In 1989 I was an executive for a division of Dial Corporation and responsible for implementing Lean at our nine manufacturing plants. I had read about Norman and his company Productivity Inc. and owned several of Shingo’s books Norman translated and published. Needing help, I hired Productivity to work their magic in our largest plant in St. Louis, MO with greater than expected results.

Jeremy Green
Jeremy Green

Jeremy Green is a lean guru with over thirty years experience. He is currently mentoring startups at RAIN Eugene, a startup accelerator in Eugene Oregon.

Fast forward to 1993 when I was working for an automotive supplier in Portland, Oregon. Norman had recently moved his operations from Boston to Portland, and I decided I needed to meet this man who was the genius behind Productivity, Inc. On the spur of the moment, I drove to Norman’s offices in downtown Portland one Monday morning hoping to at least set up an appointment with him.

I walked in and was met by a receptionist, and asked her if I could make an appointment with Norman to thank him for the great job Productivity had done for Dial. She said, “I don’t think you’ll need an appointment, let me see if he can meet with you now.” She disappeared behind a partition, came back, and told me Norman would be happy to see me.

I followed her back to Norman’s office, walked in and noticed Norman was looking down at  some papers laying on his desk. Not even giving me a chance to introduce myself, he looked up, and handed me a book, The New Standardization: Keystone of Continuous Improvement in Manufacturing by Shigehiro Nakamura, and said, “I need a written review of this book for the next Productivity newsletter and I need it by this Friday.”  He then went back to looking at the papers on his desk, and I realized I’d been dismissed. 

Motivated to do my best for Norman, I read the book, wrote a review over the next two days, went back to his office that Wednesday and handed the review to the receptionist. She walked it into his office, came back out, and asked me to wait a few minutes. Soon I heard Norman over the partition saying “Send him back.”

I walked back into his office, and found him looking down at my review laying on his desk. Without looking up, he handed me back the review and said, “This is crap, you can do better. By Friday!”  Once again I was dismissed. 

Two visits to see Norman and I hadn’t been able to say a single word..

Even more motivated now, I called a friend who was a professional writer and explained my problem.  He told me he’d be happy to help. I thanked him and quickly drove to his home, where he spent two hours helping me polish up the review.

The following morning (Thursday) I drove back to Norman’s office, handed the review to the receptionist, and she again walked it back to Norman’s office, returned in less than a minute and said, “Norman will be with you shortly.” After five minutes or so, I again heard his voice come over the partition, “Send him back.”

I walked back to Norman’s office, entered, and he gestured for me to take a chair in front of his desk. He looked up and said, “This is still crap, and I’m going to publish it anyway, but I know you can do better.”  And I realized that I had intentionally been put in the Ohno (now Bodek) Circle. And the first words I got to say to him over three visits were, “Thank you Mr. Bodek.”  That was the start of our almost 30-year friendship.

We co-taught a class at Portland State University for five years. I was one of two people in his only “Quick and Easy Kaizen” train-the-trainer class (along with Mark Graban), helped him with his first Harada Method train-the-trainer class, went out to lunch and dinner with him many times, and spent a day at his house with Ritsuo Shingo, when Ritsuo was President of Toyota China. All very fond and remarkable memories.

I will miss him. A brilliant light was dimmed, but will never be extinguished, living on inside each of us who had the pleasure and joy of knowing him, learning from his teachings and his books, and passing on that knowledge and wisdom to others.