• Productivity: An Interview with Alvin Voll

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    Excerpt, an Interview with Alvin Voll, Director of Product Development at Raleigh Razor Corporation.

    “What I have found in my work is that I am like the parent, and the products I help to produce are like my children. My goal is to protect and raise those children so that they become good dependable contributing members of society, doing what they were raised to do when they are on their own out there in public.”

    “I see. So, you see yourself as responsible for raising products like a father, essentially.”

    “Like a father, or a mother, if you prefer. Mothers are usually the better parent, in my opinion.”

    “Is that something you learned in business school?”

    “No, from personal experience.”

    “Ah- your mother raised you a little better than your father did as you grew up?”

    “Well, my father didn’t believe in raising children. He was an artist, and he was very focused on his work.”

    “That is sad to hear, and, in some ways does clarify why you might take the approach you do in business. So your mother provided the nurturing and discipline in your home?”

    “Well, actually the nanny did. Our mother left us when we were very young, and my father acquired a nanny so he wouldn’t have to spend his working hours watching us. The nanny, Nina as we called her, was really the one always around, feeding and dressing and taking care of us- at least until my brother and I turned eight, when she stole a case of our fine silver and disappeared one day. On my father’s birthday, I recall. She left him a birthday card even. So sweet of her. But the card made my father cry, so I knew she wrote something incredible to him that really touched him, and my brother Paul and I remembered that moment, of our father crying over that card, as what it must be like to have a mother. Dad’s tears showed us what having a mom must be like. And from that, I came to understand the power a mother possesses.”

    “But she stole some of your family valuables.”

    “As far as I knew, she also stole our hearts.”

    “Was this story the inspiration for your philosophy on business production? I could see how you would embrace an approach opposite of what you must have experienced growing up.”

    “Hardly. I arrived at this philosophy after watching a Nova program on lions and their pride. Watching that program, I heard the term ‘pride’ related to lions and members of a family, and I thought, why can’t we have that here? Pride in our products. A pride is a family, so our products were the children that needed to be raised in our family, and I was employed to develop them, so it just clicked: I am a mother here- a mother of these children. I am responsible for raising them.”

    “Your products have extremely short development cycles. Minimal moving parts and assembly. How do you ‘raise’ a razor?”

    “Well, with lots of compassion. And yet firm discipline. You can’t help them to become what they were meant to be if you don’t continually remind them of what they are.”

    “But machines are putting them together and packaging them mostly.”

    “This is true, but in my line of work, and in my line of thinking, these machines are people too, part of the family, the pride of production. Uncles, aunts, step-sisters. I think you get what I mean. They help make the items that we work so hard to make here.”

    “How do your colleagues feel about your approach to production?”

    “Them? What do they know? They spend most of their time staring at reports and graphs and charts of statistics and performance metrics. They are absolute robots when it comes to this stuff. Loons. I am not sure what most of them are doing here, working here. They are unappreciative of what I am trying to do here. and create a bad working environment on the floor, what with their numbers, goals, timetables, quality measures. You got to raise a kid day by day, being there for them when they need you, listening- certainly being stern when you need to be- but understanding them as well, even if you are having a mental breakdown and throwing pots and pans and the boys are hiding out behind the house in the tool shed. You have to meet them half way and let them also grow sometimes at their own pace.”

    “Your razor production time on your main line, from part collection and coordination to assembly and packaging, automated, is 12 minutes.”

    “I am glad you understand the pressure we- I- feel as a parent here, doing my best to send a good one out into the world. There is never enough time to equip your loved ones for life. You always forget to do something, to say something, that one day down the line you remember and fret about, wishing you had gifted your creation with that critical insight, that critical lesson.”

    “Do you have any children of your own?”

    “Are you kidding? You heard how I grew up as a boy. Why would I do that to myself- or that kid? I can’t think of a worse idea for my life.”

    “I see. Well, Alvin, thank you for your time. It has been most enlightening.”

    “My pleasure. remember- it’s all about family.”

    “Umm, I’m sorry- I am mysophobic, and cannot shake your hand.”

    “Very well. Can I get this parking slip validated up front.”

    “I’m sorry. I have no idea.”

    “Thank you.”

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    A web programmer by day, I somehow still spend a lot of time thinking about relationships, God, and the significance of grace and love in daily events. I am old school in the sense that I believe in the reality of sin, and in the need of each human heart for deliverance to the Divine. I am one of those who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that you can find most answers to life's pressing issues in Him and His Word, the Bible. I ain't perfect, and a lot of the time I ain't good, but by God's grace and kindness, I am forgiven and free.

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