James Truesdell is the guitar-picking, country music-crooning
chief executive who runs Brauer Supply Co.
On weekends, you can see him in a cowboy hat, strumming for the
recreational apple-pickers at Eckert's Farm.
Every other day of the week, he becomes a business-suited
preacher for the concept of Total Quality Management.
Truesdell, 44, heard about the TQM concept at a 1991 seminar.
He became a true believer after applying the lessons at his own
50-employee distribution company.
Now, he's written his own gospel on the subject, "Total Quality
Management: Reports from the Front Lines," just published by Smith
Collins publishing house in St. Louis.
TQM has been a big buzzword in American industry for the last
few years. Boiled down, it means getting everyone in a company,
from the president to the assembly line, to work smarter and
improve the product.
There are surveys and committees and reports. All that leads
some to conclude that TQM a big bureaucratic waste of time.
Truesdell testifies to the contrary.
Family-owned Brauer Supply Co. went into business 113 years ago
by shipping parts for pot-bellied stoves to towns on the frontier.
It evolved into a distributorship for heating and air conditioning
equipment with seven locations around St. Louis.
Its 2,000 customers are contractors and companies that own
buildings. Its warehouses stock 5,000 items. The job is to match
the customers with the right equipment, then get it to the job site
Truesdell started his TQM program by surveying customers and
employees, asking them to rate the company's performance.
He got immediate feedback. "The survey form doesn't fit in the
envelope. End of survey!" wrote one customer, angry because the
return envelope was too small - a quality problem.
But other replies helped Truesdell spot the company's strengths
and weaknesses in filling customer orders and helping them find the
The toughest part was to convince employees that the program
wasn't a flash-in-the-pan from management that would quickly
disappear. "I really had to explain what I was doing. People had a
tough time grasping on," he said.
The results were a big help to people who deal directly with
customers, Truesdell said. A touchier task involved getting each
employee to focus on helping his "internal customer" - the other
Brauer worker who was on the receiving end of the employee's work.
The process encouraged employees to talk to each other about
ways to cut down errors and speed up deliveries. …