Total Quality and higher education

Boileau heads panel at USC conference


Special Topics - Aerospace Industry

Provided by O.C. Boileau, Northrup Corporation, Pico Rivera, California

Industry as a customer of higher education? Applying the principles of Total Quality to the university environment? Industry and education as partners? These were some of the hotter topics discussed on July 24-26 [19911 during the Second Annual Symposium on the Roles of Academia in National Competitiveness and total Quality Management. The conference, hosted by the University of Southern California, was held in Los Angeles.

Northrop was one of 33 corporations and business represented, and the B-2 Division played a major role as an organizer and participant in the symposium. Represented were over 100 educational institutions, 19 government agencies, 12 professional societies, 37 states, and 4 foreign countries.


A panel of experts, chaired by O.C. Boileau, B-2 Division President and General Manager, provided the perspective to the conference on what higher education must do to be “world-class” suppliers to U.S. industry and government.

Reprinted by permission from Northrup B-2 Division Newsbriefs, August 5, 1991, Volume 2, Number 60.

“The quality of education is extremely important to me,” said Boileau, who sits on several university advisory boards, including the Lawrence Institute of Technology, St. Louis University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory.


Dean Thornton, President of the Boeing Commercial Airplane Group, stressed the changing global business environment for aircraft manufacturing with increased competition from Japan, Germany and other European countries. “Our success will be dependent on the quality of the people who work for us. Our work force is changing: 40 percent of our current work force has less than five years with the company compared to only 5 percent five years ago. What we look for in the college graduates we hire are fundamental skills and how they apply them. We need someone who has the ability to look at a process and figure out how to improve it. We need people with an understanding of business principles, but most important is an increasing emphasis on people skills. We're trying to change our old way of doing business, and our activities require different kinds of people today” he said.

“The pace of the new international business climate is phenomenal,” said Neal Schmale, Corporate Development President for UNOCAL's Chemical and Minerals Divisions. “It is an enormous challenge. To succeed, we need a creative and flexible work force, ready to adapt to change, and to learn new skills. There are jobs that exist today that didn't exist 10 or 20 years ago. Job security, as we used to know it, is disappearing. We can't apply today's new technologies to the same old processes, the ‘old cow path’. Industry needs problem solvers, thinkers, team players, people who can communicate, and people who are responsive to change. Businesses that fail to learn, anticipate, and adapt will fail to survive,” he said.

“The American work force is not ready to meet today's challenge,” said Lauren Oliver, Manager of Training and Development for New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMI, a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors). “We need a more serious commitment from both industry and academia to train our work force,” she said.

Speaking about Total Quality at her company, she noted that the number of job classifications had been reduced from about 100 to four. “We also have a system at NUMI that allows workers to stop the line because of a quality problem. That takes a lot of mutual trust and respect, and a lot of courage from management. We believe that the team member is the expert. In our contract with UAW, we spell out dignity and respect for our employees,” she explained. “The short-term fix is out, and the long-term fix is in. From education,” Oliver said, “we're looking for the long-term fix.”


Boileau summarized the discussion and added these remarks to the mostly academic audience. “Industry is your customer, and you're sending us a product that doesn't meet our requirements. I want a graduate that has smart intelligence, not just one with good grades. I want someone who can communicate, can speak and write well, can think on their feet, change directions, and make a point. Academia m-educes stars,” he said, “and I want someone who can be both a team player and a leader.”

He explained the concept of the “hidden university” in industry. “We have to complete the new graduates' education before we can use them. We teach them teamwork and commitment. In universities, all the rewards or grades are individual. There are no classes or rewards for teams. No one even discusses the importance of teams,” he added.

“My challenge to you,” he said, “is to meet my requirements. You provide the ethics; you walk the talk. I'll provide you [academia] with the methods and techniques we use at the ‘hidden university’. You must create experiences that require team work—cooperation and cross-functional teamwork is a learned response and you can teach it.”


“In a way, you can compare the educational system with the health care industry,” said Cornelius Ping, Provost of the University of Southern California, “Educational institutions lack a sense of cost consciousness. There are other warning signs; pay is an issue and some instructors are so busy that students never see them. How can we learn to be more efficient, more effective, more quality oriented?” he asked.

“My challenge to you … is to meet my requirements. You provide the ethics; you walk the talk.”

Robert Holbrook, vice president of Academic Affairs at the University of Michigan, stated that in his opinion, “The principals of Total Quality are contrary to current institutional philosophy. We've always thought that to do something better, we needed more resources, more money. To think that we could do something better without more money implies that we have been doing it wrong all along. People will accept and implement Total Quality only if they have to-when they're under economic distress.”

Susan Schaeffer, vice president for Administrative Resources at Stanfod University, has a different perspective on higher education. She's been in academia for two years after serving 19 years in corporate management with United Airlines. “The educational system is under public scrutiny,” she said. “During the ‘80s, the corporate sector went through a crisis where pride, arrogance and profit were stripped from industry to cope with global realities. Industry's ‘80s are academia's ‘90s.” Schaeffer noted differences between industry and education that contribute to a “deep cultural dilemma” for education. “In the university community many people have the power to stop progress; corporations are directed by one person. Analytical university faculties expect 100 percent solutions to problems, while corporations made up of generalists and team builders are willing to take action with an 80 percent solution and then improve upon it. In order to fulfill the academic mission, which is teaching and research in support of the broad community, we need to know the world of competition. We need to focus on our mission, to monitor activities, to become results oriented, to establish objectives, indicators, rewards and measurements. Our leadership must become team based.”


Among keynote speakers and panelists, several common points were identified as requirements for universities in their quest to become better suppliers to meet our nation's needs:

The number one requirement is a focus on teamwork in all areas of university life.

An integrated, cross-functional systems approach to higher education is required. Barriers between departments and individuals must be tom down.

The university system needs to identify and understand its customers and their requirements. Quality indicators and measurements which focus on customer satisfaction must be established. Leadership for quality must be provided in all areas of the university.

•   Instructors and students need quality training.

As Lauren Oliver of NUMI put it, “The United States is a dominant military talent and a waning educational talent. A long-term 20 to 50 year view is required… to lead and manage the world of education.”


Oliver C. Boileau has a B.S. and a M.Sc. in electrical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. He was a Sloan Fellow at MIT where he also earned a M.Sc. in industrial management.

He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, a trustee of the Association of the U.S. Army, a member of the Air Force Association, American Defense Preparedness Association, National Academy of Engineering, National Aeronautic Association, and Navy League of the United States. He is also Chairman of the MIT Lincoln Laboratory Advisory Board and serves on the Board of Trustees of St. Louis University.



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