The Leadership Files: David McSherry, Chief Operating Officer at acpo ltd.

David McSherry

Six Sigma & Process Excellence IQ brings you the top Process Improvement executives to watch out for in 2011. In this Q&A, we profile David McSherry, chief operating officer at acpo ltd.

Interview by Helen Winsor

Please provide a brief background of your Process Improvement program.

At acpo ltd., we are solely devoted to manufacturing pressure-sensitive adhesive roll label films for the global label printing industry. We started our Process Improvement program in 2008. As a small, privately held company, we started with Lean to engage the company’s entire population and create a culture of continuous improvement (CI). In selecting a business management system, we chose to model ourselves on the Toyota Production System, a tried and tested set of principles that can be applied to any company. Utilizing a policy deployment methodology, we aligned key metrics throughout the various levels in the company. Sustainability is achieved through daily checks using a managing for daily improvement process. Six Sigma methodologies are used in new product development and in Process Improvement activities.

What are the top three components to your overall business strategy in 2011?

  1. Growth — core and new product development
  2. Customer satisfaction, employee engagement and satisfaction
  3. Cost/productivity

Why is the Process Improvement program an important focus for your business and what role does it play in the business strategy?

We have a very successful business that operates extremely well, day to day. The CI element ensures we do not regress on any key metrics and, if done correctly, will embed the right philosophy into the DNA of the organization.

Process Improvement is the "how" to achieve the business strategy or the enabling methodology. It also helps in establishing a culture for "change for the better" and, as a necessity for survival, is at the heart of a good CI program.

What is your perspective on Process Improvement as a cost-cutting versus revenue-generating strategy?

We use a balanced scorecard approach — strategies focused on growth, cost and people. By using a balanced approach, it is possible to tailor the CI program tactics accordingly to achieve the key process metrics.

At apco ltd., we prefer Lean for eliminating waste and freeing up time and capacity in both manufacturing and administrative areas. Lean enables a more long-term approach to fixing or freezing costs as sales rise without eliminating people.

Six Sigma has been effective with scrap reduction projects and Process Improvement where more technical approaches have been needed.

What has your organization done to adapt and evolve the Process Improvement program in line with the current economic and business climate?

In any economic climate, you still need to be growing sales and net income to survive. Innovation is more critical in highly competitive times, especially where demand is down for core products. New product development in growth markets has been a focus of ours — and utilizing Lean and Six Sigma in designing an efficient and effective product is key.

Re-evaluating the value streams, both internal and external, and freezing headcount and driving productivity with better processes are also important. At apco we have also worked on engaging the "minds" of the workforce to improve the operations. In addition, we have focused on supplier selection in engagement, establishing longer term contracts to stabilize raw material costs.

How did you develop into this role and what steps did you take to get there?

With over 25 years of experience in multiple functions, I realized I had a passion for CI every day in a better way. Obtaining Green Belt, Black Belt, Master Black Belt and the role of director of Lean Six Sigma for Avery Dennison positioned me well for my current role as COO.

What challenges did you have to face as a change leader and how did you overcome them?

Firstly, engaging senior leadership to highlight the value of a CI program — through results, financial savings clearly showing up on the bottom line convinced some senior leaders that the program had value.

Secondly, developing and sustaining an army of "believers" — transferring the passion I have with CI to others was challenging. When CI enabled users to achieve their personal objectives, they quickly embraced CI. Creating a contagious environment makes a difference.

Thirdly, keeping it visible, fresh and sustainable — using monthly newsletters and site visits to build up recognition helped to sustain the momentum of the CI program.

Finally, staying "sharp" — continuous learning and benchmarking great companies and programs [help] to avoid complacency.