Ace(s) in the Hole

Joe Colonna’s fine article on the Shadow Supply Chain reminds me that it is time to pay homage to three of my heroes.

After graduating from the University of Miami, I began my formal supply chain career in 1972 as a unit manager at Baptist Hospital in Miami. After three years at the hospital, I got an opportunity to actually manage something, specifically, the second and third floors of the hospital. I was responsible for all “non-clinical” functions, which meant I was in charge of managing all the supplies and scheduling the nurses.

That’s right, I said scheduling the nurses. Here’s my advice about that: If you have that responsibility and you can find a good workforce optimization tool, buy it … along with a prayer book.

My duties taught me lifetime lessons about the supply chain. Six years before Charles E. Housley wrote his revolutionary book, Hospital Material Management, I was doing many of the things he would advocate. I established PAR levels, replenished supplies daily, eliminated unneeded items, reconciled patient charge activity every 24 hours and even established official inventories in Labor and Delivery (2nd floor) and Surgery (3rd floor).

I was rewarded in 1973 by being named director of Central Processing and Distribution, which meant I was responsible for all aspects of the supply chain except purchasing and the warehouse. I had made it; I was in the captain’s chair on the Starship Enterprise.

Immediately I learned the value of Montgomery Scott. You remember Scotty, the chief engineer and the only person on “Star Trek” wearing a red shirt who didn’t have to worry about getting killed. In nearly every episode, Scotty seemed to do the impossible, and never more so than in “Start Trek III, the Search for Spock,” when he had to get the badly damaged Enterprise functioning in time to try to rescue Kirk’s son David and Lt. Saavik (and, ultimately, Mr. Spock) from a disintegrating planet named Genesis:

James T. Kirk: “How much refit time before we can take her out again?”

Montgomery Scott: “Eight weeks, sir, (Kirk opens his mouth) but ye don’t have eight weeks, so I’ll do it for ye in two.”

Kirk: “Mr. Scott, have you always multiplied your repair estimates by a factor of four?”

Scott: “Certainly, sir. How else can I keep my reputation as a miracle worker?”

Kirk: “Your reputation is secure, Scotty.”

For me, Scotty came in the persons of Robert Collier (Baptist of Miami), Todd Rupert (Timken Mercy and Metro Health) and Joe Powers (Finley Hospital). While I was fortunate to work with many great folks over the years, no one was able to work miracles like these three people. They all shared several traits:

They all were front line supervisors who worked for a living (as opposed to sitting in the captain’s chair.

  • None of them was formally educated.
  • Each of them knew where to locate anything – legally or otherwise – within the hospital.

There was no crisis that I couldn’t instantly resolve by picking up the phone and calling them. Their computer systems were their eyes, ears and brains, and the applications they devised to solve difficult situations were swift, succinct and always effective.

As time has gone by in my career, science seems to be replacing art in the workplace. The MBA has replaced OJT; regression analysis has replaced “Let’s figure this out.” Advanced algorithms have replaced, “Git ’er done.”

Or have they?

No one who follows “Star Trek” will disagree with the fact that Geordi La Forge, the chief engineer of the Enterprise D on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” had far more technology and sophisticated tools than did his predecessor Montgomery Scott 200 years before.

But he did share a common heritage, and a common operating methodology prevailed. Whenever things got bad – really bad – Captain Jean-Luc Picard would convene his team of heroes – his Aces in the Hole – solicit their input, agree on a course of action and send them forth with his iconic directive, “Make it so.”

You see, the lesson we should all learn is this: People make technology work; people make organizations work; good people, working together, create great organizations.

Take a moment. Look around. How many Scottys do you have working in your shop?

Maybe you should thank them for their efforts and let them know that you know they are miracle workers. You wouldn’t be in the captain’s chair long of it weren’t for them. Even Kirk was smart enough to realize that.

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One Response to Ace(s) in the Hole

  1. Steven Smith says:

    Great article Fred; it made me get out of my office to go and personally thank a few mircle workers in my shop!