If General Motors career man Bob Hendry learned something from Toyota, then Saab should be in good shape.
In 1982, Hendry was one of GM's key negotiators in setting up a U.S. joint venture with Toyota Motor Corp. Two years later, when the resulting New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. opened in an old GM plant in Fremont, Calif., Hendry was appointed controller and manager of general affairs.
Fast-forward to 1998: Hendry is now president of Saab Automobile AB, a job filled through GM's ownership stake in the company. Hendry says he is constantly applying factory techniques he learned from Toyota while he was at NUMMI.
Hendry's task when he took the Swedish job in 1996 was to mastermind a project to raise output from 100,000 units a year to 150,000 a year by 2000. His plan is to reach that increase by boosting the output of Saab's existing factories, he says. It is a goal in which Japanese lean manufacturing and organizational techniques are playing a broad role. The team-working methods so favored by the Japanese will be invaluable, he says.
'They are practices which enable the work force to function in a high state of readiness and to focus on common objectives,' he says.
'I found I fit in very well with the Japanese,' he says. 'They have a way of thinking and working that applies to absolutely everything. I can't think of anything I do that has not been influenced by them.'
What he learned about problem-solving at NUMMI influenced him in particular. 'You take a problem and break it down to identify the process at fault and then focus on improving that process,' he explains. 'It is an approach that takes an industrial engineering view but applies it to the entire business.'