LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Paula Lillard gives the big second-shift factory manager a hug as she moves through the dingy metal-stamping plant. Lillard, a grandmother who raised four sons and started her career managing school cafeterias, is now the bright hope for nth/works.
She has come to help instill the Toyota Production System -- or TPS -- for a supplier that urgently wants it. Hundreds of American automotive manufacturers have adopted Toyota's operating methods over the past quarter century.
But many others, including nth/works, are still struggling to get it. Lillard is among a corps of Toyota-trained former executives and independent consultants who continue trying to help the process along.
"This plant just needs a little TLC," says Lillard, a cheerful and youthful 58-year-old who seems to light up faces around the factory as she inspects it. She also puts her arm around the operator of an enormous stamping press, who accepts the gesture like a sip of cool water in the hot plant.
"I guess I'm a hugger," says Lillard, recently appointed COO of the dowdy supplier. "I find that some others are also. I try to acknowledge people. If I don't make it to the floor for a few days, they want to know where I've been and they want to show me what improvements they have done in their area."
But don't be fooled. Lillard's outward show of teacherly encouragement and motherly support is intended to take nth/works -- a nearly 70-year-old stamper of washing machine parts -- deeper into the auto industry where it already has some business.
She has a long resume of putting automotive factories on sure footing.
She was one of Toyota Motor Corp.'s earliest employees in Kentucky in the 1980s.
She rose quickly through assignments in Toyota's North American production planning and strategic planning management, purchasing and supplier development.
She helped establish Toyota's North American manufacturing headquarters in Erlanger, Ky., and helped build and launch its engine plant in Huntsville, Ala. Lillard was recognized by Automotive News in 2005 as one of the 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry.