Art Byrne’s roll-up-your-sleeves, get-to-the-gemba approach to implementing lean has become a benchmark for executive involvement in continuous-improvement initiatives. His dramatic transformation of Wiremold is detailed in Jim Womack’s seminal book “Lean Thinking.”
Art Byrne, Former CEO, Wiremold Co.
In the pantheon of Hall of Fame CEOs, there are lean legends. And there's Art Byrne.
Byrne's roll-up-your-sleeves, get-to-the-gemba approach to implementing lean has become a benchmark -- if not the benchmark -- for executive involvement in continuous-improvement initiatives.
Although Byrne has spearheaded lean conversions at more than 30 companies in 14 countries, his dramatic transformation of Wiremold Co. in the 1990s -- detailed in Jim Womack's book "Lean Thinking" -- has brought him the most acclaim.
When Byrne took the helm of Wiremold in 1991, earnings at the West Hartford, Conn.-based wiring and cable manufacturer had plummeted by more than 80% over the previous two years. The term "lean" had not been coined yet, and -- as Byrne notes in his own book, "Lean Turnaround" -- he was "the only person at Wiremold with experience in the principles and methods of the Toyota Production System."
With a focus on productivity, process improvement and teamwork, Byrne built a lean culture from the plant floor up. He created a lean-methods manual, trained the first 150 people and led Wiremold's first kaizen events.
Over the next decade, as Wiremold employees became "true believers in lean," the company grew its enterprise value by 2,467%, boosted its sales from $100 million to $400 million, improved productivity by 162% and made dramatic gains in a slew of metrics ranging from lead time to inventory turns. In 2000, Byrne sold the company to France's Legrand SA.
Prior to Wiremold, Byrne served as a group executive at Danaher Corp. (IW 500/71), where he and fellow Manufacturing Hall of Famer George Koenigsaecker helped create a lean culture that since has been codified in the widely admired Danaher Business System.
Byrne's successful lean implementations at Danaher and Wiremold -- and more recently as an operating partner with the private-equity firm J.W. Childs Associates -- are powerful case studies for the fruits that can be harvested from faithful devotion to the fundamentals of the Toyota Production System.
"The leader's behavior is really critical in this -- much more than almost anything else," Byrne says. "You can't lead from your office; you have to lead from the shop floor."
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