The [M]Power Manufacturing Assembly is going to be filled with veterans of the manufacturing industry. Tom Leonti of Fives North American Combustion is one of these seasoned professionals. Leonti hasn’t just spent 40 years in the industry, though—he’s been at the same manufacturing company the entire time. In his 40 long years at Fives, he’s seen the shop floor, the offices of upper management, and everything in between. So, naturally, Leonti has incredible insight into the interdepartmental coordination and continuous improvement that is required for achieving true operational excellence.
Something that Leonti stressed throughout our interview on September 22nd was the idea of change and a culture of continuous improvement. First, he spoke about being nimble and adapting to change. More importantly, and more surprisingly, he spoke of the need to lead change from within and investing in the development of people within the organization. Keep reading to hear Leonti’s own thoughts on the necessity of achieving operational excellence in manufacturing, something he’ll be speaking about at [M]Power in the “Pursuing Operational Excellence: 3 Best Practices Your Company Needs” session.
VG: Can you tell me about your background in manufacturing?
TL: I started my career at Fives North American Combustion in 1975. So it is the only place I have worked—I have been here 40 years now. I started on the shop floor and really grew up in manufacturing. Over time I worked in many of our shop departments affording me the opportunity to learn our products and the manufacturing processes and methods. I advanced into management on the shop floor, which is where I started to learn the importance of developing good people skills. I also learned to appreciate the importance of managing processes and developing the skills to recognize opportunities for improvement, including the engineering side as well as the manufacturing side of the business.
I then advanced to an operations manager role in a product oriented business group. This exposure to the engineering and sales side of the business help me recognize barriers between engineering and manufacturing. It gave me the opportunity to bring people together to work on removing those barriers. A few years ago, I advance to a newly created position of Director of Operations. With this new position I accepted full responsibility for leading a strong management team that included the manufacturing facility, health and safety, environmental, quality, procurement and planning, as well as retaining the product engineering groups.
VG: How has your experience starting on the shop floor and working your way up contributed to your understanding of the manufacturing industry?
TL: Starting my career working on the shop floor in our production departments has truly helped me understand and more importantly appreciate what it really takes to make a quality product from raw materials to finished goods. I understand the daily challenges that folks have on the manufacturing floor and I can assist in problem resolutions and developing improved processes and procedures. Having responsibility for both manufacturing and engineering has helped me develop the skills of bringing people in different parts of the organization together to solve problems and to develop and implement improvement plans.
VG: Can you tell me about Fives North American Combustion & what you do there?
TL: As the Director of Operations, safety is of utmost importance and it’s one of my key focus areas. It is our responsibility to make sure that we are providing a safe and healthy working environment for everyone and that at the end of the workday everyone can go home in the same condition that they showed up in. We also take the environment very seriously. We are ISO 14001 certified and work hard to maintain our certification as well as continue to make improvements to our environmental management system.
Right now, I’m leading a major effort of implementing Lean in our organization. We kicked-off a continuous improvement program two years ago and earlier this year adopted Lean and began our lean journey. We are starting our lean journey in our manufacturing areas, but have plans to roll it out into our offices as well. Our efforts are in the spirit of continuous improvement, keeping us competitive and satisfying our customers with reliable quality products delivered on-time.
Finally, developing people and investing in people is an important part of my responsibilities. We emphasize the importance to invest in developing people within our organization. Our commitment to this investment will help us develop our future leaders, whether it’s lean leaders, managers, supervisors, or overall contributors.
VG: What is it about the manufacturing industry today that makes lean operations a top priority?
TL: For us, lean is a focus on the recognition and elimination of waste, the education of value added vs. non-value added and continuous improvement. To start with eliminating waste you have to actually be able to see the waste in your organization and this is the recognition of non-value added. At times this can be hard to see because so many of us are so used to doing things the way they’ve always been done or the way we have been trained by our predecessors. It is important for us to train people on recognizing what waste looks like and put programs in place to drive the waste out.
Our competitive landscapes are always changing and we need to continually focus on improvements that will strengthen our position in the market place. Lean provides us with tools to help us improve our operations and remain competitive. It is equally critical that we are able to invest in and retain our employees. Again, lean helps us do that by providing us with tools to better manage our costs. So, managing and controlling costs through improvement programs is a very important element in retaining our employees and continuing to satisfy customers.
VG: What is the number one practice manufacturers should adopt to achieve operational excellence?
TL: That’s a big question. To me achieving operational excellence requires starting with a mindset and culture that will support and sustain operational excellence. The culture and mindset I’m referring to is continuous improvement. A culture of continuous improvement is really a culture of change. We have to become comfortable recognizing the need for change and then leading change within the organization. It’s important that the culture supports the continuous improvement/change process. To me, that’s where it starts.
VG: I understand that at [M]Power you’re going to be speaking more on the subject of operational excellence. Can you share some more details on what exactly you’re planning to speak about?
TL: I’m going to start my talk by addressing the reason that all of us are at [M]Power—yes, we’re all manufacturers but the real reason we’re here is because we want to learn from others how we might be able to improve our own manufacturing processes. So, I’m going to talk about the process of continuous improvement and change. Many of us have experienced change processes that weren’t sustainable over time and reverted back to past, less efficient methods. It can be very frustrating to an organization that invests so much into process improvements to eventually see those efforts and investments erode away over time. I will share a personal story on a change process that didn’t go well and what I learned from it.
Then, I’ll share what we deem important to be successful in developing a culture of continuous improvement and leading a successful lean journey. I’ll talk about our new approach that started two years ago and our achievements. I’ll touch on the importance of sustainability and the importance of investing in developing people within the organization to support and lead the initiative.
VG: What excites you about speaking at [M]Power on September 30th?
TL: This will actually be my first opportunity to speak in front of a group like this. The exciting thing for me is that I have an opportunity to talk about a topic that I’m passionate about and being able to share my experiences with others. I view this as an opportunity to have a collective learning experience.
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