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Quality in Alaska.

Several Alaska firms have implemented quality programs to keep old customers and attract new ones. Some, such as Alaska Rail road, use the Total Quality Management system espoused by Roger Tunks. Other companies chose different paths to improved service, but most quality programs stress the importance of customer orientation, employee participation and management commitment.

Xerox of Alaska

Xerox of Alaska, a 100-employee firm, launched a quality program about eight years ago, participating in a nationwide effort by the parent company. Today, a resident quality expert serves as a "pivot point" for quality management for Xerox's Northwest Division. Every new hire attends a week-long quality seminar, and each employee participates in a quality team.

Ann Laurence, sales manager for Xerox Alaska, says the quality program was instituted because the company was losing ground to competition, particularly from overseas. "They were bringing products to market faster and cheaper than we were. We managed to turn that around, and the time it takes us to get a product to market has dropped from three years to 18 months."

Laurence can produce some other impressive achievements of the quality program. The customer satisfaction goal of 92 percent positive response has been met. Employee satisfaction rose from 50 to 72 percent for the company nationwide; the Alaska sales force hit an impossible-to-beat 100 percent. In 1989, Xerox crowned its quality initiative by winning the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

Alaska Airlines

Another company that got a much-needed turnaround from its quality program is Seattle-based Alaska Airlines. Jokingly referred to as "Elastic Airlines" because of its uncertain schedules, the company began a quality program in 1971, emphasizing on-time performance. That initiative began an 18-year string of profitable years.

Gregg Witter, Alaska Airlines director of corporate communications, says the firm's program is difficult to describe. "There's so many pieces of the puzzle so many things we do behind the scenes. It's more of a culture than a program."

According to Witter, quality is part of all 6,500 employees' jobs, and no one person supervises the quality program. As an example of how quality is built into the fabric of day-to-day operations, he notes that twice a week, airline executives' lunch is catered directly from the food services system.

Alaska Airlines has grown so rapidly in the last 10 years that year-to-year figures aren't comparable, says Witter. However, the airline's devotion to customer service -- shown in such things as extra legroom and inflight meals costing twice the industry average -- has garnered No. 1 ratings from Consumer Reports, Conde Nast Traveler and Air Transport World.

Alaska Railroad

The Alaska Railroad is a relative newcomer to quality programs, having begun its Total Quality Management program less than two year ago. Ron Stocker, director of personnel for the railroad, says, "We're very pleased, but we're not there yet. It's a slow process and has to permeate from the top down."

Alaska Railroad's quality initiative focuses on becoming customer oriented and directly involving major shippers in planning and trouble-shooting sessions with railroad employees. "The biggest obstacle has been establishing teamwork," notes Stocker. "Just getting all these people communicating is a slow process."

Stocker says the railroad has hired a trainer with a strong quality background, but basically every employee is responsible for quality and keeping the customer's needs in mind. He explains, "It has to be more than lip service. You can be world class, but you can't ever stop.

"The bottom line for our quality initiative is more business; and our biggest success is seeing happy customers where we used to see unhappy ones."

A good information source on quality in Alaska is the Anchorage chapter of the non-profit American Society for Quality Control. The society, founded in 1946 to improve quality in defense manufacturing in World War II, is composed of more than 85,000 individual and 700 corporate members. The ASQC offers training and accreditation in quality management and also administers the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. For more information, call or fax local chairwoman Suzen Shaw at 345-1162 or local treasurer Robbie Robinson at 265-8110.
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Title Annotation:firms' implementation of Total Quality Management strategies
Author:Gerhart, Clifford
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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