IW Best Plants Profile - 1991

At first glance, what seems most striking about Tennessee Eastman Company's (TEC) Kingsport facility is its size. Stretching about 1.5 miles from end to end, the 1991 Best Plants award-winning chemical complex hosts seven product divisions, each a large business in itself. Employees create a revenue stream of nearly $2 billion a year for their parent firm, Eastman Chemical Company.

But on closer inspection, what seems truly impressive about TEC is its ability to nurture a culture in which change has become a way of life.

Unlike many companies that have launched a multifaceted improvement program effort, TEC was doing well financially. But it was not going to let competitors take business away.

The typical TEC employee spends about 80 hours a year in training. The investment has paid off. Between 1981 and 1991, productivity (measured as sales per employee) increased by nearly 70 percent.

Tennessee Eastman's management game plan is based upon seven "visions," including an environmental vision. Technical innovation is important at TEC, which employs 175 Ph.D.s in its research center.

Employee empowerment is regarded as the key to the future. A recent thrust has seen the creation of self-regulating teams and new work systems in some departments. And within TEC, operating divisions are given leeway to design their own versions of new work systems. Self-regulating teams have even created pay-for-skill plans.

Not to be forgotten, an advanced total productive maintenance (TPM) effort has dramatically improved equipment uptime, resulting in cumulative savings of more than $24 million.

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