Small businesses in Puerto Rico are becoming more competitive, more sustainable, more global, and many of them have Carmen Martí and the Baldrige Criteria to thank.
For three years, the Puerto Rico Small Business and Technology Development Centers (PR-SBTDC) has been teaching the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence to small businesses on the island, with the intention to increase their competitiveness and help them succeed in a global marketplace.
According to PR-SBTDC executive director, Carmen Martí, the Baldrige Competitiveness Program has been a resounding success, with more than 125 businesses, including 250 top-management executives, participating. And word about the value of the Baldrige model has been spreading among other small business development centers (SBDCs): 63 such centers, with a total of 1,100 U.S. offices, are adopting aspects of the program, said Martí. In addition, SBDCs in Central America are adopting Baldrige: "[In El Salvador] they have been inspired by the framework to grow their micro- and small businesses."
The Baldrige Competitiveness Program
Caribbean Business describes the program, which began in 2011, as an initiative to help Puerto Rico businesses establish standards of excellence and become more competitive using the Baldrige Criteria. The participant small businesses represent $307 million in sales and 11,614 jobs, according to PR-SBTDC's 2012–2013 Annual Report.
Participants who have implemented the Baldrige Criteria report "high-impact results," especially in the areas of leadership, sales, metrics, operations, human resources, workplace environment, financial results, and client satisfaction, said Martí. “[These participants] are evidence of the efficiency and effectiveness of [the Criteria’s] strategies and operational processes. . . . I guarantee that the Baldrige journey of learning best practices, as well as networking with peer entrepreneurs and Malcolm Baldrige National Quality awardees, will be exceptional and meaningful.”
The program includes eight, monthly, day-long sessions that focus on a theme within the Criteria; the participants are challenged to implement the theme in their own businesses. During the sessions, best practices are discussed (and in many cases adopted), and real-life examples are shared. In addition, at the end of each program, a successful case implementation of the Criteria is presented, and entrepreneurs share how the Baldrige Criteria helped them.
Martí said that for many participants, “it has been an extraordinary experience to identify areas of opportunities for improvements in their own business models. As I say, [the small businesses use the Baldrige Criteria to] ‘put the house in order prior to growing and exporting your business.’" The Baldrige Competitiveness Program has “been a signature product for the Puerto Rican small business community, particularly in today’s challenging times,” Martí said. “We have become very engaged in our business community using the Baldrige framework. . . . The PR-SBTDC completed its [own] accreditation process, based in the Baldrige Criteria concepts, with all standards met and multiple best practices, thanks to the knowledge and understanding of the Baldrige framework."
Maximo Torres, of Maximo Solar Industries, in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, completed the Baldrige Competitiveness Program at the end of 2013, after almost two years of learning and getting involved with the Baldrige Criteria. Maximo Torres said that his biggest learning has been how to restructure his company for growth and to bring consistency to its various areas of operation; actions have included simple things like starting every staff meeting with a review of the mission and vision. He said Maximo Solar Industries, which manufactures, sells, and installs solar panels, is rebranding itself as a business renewal energy company and using the management framework of the Criteria as a guide.
The framework has resulted in a new focus on customer relationship management, knowledge management, training, and process efficiency. “In all areas of the business, we’ve seen areas of improvement and will continue to do so,” said Maximo Torres. “Business growth is double to what we have had last year. It’s a combination of efforts that have impacted us to restructure ourselves and manage the change. Growth can be a pain, a dangerous path. Having that knowledge from Baldrige and getting everyone in the company on the same page have helped us to be more focused on what we need to do.”
Maximo Torres said the biggest challenge for his company has been managing change and growth, as Maximo Solar Industries moves from servicing just the residential market to the commercial market, as well as to exporting to a global market.
“There are so many programs out there for quality. We are familiar with ISO, Lean, but there has to be something more specific to manage the business and that’s Baldrige. It connects all of the parts of the business to quality,” said Maximo Torres. “We are moving towards total consistency. We want to be the most proficient and excellent contractor not only on the island, but we look to expand to the international market. The next Baldrige steps are crucial for us. It definitely was a great decision to get involved [with the Baldrige Competitiveness Program]. We don’t want to be good; we want to be great, excellent. All of the examples from so many Baldrige Award recipients showed us what was possible, what was realistic. . . . Truly Baldrige is a key aspect to our success.”
“The Baldrige Criteria gave me new skills and knowledge to manage my business, resulting in the development of an integrated strategy improving the company’s marketing, sales, manufacturing, accounting, human resources, and strategic planning systems,” said another program participant Eniel Torres, of Maga Foods in Sabana Grande, Puerto Rico. “Now I have measurements to manage the efficiency and performance of the company as a whole.”
Eniel Torres said he began as an entrepreneur with a popcorn machine and grew his business to become a manufacturer of gourmet vinaigrette for restaurants in Old San Juan. Maga Foods now manufactures cereals, pancakes, seasoning, and snacks and distributes these products throughout the United States and the Caribbean. A growth strategy guided by the Criteria has allowed the company to add new products and private labels for different establishments, leading to an increase of 10% in exports.
Beyond implementing Criteria strategies and best practices in their own organizations, Puerto Rico small businesses can also look to Texas for additional resources and support. Martí said the PR-SBTDC has partnered with the Quality Texas Foundation, a member of the Baldrige-based Alliance for Performance Excellence, to support small businesses.
“At SBTDC, we are committed to supporting the growth of local enterprises. That's why we have put all of our efforts into offering this important Baldrige model performance excellence program,” Martí said. “We hope the seeds we have planted will bloom into tomorrow's local multinational corporations.”
The PR-SBTDC began its next Baldrige Competitiveness Program on the island in spring 2014. "I hope [our success] will inspire other SBDC programs throughout the U.S. to become engaged in the Baldrige journey," added Martí. "SBDCs serve nearly 625,000 small businesses in the U.S. [Use of the Baldrige model] is a great opportunity to grow and become more competitive as a nation."