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Public Papers - 1989 - November

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards


Thank you, Secretary Mosbacher, for the warm welcome. It's great to be back across the street, almost, at this wonderful Department. I first want to salute the Baldrige family -- a special hello to Midge. Of course, I'm delighted to see the Secretary of the Treasury here and Ambassador Hills; able members of my Cabinet sitting next to them; Dr. Bromley, our Science Advisor, who has a keen interest in the success of the work of this Department.

I want to salute Deputy Secretary Murrin and Under Secretary Betti. And I think I spotted Strom -- I know I did -- over here. And it's a little hard to see, but Jesse Helms was to be here, Congressmen Sherry Boehlert, Don Ritter. George Brown, I do see, Howard Coble, Doug Walgren, and Nancy Johnson. And if I missed a few -- Alec McMillan, I think. And I can't see who else we've got over there, but nevertheless, welcome to the Members of Congress, whose support is absolutely essential for the workings of the Commerce Department.

In just a few moments, it will be my pleasure to present awards named after a great public servant and a close and dear friend, Malcolm Baldrige. So, let me just say a few words about Mac. He had a zest for life -- Nancy, I didn't see you -- had a zest for life, love of family, and a love of country that was uncommon. He was an outstanding Secretary of Commerce for 6/2\ years, and he was also an outstanding friend. Mac's word of honor -- as those of you who worked with him -- was his bond, as good as a gold piece.

And he never quite fit any mold. In this town, they always try to make you fit into some mold. Baldrige never quite fit the mold. He was the president of a very successful company who spent a lot of his time with volunteer firemen when his wife wasn't doing that kind of work. He was the son of the East who rode horses and loved his place in New Mexico. He felt at home with cowboys because he roped with them all of his life. You'd never have known it from his friendly, easygoing manner, but he was also a bit of a perfectionist, in word and deed.

As a leader in business, Mac strived for quality in products; as Commerce Secretary, for quality in public policies. Even the language -- some of you may well remember, to your horror -- the language of his memos was lean and exact. In fact, he had a special computer software program for Commerce Department documents, one that automatically weeded out jargon like impacted, viable, infrastructure. [Laughter] Sort of Gramm-Rudman cut of the English language, if you will. [Laughter]

But like all perfectionists, he knew that perfection is not reaching the attainable. Rather, it's a never-ending quest for the unattainable. His life was such a quest, a life whose legacy leaves us with a profound insight: A truly successful man or woman is someone who has, indeed, served others.

Companies, like people, are successful only to the extent to which they provide service. This is true for all business, from the humblest mom-and-pop operation to the largest corporation. The improvement of quality in products and the improvement of quality in service -- these are national priorities as never before. In recent years, Americans have felt the sting of fierce competition on a global scale, and we've learned to see foreign competition not as an excuse to close doors and raise barriers but as an incentive to renew our own commitment to excellence.

American managers have reconsidered every time-honored belief, every traditional practice, every customary procedure; and they've embraced what works and rejected the past. They've studied examples of innovation from home and abroad and adopted only the best. And we now know the result of this historic reassessment: When it comes to meeting the competition, America is back in business.

We're here today to honor two companies that are leading this resurgence. They're leading the resurgence in American business leadership. Most companies catch hell from the competition, but these two companies are in the lead because no competitor gave them a tougher time than they gave themselves. Of course, in business, success is its own reward. And yet all American firms benefit by having a standard of excellence to match and perhaps, one day, to surpass. For 1989 there can be no higher standard of quality management than those provided by the winners of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award: Milliken   Company and the Xerox Corporation.

Both of these manufacturing firms were well-established leaders in their markets, yet both were being steadily squeezed out by the intense foreign and domestic competition. In the midst of this crisis, the men and women of these companies found within themselves the will to make a painstaking reassessment and the drive to win back that market share. Both companies started down this path of reassessment with a simple premise: In business, there is only one definition of quality -- the customer's definition. And then they proceeded from this one premise to restructure their production and marketing plan. Sounds simple. But I know, as a former tiny businessman myself, how difficult it is to restructure a firm from top to bottom. And today's winners know what is possible when a firm restructures itself from the bottom up. They know that a company can no longer afford to regard employees as automatons in a production line. They know that a company must rely on the intelligence, judgment, and good character of the people it employs.

And there are as many successful forms of management as there are successful companies. But for these two companies, success came when they developed their human as well as their technological potential. Milliken, for example, a 125-year-old textile manufacturer in South Carolina -- but its management style is sheer 21st century. Milliken scrapped the old management hierarchy in favor of what they call a flat management structure -- good thing they're not a tire company -- [laughter] -- flat management structure. Milliken even gave a new title to its employees, calling them associates. And this is no hollow accolade for public relations. Every Milliken employee, I'm told, truly is an associate. In fact, any Milliken worker has the power to halt that production line if he or she detects a problem in quality or safety.

Our other winner takes a similar approach with its ``Team Xerox'' philosophy. Xerox employees are given the authority that they have to have, that they need, to make day-to-day decisions. And they are, the company says, expected to take the initiative in finding and fixing problems -- and they do. While every manager works, every worker is managing.

One of the best things about this award is that it allows successful companies to share what they have learned to set an example. Perhaps these two companies ought to merge -- and be careful of the antitrust. [Laughter] Can you imagine it? Your wardrobes wouldn't just be coordinated; it would be collated. [Laughter]

Many firms will learn a great deal from their example. Others will need to follow their own path. But to those who say that we have lost our edge, that the days are past when ``Made in America'' meant the best, I say: Tell that to the people of the Milliken plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Tell that to the Xerox teams in upstate -- up in Monroe County, New York.

Quality products and service is no accident. It's the result of a certain can-do, no-excuses attitude, an aggressive impatience with the status quo even in the best of times. And it's this attitude, more than anything else, that is responsible for the creation of wealth and jobs that we have seen over the last 7 years.

In these years, our total national wealth has grown by almost a third, and more than 20 million new jobs created. And we are still enjoying the rewards of what has proven to be the longest peacetime expansion in American history. So, given the right policies, and a reduced capital gains tax would be one -- Congress, I hope you're listening -- this expansion will continue. And given the right tools, the American people can reach even greater heights. The potential of this nation is as boundless as the imagination and drive of the American people. All we have to do for our citizens is what these two companies have done for their employees: give them the freedom to do what they do best -- freedom to imagine, freedom to create, and freedom to excel. Our winners had such freedom, and they certainly made the most of it.

I give my heartiest congratulations to Roger Milliken, who is here, and to David Kearns. And I give my heartiest congratulations to your employees, your associates. And thank you all for being here to honor these two successful stories. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:34 a.m. in Malcolm Baldrige Hall at the Commerce Department. In his remarks, he referred to Secretary of Commerce Robert A. Mosbacher; Malcolm Baldrige's widow, Margaret (Midge); Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas F. Brady; U.S. Trade Representative Carla A. Hills; Deputy Secretary of Commerce Thomas J. Murrin; Under Secretary of Defense John A. Betti; Senators Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Jesse Helms of North Carolina; Roger Milliken, chairman and chief executive officer of Milliken   Co.; and David T. Kearns, chairman and chief executive officer for business and products systems for Xerox Corp.

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