Lean Tales of the South Pacific 1


Normally no one would really care if New Zealand wanted to jump on the ‘innovation as our sole salvation’ economic bandwagon. The government wastes lots of money, so what’s the difference if they want to waste it on that? But the Kiwi’s didn’t stop there. They are taking the ‘Lean By Design’ program from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and tiering it under the Innovation program where it is certain to languish.

The lean program at NZTE was no great shakes, mind you, in terms of implementing anything. They have been a lot like most of the MEP organizations in the USA. That is, they spread the word, did a lot of cheerleading, and put a lot of effort into making sure New Zealand companies new about lean and had access to resources. The lean folks at NZTE sponsored a lean accounting/lean management event a few years ago that included the likes of Brian Maskell and Jean Cunningham, and they have done a lot of good work with the Kaizen Institute.

But those days are gone. Callaghan Innovation is the new parent and you can read the bios of their board and staff inside and out and you won’t find anyone remotely concerned with lean. Instead you will find a who’s who of academics, big company and high tech folks, and government administrators.

Just how poorly is this whole thing conceived? You be the judge, but I suggest the Kiwis chew on these two facts:

The highbrow Chair of Callaghan Innovation, Sue Suckling, wants to do away with New Zealand’s “smell of an oily rag culture”. No place at Callaghan Innovation for the likes of Oasis Engineering, Stainless Design, Jenkins Timber or the rest of the lean backbone of New Zealand. Those are all companies in which hard working people make serious stuff with serious machines – ‘smell of an oily rag’ cultures every one of them. They are lean, and doing well – and should be insulted by the snobbish attitude of Ms. Suckling, as should their employees and the thousands of Kiwis who get their hands dirty making things.

Every one of those companies employs more than twice as many Kiwis as a Wellington based high-tech company called Magritek. Now that it has merged with a German outfit, Magritek employs a whopping total of 30 New Zealanders – less than the average McDonalds.

Why compare the ‘smell of an oily rag’ lean companies that are losing support with Magritek you ask? Because Magritek is the late Sir Paul Callaghan’s company – the same Callaghan for whom the Institute is named. There is no doubt Mr. Callaghan was a great scientific mind and by all accounts a good guy, but why on earth would New Zealand set him up as a role model for economy building? Is their goal to establish an international reputation for coming up with cool ideas, or is it to create jobs and build the economy?

Better to have 100 people working in hard core manufacturing with oily rags than 30 in a clean room, New Zealand. Maybe the Kiwis didn’t note that, while the iPhone may be the ideal of the innovation crowd, it was innovated in the United States and 80%+ of the jobs it spawned are somewhere other than the USA.

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