1. Dates, places, accomplishments
2. Journey to Manufacturing
Since 1981, I have been working to understand the human and technical dynamics of manufacturing, and to contribute to their improvement. Why did I choose this field? It was not the direction I had started in.
In 1980, I was a researcher in probability theory, working out results that were later published in 81, 83, 84 an 86. This theoretical work was intended for earthquake prediction, which had led me to Japan in 1977. By 1980, I had understood that this pursuit was futile and the task impossible with the available technology. As of 2011, it still is.
As a French draftee with knowledge of Japan, in late 1979, I was assigned to the scientific service of the embassy in Tokyo, where part of my job was organizing and leading factory tours for visiting industrialists. Their reactions made me realize that there was something special to these factories, and it piqued my curiosity.
One of my colleagues, Francis Lecroisey, told me that Toyota had developed a remarkable production system and that I could find at least two books about it in any neighborhood bookstore in Tokyo. It was true, as I checked down the street from my apartment. To this day, when I visit Japan, I still hit the larger bookstores for the latest about manufacturing, and find hundreds of titles on topics ranging from cell design to quality and company-specific approaches. This literature, unique to Japan, is targeted at practitioners and full of concrete, actionable ideas, clearly and graphically explained.
3. What I have done since
This exposure to manufacturing made me realize that it offered a greater opportunity to be useful than earthquake prediction. But first, I had to learn manufacturing from scratch, which kept me busy for the following decade, working first as a production engineer, then as a developer/implementer of manufacturing software, and finally as a junior partner to Japanese consultant Kei Abe. I later started my own group, which morphed into the Takt Times Group in 2008, involving partners in France, Russia, Spain and China.
As a fresh transplant from R&D to production, I felt like Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, bemoaning his “20 years of academy training, wasted.” Once over culture shock, however, I began to appreciate the relentless pragmatism of manufacturing, the camaraderie of factory people, and their ingenuity.There was no going back to academia, except as an external advisor to the industrial engineering program at Ohio University or as an instructor in continuing education courses as at UC Berkeley extension. My work is focused on Lean and now involves consulting on implementation, teaching short courses, and writing.
4. Where I come from
I agree with the French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, who wrote that people should view themselves as having origins rather than roots. Origins are where you came from, and don’t restrict you, while roots hold you in one place like a tree. I have lived 30 years in the United States, 23 in France, 4 in Japan and 1 in Germany. And I have visited other countries on consulting assignments. I am from France, but have immersed myself in other cultures from an early age. This is why and how I have learned English, German and Japanese well enough to function professionally in these languages.
5. The future
I am just getting started.