5 PEX lessons learned from Jon Theuerkauf

Katie Sadler
Posted: 09/29/2017

Industry expert shares his top five experiences and insights to guide you on your PEX journey

Jon Theuerkauf

                                                  Jon Theuerkauf provides lessons learned during his esteemed career

Over the past few months, we’ve brought you in-depth interviews with key industry leaders in our PEX Network Podcast Series hosted by Seth Adler. As well as discussing process excellence triumphs and challenges, he delves into the mindset of the interviewee, finding out what makes them tick and how they got to where they are today.

In conversation with Adler, BNY Mellon’s Jon Theuerkauf provides lessons learned during his esteemed career, from the trials and tribulations of running his first business, being at the forefront of the process excellence revolution, and gaining insight on becoming a principle based leader.

The right outcomes depend on the right people

Jon Theuerkauf began his career working at a college retraining steel workers who lost their jobs during a time when the US steel industry was overshadowed by imports.

Theuerkauf was lead on the project when US Steel asked him to set up a similar training program on a larger scale. At the age of 25 he established his own consultation business working with steel and automotive giants on process improvement. With limited industry knowledge, Theuerkauf hired ex-steel workers who understood the problems of the time.

"I hired about ten retirees from the steel mill. They knew a lot more than I did about life"

“I hired about ten retirees from the steel mill. They knew a lot more than I did about life and what it must feel like to be without a job. Back then they laid them off which was a great misnomer because there wasn’t a chance in hell those mills were going to fire back up.”

He discovered, “people can surprise themselves if you allow them to.”

Simply stopping to reflect can prove a turning point

A few years after establishing his consultation business, Theuerkauf began thinking about past industry events, lessons learned and how new processes could be implemented at a local level.

“I started to think about what happened to our industry within the United States. In doing so, I picked up on three things that changed the direction of my life: first was statistical process control; second, Ed Deming; and third, Duran. I enrolled on both of their training programs.

“From those experiences, I changed our company’s operating model to “Yes, we still did this but that’ss going to wind down because the government is moving away from that” to one of, ‘Okay, that was systematic, now we’ve got to change and work on root causes’. We then started developing what was the precursor of TQM (Total Quality Management), Six Sigma and Lean.”

Good leaders understand every business facet

In 1996, Theuerkauf joined GE Capital and worked under the leadership of Jack Welch.

“GE decided they wanted to do this thing called Six Sigma. Nobody was doing anything like this in financial services; no one had formalized anything like this.”

Theuerkauf recalls the hands-on approach that Welch displayed and his philosophy on why failing shouldn’t hold you back.

“Welch would always know names – he was magnificent at that. He would ask about the projects, he would read the charters, he understood the business… he understood every business!

"Welch believed that if you’re not failing you’re not trying hard enough"

“He [Welch] would start asking questions about what was going on – what was the problem? What have you seen so far? What do you think the solution could be? He knew his stuff. He had gone through Six Sigma training so he knew the kind of things we should be looking for. He was seeing how good we were at our jobs.”

“Welch believed that if you’re not failing you’re not trying hard enough. You’ve got to make some mistakes along the way to change things, to transform to innovate. I do believe in that.”

Value experiences, even in the most trying of times

In 2011, Theuerkauf moved to Russia to advise a Moscow based bank on their global transformation and innovation efforts. Despite facing challenges, he appreciated and learned from his experiences.

“Russia was an interesting challenge. I was unconsciously incompetent before I went in, so I did a lot of  studying. I read all the books that people told me to read. I thought I’d mapped things out pretty well but in any scenario there’s going to be moments of truth.

“I wrote the ‘ten commandments’ for the bank and they couldn’t do it. But what I gained experientially, very few people ever could.”

We can’t forget our social responsibilities

Theuerkauf ponders on the future of AI in process excellence and questions if business should have a corporate and social responsibility when implementing changes.

“I have been very contemplative about what’s the corporate responsibility of this next industrial revolution of automation. We’re just beginning to see it and feel some of its impact. We’re going to see more of it over the next two to five years and depending upon which book your read or who you listen to, there either will be jobs or won’t be jobs. I haven’t settled on what that is yet, I just know I’ve lived through two recessions watching what happened to our industrial power base and what that means to people and their lives. As much as I am a huge proponent of what we’re doing and the use of automation, I also feel I have a social responsibility – and I don’t think I’m the only one who considers this.”

Jon Theuerkauf’s interview can be listened to in full here as part of the PEX Network’s Podcast Series.

Katie Sadler
Posted: 09/29/2017

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