In the early 1980s, executives from U.S. auto companies started making regular trips to Japan to find out why the Japanese automakers were outperforming their U.S. counterparts. One Detroit executive hadn’t been impressed by the competition. “They didn’t show us real plants,” the Detroit executive said, “There were no inventories. I’ve seen plenty of assembly facilities in my life, and these were not real plants. They’d been staged for our tour.” *

For four years, I have had the great opportunity to take my students of the operations management course at Business School Lausanne (BSL) to visit Daimler AG’s truck manufacturing plant in Wörth, in Germany. With the daily production volume of around 470 trucks, the Wörth plant is the world’s largest truck production facility in the world. Before the trip, we spent sessions to prepare ourselves by learning the principles of lean production, so that we believed in them and therefore could see them right there in front of our eyes at the Daimler plant.

Special thanks to my friend Rolf J. Toepfer at Daimler for making this possibility and for years of friendship.

*Presence: Human purpose and the field of the future (2004)

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