The First Shingo Prize

1st ShingoLast month marked the 35th anniversary of the Shingo Prize, an award bestowed each year to recognize organizations that demonstrate the principles and methods espoused by its namesake, Shigeo Shingo. While I haven’t made it to every annual celebration and award ceremony, it turns out that I was the only person at this year’s gala who actually attended the very first award ceremony back in 1989. So, I’ll memorialize it here, as best as I can recall. (Today’s post is part 1. I’ll follow up with Part 2 next week.) It seems important to me to remember the beginnings of a great movement.

While Dr. Shingo never worked for Toyota, he is said to have trained 3000 of their engineers. More importantly, through Dr. Shingo’s books, the world outside of Toyota first became aware of the Toyota Production System. In 1988, Shigeo Shingo received an Honorary Doctorate from Utah State University USU, acknowledging his profound contributions to society through his writing and training what we now refer to as “Lean.”   In turn, Shingo bestowed his name to a manufacturing award, the ‘North American Shingo Prize for Manufacturing Excellence.’ Shingo said that through the Prize he wanted to ‘give back’ to pioneers like Frederick Taylor and the Gilbreths who had been important influences.

Thanks largely to Shingo’s publisher, Norman Bodek, and Vern Buehler, a visionary business school professor at Utah State, the Shingo Prize was born.   The first prizes would be awarded the following Spring in 1989 at USU’s “Partners in Business” conference. To my knowledge, there were three applicants for the Prize in 1989: the Ford Van Dyke Transmission plant, Globe Metallurgical, and my company, United Electric Controls Company.   Only Globe was recognized.   I’d received only a disappointingly short letter of rejection with the feedback that we had not yet achieved three successive years of profit growth.   Determined to gather more feedback about the review process and to better understand if my company was on the right track, in April 1989, I trekked to Logan, Utah, home of USU to attend the awards ceremony. This was a memorable journey.

On the day of the award event, several hundred persons, mostly academics and students from USU, gathered in a large hall. There would be an award announcement followed by a speech from Dr. Shingo. Shingo was seated on the dais along with the awardee from Globe Metallurgical and several other dignitaries. A moderator for the ceremony, a colonel from nearby Hill Airforce Base, sat to the side of the stage.

If there was anything memorable in the actual award presentation of the first Shingo award, it has since been lost in my memory banks. But what followed – Dr. Shingo’s speech – I will never forget. Shingo who was seated in a wheelchair rose to speak, first to the academics in the audience, exhorting them to get out of their offices and into the real world and study his methods. Speaking through an interpreter about his revolutionary SMED method for reducing machine changeover time, Shingo pointed to the audience, Shingo declared, “There are 20,000 doctoral dissertations on economic order quantity, but not a single dissertation on SMED! You know why?” Shingo asked. “Because SMED is too simple, there’s just not enough fodder for a doctoral dissertation.”   At this point, there was nervous laughter in the hall.  

But Shingo was just getting started. He now turned his attention to the moderator, the colonel in full dress uniform. Holding up his book, Non-stock Production, Shingo announced, “I sent a copy of this book to Ronald Regan.” After a pause, Shingo turned back to the audience and said “Clearly he hasn’t read it, because if he had your taxes would have been reduced by now from cost savings in government.” After a pause, Shingo continued, “But now I’ve also sent a copy to George Bush. Maybe he’ll read it”   He rolled on for another thirty minutes with familiar stories from his books, taking aim at managers and engineers. All this was for effect. This was Dr. Shingo’s last hurrah at the end of his sixty-year assault on the status quo; on the rigidity of academia and government and society.

Dr. Shingo’s speech was exhilarating, cathartic, and validating. I had just spent three years fighting all the battles in my own plant that Dr. Shingo had described in his speech. This was all the feedback I needed.   I thought to myself, “Yes! We’re on the right track. “

If there are any other old goats out there who joined in at the first Shingo Awards, please share a story.


This entry was posted in Management Kaizen, Toyota Production System. Lean manufacturing, shigeo shingo on June 15 , 2023.