Tom LaSorda has been to the other side of the mountain. Now he cannot wait to get back.
Earlier this year, General Motors named the 43-year-old LaSorda vice president for North American quality, reliability and competitive operations implementation.
LaSorda has led GM managers on tours of some 60 auto factories around the world over the past year. Their mission: Put the best practices to use in GM factories all over the continent.
For 15 years, young GM managers - LaSorda included - have rotated through GM's Japanese affiliated factories, picking up lean manufacturing techniques.
In 1987, LaSorda went to work with Suzuki Motor Co. to open CAMI Automotive Inc. in Ingersoll, Ontario. The joint venture between Suzuki and GM allowed GM to:
Work with a flexible labor agreement.
Observe how Suzuki put thousands of employee suggestions to use each year.
See how the quest for continual improvement works while producing small cars and trucks.
Study the art of producing small cars and trucks profitably.
'My four years working with the Japanese was the best education I've had,' says LaSorda, a native of Windsor, Ontario. 'They ordained me in this whole lean manufacturing philosophy. I learned more in my four years there than I did in the rest of my career.'
From CAMI, LaSorda moved to East Germany to launch Adam Opel AG's Eisenach plant. He held the title of president of the factory, which is now widely considered the most efficient auto plant in Europe.
Now responsible for helping the rest of GM adopt the lean approach, LaSorda answers directly to Rick Wagoner, GM executive vice president and president of North American Operations.
'We've been moving faster than people realize, but we've got to move faster,' LaSorda says. 'I believe there's a sense of urgency now. Today, tomorrow and in the short term, cost reduction is crucial for us in our pursuit of market share. We know how to do it now. We just need to do it.'