by Theodore B. Kinni
As Deming taught, quality depends greatly on systems and, today, business systems are being radically altered by advances in information technology and networks. In Cybercorp, information technology guru James Martin describes the new structures that quality professionals might encounter as corporations learn to operate in cyberspace.
The structure of companies will change so dramatically that Martin feels compelled to use a new word for them: cybercorps or, more properly, cybernetic corporations. A cybercorp, according to the author, is a business "designed for fast change, which can learn, evolve and transform itself rapidly."
Speed is an important characteristic of the cybercorp. Software and electronic networks allow automated monitoring, decision making and response. These should be combined, according to the author, to minimize "concept to cash" cycles. As one small example, he sees suppliers delivering goods not only just-in-time but in the correct production sequence for minimal handling.
Developing external networks will give businesses an instant global presence, and as more and more companies jump into cyberspace, virtual consortiums will organize, disperse and reorganize in response to profit opportunities. Developing and maintaining core competencies will become a critical task in this new environment.
There is much more in Cybercorp (AMACOM Books, $27.95). This book is really about the future potential of business. It doesn't so much offer a structure or methodology for the Information Age as it begins to explore some of the seemingly limitless possibilities we face. Read it as a source of creative inspiration.
The creation and growth of Federal Express Corp. is one of the best business stories of this century. The reliability and the quality of its services have established new benchmarks for performance among its competitors in the air freight industry, and in the corporate world at large. In The World on Time, James Wetherbe, Federal Express Professor of Excellence at the University of Memphis, attempts to explain the reasons for the company's success.
Wetherbe finds 11 "management principles" at work in the FedEx culture. A good number of these relate directly to employee involvement: "You can never, ever, do enough for your people," "Everybody pitches in," and "Rewards are absolutely, positively everything." The most interesting principle deals with the development and maintenance of FedEx's sterling image and reputation.
An endless stream of examples drawn from the company's history and current practices support the management principles. In addition to the usual stories, such as CEO Fred Smith's payroll gambling in Las Vegas, many useful tidbits have been gathered from sources such as the company's own Manager's Guide (which might make a good book in and of itself).
The World on Time (Knowledge Exchange, $22.95) makes a worthy addition to a business library&emdash;the text is very simple to read and understand, and FedEx is a company that any businessperson would do well to study. The access that was granted to the author results in a welcome insider's look at the company. And, although the book occasionally verges on the kind of corporate cheerleading found in most press releases, those flaws are well-balanced by the frank portrayal and analysis of many of the company's mistakes.
If anyone out there still believes that quality is simply a production issue or for those who are wondering how quality applies to sales, this sequel to the authors' earlier book, Bringing Total Quality to Sales (ASQC, 1992) provides a fast look at how companies have applied quality to their sales operations. This slim paperback contains six case studies narrated in the first person by managers who participated in them.
The studies illustrate the application of the authors' 10 requisites of sales quality as put forth in their first book and reprised here. These focus on the fundamental elements of quality and on more sales-related issues.
The six studies also provide a practical look at the effort involved in quality implementations in sales. In the first (and best) study, for example, the sales staff of a car dealership struggles with the fundamental cultural changes that total quality demands in a traditional hard-sell environment. In the last, a leader describes how quality is married to strategy and planning.
Unhappily, the reading of Applying Total Quality to Sales (ASQC Quality Press, $15) isn't always smooth. In several cases, the direct narration of the studies by managers and salespeople at the subject companies is an effective literary technique. However, the authors have been too reluctant to step into the studies and highlight the important lessons. The reader becomes confused as some chapters start to read like the transcript of a team meeting. It is also distracting when one narrator spends more time selling the company's quality than describing the implementation itself.
The "hidden champions" referred to here are a group of 500 low-profile, high-profit German companies. They are smaller companies, with work forces of less than 1,000 employees and average annual revenues of $130 million. Three-quarters are closely or privately held. Most impressively, they all rank No. 1 or No. 2 in their markets.
Consultant Hermann Simon describes these companies as a "whole category of global competitors [who have] remained hidden under a layer of inconspicuousness, invisibility and even secrecy." Hidden Champions makes an effort to raise the curtain on them to discover any common basis for their success.
Simon finds nine lessons shared among the hidden champions: set ambitious goals, define markets narrowly, create a global business, stay close to customers, innovate continuously, build competitive advantage, develop core competencies, maintain an involved and busy work force, and practice strong leadership.
These lessons might prove a bit of a disappointment for those readers who want a magic spell for business profitability. "Essentially," writes Simon in the book's closing paragraph, "their only secret success formula is common sense. So simple, but so difficult to achieve! This is the ultimate lesson."
Hidden Champions (Harvard Business School Press, $29.95) explores a little-known sector of the German economy and only misses its target in one instance: There is no complete listing of the companies on which Simon has based his work, so many of his subjects remain hidden from public view.