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
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,
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
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
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. …