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Human integrated manufacturing.

Automation has reshaped manufacturing operations, and quality programs are enhancing customer satisfaction. But the race to succeed in global markets of the 21st century will go to companies that best integrate high-tech and human resources.

Picture a manufacturing operation of the 21st century. Among the images that spring to mind might be a dazzling array of high-tech bells and whistles straight from the pages of an Isaac Asimov novel. Already in the works are pilots of so-called virtual factories--computerized collaborations in which products are digitally defined and tinkered with by parts of a corporation--or even several corporations--across the globe. And virtual interfaces may allow far-flung partners to simultaneously "handle" a part and test its reliability in virtual products--without producing so much as a prototype.

But in pondering the future, say participants in this month's CE roundtable, many CEOs overlook the human side of the manufacturing equation. How best to integrate man and machine? How to solve myriad ergonomic problems that sap productivity? In today's manufacturing environment, automation is a prerequisite, and a logical next step is the adoption of total quality management and just-in-time inventory approaches. But the real challenge, participants agree--and the only way to gain the speed and flexibility needed to compete in cutthroat global markets--is to tap people power.

"American industry's problems are the result of poor management over the last 15 years, not poor employees," says Russell Banks, a roundtable attendee and chief executive of Grow Group, a New York-based chemical manufacturer.

Banks and other panelists target key areas in which American manufacturers will have to quickly come up to speed. For example, most agree competitive demands in a global environment will spell the end of the traditional management hierarchy. Management, they argue, can't identify or solve problems as quickly as empowered teams of workers.

Another crucial requirement will be an increased investment in training: Currently, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, the annual price tag on training is $30 billion. The American Society for Training and Development places the figure at a much steeper $50 billion. The size of the tab, some experts maintain, reflects the specialty skills required in a high-tech environment and the sliding educational levels of a new generation of workers. "There will be a need for regular retooling of staff and managers," said Robert L. Bush, president of Robert L. Bush & Associates, a consulting firm in Morristown, NJ.

But perhaps most important, human integrated manufacturing will involve collaboration and consensus building among customers, suppliers, manufacturers, stockholders--and even unions, notes Richard G. LeFauve, president of Saturn Corp., a General Motors subsidiary built on a partnership between GM management and the United Auto Workers Union. The UAW is involved in everything from strategy formulation to the selection of an advertising agency, LeFauve says. He believes the union-management relationship has braced employee morale and increased efficiency.

Sectorwide, American manufacturing has rebounded sharply from an alarming stumble in the early 1980s. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, over the past decade manufacturing productivity has increased by more than three times the nation's overall rate. By the end of the 1980s, U.S. productivity out-stripped that of most other industrialized nations. Exports, which now comprise a record 22 percent of industrial output, will be a major source of strength for manufacturing. Some of these gains were chalked up as a handful of companies embraced integrated manufacturing techniques. But some observers fear that if the approach fails to gain a wider following, America will once more squander its competitive edge.

Such concerns are reverberating clear to Washington. Responding to a request from Congress, the Department of Defense last year assembled 15 senior executives to determine the characteristics manufacturers will need to thrive in the 21st century. The group determined that in the future, businesses will have to be more flexible, quality-based, and lightning-fast at getting their products to market.

To be sure, human integrated manufacturing, is a concept easier described than embraced. Amid tough times and tight budgets, the pace of automation has slowed. So, too, has the training that must accompany it. Organizations attempting to empower their front-line workers are colliding with balky middle managers and slogging through messy cultural changes. In addition, bringing technology in often means pushing employees out--sparking sharp protests from the bottom of organizational pyramids.

But perhaps most problematic in the U.S.--a land of rugged individualism where the bottom line is king--may be the human integrated notion of cooperation: virtual corporations working together via computer, and vendors sharing cost and other data with their customers.

"Our suppliers tell us their costs up front," says Saturn's LeFauve. "We're not out to reduce their profits, we're out to improve profitability for both of us."

Maybe. But underscoring the natural economic competition between nations, companies, and even intracorporate business units--Adam Smith's invisible hands locked in a winner-take-all arm wrestle--Eric Mittelstadt of GMFanuc Robotics observes: "A supplier might think, 'The customer doesn't pay his bills on time and forces me into a low bidding situation,' while a customer might say, 'I have to wring every last penny out of you to survive.'"

THE PEOPLE FACTOR

Richard G. (Skip) LeFauve (Saturn Corp.): We're here to talk about integrating people and technology to enhance corporate performance. On that count, I think the important thing about Saturn is the people-technology relationship.

Saturn is the product of a partnership of General Motors management and International United Auto Workers leadership. The partnership is built on the premise that people support decisions that affect them. UAW has full partnership in all of our business decisions. It is involved in everything we do: strategy formulation, client location, product formulation, and retailer and advertising agency selection.

It's easy to say people are your most important asset, but sometimes you don't behave that way. For example, we had to decide whether to put air-conditioning in our entire facility, including the foundry. Logic and cost calculations said not to air-condition the foundry, but we did. And the payoff came with an unexpected increase in processing capability. Some people said the improvement was due to the air-conditioning. We can't be positive, but I think the fact that we care about the people and involved the UAW in our decision, affects the way they work.

If you have enough trust to believe your people have the power and the ability to participate in the decision-making process, and if you have enough savvy to take the empowerment plunge, you will end up with better decisions.

However, before you can trust, you have to train--and make people believe the training is worth it. Let them choose the time, focus, teachers and content of training. Participation in these decisions will make a big difference in their ability to learn from the sessions.

Most of us tend to knock unions, but if I were to start a company from scratch, I would want a union because it develops leaders and gets people involved in the decision-making process.

J.P. Donlon (CE): Did you all hear what he just said? Just a reality check.

LeFauve: I said that purposely because I've also been on the other side of the fence. I was among those involved in trying to prevent unionization at GM's Pack Electric Division plant in the South. We treated the plant's personnel with dignity and respect and involved them in the decision-making process. We showed people they didn't need a union. And it worked. Productivity and quality went up.

Later, the plant did unionize, but productivity and quality remained high. That's because we found out the key wasn't the union; it was management.

Today, the trouble is that management usually can't provide solutions fast enough. It can't keep up with the technology or changes that need to be made to solve the problems our people quickly identify. But our front-line people can.

The people power is there: Our job is to tap it.

Another key to our success: We use economation rather than automation. We start with the best manual method, then justify any automation in increments of investment to be sure we know what the advantages are.

Generally, automation is adopted in response to an ergonomic problem. In building cars, for example, you have to assemble the chassis from the underside. Physically, that's very demanding. One solution: We have a workplace development center, in which teams from the plant solve problems in simulated working conditions. We might build mock auto parts out of wood and ask the workers to assemble them in a more efficient manner.

We're passing on to employees design tools for assembly, manufacturing and synchronous operations. Traditionally, these tools were the property of management and were applied through an industrial engineering department. But at Saturn, they are common property, used by employees to pinpoint problems and identify solutions.

This hands-on approach extends beyond the factory. We also decided to involve retailers in the decision-making process. They must be involved in any decision that affects the retail environment. Such decisions are announced by the retail representatives, so the facts come from those who participate in the decision-making process.

We also have a supplier council. The members focus primarily on incorporating quality into the supplier network.

Quality is the first focus for Saturn. If the job can't be done right, we stop the line and fix the problem. In our early days, we struggled, because the focus on quality was so strong, we often overreacted.

One time, we were working on the header of a car door--that's the metal part around a window. The assembly line was shut down because a team said the header was dented. At first glance, I couldn't detect any dents, but on closer examination, in the light, I saw a slight variation. By most definitions it wasn't a dent, but it was more than a speck.

By the time I got there, the workers had already discovered the flaws were caused by clamps gripping the headers too tightly while they were welded to the door. The team simply loosened the clamps. That cost us a lot of money in down time, but with the workers' attention to detail and their rapid response, that problem won't arise again.

WORKER PARTICIPATION

Robert J. Fien (Stone Construction Equipment): I was asked to join our company in the early 1980s. It was in serious difficulty at the time: Productivity was bad, and manufacturing was antiquated. We also faced competition from the Japanese and Germans. So we decided to move to participatory management.

I've always believed in worker participation and empowerment. However, trouble arises when companies don't precisely define participation. Everyone has to agree on the definition.

At Stone, we put philosophy ahead of process. By that, I mean we prepared the corporate culture so it was ready to accept participation.

For several years, we worked to cultivate workers' respect and trust. We eliminated status symbols such as privileged parking, and we stopped stereotyping people's abilities. We eliminated quality control inspectors, and helped workers expand their capabilities and develop their resources.

One result: Productivity went up 50 percent.

Let me tell you about one of our employees. When we started the process of changing our culture, he was cynical, suspicious and noncooperative. We sent him, and our entire work force, through an accredited course in just-in-time, cellular manufacturing and then asked him to head a team to incorporate JIT into one of our operations.

He did an exceptional job, and when the project was completed, I went out to the plant to thank him for his outstanding effort. He said, "Bob, don't thank me. I want to thank management for not thinking of me as a stereotypical dumb factory worker, for giving me the opportunity to make a contribution, and for giving me a great deal of self-esteem." And with that, he got so overcome, he sobbed.

That's how I measure the success of people empowerment.

LeFauve: In the process of people empowerment, union and management take great risks. Sometimes development costs go up, and the boys in accounting say you're going in the wrong direction.

To help point things in the right direction, we adopted a risk/reward system. Under the system, UAW people accepted base pay equal to 80 percent of the unionized worker average, with the remainder at risk. Over the years we've had to increase the proportion of base pay 10 percent. It's 90/10 at this point, but we hope to go back to 80/20.

The problem was getting the rest of the organization to the same risk level and giving managers their fair share. We don't give them reserved parking or other perks. Everybody's on the same system.

Fien: We did the same thing. At the plant, we also took out time clocks and bells signalling break times. On the management side, there were other considerations. We had to get our managers over the psychological hurdle of accepting their new roles.

LeFauve: We changed managers' titles to Work Unit Module Advisors. [Laughter]

Leroy D. (Pete) Peterson (Andersen Consulting): Skip, what about middle managers who won't admit something could be done better by the guys below them? Other than changing their titles, what can you do?

LeFauve: I'm going to use the word Bob mentioned: development. Our process underwent significant evolution. Our motto for the new management structure is: "If you can't buy into it, don't get into it."

We put some managers--traditional financial engineering people--into resource teams, groups that focus on the workplace. Under the team concept, if you're not a value-added person directly involved in manufacturing, you're a resource person--one or the other.

Richard G. Haworth (Haworth): Do you evaluate workers' performance?

LeFauve: Each team establishes and measures its own quality standards. The members measure their own absenteeism and output, and chart their progress on graphs taped to the wall.

Fien: We have two ways of measuring performance: Key Performance Indicators and individual performance reviews. People keep track of their own KPIs and those of their peers. One of our KPIs involves long-term growth.

But our performance reviews no longer focus only on attendance and other traditional topics. We asked a group of our people to define the attributes they want in a co-worker. The group came up with a composite of mild-mannered Clark Kent, Superman's alter ego. They posited as an ideal employee someone obsessed with productivity, focused on quality, willing to be flexible, and accustomed to good housekeeping.

Now, every six months, a worker completes a written assessment of how he measured up to the criteria. His "facilitator," or foreman, also fills out one. Then they discuss the differences and the reasons for them.

THE FIRING LINE

Russell Banks (Grow Group): When you tell a facilitator to fire 10 people, does he try to reach a consensus in a team to find out which 10 should go?

Fien: No

LeFauve: The fact that you'd even tell somebody to fire somebody else means you don't understand the process. Oftentimes under the team approach, there are alternatives to firing such as asking the employees themselves which positions should be cut.

Banks: Well, do you go to the whole company and say, "We have to cut out a thousand employees. Which ones?"

Jerrold B. Harris (VWR): Russ, we had no other alternative last year. We went to the workers with two options: a shorter work week or layoffs. They brainstormed and decided they'd rather go through a layoff process.

Eric Mittelstadt (GMFanuc Robotics): We had a similar situation. We instituted a voluntary reduction program. In line with the program, we let employees consider applying for 500 job openings, which we posted through our computer system. That way they could decide whether they wanted to stay or go.

We did everything we could for our employees because we knew the workers who would stay behind needed to know that even in a downturn we were concerned about them.

LeFauve: Here's another example of employee involvement. In a situation with a UAW plant, we faced a major shift from a highly manual operation to highly automated operations. The Japanese were going to sell our product for $10, while it cost us $50 just to make.

So we went to the employees and explained the situation. We had to cut our work force of 400 in half. We decided to select candidates for termination based on the extent to which their families would be affected. In many cases, employees who were the second wage earners in their families volunteered to be laid off. So it's back to trust: That means helping people understand the business situation and letting them decide what to do.

THE UNION DILEMMA

Harris: We talked earlier about the role of unions in the empowerment process. I don't know if I'd go as far as your opening statement, Skip, but the union is not a problem for us. If you're running your business sanely, unionization is not an issue.

Banks: Suddenly, I'm hearing unions are great. Ten years ago, popular sentiment held that unions were runing American business. Compared with the Germans, we have higher wages--meaning higher costs--mainly because of unions.

Suddenly, unions are cooperative. I'll tell you this: They're only cooperative because they're losing jobs. It's not that Grow Group didn't want unions; we want to treat our people fairly. But whatever the intent at the beginning, it's impossible to predict how cooperative a union will be.

Almost all of the issues we're talking about are the result of poor management over the last 10 or 15 years. If we would have made changes then, we wouldn't be in the predicament we are today. Our problems stem from poor management, not poor employees.

Robert W. Mahoney (Diebold): I agree. I think we're all talking about moving manufacturing forward to compete in a global environment. But the result--how good or bad we are--is really measured by what we return to our shareholders and how much we increase our market share.

In turn, however, those returns depend largely on employees' ability to successfully work in groups. At our two new automated teller machine factories, we have one manager in each plant, and everybody else works in empowered teams that set their own productivity and quality requirements. The manager is really a coach who makes sure the teams understand their jobs.

Banks: I see the function of management somewhat differently. Motivation is essential. But I think the manager has to look upon himself almost as a benevolent dictator. The only way to win employees' trust and faith is to indicate you deserve them.

VISIONARY PROCESS

Earnest W. Deavenport (Eastman Chemical Company): I'd like to comment on that. Eastman Chemical is a paternalistic company. About 10 years ago, we eliminated time clocks and established a team structure. We have a so-called natural work team that functions without a supervisor. We've done away with over half the foremen in our plants. We do not have senior vice presidents in charge of departments; we have self-directed teams.

Richard Previte (Advanced Micro Devices): How did your VPs react to the curtailment of their responsibilities?

Deavenport: That didn't take place all at once--there was a consensus-building process. In the new organization, for example, the senior management team came up with 12 principles upon which the organization would be based. These were approved by 150 to 500 other managers.

Meanwhile, about three years ago, we started Strategic Intent, an evaluation process intended to clarify our mission. The name of the process indicates its thrust. How should we deal with employees? Where should we take the company? Stated simply: Our intent is to be the world's preferred chemical company.

One of my initial talks with a group of senior managers was like a prayer meeting, because our new management concepts required a lot of faith. In a capital-intensive industry, we want our company to grow fivefold over the next 10 to 12 years. That's tall order, and the managers had to ask themselves, "Can I work to fulfill the company's intent, not knowing where I'm going to get the resources?"

But gradually, the visionary process began to change people's mind-set and behavior. At the beginning, my senior management team members sort of pricked their fingers and signed in blood, saying: "Yes, this is what we want to do. We don't know how we're going to get there yet, but we're going to do it."

SCANNING THE FUTURE

Donlon: Why do you use the word intent instead of goal?

Deavenport: A goal has a ring of absoluteness about it. If you don't achieve a goal, you're going to feel really bad.

LeFauve: I think it's interesting that this discussion is revolving around a label. But there's a reason for this. Everybody knows what a goal is. But if you say Strategic Intent, now everybody has to embrace the same vision and learn the same definition.

Haworth: At Haworth, we shaped our vision through a three-day "futuring" conference. We pulled together some of our customers, dealers, suppliers, stakeholders, production people and managers. We asked them to look at possible future stresses in our industry and the world. Then we created a vision based on our analysis.

Deavenport: With Strategic Intent, we came up with a vision, then moved on to implementation. We abolished line vice presidents in some areas, including manufacturing. We now have teams working on technology, R&D and plant management. Our employees elected to rotate leadership of the teams every few months. Communication between senior management and the front lines takes place through interlocking teams: Everyone has a conduit to senior management. There are no day-to-day superior/subordinate relationships.

Overall, the system has been well received. Senior employees don't want close supervision in management anymore. And on the other side, managers want to be problem solvers, not supervisors.

Keith R. Garrity (Fansteel): Don't you have operating meetings with your managers to assess profitability?

Deavenport: Yes, but we don't talk only about P&L, we also talk about strategy and direction. We don't spend a lot of time looking at a bunch of numbers on a piece of paper. We see them, but as long as the manager remains aligned with our overall strategy, we don't spend much time on the rest.

Garrity: But you can't ignore the numbers altogether. With only 27 plants, I think my Key Performance Indicator on a monthly and bimonthly basis is going to remain P&L.

WORKING RELATIONSHIP

Mittelstadt: Let me add to this discussion my point of view as a vendor. We've talked about trust, sharing and mutual respect between employees and management. But those words can also be extended to how companies relate to each other.

When we have a customer who involves us early in the game, we can save him a lot of money. If he doesn't involve us, it's going to cost him plenty.

For example, let's say a customer comes in and says, "Boy, I have to wring every last penny out of you. My business is just about to fold. I have to survive. By gosh, I'm going to beat the heck out of you."

What happens? At the last minute, the customer finally decides to purchase from us. He saves a few pennies. But his deadline didn't change. So now we have to bust our tail to do the job.

Consider another example: We could have saved a customer thousands of dollars just by explaining where to put a hole in the trunk of a car. The hole was needed to complete the paint job, but the company didn't put the hole in the right place, and we didn't get involved early enough. The result: We had to put a fixture on the trunk lid to open it up.

Then what happened? The customer had to pay a lot of money for all the fixtures. Paint got on the fixtures, and, in turn, flaked off and messed up the paint job.

Now we had a costly quality problem. If the customer had involved us a couple of months earlier, we would have foreseen the problem and advised him accordingly. The company wouldn't have had to buy any fixtures at all. Very simple.

But a company's measurement system tells it, "Boy, that purchasing guy, he's really saving us a lot of money." Let me tell you, the Japanese don't operate that way. And they've got better quality, cheaper costs, and faster time to market.

I always get nervous when people say, "How much did it save you?" That's a question with a long-term answer. I'll know in another year or two or five, but I can't tell right now.

Pricing is another crucial issue. It's in our best interest to give the customer the best possible deal. If we don't, somebody else is going to get in there and beat us over the head. But compromising on prices takes a leap of faith. Instinctively, a purchaser feels a supplier is going to take advantage of him. And a supplier might think: "The customer doesn't pay his bills on time and forces me into a low bidding situation."

But compromise might also mean sharing information. I can't solve a customer's productivity problems if he doesn't trust me enough to tell me about them. The customer has to share with me, has to respect my ideas, has to trust me to give him the right ideas.

In turn, I have to care enough about the situation to give the customer the best ideas to make a project work.

I have a powerful motivation, though. I tell some of our customers--and it's a little bit weird--"Look, I have a bigger stake than you in your manufacturing system working more efficiently. If the solution I give you doesn't work, you will find someone else to manufacture your product. But I will go out of business, because someone else in your industry is going to find out the terrible job my company did, and the word will spread. Not only don't I get your second order, I don't get your competitor's first one."

Nike has a great commercial with the slogan: "Just do it." Let me add to that: Internally, do it in a way that makes you the lowest-cost, highest-quality producer.

Our Japanese parent company has a saying: "To succeed, you must squeeze water out of a stone." You constantly have to improve your business.

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS?

Deavenport: Eric, we generally do a good job on the customer end, but on the supplier end our people die pretty hard when it comes to pricing and, in general, practicing the same things we say our customers should practice with us. Pricing usually turns out to be a very touchy subject. We ask our customers to do as we say, not do what we do.

Mittelstadt: We got the suppliers in bed with the engineering people so the engineers could say: "Wait a minute, when I was working with Chrysler or Ford or GM, those suppliers really did it to us on this one. Boy, if we had only been in there sooner. Let's get that supplier in here right now, Mr. Purchasing Agent, so we can figure out how to work with him on effective design and cheaper manufacturing."

Deavenport: But if you don't use price as a criterion--if you don't try to pinch pennies--you've taken away the purchasing department's scorecard, which says, "This is how much money we saved by getting a better deal."

Mittelstadt: Initially, yes. But we take a longer-term view of costs. We say, "Okay, we've produced this product 50 percent cheaper than the previous model." But our cost measure now includes time saved, reduced labor costs and other efficiencies that kick in after the point of purchase.

Harris: So the thrust of negotiations between suppliers and customers is not toward getting lowest cost, but on improving the process and eliminating duplication?

Mittelstadt: Correct.

PUTTING COSTS ON THE TABLE

LeFauve: We asked our suppliers to tell us their costs up front. A bold request? Yes, but we're not out to reduce their profits, we're out to reduce our costs. If we do that, both purchaser and supplier benefit from improved profitability.

Fien: We do the same thing. You would think asking suppliers to tell us their costs would turn them off. But, in effect, the strategy develops a stronger partnership. Suddenly, we're going forward together. We want suppliers to be profitable, or they can't help us.

LeFauve: The only condition we have on such information sharing is that suppliers don't reveal their costs to the rest of General Motors. This is trust. Our suppliers trust us with information, because they know we will deal with it on a straightforward basis.

Donlon: I find certain recurring phrases in this discussion: sharing your problems, caring enough, trust, leap of faith, respect. Did we invite Billy Graham here?

Mittelstadt: Billy Graham talks about people. And we're talking about people. To some degree, you have to be a bit of an evangelist if you're a president or CEO. You have to get the message across, motivate people, make them understand, eradicate their fear of management.

DRIVING FORCES

Peterson: We've talked today about Key Performance Indicators, and about operating factors in the plant core, customer satisfaction, and overall lead time. But many other, less tangible factors drive most people, not only the numbers that have traditionally been put together in accounting systems.

Mittelstadt: Indicators are useful, but sometimes we tend to use them as a crutch, saying, "Well, gee, I can't automate, because the numbers tell me I can't afford it." But you have to do it, you have to involve the people and push them to get results. Make it happen.

James A. Todd Jr. (Birmingham Steel): I'm very sensitive to the bottom line. Maybe some of you--for one reason or another--are not. But Birmingham Steel is laying out significant amounts of capital and trying to grow. And the best way to grow is to make a profit.

Birmingham Steel is in a commodity-type, wham-bam, thank-you-ma'am business. And I think, perhaps, our interests are a great deal different than those of some other companies represented here today. We have teams that work well, but they do so primarily because they want to increase productivity, turn a profit, and get along with each other. Each crew member knows his teammates; each also knows his teammates' children. They know how the kids are doing in school and what happened in Little League last week.

So for practical reasons, we have put together a system that tries to determine what our people want. We try to pay our front-line people well--at least better than most other steel workers. On the management side, we pay our people about two-thirds what they could make anywhere else, but we split with them 3.5 percent of the pre-tax profits every year.

These things, along with other approaches we've discussed today, improve our profitability. That's what I get paid to do. That sells stock.

PERFORMANCE BAROMETERS

Donlon: What do you regard as your Key Performance Indicators, and what in your manufacturing process are you most likely to modify as a result of today's discussion?

Haworth: The best KPI is total customer satisfaction. If you're achieving that, performance will take care of itself.

Harris: But customer satisfaction is hard to measure, and it's hard to convince people in the plants they should be working toward that end. That's why I take a much broader view of performance success. I look at how many new ideas are beginning to bubble up in the organization, how many new ideas our people are trying, and how much management is loosening its grip on the manufacturing process.

Previte: My performance barometer is my employees. I have small group meetings with employees during which they update me on our efforts and progress.

Peterson: One measurement--often neglected but critical to long-term survival and profitability--is timeliness. If you can deliver a product in less time than your competitors, you'll do it at lower cost.

Fien: As mentioned, I look at long-term growth--long-term meaning more than seven years. Also important is the quality perception we have in the marketplace and internal quality criteria.

In addition, we measure customer satisfaction through research, including attitudinal surveys.

LeFauve: Whatever indicators you use, I think the mistake a lot of people make is they think the kinds of people-oriented changes we've been talking about today comprise a social program, a "do-good" approach to running a business. The fact is, these initiatives will produce superior results for the investor. That's the only reason we take them.
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Title Annotation:CE Roundtable
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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Previous Article:Are you ready for WCM?
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