Bob Hendry became one of GM's key negotiators involved in the setting up of its joint venture with Toyota in 1982. He stayed with the NUMMI joint venture for a further two years as its controller.
Now president of Saab, Bob Hendry constantly applies the Japanese techniques he learned from Toyota during his time with NUMMI. 'I found that I fitted in very well with the Japanese. They have a way of thinking and working that applies to absolutely everything, and I can't think of anything I do that has not been influenced by them,' says Hendry.
He was particularly impressed by the Japanese approach to problem-solving which he describes as all-encompassing. 'You take a problem and break it down to identify the process at fault and then focus on improving that process. It's an approach which takes an industrial engineering view but which applies it to the entire business,' he explains.
The team-working methods that are so favored by the Japanese are also invaluable, he adds. 'They are practices which enable the work force to function in a high state of readiness and to focus on common objectives.'
At Saab, Hendry currently faces a major challenge. When he joined the Swedish company at the beginning of August in 1996, his task was to mastermind the project to raise annual output from 100,000 units to 150,000 by 2000.
This is to be achieved, he says, by increasing the output of the existing plants, a goal in which Japanese lean manufacturing and lean organizational techniques have a role to play in a broad sense. Such techniques are of particular interest because they emphasize quality as well as productivity, he stresses.
Future product launches bringing Saab into new markets can also be expected. For example, next spring Saab will introduce a wagon, which will be the first time since the late 1970s that the company has made this type of vehicle.