By Kathryn O'Neill
July 8, 2010
The senior vice president for North American retail at Amazon.com, Jeff Wilke graduated from the Leaders for Global Operations program (then called Leaders for Manufacturing) in 1993—but in some ways, he's never left.
Informally involved over the past 17 years as an industry partner both at Amazon and at his previous company, AlliedSignal, Wilke became co-chair of the Governing Board in March. "It's gratifying to see Jeff Wilke, who has been such a loyal alumnus and partner in his role at Amazon, assume this responsibility," said LGO Director Donald Rosenfield.
Why does Wilke stay involved?
"I'm convinced that the importance of LGO has never been higher. Better operations-intensive companies yield higher standard of living for consumers, better shop floor jobs, and increased global trade. LGO is a precious enabler, with a mission to preserve and advance the science and leadership art of operations," he said.
Wilke was leading a software development team in financial services when he joined the program, motivated both by a concern for the decline in American productivity and a fascination with how to deliver results in a competitive process. "I got swept up in the mission of LGO," he said. "This idea that the program was focused on producing leaders that would ultimately help to run large operations companies fit well with my long-term career objectives."
Working for an aluminum sheet plant during his LGO internship gave Wilke his first practical experience in manufacturing. "What was most powerful was that I got to see [LGO's lessons] in action," he said.
Upon graduation, Wilke immediately put his newfound skills to use in the engineered materials sector at AlliedSignal (now Honeywell.). In his last assignment he ran the pharmaceutical chemical division there. He joined Amazon in 1999, and over the years has had the opportunity to directly manage or otherwise oversee dozens of different manufacturing plants. He said the experience has reinforced the number one lesson he took away from LGO: Plant managers matter.
"You can tell in the financial performance, the quality performance, and in the faces of the employees when you have the right leader as plant manager versus the wrong leader," Wilke said.
He said the three other "pages from the LGO handbook" that have been most useful to him over the years are: constraint management; quality tools (notably Total Quality Management, lean thinking, and the statistical roots of Six Sigma); and the notion that supply chain is all about optimization and process control.
"Over the last 10 years at Amazon.com, we've been fortunate to have the LGO playbook as a guide in scaling our operations and our company," he said.
In addition, Wilke said he has benefited from the connection to his LGO classmates. "Many of them are in very senior positions now, so the longer you're out, the more that network can help with sage advice, recruitment, and camaraderie," he said.
Going forward, Wilke said he looks forward to helping LGO through his work on the Governing Board because he believes in the program's mission of advancing the art and science of operations. "I've seen the value that LGO graduates can deliver," he said.
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