Giving our leaders facts about the competitive value of maintenance

July 10, 2008
Contributing Editor Joel Leonard provides our leaders within the Beltway with facts about the competitive advantage that maintenance and reliability can provide for organizations in the United States.

How can U.S. companies compete in a global marketplace when the rest of the world is quickly catching up to the United States’ enterprising advantages? How can businesses succeed when the majority of our skilled workforce is entering retirement age?

These are some of the questions that our nation’s leaders are now grappling with as we move forward in the 21st century. Recently, Deborah Van Opstal, vice president of the Council on Competitiveness (, thanked me for providing leaders within the Beltway with an “Aha!” moment about the competitive advantage that maintenance and reliability can provide for organizations in the United States.

This time, the visit to Washington, D.C., was a dream trip. Council on Competitiveness members and Sens. Max Baucus and Richard Lugar convened a briefing on Capitol Hill to address how the United States can achieve a competitive advantage in the global skills race. The briefing was held in conjunction with the release of the Council’s latest report, “Thrive. The Skills Imperative” (, calling for a national agenda to bolster U.S. workforce skills and ensure a rising standard of living for all Americans. This time I was invited for my mouth, not just my ears.

To industry, the maintenance and skills crises might be old news, however, as I learned firsthand, D.C. politicians are involved in so many issues that they’re detached from advances made in the maintenance and reliability sector. It was a privilege and honor to inform them of the opportunities and contributions maintenance can provide. Believe it or not, they played the “Maintenance Crisis Song” and PowerPoint presentation on Capitol Hill. Dozens of people walked by, and I’m sure they were wondering what was happening in our chamber.

Later, we had the opportunity to meet privately with some senators. Have you ever had a “Forrest Gump” moment? If you’ve seen the movie, you probably remember the scene where Forrest met President John Kennedy and, upon shaking his hand, exclaimed, “I gotta pee.” Well, that popped into my mind when we had the opportunity to meet JFK’s youngest brother, Sen. Ted Kennedy, on April 30. My mind was racing in so many directions because I was so nervous. Normally, I don’t get star-struck, but this was an American legend and he had scheduled 30 minutes of time in his office for those of us on the committee. That was two weeks before we heard the news about his brain tumor. I cherish those moments even more now, and pray for him and his family after hearing about his diagnosis.

During the meeting, I asked Kennedy why Harvard and MIT MBA programs aren’t teaching the value of maintenance. At first he was confused, but later he got the point that if properly managed, business can convert maintenance, which is commonly perceived as a necessary evil, into a competitive advantage.

I met with Sen. Richard Burr and with staff members from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s and Sen. Harry Reid’s offices. In addition, there were representatives from Sens. Obama, Clinton, McCain and numerous other Congressional leaders in the briefing.

I also had the opportunity to attend the American Competitiveness Summit in Chicago, sponsored by the Department of Commerce. During this event, I met with Treasury Secretary Paulson, Secretary of Commerce Gutierrez, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, President of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and former Michigan Gov. John Engler, and numerous other dignitaries including Harvard MBA professor and best-selling business book author Dr. Michael Porter. I also challenged Dr. Porter as to why the value of maintenance isn’t taught in Harvard MBA classes. He took my question under advisement and perhaps will take that concept back to other educators at Harvard.

Next month, I’ll outline more steps our nation can take to advance our competitive advantage and profit from reliability and maintenance performance.

If you would like to see the briefing on Capitol Hill, visit, and as always, please contact me if you have any questions or suggestions.

E-mail Contributing Editor Joel Leonard at [email protected].

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