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I came across an interesting documentary on TV recently. It concerned a Domestic Appliances plant in Ireland that was losing money and fighting for its life. The documentary took up the story as they were competing with Portugal for the next new product introduction. Portugal had an advantage, having half the labour costs, and if the plant in Ireland failed to win this new business, they would be staring closure in the face. Costs would have to be reduced and the plant streamlined if they were to have any chance at all to compete with Portugal.

The Plant Manager decided to get into the heart of the plant and spend a full week on the manufacturing floor with the workers, getting familiar with all of the operations. The programme then showed him doing this, driving a forklift, delivering material to the floor, assembling product, testing, packing and other various operations. As he worked, there was constant dialogue between the operators and himself as they looked for the most efficient way of carrying out the various operations.

The next Monday he met with his management team, he laid out his observations and they turned them into a survival plan by eliminating waste and embarking on a programme of continuous improvement. The programme had a happy ending as they eventually won the contract over Portugal because they were able to demonstrate and sustain these improvements over a period of time. There’s a time to get involved and there’s a time to be strategic. Good Management is knowing how to weave and bob between the two of these.

It reminds me of the jungle anecdote. When the lion wakes up in the morning he has to run faster than the slowest antelope or he does not eat. When the antelope wakes up he has to outrun the fastest lion or he will get eaten. One thing is certain though, both the lion and the antelope have to wake up and hit the ground running.

It is no different in business at the moment. We must constantly remain alert, awake and vigilant to the threats and a programme of continuous improvement must always be in place to ensure competitiveness. We cannot afford to be complacent and live in the shadow of past glories. Cost competitiveness is a critical factor in modern technology and business. We must also look for ways to increase innovation over volume manufacturing on the journey ahead. In Ireland, we have been whistling a good tune for many years but we now need to take over the orchestra and start composing our own music.

It has been a different year across the world as we entered strange and unprecedented times, and I know there are better times ahead for us. Thanks to everybody who managed to read the column during the year and it is certainly very much appreciated. I hope everybody has a very happy and peaceful Christmas, and may you wear prosperity and happiness as a warm cloak during 2021.

Nollaig Shona Dhuit

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