New Lean Leader

CEO goes for delivery in hours -- ahead of the storm.

Dan Ariens, 45, of Ariens Outdoor Power Equipment Co., doesn't talk like a lot of CEOs: "Ultimately the goal is to be pure pull, but we will have to have some heijunka to flatten out some of the spikes in the seasons." The private, family-owned company he leads employs around 1,000 people in Brillion, Wis., where they make snow removal and lawn and garden equipment for the consumer and commercial markets. Almost a year ago Ariens reorganized the business around specific value streams to speed the lean transformation. He epitomizes a new generation of company leaders who look at lean not as a program but a long-term strategy for making the entire business more competitive, and who can make that argument in the boardroom. "American managers, leaders, and CEOs, we as a group tend to get complacent with early success. I think as we look at our results, it's just clear that there's so much more to be done. The opportunities are endless." The company's biggest opportunity for improvement in his eyes is the supply chain. Many of his suppliers, much larger than his company, haven't begun to transform their operations. "If the supply chain doesn't get it, over time that makes the Ariens Company less competitive." When asked how the lean strategy might counter the growing threat from global competition, Ariens talks about response times, about being 10 times quicker than the company is today. He believes that would make the company a tremendous -- and one presumes highly valued -- supplier to its customers. It's a vision he can articulate. "I think there's a potential to pull delivery into hours and not weeks. I'd love to see a manufacturing plant delivering lawn mowers in four hours. Then logistics is the challenge," he adds. "That'd be a great problem to work on, to see how you get a snowblower from Wisconsin to Boston, knowing that a snowstorm's brewing tonight."

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