Norman Bodek (1932-2020) | The productivity guru nonpareil

Without Bodek’s spirit of selfless giving, the productivity of Indian manufacturing companies would have been far lower today

IIP, manufacturing, growth, the year in retrospect,
The industrial production had almost come to a standstill in the months of April and May.

By TV Suresh
It was in the mid-1990s when I first met Norman. I was working as a senior general manager at an organisation in Chennai. I was totally oblivious of the great revolution happening in the world driven by the methodologies developed in Japan. Norman Bodek loved India and would come here whenever he could. Without his spirit of selfless giving, I am sure the productivity of manufacturing companies in India would have been far lower today.

Norman’s contribution spans the entire gamut, starting from creating awareness to facilitating the practice of the principles and techniques that were instrumental in the great strides Japan had made in manufacturing—from being a producer of junk to becoming the benchmark for quality, productivity and efficiency. He took Venu Srinivasan, leader of the TVS Group and a doyen of Indian Industry, on a study tour of Japan, instilling in him the passion to emulate this transformation in India.

Norman published the most powerful books in the world on organisational improvement and transformation. These books were worth their weight in gold; one could just read them, go to the workplace and help create a significant improvement. These were also extremely expensive by Indian standards. Hiroyuki Hirano’s ‘JIT Implementation Manual’, for example, sold for over $1,000 (and was worth ten times that).

To make these books more easily accessible in India, he collaborated with Srinivasamurthy of K Krishnamurthy Books to have them published and sold in India at a fraction of the cost at which they were available in the US. Productivity Press India went on to publish a number of books that had significant impact on productivity and quality in Indian companies, which has perhaps never been acknowledged.

Not satisfied with this, Norman and Srinivasamurthy organised a series of workshops bringing in consultants from Productivity Inc USA to run workshops on topics like achieving quick changeover (Shingo’s brilliant Single-Minute Exchange of Dies) and CEDAC (Ryuji Fukuda’s improvement system that later was renamed the SEDAC, or Structure for Enhancing Daily Activities through Creativity). This, too, did not satisfy Norman; he knew much more needed to be done and he decided to put together a small group of consultants. The company was called Productivity Consulting Systems.

He allowed us to use the name and the logo of Productivity Inc. He also gave us almost the entire set of books that he had published. We did pay a royalty, but if I remember right, all of it was spent in India. I was fortunate to be one of the founders of this company, and the only one who had no idea about any of these techniques, or of consulting. The encouragement he gave us and the confidence he instilled in us was something that was absolutely natural for him.

He was especially fond of me and went out of his way to teach me and give me opportunities to learn. He knew that I was particularly interested in Fukuda’s system (A holistic mix of Policy Deployment – The P/O Matrix, Production System – Stockless Production & Improvement Process – SEDAC) and invited me to the US to get trained directly by Dr Fukuda along with Productivity Inc consultants in Portland. That was the time when I could never have afforded it, if not for Norman’s generosity.

I only had to pay for my flight tickets. Not only did he let me attend the week-long training conducted by Dr Fukuda, but also gave me the opportunity to participate in a visual workplace event at the Cummins Engine Plant in Columbus, Ohio, and a Maintenance Miracle workshop near Portland. Each of these workshops was a full five-day event. A few years ago, when I was in US to attend my daughter’s graduation, he invited me to his home in Vancouver, Washington.

I spent a few days there, enjoying the warm hospitality of Noriko and Norman. He spent the day teaching me the Harada method, and in the evenings we would discuss my experiences in consulting and he would share some of his fascinating stories about the Japanese masters. Both Noriko and Norman were most encouraging and supportive of the approach I was taking, combining personal development and inner growth with workplace improvement.

Norman loved India, its philosophy, culture, yoga and Ayurveda. His original guru Swami Rudrananda (Rudy) was a disciple of Swami Muktananda of Ganeshpuri. He has even been to the Maha Kumbh, the largest gathering of people on a single day at one place anywhere in the world. It is something even we Indians, used as we are to large crowds, avoid. He was not just an admirer, but a practitioner.

His energy till the last day and fearlessness, he readily acknowledged, was due to his diligent practice of the yoga, chanting of mantras, meditation and Ayurveda. He has helped Dr Balagopal in his research and practice of the Ayurveda, and I am sure there will be many more that I am not aware of, who have benefited from his generosity of spirit and kindness.

Norman got in touch with me a few months ago. As with many others, our consulting had come to a standstill this year. He was full of excitement. It was more infectious than the coronavirus; he could transmit it over the internet! We met regularly on Zoom and he started teaching me again. His latest discovery was Kazuyoshi Hisano and he was going to publish his book ‘CEO Coaching’ in English.

As I felt the translation needed improvement, I started helping with that and was quickly drawn into the group he was bringing together to launch webinars and share the wealth of material he had unearthed and made accessible to the world. I am sure the NK Institute of Human Advancement, which he recently set up, will continue to contribute to the mission that he so passionately worked for till his very last day.

One of the most practical bits of advice I have heard is ‘Love everyone, trust but a few’. Norman followed the first injunction, but not the second. He was taken for a ride by unscrupulous people, more than once, but when he spoke about it, I could not detect even a trace of anger or bitterness. Such was his simplicity, humility and spirit of service that few realise the value of the gifts he has given us and how much we owe this wonderful person.

He was 88 years old, lived a full life, was active till his last day, and had a peaceful end. Definitely sad, and like deaths of all people we love, unexpected too. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

The author is director, TAO Consulting Systems

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First published on: 15-12-2020 at 06:00 IST