Porsche’s Lean Culture and Leadership?
It’s nice to see Lean get such glowing praise in a mainstream publication like FORTUNE. The Porsche CEO was named businessman of the year for Europe. Part of their story highlights Lean:
Porsche was also hampered by antiquated production methods. Some 20% of its parts were delivered three or more days too late, for example. Wiedeking, who had been deeply impressed by what he’d seen on visits to Japanese auto firms, believed that only a radical, “lean manufacturing” cure would save the company. He flew in teams of the same Japanese consultants who had helped Toyota and gave them free rein. “A cultural revolution from top to bottom” is the way he describes what happened next, as the consultants organized the workforce into teams and one by one eliminated poor practices. Wiedeking made one now-fabled appearance on the assembly line wielding a circular saw, which he used to cut down the roof-high racks of spare parts that towered over the production line.
It’s too bad the same “top to bottom” transformation didn’t occur at other automakers, in addition to factory floor improvements that have been made in the factories of the “Detroit Three.” Who was given “free rein” to fix Ford? The mullet man?? The GM factory I worked in had plenty of internal consultants hired in from Japanese companies, yet they were told to sit in the corner of the mezzanine, doing nothing.
Porsche has an engineer as leader, as opposed to being run by a finance guy:
Wiedeking likes to think of himself as a man of the people – he regularly walks through the assembly line at the Stuttgart factory and tools around potato fields near his home in a vintage Porsche tractor. That folksy image has been tarnished recently by disclosures about his salary: Last year he made $100 million, sparking an outcry in Germany. He’s unapologetic, saying he earned it.
Part of the culture he’s trying to instill is quite a contrast to a yes-man, bad-news-never-reaches-the-top culture that you see in many organizations:
Such attention to detail is an important part of Wiedeking’s management style, as is his willingness to seek dissenting opinions. Indeed, he encourages his managers to air their disagreements in full, so that he can make well-informed decisions. When it comes to pricing new models, for example, he doesn’t want to hear just the suggestions of his sales executives. So he regularly charges his strategic planning team to come up with their own proposals – and then lets the two sides slug it out. “I provoke internal discussions,” he says. “I want managers to put forward their position, to fight for decisions. Sometimes there’s a bust-up, not just between me and them but with one another.”
Maybe Wiedeking is ready for a new challenge after 16 years at Porsche… say, maybe, CEO of General Motors? Who has worked with or around Porsche? Does this glowing executive profile fit with reality?