Best Practices -- Sharing The Wealth

Dec. 21, 2004
GE Commercial Finance aims to lend customers more than simply money with its ACFC program.

Berry Plastics Corp. determined several years ago that its quality management systems needed improvement. While the Evansville, Ind.-based manufacturer of injection-molded packaging had four or five elements of a complete program, it was missing the statistical component, says President and CEO Ira G. Boots.

Not anymore. The company, which makes drink cups and containers, now has been on a Six Sigma quality journey for several years -- with much success, says Boots. It credits much of its achievement to a seemingly unusual source -- GE Commercial Finance (GECF), of which Berry Plastics is a customer. The two firms' collaboration demonstrates a most basic of best practices: working together to their mutual benefit.

Berry Plastics participates in a General Electric Co. program called "At The Customer, For The Customer" (ACFC), which offers its customers free access to GE's catalog of business performance management programs, such as Six Sigma, WorkOut, Acquisition Integration, Leadership Development and others.

Some 50 people in GECF are devoted to the program full-time, with many more whose expertise can be tapped if required, GECF says. From GE Commercial Finance's perspective, the rationale behind the program is simple, explains Judy Lenhardt, ACFC leader at GE Commercial Finance: If GE Commercial Finance can help its customers succeed and grow, GECF can grow too.

For Berry Plastics, the program was an opportunity to learn from a company that already had a wealth of experience in the program in which it was interested. "We were struggling to find anyone to teach us in the application we wanted to use," Boots explains. "GE stepped up and in a world-class way."

GECF initially brought a full team aboard at Berry Plastics. Months of classroom training ensued and even included an executive course. "They took it all the way to the [production] floor," says Boots. "We have 4,700 employees. They hunger to continue to improve themselves. We had many, many people sign up to be a part of this program."

Today more than 500 Berry Plastics employees have been formally touched by Six Sigma training, either through working on a Six Sigma team or other methods, and everyone has had some exposure. The company has more than 25 Black Belts, employees with significant expertise in Six Sigma quality.

"Six Sigma is all over us at this point," Boots says.

Even so, the ACFC program remains committed to Berry Plastics, still providing training, although the company's needs have diminished over time. It is, in fact, largely the customer who drives an ACFC engagement, explains GECF's Lenhardt. ACFC's assistance may be of short or long duration, for companies of any size, geographic location or market. How ACFC lends assistance depends upon a customer's wants and needs.

"We are listening to our customers, being more than someone who provides money," she says. Boots says not only is his company "extremely appreciative" of GE's help, but its Six Sigma training has reaped rewards. "Customers are more satisfied than ever. Our people are more satisfied. They're more fully integrated in the management of the company. Investors are pleased. It has significantly improved our bottom line."

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