get his law degree. He rose quickly through the ranks and was transferred to AT&T headquarters in New York. When the United States entered World War II, the Lend-Lease Administration asked AT&T to assign Juran to the government.

Juran survived the Great Depression, World War II, and life as a government bureaucrat. In fact, he made a significant contribution to the war effort by reducing waste and improving efficiency. Yet, when the war was over, he knew that life as a government bureaucrat wasn’t for him. He also realized that he couldn’t go back to AT&T.

Juran accepted a position as chair of the electrical engineering department at New York University. He also began working as a consultant in diverse industries. Eventually his work as a consultant outweighed his teaching, so he left academia and became a full-time consultant. It was during those years that he wrote his epic Quality Control Handbook (McGraw-Hill, 1951). He began making visits to Japan, and published countless articles and papers. He established Juran Institute in 1979 and, although he retired from consulting in the early 1990s, Juran Institute continues its good work quite successfully.

The last paragraph of Juran’s autobiography reads: “And to my beloved family: When I am gone, let no one weep for me. I have lived a wonderful life.”

We will not weep; we celebrate your life, your courage, your determination to succeed, your contributions to humanity, and your dedication to your family.

Share your thoughts on Juran’s life and work at www.qualitycurmudgeon.com.

About the author
Scott M. Paton is Quality Digest’s editor at large.