At Ford, Quality Was Our Motto in the 1980s

Former Ford President responds to the Wall Street Journal with At Ford, Quality Was Our Motto in the 1980s:

I strongly disagree with a statement in “Detroit Pursues Sweeping Cuts in Union Talks” (page one, June 14), that the Big Three U.S. automakers “allowed quality to deteriorate in the 1980s,” at least as it applies to Ford Motor Co.

I was first president, then chairman and CEO of Ford in those years, and my major undertaking was to make significant improvement in the quality of Ford’s products.

Shortly after becoming president, I arranged to meet with W. Edwards Deming and contracted with him to consult with us and assist us in improving our quality. We established six guiding principles for the company, the first of which was “Quality comes first — To achieve customer satisfaction, the quality of our products and services must be our number one priority.”

The second was “Customers are the focus of everything we do,” and third was “Continuous improvement is essential to our success.” We adopted “Quality is Job #1” as our guiding theme; Dr. Deming gave continuing seminars on how to achieve high-quality results through the entire period, to which all suppliers were invited to send their people at no cost; suppliers vied to be honored with the award of our Q1 flag; we reached out through the entire company for ideas to improve quality through employee participation and participative management; we consulted on a continuing basis with our union management, plant by plant; we formed a team with our most experienced engineering and manufacturing people to put in place a comprehensive and continually improving set of processes to move products from “Concept to Customer.”

I could go on. Ford’s results in quality improvement and the increasing customer acceptance of Ford products throughout the ’80s were very satisfying to all members of the Ford team. The facts are there; check it out. I want all of the employees at Ford during that time to know that I remember well the success they achieved through the quality of their cooperative efforts.

Donald E. Petersen
Retired Chairman and CEO
Ford Motor Co.
Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

I agree that Ford did great things in the 1980’s. I do believe they made a huge error in failing to try and cope with the existing and increasing health care crisis. It is not like this wasn’t known to be a huge problem in the 1980’s – Deming included it as on the seven deadly diseases. Back to the Future is a good article by Larry Smith on Ford’s quality journey. They made some great progress but still had a long way to go and got seriously sidetracked – we will see if they get back on track.

Related: Ford’s Wrong TurnFord and Managing the Supplier Relationship2005 Annual Deming Institute Conference

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