Farewell to a Management Guru

March 4th, 2008 by

Joe Juran died this week, at the ripe age of 103. You may or may not know him by name, but his remarkable contributions to management are visible in worksites around the globe. In 1937, he coined the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80-20 rule, which states that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. As a theory it achieved a sort of universality that could be applied to almost anything, from 20% of customers buying 80% of products, to 80% of production errors being made by 20% of workers, or 80% of the medical costs deriving from 20% of the patients.
Juran’s story, summarized nicely by Claudia Luther in the Los Angeles Times, is so classically American, it seems a cliche. He was born Dec. 24, 1904, in Braila, Romania, the son of a cobbler. When he was 5, his father left for the United States to try to improve the family’s financial situation. (Had his father stayed put in Romania, Joe would have perished in the Holocaust, his name – and his contributions – erased from history).
Small, wiry and smart, Joseph went to work when he was 8, driving a team of horses, selling shoes and bookkeeping for a local icehouse, among many other jobs. The first in his family to attend college, Juran earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota and a law degree at Loyola University. In 1924, he went to work for Western Electric’s Hawthorne plant in Cicero, Ill.
At that time Joe entered the workforce, quality control generally meant inspection: the products were made, inspected and, if they didn’t make the grade, rejected. Juran thought this was backward, that quality should be instilled long before the product got made.
In centuries past, “the typical craftsman was his own customer, over and over and over again,” Juran told Jane Gaboury in an interview for the Institute of Industrial Engineers.
“That is to say, because the craftsman himself performed every step of the process of, say, barrelmaking, he could see and correct whatever mistakes he made along the way, and avoid them the next time,” Juran said.
That ability was lost as manufacturing became compartmentalized. Juran’s solution was to re-empower the managers and workers who had been disempowered by the manufacturing process.
The Making of Japan
Joe was part of the team of consultants who revolutionized manufacturing in Japan. Along with W. Edwards Deming, Philip Crosby and Armand Fiegenbaum, Joe helped transform “made in Japan” from an insult to the highest possible compliment.
“The Japanese found they couldn’t sell their products because they had a very bad quality reputation,” Juran told Industrial Engineer magazine in a 2002 interview. “Of course when you can’t sell your product the chief executives are going to move in, and that’s what happened.” With the help of Juran and the other consultants, senior management embedded the “quality” message in every aspect of the manufacturing process.
Juran brought a uniquely practical perspective to his work. He believed that the human factors in production were paramount, especially the work of managers, and that quality problems should be solved systemically. Juran focused on the fundamental sequence in production management: market research, product design, product development, production and sales. He believed that quality work had to be properly valued by everyone involved – from the lowest-level worker to the CEO.
Joe Juran’s business education began behind a set of horses when he was not quite 10 years old. It ended, finally, after nearly a century of paying attention in his idiosyncratic and brilliant way. If the goal of life is to be of use, then Joe Juran lived a very good life indeed.