Crossing the finish line!

Lessons learned from my first triathlon that applies to lean and business.

Chicago Triathlon 2011


Originally I was going to call this piece “Talent vs. Persistence” meaning you can have talent (in this case athletic ability) or persistence. I don’t possess the required athletic ability to be a competitive racer; but I can be persistent. In this situation persistence paid off for me. Sometimes in our business life we don’t have the requisite talents that are needed to get the job done; persistence can be our ally. I knew I wasn’t trying to set any records, but I did have two goals in mind.


Since this was my first triathlon, I had two goals: 1) to finish, and, 2) cause no harm to other participants (I didn’t want to get in their way, cause a pile up on the bikes, etc.). Setting goals in business seems common place, but many organizations can’t even tell you what their top goals are for the year; let alone their strategic initiatives. Short-term goals during my workouts included deciding how far to swim, bike or run. I also set some stretch goals of going farther than I have before (I called them PBs for Personal Best). Just getting to the gym some days exceeded my expectation.


One of the things that really helped me keep moving forward is when both spectators and volunteers along the route would say things like “great job” or “keep going.” These people didn’t know me, but they encouraged me anyway. How many times in business do we hear people say “you can’t do that” or “this can’t be done”? You don’t get much support from people who actually know you. What would it be like if your coworkers said things that gave you inspiration instead of things that damper your spirit?

Reward & Recognition

As you approach the finish line you crossover a sensor that reads your chip that tracks your time and information and the announcer broadcasts your name and hometown. They also take your photo and give you a medal; great acknowledgement of your accomplishment! For a personal reward, we went out for dinner to our favorite deep dish pizza place Lou Malnati’s for a spectacular meal that was a real treat (next time you’re in Chicago you have to go to Lou’s).

Have a goal, be persistent, encourage others and celebrate your success! – Tony

P.S. If you ever consider doing a triathlon, I would highly recommend the Chicago Triathlon which is the world’s largest with over 8,000 participants. The organizers and volunteers do an incredible job from start to finish. Interestingly, Toyota is one of the event sponsors (what a coincidence with “lean” or TPS).

With all of the recent talk about the United States’ credit rating downgrade, you may not have remembered that Toyota’s credit rating was downgraded back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. During this period Moody’s downgraded Japan’s bond rating from AAA to AA1. They in-turn downgraded Toyota’s long-term bond rating. The startling part is why.

Hiroshi Okuda

Regarding Toyota’s lowered rating, the explanation that Moody’s offered was this: “Toyota is fixated on lifetime employment. Maintaining this system poses a risk to the future operations of the company.”

Toyota’s then President Hiroshi Okuda asked “A corporate bond rating is the ability to repay borrowed money, isn’t it? Toyota can pay all its bills back tomorrow. In the short-term, we keep excess cash on hand rather than turn to money management techniques so we’ll have liquidity just in case. If we can repay everything tomorrow, it goes without saying that we are triple-A.”(1)

Lifetime employment is a tenant of the Toyota Production System (TPS). It allows them to develop employees. Long-term employment shows emphatically the ethos of “Respect for People.” It is a little ironic that American companies tend to think having lifetime employees is a liability. Just think about all the knowledge that Toyota has built up over the years, the “Silent Knowledge” or things that haven’t been written down or even put into words. This allows them to continue to build on lessons learned and best practices. I had one client explain it to me this way, he said “We don’t have employees with 30 total years of experience; unfortunately we have employees with one year of experience 30 years in a row.”

While we may not fully understand the total impact of Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade the US Governments ability to repay its debts, as lean practitioners we do know the value of “Respect for People.”

By the way, Moody’s and Fitch did not lower the US Governments rating (yet).

P.S. What happens if S&P and Moody’s merge? We may all be Moody & Poor. (Just a laugh)


(1)   The Toyota Leaders: An Executive Guide – Masaaki Sato

5th Anniversary from 5S Supply on Vimeo.

5S Supply’s 5th Anniversary message.

We’re celebrating our 5th Anniversary and want to share our joy with you. We have many special events planned this month including free shipping (UPS Ground for orders over $250 – some restrictions apply), a free webinar Total Productive Maintenance Blitz, and many TPM items on sale! We invite you to stop by often to see what’s happing this month at 5S Supply.