ZUFFENHAUSEN, Germany - Wendelin Wiedeking says he is tired of talking about the Porsche turnaround he engineered.
But the enthusiasm is still there. He says Porsche can never forget its recent, troubled past.
'Sometimes when you are in a better situation you have to look back to know where you came from,' he said.
Wiedeking came to Porsche in 1991 as management board member for production and purchasing. Sales had collapsed and costs were out of control.
A year later he was named management board 'spokesman.' He fired most of the top management, killed a four-door sedan project that was over budget and instituted Japanese practices in the factory.
This year, Porsche will set a production record at the Zuffenhausen plant and profits are expected to hit an all-time high. The 1996 book Lean Thinking by Daniel Jones and James Womack made a hero of Wiedeking.
'For me it was clear what to do when I got here, but management was not the same as today,' he said. 'So we changed the top management.'
Wiedeking decided the sedan project also had to go.
'It would have had to carry a price that was not competitive,' he said. 'The next sports car would have come off the same platform and would also have been out of reach. I had to stop the project even though we had already invested a lot.'
Wiedeking said he learned Japanese production practices while at Glyco Metallwerke. He went to the bearings maker after spending his early career at Porsche.
'While with the supplier I learned a lot of strategies - Japanese strategies, American strategies. I knew precisely what the different countries were doing. Within three months after I came to Porsche I defined a clear vision of where we wanted to go. There is a Swabian proverb: you have to sweep the steps from the top down, so I cleaned up the management.
'Then I went to Japan to learn the difference between German and Japanese production,' he said. 'It was clear to me that the gap between the Japanese and German auto business was in three areas: production, production and production. Our engineers were doing an excellent job. Production efficiency was the gap we had to close.'
Wiedeking took about 20 top Porsche managers with him to Japan in 1992.
'We prepared for at least three months before we went. Every step was planned. Every night while there we didn't go to the bars to drink beer, we stayed in the conference room to understand what we learned that day. We stayed until 2: 00 in the morning.'
Wiedeking also brought Japanese manufacturing experts to Zuffenhausen.
'People inside the company said 'you can't do it, you can't bring in Japanese.' But we did it anyway.'