A Comparison on the Quality Perceptions of U.S. and Asian Firms in the Electronics Industry

Article excerpt

Introduction

The awareness of quality issues has increased dramatically in both academic circles and in businesses. A quality image, once obtained, can enhance a company's ability to compete and its long term opportunity for success. Indeed as argued elsewhere (Belcher 1987, Imai 1986, Hayes and Clark 1985, Reitsperger and Daniel 1990 a), Japanese manufacturers' success in the last decade is attributed to the ability to convert their quality focus into a competitive advantage. Deming (1983) and others have also argued that the United States' decreasing share of global manufacturing is due, to a certain extent, to the neglect of quality in the United States (Crosby 1979, Yoshida 1992). There is, therefore, tremendous interest in the United States in improving the country's position as a competitive power in the world. Many American firms have now adopted quality related programs (e.g., Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Hughes Aerospace.) (Re Velle 1988). Although there are disagreements regarding the definition of quality, it may be argued that quality is productivity (Deming 1982), and as quality improves, costs decrease and productivity increases (Shetty 1988, Shetty and Buehler 1988). Differences, if they can empirically be shown to exist, in perceptions of quality between U.S. and Asian firms may help contribute toward a better understanding of competitive positioning in global markets.

Quality-cost trade-offs between the Japanese and United States manufacturers of precision electronic equipment have already been studied by Reitsperger and Daniel (1990 a). The same authors empirically tested the hypothesis of dynamic operations versus static optimization as the conceptual base for operations policy making, using data from Japan and the United States (Reitsperger and Daniel 1990 b). They show that while U.S. and Japanese managers differ significantly with respect to quality-cost trade-off philosophies, smaller proportions of Japanese managers show attitudes reflecting a "quality is free" philosophy than their U.S. counterparts. One explanation, Reitsperger and Daniel argue, is that either Japanese managers are in the process of moving to a U.S. pattern, or both have moved away from their traditional beliefs about quality (1990a, p. 298). Miller and Roth (1988) and De Meyer et al. (1987) also provide support for the convergence of attitudes in the U.S. and Japan about quality in the 1980's. Indeed, as De Meyer et al. (1987) argue, Japanese manufacturing, having already achieved a high standard of quality, may be moving toward flexibility.

In a different vein, Derrick, Harsha and O'Brian (1989) and Yavas (1991 and 1995) explored the differences in perceptions of quality within the same firm (in the U.S.) among different levels of the organization and among different departments. The main focus was on the discussion of how these perceptions may be aligned. This article continues along similar lines. It utilizes factor analytic methodology like Derrick et al. (1989) and Yavas (1991 and 1995), but it extends them to cover both U.S. and Asian firms. This article seeks first to develop a "quality inventory" with variables representing the perceptions of different dimensions of product quality. Second, it aims to reduce these variables to a set of factors which best represents the quality perceptions. Finally, it attempts to classify firms in two groups using the condensed quality dimensions (factors) as the set of predictor variables to shed light into the importance of these variables. The study, therefore, attempts to provide insights into both U.S. and Asian managers' attitudes toward quality. Since "quality" seems to be associated with products originating from Japan and the newly industrialized countries of Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan), the research reported in this study concentrates on those countries as constituting the Asian countries of the sample. In terms of the industry studied, the electronics industry, characterized by rapid technological changes, is thought to be a good candidate for this comparison. …