From the CEO: The legacy of America’s Godfather of Lean

AME | December 11, 2020


Over the course of the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Norman Bodek, the Godfather of Lean in America, on several occasions. Our conversations often revolved around Norm’s various projects and his latest book, “A Leader’s Guide for Social Responsibility.” These discussions often meandered into the role he played to bring lean ideology to North America and his desire to pay it forward for the next generation of lean practitioners — an effort on which we hoped to partner together.

I was shocked and saddened to learn of Norm’s passing this week. Our community has lost one of its leading voices: an advocate for lean thinking and principles who made a tremendous impact on the business world dating back to 1979 when he founded Productivity Press and Productivity, Inc.

During his career, Norm and his company translated and published more than 100 Japanese management books into English. He led countless study missions to Japan and was one of the first to run conferences and seminars on continuous improvement topics including TPS, 5S, TPM, lean accounting, hoshin kanri and Kanban.

Along the way, he co-founded the Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence at Utah State University with Dr. Vern Buehler and was recognized with a Shingo Publication Award for his book “Kaikaku, The Power and Magic of Lean.” Dubbed “Mr. Productivity” by Industry Week magazine, Norm was inducted into that publication’s Hall of Fame. And just last year, he joined other lean, continuous improvement luminaries in the AME Hall of Fame.

When I think about our recent conversations, it’s clear that Norm was considering his legacy. He was an accomplished author and publisher and a leader in industry, but he wanted to make sure that future generations reaped the benefit of his knowledge. That legacy, I assure you, will remain relevant and strong! His role as the Godfather of Lean has made an impression on our community that will continue well into the future.

Beyond the business legacy that Norm Bodek leaves behind, we can all take inspiration from his passion and his desire to encourage others to strive for better processes. As we think about our own spheres of influence, we must aspire to make a difference in the lives we touch. It can be as simple as helping our coworkers, departments and organizations make even the smallest improvement. It can be as meaningful as helping our families and friends accomplish their goals and our communities to become better places to live.

As we mourn the loss of a lean pioneer, please keep Norm, his wife, family and friends in your thoughts and prayers, and the passion and lessons he preached in your hearts and minds.

As always, please stay safe and keep looking out for one another.