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How the Baldrige Program Began

The Birth of a Unique Public‐Private Partnership

This article was written by Baldrige Performance Excellence Program staff member Dawn Bailey based on interviews with Curt Reimann and other government staff members involved in the creation of the Baldrige Program. Footnoted quotes were added from public sources for context. This article was originally posted on the Baldrige website in August 2012 to celebrate the Baldrige Program’s 25th anniversary.

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Dawn of America’s Quality Revolution

“For U.S. industry, the message is clear. Get better or get beaten,” was a quote in a June 8, 1987, Business Week special report1 on quality.

A photocopy of that report—with the names of key industry leaders, quality directors, and U.S. manufacturers underlined and notations penciled in the margins—can be found in the offices of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. According to Curt Reimann, first director of the Baldrige Program, the 1987 article brought sharp and timely focus to the growing need to improve quality‐ driven productivity in the United States. It also provided broad economic perspectives on the seriousness and breadth of the quality problems that the country needed to address, and served as part of his “due diligence” in the creation of the Baldrige Program.

The special report makes clear that the times were ripe for an emphasis on U.S. quality. Wrote Karen Pennar2,

Improving quality requires nothing less than an upheaval in corporate culture....... Truly improving quality is a long, hard slog, and it frequently carries a steep up‐front cost....... But the initial investment in equipment and training is well worth making. Eventually, the savings from not having to make repairs or to pay off warranties or to settle liability suits far exceed the costs of a quality program. And the biggest returns by far come when productivity, market share, and profits rise.

Some claim the U.S.’s impetus for a quality revolution began earlier, in June 1980, with an NBC News broadcast “If Japan Can Why Can’t We?”, which “tells how the Japanese captured the world auto and electronics markets by following [W. Edwards] Deming’s advice to practice continual improvement and think of manufacturing as a system, not as bits and pieces.”3

“For our group of purely techies” at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS; later renamed the National Institute of Standards and Technology [NIST]), Reimann, then deputy director of the NBS National Measurement Laboratory, noted that NBS scientists were well aware of the growing concern about national competitiveness. They were proposing new and improved measurement and standards services to enable industry to meet its challenges, with an initiative called “Process and Quality Control”; Reimann and Harry Hertz, the current Baldrige director, were part of that effort.

1“Special Report: The Push for Quality,” Business Week, June 8, 1987

2Pennar, Karen, commentary “America’s Quest Can’t Be Half‐Hearted,” “Special Report: The Push for Quality,” Business Week, June 8, 1987


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Created April 17, 2023, Updated May 3, 2023