For Bill Taylor, it is not enough to read about change, hear about it or even study it. You must be there in the middle of it.
That was what lured him away from his management job at Ford's Oakville, Ontario, plant in 1987 to help launch Toyota's Corolla plant in Cambridge, Ontario. Six years later, it was what led him away from Toyota to take the top manufacturing job at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc., the company's greenfield venture in Vance, Ala.
Now, the same desire is encouraging him on to Daimler-Benz AG's major auto plant in Sindelfingen, Germany, for the next six to nine months.
'Our approach right now is to begin physically integrating people back into Daimler,' says Taylor, who helped design and launch the factory that builds the Mercedes-Benz M-class sport-utility.
'We here in Tuscaloosa and Daimler in Germany want a better understanding of each other.
'Physical presence is important. Just like physical presence in the marketplace is important. If we want to learn from each other, we have to go and look at what each other's doing,' he adds.
'There is never a plant you can't learn something from. Reading about it isn't adequate. You've got to be there.'
That was the same attitude that Daimler-Benz itself took in 1993 when it decided to join the list of international automakers tapping into the new U.S. manufacturing environment.
Its Mercedes subsidiary carefully recruited managers who had also 'been there' - from Toyota, Honda, Nissan and other new American automakers.
Taylor and his new colleagues brought Mercedes some new ideas about operating a factory, working with suppliers and mapping out human resources.
Mercedes mixed in some of its own ideas, and the result was a synthesis of North American, Japanese and European industry practices.
Now Taylor is taking the synthesis a step further. By spending the year working with Sindelfin-gen, he hopes to pave the way for other Alabama personnel to move into the German company.
And he hopes to establish contacts who can keep the learning process alive, especially as the Alabama start-up continues to grow.