Garvale Keeps It Lean

June 5, 2002
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GRAND HAVEN — Jim Garvale knew little or nothing about manufacturing. Human resources and quality management were his areas of expertise.

The principles and processes that go into building a product were foreign ideas to him, which is why he believes it made perfect sense to switch to a job as head of manufacturing 10 years ago at Grand Haven Stamped Products.

As a newcomer to the field, Garvale possessed no preconceived notions on how the production line should work and, as a result, was able to easily adapt to the new ways of thinking and doing things that were on the horizon.

“I didn’t have any bad habits,” said Garvale, whose career move in 1991 led to his learning the principles of lean manufacturing from one of its pioneers, Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp.

Today, five months after leaving his previous job as executive vice president at Counter Point, a Spring Lake maker of office furniture, the 54-year-old Garvale teaches lean manufacturing to firms.

In January he joined his wife, Erin, at CQD Consulting, a company Erin founded more than three years ago to help companies learn and implement lean manufacturing. The job change enables Garvale to blend his professional expertise in human resources, quality control and manufacturing.

“It’s really using that portion of my job responsibilities that I like,” Garvale said. “There’s nothing better than sitting back and watching the light bulb go on in somebody’s head when they finally get this stuff.”

Garvale, a native of Southfield in suburban Detroit, began his career after graduating in 1968 from the University of Michigan with a degree in industrial psychology. His first job was at the former Bendix Corp. in Florida, where he also worked for a year at NASA as a support coordinator in the Apollo program — and learned first-hand about waste, redundancy and inefficiencies.

He left NASA to Michigan to join the Budd Co., a metal-stamping firm based in Troy that served the auto industry.

Garvale came to West Michigan in 1980 when he joined Grand Haven Stamped Products, a division of the JSJ Corp., as human resources manager. In 1991, seeking a change of pace, he moved into and learned quality management, even though in the beginning “I didn’t know a thing about quality, other than how to spell the word.”

At about the same time Grand Haven Stamped Products, an automotive supplier, was just beginning to talk to Toyota about a partnership to learn the Japanese automaker’s renowned production system. Garvale later moved from quality manager to director of manufacturing and quality at Grand Haven Stamped Products and dedicated himself to learning the nuances of TPS, short for Toyota Production System, that’s designed to drive waste and inefficiencies out of a manufacturing system.

The key to lean manufacturing is understanding the intricacies of the principles and how each aspect of an operation relates to the others, and not only how but why things are done the way they are done, Garvale said. Management of a company, no matter how large or small, also needs to become committed to give up some of the authority to the workers, he said.

In 1997, Garvale moved to Counter Point, another division of JSJ, as vice president. Always intending to join Erin at CQD Consulting, he left Counter Point in January because “it was time to join the ranks.”

In his new role as a consultant, Garvale seeks to use his background to help other firms learn and embrace lean manufacturing as a way to do business.

“The only way you can learn this stuff is to actually do it and is to actually see it,” Garvale said. “You’ve got to get with someone who has made that journey.”

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