Dr. James Tew is widely respected within the Baldrige community in his home state of Texas. He also is held in high regard for his contributions to the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP) starting from the national program’s earliest years in the late 1980s. Now retired, Tew worked at Texas Instruments Incorporated, Defense Systems & Electronics Group (DSEG) before, during, and after the company earned the Baldrige Award in 1992.
Invited by BPEP’s first director, Dr. Curt Reimann, to participate in the inaugural training and cohort of Baldrige examiners in 1988, Tew embraced the opportunity to serve. That same year, he was a member of the examiner team that made the first site visit to evaluate an applicant organization (a manufacturer) as part of the Baldrige Award process. Several years later, as award eligibility was expanded to the health care and education sectors, Tew also was part of the Baldrige examiner team that conducted the program’s pilot site visit to an education organization.
Tew became a galvanizing force—together with other like-minded quality pioneers—in founding a state program in Texas. Today the Quality Texas Foundation continues to administer a Baldrige-based state award for performance excellence as well as providing training on using the Baldrige Excellence Framework (which includes the Criteria for Performance Excellence) to assess and improve organizations throughout the state. By giving numerous presentations about the benefits of the Baldrige Criteria before senior leaders of Texas organizations, as well as teaching related college courses and mentoring future business leaders, Tew encouraged countless organizations and leaders to adopt the Baldrige framework to achieve long-term excellence in their leadership, strategic planning, knowledge management and performance measurement systems, customer- and workforce-focused processes, operations, and results (the seven categories of the Baldrige Criteria).
Among Tew’s admirers is Dale Crownover, CEO of Texas Nameplate, Inc., a two-time recipient of the Baldrige Award. “I’ve always regarded [Tew] as my favorite mentor,” Crownover shared. “I was as proud to tell [him] we won [the Baldrige Award] as I was when I told my dad.” According to Crownover, Tew patted him on the shoulder the day he was notified of his small business’s achievement as a Baldrige Award winner. To Crownover’s long-lasting amusement, he remembers that Tew told him, “You’ve done well, Dale; now don’t screw it up.”
Laura Longmire worked with Tew both as a colleague at Texas Instruments DSEG and as a fellow volunteer judge for the Quality Texas Foundation’s award program. Longmire recently praised Tew’s performance in both roles. She said that at Texas Instruments, Tew “was the go-to person or knowledge keeper for the Baldrige Criteria, ISO [International Organization of Standards] processes, and also our training to meet customer requirements in quality for many of our Department of Defense contracts.” Recalling his help when she was a new program manager at the company, she said, “I’ve often reflected on his gracious knowledge sharing and directional support.” Longmire also observed that when she was training as a judge for the Texas award program, Tew “led the panel of judges with great knowledge, skill and inclusion of all inputs from the other judges.”
She added, “When it was time to make final determinations for applicants, he was thorough and spent hours if not weeks on each applicant’s information. He was always fair and impartial. He helped train the rest of the judges through his diligence, knowledge, and broad mindedness. As an avid “benchmarker,” he never thought within the box. [He] saw what could happen by stepping out into new and innovative approaches. He left a thorough, documented process for the judges to follow when he retired.”
Genie Wilson Dillon, the first administrator of the Quality Texas program, has known Tew since the mid-1980s. She worked with him at Texas Instruments DSEG and then in various Quality Texas Foundation activities and processes that Tew helped to influence and shape. Dillon recently noted, “Over all this time, James has remained focused on what is best, with a quest for identifying what can be improved. [He] demonstrates an innovative spirit in design [and] always encourages systematic deployment so whatever is developed has integrity, repeatability, and excellence. He has always suggested improvements for the future—and is still doing this today. He is not satisfied with status quo, and this passion for improvement has helped make Quality Texas the outstanding program it has become today.”
Tew recently responded to questions about his many pivotal experiences in the early years of the Baldrige programs at the national and state levels. Following are highlights of that interview.
1. Could you please describe what it was like to be a member of the charter board of Baldrige examiners and a member of the first site visit team?
It was the very first year, and I believe it was 1988. Curt Reimann was the key to the success of it. Curt really became a role model for me, and he had an outstanding staff. The way he worked planning the Baldrige Award and the approach he took was outstanding—we all learned from and benefitted from it. Out of the clear blue, I received in the mail an invitation from the Baldrige Program to serve as an examiner. I knew about the effort because professional peers, including other members of the American Society for Quality Control (now known as ASQ), had been talking about getting Congress involved in doing things [to help U.S. businesses]. … The real problem we were facing was the low quality of products and services that we were selling on the international market, which affect the national balance of payments. Baldrige listened to us.”
After I was invited to training at NIST [the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which houses the Baldrige Program], I was sent a Criteria booklet and a case study to complete prior to training. The training was intense. At the first training meeting, I found I was associated with some outstanding people. In fact, I may have been a bit intimated. Quality leaders from both small and large corporations were actually serving as examiners. Evaluations of Baldrige Award applicants was performed individually, and then we worked together by phone. For the first site visit, I served on a team that evaluated a manufacturing organization. This was the first official site visit. … The thing we learned was how much effort the company had put into preparing for the visit. Through the consensus process, the team worked through our differences. This was one of the most important processes I had to learn.
2. You had a major role in the founding of the Quality Texas award program, as well as in developing key components of that state program (such as its Fellows group); could you please share more about those events and your aims?
The actual very beginning goes back to Curt Reimann. As examiners going through training, we learned that Curt would support having feeder groups toward the national award. We were so impressed by the award and its potential that we decided that at the state level maybe we could do something to create a feeder [program]. So I hosted a luncheon at Texas Instruments in Dallas. We had people from different parts of the state come and discuss what we could do, and we decided we should contribute as a feeder group to the national award to get people ready. We decided to adopt the Baldrige Criteria. A supporter of the Texas state effort was Raymond Marlow (Marlow Industries received the Baldrige Award in 1991), who went to high school with the then-governor Anne Richards; she learned what we were doing and became supportive of it and wanted to expand the scope to include health care and education organizations. … So we had a series of meetings over several years. … Finally we were able to get a program together, with Texas Instruments providing the first contribution (of $100,000) distributed over four quarters. [Note: According to Dillon, The American Productivity & Quality Center was another founding contributor, and numerous Texas organizations also contributed funds and in-kind resources to launch the Quality Texas Award program in 1993.]
We’ve gone through some tough years, but the Texas program is still intact. We’ve got more people involved and newer thinking into the process, and I am very proud of today’s program. Dale Crownover (of Texas Nameplate) helped a lot in those tough years. I have seen many examples of success and improvements in Texas companies, and to the best of my knowledge Texas still has more Baldrige Award winners than any other state. The main problem today nationally is that leaders of organizations feel intimidated or embarrassed by problems and improvements needed that may be revealed by the Baldrige Award process. I’ve long counseled organizations: “Adopt the Criteria as the way to run your business before even thinking of being an applicant.
3. You worked at Texas Instruments (DSEG) when it received the Baldrige Award in 1992; could you please share highlights of that accomplishment and its impacts?
The first time we applied, we did not receive the award, and it’s the best thing that could have ever happened to us. Initially there was interest in the program internally, but there was resistance also. People were complaining it was too costly, “it won’t do anything for us,” and so forth. [But after] I was invited to a high-level meeting to make a presentation, the senior leaders said, “Go for it.” And they cleared the path to our applying. When we did not receive [the award that year], there was great disappointment because they thought we were really good. Some people decided we should never apply again.
I remember having lunch with our Group President one day and asking him, “What are we going to do now.” And he said, “Once you have been to the Super Bowl, you always want to go going back. And we’re going back.” The second time [the company applied for the Baldrige Award], we learned more and made more improvements. Let me give you an example: We used to have cost review meetings trying to account for every dollar spent. We finally said, “Why are we doing this?” We learned that cost-review meetings are lagging indicators. Money lost due to scrap, rework, repair, and corrective action is gone. The leading indicators are our processes. Controlling the processes prevents the beginning of loss.
4. How do you see the value of the Baldrige framework to businesses today in terms of addressing current challenges faced by leaders?
I think it’s just as valid today as it’s ever been. And the reason is that every [two years] it is reviewed to try to make sure it reflects the current problems we’re facing. I think [the Baldrige Program has] done an outstanding job of keeping the Criteria current.
5. Would you like to share any other insights?
One lesson I learned is that job titles don’t impress me. I learned to look for those who have personal power rather than just power of position. Another lesson I learned is that some people will tell you, “This is a great organization. We do great things.” That’s all fluff. I’m listening for people who speak in quantitative terms, for example, “Our turnover rate is less than a tenth of a percent.”
A Final Note of Praise for Tew
In regard to Tew’s insights, Dillon commented that he “has always promoted the Baldrige Criteria core value of management by fact.” Over the years, he encouraged all of us to use data to drive decisions—to get all the data we could—and then to get to work on an improvement opportunity after analyzing those data,” she said. “He would say, ‘Brush off the fluff, keep the data—and use it to achieve excellence.’”