About the author
My 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.
Research in Applied Probability
In 1980, I was a researcher in probability theory, and published my results 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. It still is.
Pivot to Manufacturing
As a French draftee with knowledge of Japan, in late 1979, I joined the scientific service of the embassy in Tokyo. Part of my job was organizing and leading factory tours, and the reactions of visiting industrialists made me realize that there was something special to these factories. It piqued my curiosity.
One of my embassy colleagues, Francis Lecroisey, told me that Toyota had developed a remarkable production system. He also told me 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. One of these books was Taiichi Ohno’s “Toyota Production System.”
The Japanese Literature on Manufacturing
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. Much of it is manga, and accessible to people who read manga on commuter trains.
What I have done since
Through this exposure to manufacturing, I realized that it offered a greater opportunity to be useful than earthquake prediction. But first, I had to learn manufacturing from scratch. This kept me busy for the following decade, working first as a production engineer, then as a developer/implementer of software to support manufacturing, and finally as a junior partner to Japanese consultant Kei Abe. After 8 years with Kei Abe, I 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 “years of academy training, wasted.” Once over the culture shock, however, I began to appreciate the relentless pragmatism of manufacturing, the camaraderie of factory people, and their ingenuity.
After this transition, 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. I focus on consulting, teaching short courses, and writing.
Where I come from
As French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf wrote, people have origins, not roots. Origins are where you came from, and don’t restrict you, while roots hold you in one place like a tree.
While I am from France, I have immersed myself in other cultures from an early age. By now, I have lived 38 years in the United States, 23 in France, 4 in Japan, 1 in Germany, and have visited many other countries on consulting gigs. This is why and how I have learned English, German and Japanese well enough to function professionally in these languages.
I am just starting.