The following post is being featured once again, in light of the 25th anniversary of the Baldrige Award. Please enjoy!
(The following excerpt describing how the Baldrige Award came about is taken from Steve George’s first Baldrige book,The Baldrige Quality System, published by Wiley & Sons in 1992)
In the early 1980s, U.S. business and government leaders worried about the nation’s ability to compete. They formed councils to study the problem. They participated in conferences and sat on committees whose sole aim was to figure out how to improve the quality of U.S. products and services on a national level.
In 1983, the final report on seven computer networking conferences sponsored by the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC), in which about 175 corporate executives, business leaders, and academicians participated, recommended the creation of a National Quality Award.
Later that same year, the National Productivity Advisory Committee, a group of corporate executives, academicians, labor leaders, and government officials, recommended creating a national medal for productivity achievement.
In April 1984, a report by the White House Conference on Productivity called for a national medal for productivity. Other groups, both public and private, debated solutions to American competitiveness. Many called for a national award.
In September 1985, corporate quality business leaders formed a Committee to Establish a National Quality Award. Over the next year, the committee developed a structure for administering a national quality award and funding to support it.
At the same time, parallel efforts were underway to legislate a national quality award, spearheaded by Florida Power & Light (FPL). FPL was working closely with the Union of Japanese Scientists & Engineers as it prepared to apply for Japan’s highest quality award, the Deming Prize.
In August 1986, Congressman Dan Fuqua (D-FL) introduced House Bill 5321 “to establish a National Quality Improvement Award, with the objective of encouraging American business and industrial enterprises to practice effective quality control in the provision of their goods and services.” Congress never acted on it.
The next year, with Fuqua no longer in the House, Congressman Doug Walgren (D-PA) reintroduced the legislation. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) sponsored a Senate version of the bill. On June 8, 1987, the measure passed the House and was sent to the Senate, where nothing happened for six weeks.
“What slowed the process down was the question of the right approach to implementing a national quality award,” says Kent Sterett, who headed quality at FPL at the time. “There was a great deal of discussion about whether it should be a private initiative or a government approach or some combination of the two. The prognosis for pushing it through wasn’t good.”
Part of the problem was the lukewarm response of the Reagan administration, including the government’s most notable business leader, Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige. The bill called for government involvement in administering the award program. That was anathema to Reagan’s “hands-off” philosophy. Ironically, Malcolm Baldrige ended up providing the final push that created a national quality award.
The son of a Nebraska congressman, Baldrige earned his reputation as an excellent manager when he was the chief executive officer at Scovill, Inc., a Connecticut-based brass mill. He was credited with transforming the financially troubled company into a multimillion dollar success.
Baldrige was also an avid horseman. A professional rider who won many awards on the rodeo circuit, he was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1984. On July 25, 1987, on a private ranch near San Francisco, Malcolm Baldrige was killed in a riding accident.
“The Monday after the weekend Baldrige died,” Sterett recalls, “I went to dinner with a small group of staffers for Senators and Representatives. The idea had surfaced to name the national quality award after Malcolm Baldrige.” That idea appealed to the president, who wanted to honor the friend he had lost.
Three days after Baldrige’s death, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation renamed the legislation in his honor. The Senate passed the bill, the House agreed to the name change, and on August 20, 1987, President Reagan signed the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Improvement Act of 1987 into law.