Hello, my name is David Fried and this is my Six Sigma story.
The Early Years
Before Six Sigma I was a dreamer and wanderer. Academically, personally, and professionally. I only did well in high school to remain eligible for sports (swimming, wrestling, soccer, and baseball). I enjoyed my film classes while struggling with my final year of math.
My time out of school was mostly spent working in my family’s dry cleaning business (the only place where, in the heat of summer, it’s cooler outside than inside). I learned a lot about the service industry and small business while, at the same time, was able to make room for my other interests. However, deep in my heart, I knew that dry cleaning was not for me.
While working in the dry cleaning business, I would often feel underutilized. I was always looking for more responsibilities (which just wasn’t there). At the end of each day, I was left with uncertainty about my future. From time-to-time, these feelings would paralyze my objectivity, bias my thinking and diminish my inner spirit.
Certainly, this on-going storm of uncertainty was making me less decisive about where I should go next and what I should do. So many times I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when she was caught up in the big tornado with everything flying around her. My anxiety about life was starting to overwhelm me.
Fortunately, I could see that I was getting pulled deeper and deeper into a downward spiral of forces, like uncertainty, risk and a seeming lack of control. I could see that my aspirations of success and happiness were quickly receding into the sunset. Each time I failed to produce answers to my driving questions, I would just rationalize my station in life by saying: “I should consider myself lucky – I have a decent paying job with good security – more than many people can say.”
After a few cycles of such self-defeating struggle, I finally started looking outside my normal comfort zone. I started searching for a fertile patch of ground that would grow a meaningful and quality way of life. So, I began to seriously think about the military and the possibilities of serving our nation. In this role, I could get some good training, build some relationships, pick up a specialization and learn some solid leadership skills. The more I thought about it, the more appealing it became.
Joining the Navy
After some engaging discussions with the United States Navy, they offered me a way to stay in the water (the source of all my favorite sports) while earning money and securing my future. Basically, this would allow me to take on some new skills and then latter go on to college. So, I signed the papers and headed off to be an Interior Communications Electrician and Diver.
I loved Navy life. We fit like two peas in a pod. Unfortunately, all the unknown knee damage from my school years started showing through. The running, marching and standing that comes with military service, quickly wore away what was left of my cartilage. Suddenly and unexpectedly, it was becoming progressively harder to walk and the pain was staring to show on my face and in my voice.
After a few days of hobbling around; and against my objections, the Chief ordered me to the infirmary. As the story goes, the doctor checked me out, did some tests and determined I was physically unfit for service. Needless to say, I was devastated. No, I was beyond devastated. This was perhaps the worst news of my life.
I finally found a path to fulfillment, happiness and contribution in the Navy, but then, right before my eyes, it evaporated almost overnight. As one might surmise, the diagnosis and medical discharge shook me to the core. It really twisted my mind, broke my heart and evaporated my spirit. For the first time in my life, I felt hopeless.
Though short, my time in the Navy was well spend and later proved to be highly valuable on a personal and professional level. For example, the Navy taught me how to focus on the mission, as well as the power of resilience and perseverance. I also learned the true meaning of honor and duty – not as words, but as actions.
Perhaps most of all, the Navy taught me the importance of being able to improvise, adapt and overcome – no matter how dark things might seem. In short, they taught me that there is a victorious person down inside of me, just waiting for me to let him out and bring glory to my country, my family and my life. Well, I did just that. I discovered my real self; and found he was a winner.
These super-values and beliefs continue to pay me real-world dividends to this day. Little did I know (at that time), my Navy experiences and “lessons learned” had indirectly prepared me to go down a new path in life – a way that would ultimately allow me to accomplish some extraordinary things. They gave me the tools to build a strong foundation upon which I could construct anything my mind could imagine.
Breaking the Barrier
As my story goes, I returned home to Arizona and underwent additional medical treatments. I vowed not to retreat or be defeated. Rather, I took the mindset that I would triumph over my limitations.
I spent a great deal of time every day rehabilitating my knees. During this downtime, I was thinking about where my life should be headed. Should I go back to college, though many thought it wasn’t for me? Should I pursue a trade? Of course, the questions were many and the answers were few.
Recall that I really loved athletics coaching and personal exercising. By combining these passions, I was able to hire on as a personal trainer at a local chain of gyms. I helped individuals overcome double knee replacement surgery, severe gout, shoulder injuries, or train for marathons and triathlons. Things were finally starting to come together.
As fate would have it, I met my future bride on the job. Her name is Melissa and she knocked my socks off (figurative speaking that is). After a few brief months of dating, this wonderful and incredible lady finally agreed to marry me. To this day, I still believe I got the better part of the deal, although she says it’s the other way around. Perhaps that’s the real key to our deep and committed relationship.
Well, after a dozen years of marriage and four beautiful children, she is still standing beside me, more resolute than ever. Melissa has supported my goals and pushed me to achieve more than I believed possible.
Meanwhile, back to my career. By this time, many people stopped hiring personal trainers and the owners sold the business. Guess what? My job went down the tubes as well. So, the handwriting was on the wall – I needed to move on. Of course, it didn’t require a rocket scientist to figure that out.
Then one day out of the blue, I heard that one of the former gym owners was taking the membership model and applying it to massage therapy, but in a new company with a new philosophy. After checking things out, it looked to be real, so I hired on; and when offered the opportunity, I jumped on the job. This was my kind of thing – right up my alley. This job was a hand-in-glove fit.
I quickly rose through the ranks and in less than a year was promoted from Assistant Manager to Assistant Director of Training and then moved to the corporate office. At the same time, I was attending school for a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Turned out that my college training was useful for understanding the functions a company; and my management really liked seeing that kind of awareness among its managers.
Unfortunately, my meteoric climb through the company ranks stalled out. Simply stated, my business degree did not separate me from my coworkers as I thought it would. Its long been said there’s a silver lining in every cloud; and that turned out to be the case. During this crisis, it occurred to me that my company did not have a quality system to control and reduce defects. Essentially, the company’s core processes (internal and external) were out of control. Suddenly, opportunity was knocking at my door, but I would have to move quickly. There was no time to let the grass grow under my feet.
Preparing for Change
It was about this time that my father-in-law (a former Vietnam-Era Marine Corps Infantry Captain) became a significant driving force in my life. Between our good-natured jokes, Mike and I quickly bonded over a mutual love of cars and my fascination with business improvement. It was then he introduced me to Six Sigma.
Much like many others, I would occasionally hear about Six Sigma, but really didn’t know much about it. My initial impression from business school was that Six Sigma produced some big successes in companies like General Electric, DuPont and Ford Motor Company, but did little to nothing for mid-sized and small businesses. Wow, was I wrong about that. The more I come to learn about Six Sigma, the more I began to realize it was a better way of doing business, not just reducing defects. Suddenly, it all started making sense.
Another one of my tragic misunderstandings about Six Sigma is that it was designed for the manufacturing industry. However, Mike was very quick to correct me on this point. He showed me quite a few instances where Six Sigma had been successfully leveraged to improve many types of businesses – even the military was using it to realize some big benefits. So this really started me to thinking. If I could become a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, I would be able to get into an expanding industry, gain some in-demand skills, help my company, bring about greater job satisfaction, take on additional responsibility and most importantly, improve my family’s quality of life.
Given that my interest was now piqued, I started discussing how Six Sigma could be used by my employer to improve quality and reduce costs at the same time. The more I talked and the more data they saw, the more interested they became.
Of course, all of this spelled “opportunity” for me. With this as a backdrop, I started exploring ways to become a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. About that time, Mike had just finished creating his online version of Black Belt training called “MindPro.” So I signed up and started digging into the program. At first, I had some doubts because it was filled with statistics (not one of my stronger assets). However, the MindPro training system made it so easy, I breezed right through. In fact, I became one of first Black Belts to be fully trained and certified using the online MindPro system.
Well, I know what you must be thinking right now: “Of course it was a breeze, you had the top Six Sigma guy in the world behind you to provide guidance and support.” Before drawing that conclusion, remember one thing – he was a Marine, cattle rancher, rodeo cowboy and deputy sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona. I can tell you from personal experience, his philosophy is a far cry from coddling people.
Essentially, he told me to take the training and I would either swim or sink on my own merits. I was also coldly informed that his performance expectations of me would be much higher than normal because he didn’t want a son-in-law that was just “good” – he expected me to be among the best. So, in some ways my connection to him was a blessing, but in most others, it made for a tough field to plow.
Starting the Journey
After achieving my Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Certification, I started moving it into my company, but did so on a project-by-project basis. Though I was the only one in the company using Six Sigma, I was able to start by implementing the system into the fabric of my own work, which reached into the other departments, ultimately catching the attention of the CEO. After reviewing my work, I got the thumbs-up to move Six Sigma forward within the company. Now I had the skill set that stood above my peers, not the other way around. Maybe I’m gloating here a little, but victory sure is sweet.
With a green light in front of me, I started redesigning of all the company’s quality data system and critical business metric reports. I also began implementing the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (DMAIC) improvement process. In short, I started peppering the organization with the idea that Six Sigma is not a theory – it can actually produce tangible value added results. For the doubters in the company, I proved it – one success at a time. Suddenly, I was in the lime light and was considered to be on the “fast track.” I was now an agent of change. After each cycle of success, I got promoted. I was starting to live out my core values.
Over time, I lead the team that designed some of our operations software. By the end of 2013, this project will have grossed $50M to the bottom line. While this may seem to be small in the world of big company Six Sigma, it rattled the foundations of a company with fewer than 100 employees – that kind of money was almost embarrassingly huge. Needless to say, the owners started drawing me closer to the inner circle of power.
My vertical growth in the company continued at an accelerated pace. In the interim, I went through Master Black Belt training and was subsequently certified. Interestingly, it wasn’t long until other companies attempted to recruit me. In particular, one offer was so generous, I couldn’t resist. So I moved my family to Seattle and I am now working as a Black Belt trainer in an international manufacturing company. Truly, dreams come true.
Six Sigma has not only provided an avenue for my professional growth, but has also changed the way I approach many of life’s challenges. Melissa and I now use Six Sigma principles to help guide our personal and family life. We’ve even used Six Sigma to map the needs of our family, eliminate non-value-adding-activities, and maximize our income.
Following the birth of our fourth daughter, my wife used Six Sigma knowledge to obtain a job after being a stay-at-home-mom for five years. We are even passing along some of the key principles of Six Sigma to our daughters – every day. We now believe it’s critical that our young people be able to envision long-term plans while executing short-term actions – all of which are connected in a synergistic way. In summary, I am most grateful for the mentors in my life and am here to serve others on their path toward a Six Sigma goal.
Continuing the Charge
Beyond question, Six Sigma has made a bright future for me. The career possibilities are now virtually limitless. All of this because I took the time to learn the proven Six Sigma system. I now have the experience and confidence to apply Six Sigma in any scenario while leading successful work teams – backed up by the leadership skills gained in the Navy.
Soon, I will be graduating with a Ph.D. My plans are to merge this knowledge with Six Sigma to further expand the applications in the world. It’s a never ending cycle of personal improvement and that’s why Six Sigma is more than a job, it’s a career; and likely a sound way of life. I was blessed to have made my encounter with Six Sigma. Because of the Navy and Six Sigma, I now believe I’m designing my own destiny. If you don’t design your own destiny, someone else will.
Business Phone: 480.515.0890
Business Email: Mikel.Harry@SS-MI.com
Copyright 2013 Dr. Mikel J. Harry, Ltd.