This is Steve Ember.
And this is Shirley Griffith with the VOA Special English program,
EXPLORATIONS. Today we tell about an American who was better
known in Japan than in the United States. W. Edwards Deming
was responsible for shaping the industrial rebirth of Japan
following World War Two.
W. Edwards Deming was born in the state of Iowa in nineteen-hundred.
His family soon moved to a small town in Wyoming. His family
was very poor. As a child, he earned money for his family by
working after school carrying wood and coal to a nearby hotel.
This early experience had a lasting effect. It reportedly gave
Mister Deming a deep sympathy for poor people and a bitter hatred
Mister Deming said that his parents believed in the importance
of education, although his family did not have very much money.
He was able to attend the University of Wyoming where he studied
engineering. He earned a Masters' degree in mathematics and
physics from the University of Colorado. He received a doctorate
in physics from Yale University in nineteen-twenty-eight.
After he graduated from Yale, Mister Deming worked as a federal
government employee in Washington for several years. He later
joined the Census Bureau as its chief mathmetician. He developed
many new methods for collecting information about the population
of the United States.
In nineteen-forty-seven, he was sent to Japan to help with
population studies there. Japan was governed by an occupying
force led by American General Douglas MacArthur in the first
years after World War Two. One of General MacArthur's goals
was to rebuild Japanese industry.
Mister Deming already was recognized for his knowledge about
the operation of companies. During the war, he had developed
a plan to train American engineers in ideas needed to improve
Japanese industrial leaders were especially interested in learning
his ideas. They knew that Japan lacked many natural resources.
They believed that their country would be successful only if
Japanese companies could sell goods on world markets. So, they
invited Mister Deming to teach them his methods to produce the
best-made goods possible.
In nineteen-fifty, Mister Deming taught for eight days in Japan.
Eighty percent of Japan's top business and industrial leaders
attended the classes. He told them that they could do a better
job than American companies if they would try to fill the demands
of people who buy their products. He discussed ways to produce
goods that would not break or wear out easily. His main ideas
became known as methods of quality control.
In general, W Edwards Deming believed that managers who supervised
workers -- and not the workers -- were responsible for most
production problems. He said effective managers should spend
most of their time setting goals for the company. He said managers
should communicate with their workers. And he said cooperation,
not competition, was important in a company.
Mister Deming rejected the idea of using inspectors to judge
the work of company employees. He denounced company rules that
set production limits for workers. He also criticized the system
of giving workers money awards.
Mister Deming argued that the real secret to producing better
goods is to depend on workers to do the job correctly the first
time. He often said people have the right to enjoy their work
and feel that they have control over their job. He believed
that people do their best work when they are urged to use their
minds and their skills on the job.
Mister Deming believed that another important goal for any
company is to work to reduce waste. Motions by a worker that
do not add value to the final product are waste, he said. So
are supplies that companies do not use for long periods of time.
Mister Deming also was known for his money-saving methods in
his personal life. One of his daughters says he would write
dates on eggs in the refrigerator. He was sure then that the
oldest egg would be eaten first. No egg would be wasted!
Japanese companies closely followed Mister Deming's advice
about industrial management. In about twenty years, products
made by Japanese companies easily beat their competition in
international markets. For example, Japanese companies, like
Sony and Panasonic, almost forced American television and radio
industries out of business. At about the same time, Japanese
car companies captured huge markets once led by the American
After Mister Deming's first trip to Japan, the Japanese Union
of Scientists and Engineers collected his notes. They published
the ideas as a book named, "Elementary Principles of the
Statistical Control of Quality."
Mister Deming refused to accept any money earned from the book.
Instead, he suggested that the money be used to support efforts
aimed at improving production. So the Japanese Union of Scientists
and Engineers created the Deming Prize. It rewards companies
that produce some of the best designed goods. The award became
one of the most highly sought prizes by Japanese companies.
Yet, the man recognized for leading Japan's industrial revolution
remained almost unknown in the United States.
By nineteen-eighty, American industries were in trouble. Japanese
products continued to be leading sellers in all major markets.
American managers sought to find ways to compete with Japanese
companies. They finally began to notice W. Edwards Deming.
The Ford Motor Company was one of the first large American
companies to seek help from Mister Deming. Ford officials asked
him to visit their headquarters in Michigan in nineteen-eighty-one.
The company's sales were falling. Ford was losing hundreds of
millions of dollars.
Ford officials were expecting to learn quick new ways to improve
their cars. Mister Deming, instead, began questioning the company's
culture and the way its managers operated. He told the officials
that management actions are responsible for eighty-five percent
of all problems in developing better cars.
Ford officials followed his advice. In a few years, Ford Motor
Company led the American automobile industry in improvements.
As the success of Ford Motor Company grew, demand for Mister
Deming's services increased. He worked only with a small number
of companies. He also refused to provide advice for companies
that did not let him meet with their top officials. He said
that the only way to bring about change was to have direct meetings
with top-level company managers.
Companies that followed Mister Deming's methods often found
that they had to change the way they operated. For example,
separate parking spaces and dining rooms for company officials
were taken away. Factory workers thought that special treatment
for managers was unfair. The move helped show workers that managers
really did want to work with them as equals.
W. Edwards Deming continued to give educational speeches to
managers until shortly before his death In Nineteen-Ninety-Three.
He was ninety-three years old.
In recent years, many American businessmen and managers were
influenced by Mister Deming's theories. Former President Bill
Clinton said the theories of W. Edwards Deming led to the effort
to reinvent government in the nineteen-nineties.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said Mister Deming's advice
resulted not just in better goods and services, but in better
lives for millions of people.
Business experts say W. Edwards Deming's ideas about business
should continue to find new life in companies throughout the
This Special English program was written by Gayle Shiraki and
directed by Cynthia Kirk. This is Shirley Griffith.
And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another
EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.
This V-O-A Explorations Report is published
courtesy of VOAnews.com