Management Guru W. Edwards Deming Dies at 93

Article excerpt

W. Edwards Deming, an American with a mission to make industry more efficient, found a home for his pioneering theories. It just wasn't his own.

Mr. Deming died Monday (Dec. 20, 1993). He was 93. A grandson, Kevin Cahill, said Mr. Deming had died in his sleep at his home in Washington with family members present. He had been battling cancer.

Across the Pacific, Japanese corporations seized Mr. Deming's gospel of quality control, helping to transform a bombed-out country at the end of World War II into an economic superpower.

So successful were his ideas that inexpensive Japanese products from Toyota cars to Sony radios drove U.S. products off American shelves even while executives in his homeland largely ignored his ideas.

Conservative economist Murray L. Weidenbaum of St. Louis, a former colleague, said what impressed him most about Mr. Deming was his concern about people.

Mr. Deming, a quiet-spoken statistician, always stressed that quality was the most critical element in running any organization and that employees were the ones who established that quality, Weidenbaum said.

He said he knew Mr. Deming from working with him in the old Bureau of the Budget in Washington in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Although the core of his method was the use of statistics to detect flaws in production processes, he developed a broader management philosophy that emphasized empowering workers and using cooperative approaches to solving problems.

While U.S. companies were slow to embrace his ideas, Japanese executives took them to heart beginning in the 1950s.

Only in the 1970s, when U.S. manufacturers began to feel pressure from Japanese competitors, did corporate America begin to listen to Mr. Deming, a sometimes cantankerous and self-assured management guru.

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According to Mr. Deming's theories, most product defects result from management shortcomings, rather than careless workers.

He argued that inspection after the fact was inferior to enlisting the efforts of willing workers to do things properly the first time and giving them the tools they need to do so.

Although he was ill in recent years and needed a wheelchair because of phlebitis, Mr. Deming continued to spread his message. He was in Los Angeles just 10 days ago, delivering what would become his final seminar on quality management.

Over the years, Mr. Deming reserved his harshest words for corporate management. …