One of the many interesting things about Milliken, which has demonstrated that Wigan has claims to excellence in other things besides Rugby League football, is that it only began to use those buzz letters, TQM, more than 10 years after it started its journey along the quality road. Not everyone is so inhibited. The fact that this is a journey that manifestly takes not only managerial determination but a long time, is one reason for the suspicion that, though there is widespread genuflexion, real TQM, despite the clamour of claimants, is in its infancy here.
That Milliken can use those letters with confidence is undoubted. It was judged the best company in Europe last year and awarded the European Quality Award. Its American parent company won the prestigious Baldrige Award four years earlier. So quality travels though absolute quality (See The Road to Peerless Wigan, p28) can never be totally arrived at. That is one of the lessons that has been painstakingly learned at Wigan and it is a sine qua non for everyone in business.
If the journey is never-ending, then the rewards obviously dismiss any feeling of dismay. The alternative to being on the treadmill is to be on the scrapheap. The necessity to survive makes it essential that the journey should be embarked on as soon as possible. That involves the pain of change and the rise of initiative, imagination and innovation; the abandonment of dogmas (demonstrated in our chart on p30) that, in a less competitive, less aware world, once seemed to be enough. Now we know better.
At Wigan there is no sense of superiority, no Philistines standing afar off and thanking God that they are not as other, lesser, men. The dynamic there is the thought not of what has been done but what lies ahead. That view obviously encourages absorption in the future and brings greater job satisfaction in the present.
Milliken's European managing director, Clive Jeanes, is modest about the achievement and anxious that it should not be thought that Milliken has all the answers. What the company has undeniably developed throughout its factory is the necessity for everyone involved in manufacture to continue to ask questions. If Jeanes has a message for Britain in general it might be found in his remark that 'People haven't made the link between quality, manufacture, and wealth creation'. It should also be encouraging for those constrained by thoughts of cost to read that the cost savings made through the pursuit of quality can more than pay for the investment in it in terms of continual training.
Elsewhere in this issue we cover other signs of change and challenge - challenge in the reappraisal of marketing (once a buzz word itself), in the upheavals facing the European insurance industry, and in the response to global challenge at the mighty but uncomplacent Siemens.
And, lest it be thought that our own natives are not as restive about improvement as they might be, we also find progress in this issue (p34) in an unlikely place. Brent, once inevitably accompanied by the pejorative adjective 'barmy', is reformed, reorganised and launched down the quality road with a verve that demonstrates that it is not just industry that can improve its lot by accepting that the customer has a new and surely permanent stature. Organisations, whether they are councils or companies, can only ignore that at their peril.