A Border Guard’s Perspective on Quality


A story from a friend in Detroit:

I was crossing the border from Michigan into Ontario, both places where a lot of cars are manufactured. The border guard decided to strike up a conversation, which you can't argue with since they determine how your day is going to go. As we talked about cars, he said “90 percent of the people that come through here are Ford, GM and Chrysler engineers.” I'm sure that was an exaggeration. He continued – “They all say they are headed to the plant to work on a quality problem. But I never meet Toyota and Honda engineers going to work on quality problems.” Now there is more to the story than that, but it seems like a good piece of evidence behind the gap those companies face.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Living in the area and working in the auto industry, I have a lot of experience crossing the border for business.

    There are a couple of important things to note regarding the border guard’s observations. The first is that while there certainly are Toyota and Honda plants on both sides of the border they are certainly not within as tight of a radius as is the case with Windsor Ontario & Detroit Michigan area facilities. Having easy access, albeit across an international border, should be viewed as a strategic advantage for information sharing, learning and collaboration between facilities.

    The second important item to note is that crossing the border on business is likely to raise a host of questions regarding an individual’s status in either Canada or the US and their ability to work in the country they are visiting. Through personal experience as well as the experience of several colleagues, I have learned that emphasizing quality when explaining your business usually helps at the border.

    I’d also like to add that the biased view of quality as a negative is also at play in this scenario. Quality initiatives are seldom seen as a positive, even if they are pro-active, continuous improvement efforts.


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