Where the Lean Jobs Are

Would you like to work in healthcare? Would you like to live in Europe, especially eastern Europe? Do you want to work for a large company?

            If you answered yes to any of those questions, and you are a bona fide lean professional, your prospects are pretty good.

            That’s what I learned from talking the other day with Linford Stiles, chairman and CEO of Stiles Associates, an executive search firm specializing in lean positions.

            “We are seeing more and more large organizations getting seriously involved in this,” he told me. Lin explained that, by large, he means companies with revenues in excess of $10 billion – a big jump from the type of companies he used to deal with.

            A related trend, and one that speaks to the nature of the current marketplace, is that Stiles Associates is also doing business with several private investment firms, which want people not for themselves, but for the companies they are purchasing.

            Big companies want people with big skills. “When we first started this back in the 90s, all people would talk to us about was, ‘do (the job candidates) understand the tools – 5S, kaizen, load leveling? Can they spell takt time?” Lin comments. “Right now, much more attention is being put on leadership and culture change. They’re looking for somebody who has had success in making a culture change.”

            And they want proof, he said: “At this level, they want people who can bring with them some evidence of metric improvement – return on assets, return on sales. Now it’s ‘I want to see what it does to profits, not inventory turns.’ They used to talk about things like space reduction. We don’t hear much of that any more.”

            (To some extent, his remarks parallel those of Adam Zak, another headhunter I spoke with last fall.)

            There are increased searches for high-level people, particularly for high-level financial people, such as CFOs – people who understand lean accounting and activity-based costing.

            Demand for people is increasing, Lin said, and his business is booming. There are more candidates in the marketplace now, compared with when he first started, but “the supply is not keeping up with the demand.”

            There are more searches to fill jobs with higher salaries. Whereas three years ago, the average salary for a Stiles Associates search was $130,000, in the first quarter of this year it was $196,000. That means “we’re still doing a lot of $130,000 searches, but we’re also doing a lot of $300,000 searches,” he said.

            Lin is seeing increased demand outside the United States, particularly in Germany, England (though more in services firms there) and Scandinavia.

            He also predicts increased demand over the next five years in eastern Europe – countries such as Poland and Romania. “Right now, (those countries) are just starting to uncork their manufacturing capability,” he said. “Our clients are looking at those countries, setting up plants there, and there is nobody over there that understands lean.”

            Lin is not involved much in Asia, at least partly because in China “they don’t pay anybody enough to make it worth much being a search consultant.”

            His firm is also at the beginning of what he sees as a growing trend, placing experienced lean people into hospitals. Lin is planning a big push for his company into healthcare as a result.

            For companies seeking to hire lean executives, he advises, “Be serious about it. Nothing fails faster than a lack of attention and lack of commitment. Some of these big companies, maybe eight or 10 years ago, they thought they had the whole thing figured out with six sigma. A lot of them are coming to us and saying, ‘well, that didn’t work.’ There seems to be a new level of commitment to do first things first. We have always believed that six sigma is great, but with six sigma, you’re working with little bits, and you have big bits in lean. Do the big bits in lean. We have a lot fewer people coming to us looking for six sigma people.”

            And for job-seekers, he urges, “Make sure that when you talk to these folks (who have a position open), make sure they understand the pitfalls. Make sure they are prepared for something less than instant gratification. I’d be spending a lot of time evaluating the depth of commitment of the people who are talking to me.”


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