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Taking the lead: Efficiency expert says find waste in unlikely places [Detroit Free Press :: ]
[May 11, 2014]

Taking the lead: Efficiency expert says find waste in unlikely places [Detroit Free Press :: ]

(Detroit Free Press (MI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 11--A desk sign in Aimee Cowher's office announces, as efficiently as any other description, what her consulting firm, Global Productivity Solutions, gets paid to do for other companies: BIGGER BETTER FASTER CHEAPER Cowher, the firm's CEO, worked in the auto industry as an engineer and has training in the Six Sigma process for improvement.

She described the firm's mission more eloquently: "We find ways to reduce cost, reduce waste, increase output in order to help companies make more money without spending capital, without adding -- or taking away -- head count. It's more about doing more with the resources you have." The Clinton Township firm also solves problems.

One problem Global Productivity Solutions solved for its biggest client, Kraft, was sticky marshmallows. The food company couldn't keep the spongy confections from clinging together in the plastic bag. The firm studied the manufacturing process and came up with a solution: Put more powdery coating on the marshmallows.

Cowher, 44, offered more insights in an interview in her office.

QUESTION: Who are your mentors? ANSWER: There's personal and professional. Personal, my dad. I never imagined being where I am today, and if there is one person I would attribute that to, it's my dad, Marty Cowher. He's retired IBEW -- the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers -- Local 58. He was an electrician, a pretty well-respected one, too. He had two girls, and it was without question in his mind that we would go to college, which he didn't do. He created a desire to be educated. I have no idea how he did it. I wish I knew so I could do it with my girls.

Q: Any free advice for making operations more efficient? A: We tend to look for waste in the obvious places. You've got to look where it's not obvious. In business we measure a lot of things, it's the things that you aren't measuring today that will lead you to a greater insight into loss and sources of waste that cost you money.

Q: If it were obvious, people wouldn't need to hire you? A: Right. Everybody thinks their situation is unique. You just have to have a different lens to look at it. We've perfected that lens. What we tend to tackle are those problems that companies think are unsolvable.

Q: How do you solve those problems? A: As much as the term Six Sigma is considered to be a late '90s management fad, the problem-solving tools and road map it brings to the table in the structure of define, measure, analyze, improve and control works. If you follow that approach, you can solve anything.

Q: Does it matter if a company's top executive is a woman? A: Of course it matters. I don't consider it any more of a challenge than any other challenge in life. But, I can't separate being a woman and what it would have been like to have these experiences as a man. I will tell you once you start showing gray hair you are taken more seriously.

Q: But, you don't have gray hair.

A: You should have been here a week ago. (Laughter.) I don't want this to sound cliche: But there is, as a woman, always the challenge of balancing the demands of being a mom and a career woman. Socially, there's still the expectation if dad travels, hits the road and is not around for things, that it's socially more acceptable. I don't cave to social norms, but there's that pull to be with my kids, especially now I have young girls. It's important to me, when I'm not completely balanced, that I take the time for them to understand that it's not for lack of desire to be with them, but, 'Hey, guess what mom did today?' They thought it was so cool I was going to be interviewed by the Free Press today and possibly be in the paper.

Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or ___ (c)2014 the Detroit Free Press Visit the Detroit Free Press at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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