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Operation: LGO Plant Trek

Exploring advanced-manufacturing and operations companies across the country

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Doug Drauch, employee of General Motors, gives Leaders of Global Operations students a tour of the General Motors facilities during IAP.
Hugh Churchill

7 cities, 2 weeks, 1 mission: to explore the inner-workings of leading advanced-manufacturing and operations companies.

And trek we did. This IAP, our Leaders of Global Operations (LGO) Class of 2015 visited seven partner companies across the United States, from Detroit to LA to Puerto Rico.

It started rather unconventionally, when upon discovering that our flight to Detroit had been cancelled due to a severe winter storm, we decided to battle the weather ourselves and drive there… in fleets of minivans! Driving through the night through fog and heavy snow, many LGO’ers made it in time to tour GM’s facilities. Persistence, ingenuity and hard work: all facets of the LGO spirit!

The trek is a flagship of the LGO program, where students, averaging five years of work experience from start-ups to multinationals, pursue two Masters Degrees in two years: one from the MIT School of Engineering (MS) and one from the MIT Sloan School of Management (MBA).

In short, the trek was a phenomenal experience. We toured companies and spoke with senior leaders across a broad spectrum of industries, geographies, and growth stages. We discussed corporate strategy and personal reflections with business magnates Michael Dell (Chairman of the Board and CEO at Dell) and Jeff Wilke (SVP of Consumer Business at Amazon). On a personal note, Dell was surprised that his record as the youngest Fortune 500 CEO had not yet been surpassed — even by Mark Zuckerberg!

We also gained perspective on leadership excellence in the non-profit sector. In Oregon, we met with two Rodel Fellows: former State Treasurer Randall Edwards and the state’s youngest State Senator, Chris Edwards. Irrespective of sector, common traits these leaders exuded were focus, dedication, and ingenuity in finding creative solutions to tough problems. This was best displayed by Michael Dell’s leadership in re-privatizing the company and moving it from being product-focused to service-focused.

That said, the sine qua non of the annual LGO plant trek is the assessment we provide to, and discuss with, each company. Personally, I found it fulfilling to see how quickly my peers and I were able to dissect each plant, largely due to the practical training we received through LGO. Eugene Goodson wrote, “to a trained eye… a plant tour can reveal a lot about a company”. By walking the plant lines, talking with employees, and debriefing each company with LGO program director Don Rosenfield and international Total Quality Management (TQM) expert Shoji Shiba, I realized just how much LGO has opened my eyes.

In our workshops, we learned about process flow methods, and during the trek, saw Boeing use a pulsed continuous moving line to manufacture the 737s. In our labs, we learned about lean tools, and during the trek, observed GM’s use of kitting to assemble vehicles such as the Chevy Volt. In our classes, we had engaging case discussions on the importance of keeping corporate and manufacturing strategies aligned, and during the trek, saw how Nike is keeping both in-sync through dramatic changes in their global supply chain.

In summary, the LGO Plant Trek was an unparalleled opportunity to explore world-class advanced-manufacturing and operations companies under the guidance of MIT’s leading experts.