Web Wednesday: This American Life #561

This American Life is a weekly public radio show which tells stories ranging from the ordinary to the extraordinary.  Episode #561 is particularly captivating for a variety of reasons and no, nothing in the episode ties directly to decorated apparel.  That said, their is so much to be learned from the story of New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUUMI), a sprawling automotive assembly plant located in Fremont CA, which was a joint venture between GM and Toyota.  The plant was was originally established and operated by GM in the 1960’s, closed in the early 1980’s due to a toxic combination of poor management and union bloat.  The plant re-opened a couple of years later as NUUMI.  The idea was that Toyota would share their “secret sauce” with a struggling GM and in return would gain the experience of operating a manufacturing plant in the USA (at the time Toyota was not manufacturing domestically).  The plant and partnership were an amazing success for many years before GM took sole control in 2009 and shortly thereafter shut down operations as part of their 2010 Chapter 11 filing.  What makes the story so interesting is how a plant of this size and scale could be transformed from an epic failure to a monumental success and yet this success had absolutely no influence on GM as a whole. The story is inspirational in that it shows no matter how dysfunctional an operation is it can be turned around and yet it is scary because it also shows how reluctant an organization can be to adopt change even in the face of clear progress and improvement.  Though my business and yours too amount to less than a rounding error on GM or Toyota’s balance sheet, we can all learn from this story of success, transformation, failure on a massive scale.

On a related note, the former NUUMI plant is now home to Tesla Motors.  I recently had the opportunity to tour the transformed plant and was blown away by this ultra modern manufacturing process as well as the sheer size and scale of the 5 million sq ft (!!!) facility.  At Tesla, the innovation and Silicon Valley spirit is palpable.

Hope you enjoy and learn from the story of NUUMI as much as I did.

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