sealPurdue News

December 4, 1998

Industry experts: Emphasize people skills in coursework

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Intelligent manufacturing requires more than just intelligent machinery. That's the message from the fall meeting of industry partners who help steer the 10-year-old Center for the Management of Manufacturing Enterprises (CMME) at Purdue University.

Charles Champion, division manager, Eastman Kodak Paper Support Manufacturing, is one of more than 30 executives whose companies have invested time, money and expertise as CMME's guiding partners. He and his colleagues agree that a manufacturing management curriculum that focuses solely on technology and production models in the classroom is a mistake.

"Successful organizations are driven by three elements: vision-powered leadership, process simplification and people capability," Champion says. "Future leaders in manufacturing operations need to have a balance of business and people skills. The graduates who are most valuable to employers are those who show up for work ready to motivate others rather than waiting to be trained."

The CMME partners are top executives from companies such as Andersen Consulting, Eastman Kodak Co., Owens-Brockway, Ingersoll-Rand, Caterpillar Inc., Ernst & Young, TRW, Eli Lilly and Co., and American Axle & Manufacturing. The center, in Purdue's Krannert School of Management, brings the partners together twice a year to discuss trends in the manufacturing industry and their implications for manufacturing management education.

"Visionary managers will always be the key to manufacturing success," says Herbert Moskowitz, the Lewis B. Cullman Distinguished Professor of Manufacturing Management at Purdue.

"That's a trend that will never go away no matter how much technology we throw at the manufacturing process. Our industry partners are telling us and many other manufacturing management programs that they need managers with more than just technical skills. That's why centers such as CMME at Krannert and the Leaders for Manufacturing Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are so popular with employers and students. We were among the first to recognize the importance of an integrated set of skills for manufacturing managers."

In addition to coursework in human resource management and organizational behavior, students at Krannert get plenty of "hands-on" experience through internships and company work projects at some of the world's leading manufacturing organizations. Students also receive credit for Kaizen, or continuous improvement activities, within those company projects.

"Nothing speaks to the students quite as loudly as 'real-world' leadership and decision-making opportunities," Moskowitz says.

Graduate student Scott Haeger discovered that this past summer in Russelsheim, Germany, at the Adam Opel automobile manufacturing plant, a European subsidiary of General Motors. The plant produces the Omega, Opel's top European seller, and the Cadillac Catera. Haeger, a manufacturing/technology management major, worked in the advanced engineering group trying to come up with new ways to assemble a car for the year 2003.

"Being able to adapt to a different culture was crucial to my success in Germany and to my future success in a global business environment," Haeger says. "My ability to communicate well with others -- and most importantly to really listen to what they were saying -- was invaluable. If I could continue to build on any one skill in preparation for a management role, it would be listening."

Haeger will continue to develop his people skills with a Krannert course in leadership this next class module. Steve Green, the professor who teaches the course, says that leadership skills are a consistent part of a Krannert education.

"Even though Purdue is best known for its analytical graduates and technology training, I believe that leadership can be taught, and we start teaching it at orientation and continue throughout their time at Krannert through team projects, study groups and the 'Plus program,'" Green says.

The Krannert "Plus Program" encourages students to become active in extracurricular leadership through activities such as student government, various Krannert committees and volunteering in the local community. Green says putting leadership skills into action is the final step in his three-step leadership development process.

"The first thing we do in class is really take a look at our individual strengths and weaknesses as potential leaders," he says. "The next step is to build upon the strengths and to develop the weaker areas with role playing, team interaction and feedback. The final step is putting those skills to use."

Green says that Krannert students learn quickly that "knowing is not doing," and that applying learned skills is what will lead to success.

Haeger agrees.

"If you want to make it through Krannert, you'd better learn how to collaborate and rely on other students whose strengths are different from yours," he says. "Almost everything we do at Krannert is team-oriented, because that's how we'll work in the real world."

The CMME partners also agree: "Building skills to shift mindsets and to create winning teams isn't magic," Champion says. "It consists of just a few steps and a whole lot of persistence."

Sources: Herbert Moskowitz, (765) 494-4421; e-mail,

Scott Haeger, (765) 429-8048; e-mail,

Charles Champion, (716) 477-6804

Writer: Kate Walker, (765) 494-2073; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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