The College of Business

Recollections From The Early Days Of The Baldrige Award

Dr. Curt Reimann

During his Fall 1998 visit, Dr. Reimann was interviewed by Dean Bell. The topics discussed included: the inception of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA), personal responsibility for administering the MBNQA, interaction with other leaders in quality movement, various companies associated with the MBNQA, the criteria, success of the MBNQA and other awards that have used the MBNQA as a model.

The National Bureau of Standards (now called National Institute for Standards and Technology), where Dr Reimann was Deputy Director of the National Measurement Laboratory, had always had a responsibility of providing support for technical quality assurance in the U.S. With the growing concerns in the U.S. about quality, quality control and quality management in the 80’s, the Bureau began broadening its scope of quality involvement. When the recommendation for a National Quality Award emerged, a division of the Bureau, led by Dr. Reimann, was given the responsibility of coordinating a response to the pending legislation.

The legislation for the National Quality Award passed in August 1987, as the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, named after the Secretary of Commerce who had supported the award but had recently died in a tragic horse riding accident. Mr. William Verity, the new Secretary of Commerce, showed much personal interest in the Award and urged that the award to be implemented as soon as possible. During this exciting time many became interested and pledged their assistance. Dr. Reimann’s typical day began around 4:00 a.m. and usually lasted into the evening.

During the creation of the Award, Dr. Reimann made an attempt to involve quality leaders of the different camps and keep them informed. He received mixed reactions from quality leaders such as Dr. Deming, Dr. Juran, and Mr. Crosby. Dr. Reimann remembers Dr. Deming's very skeptical view toward a National Quality Award in the United States. He once remarked to Dr. Reimann that, “no organization in the country deserves an award and no one could judge it even if the level of quality were there.” The relationship between the two in private was friendly and cordial but in public Dr. Deming would criticize the Award. Dr. Reimann states, “I always found that to be a strange combination, to be “roughed up” and then being treated almost as a personal friend, all within a period of about a half an hour.”

Mr. Crosby was somewhat supportive of the idea but was strictly opposed to the self-nomination of organizations. He believed that organizations should be nominated by customers and never really overcame this objection. Dr. Reimann understood Mr. Crosby’s point but realized that companies differ too greatly to be customer nominated. Some organizations have millions of customers while others have few or even only one. Concerning Dr. Juran, Dr. Reimann states, “Dr. Juran was immediately cordial, helpful in every way, analytical and wanted to be used as a sounding board where ever possible. I could see his personal interest was very great so we designated him as one of the first people that we were going to have on our Board of Overseers which is the oversight organization for the Award.” Though there was not overwhelming support from all quality leaders, Dr. Reimann recalled the excellent support he received from the business leaders and many practitioners who volunteered to serve as examiners for the Award.

Dr. Reimann firmly believed that non-prescriptive criteria was the way to go. “We felt that the practices and tools and techniques would come and go. We were concerned that organizations have ways, effective ways, and by effective we mean can demonstrate the effectiveness, and should have a variety of ways to improve products and services. We did not believe the criteria should reflect that applicants should feel compelled to use "prescribed" tools and techniques."

Dr. Reimann is very happy with the way the MBNQA has evolved--with its coverage now extended to the important sectors of healthcare and education—as well as its outlook for the future. "The overall Award, in terms of where it has gone, into all kinds of text books, through the states and around the world, certainly exceeds my expectations.” He is also pleased with the number and performance of the organizations that use the MBNQA as a model and says, “the creation of the state awards was a natural follow on. The state programs have all been built by energetic local people. It wasn’t people looking to Washington to be told what to do. The energy in the network of the Tennessee Quality Award, for example, is enormous; no energy like that ever comes from 500 miles away with a directive from the government. It has got to be local energy.”