Engineering's 'Mr. Speaker'

By: 
March 06, 1995

Framingham, MA -In 1987, a special auditing team from Nissan Motors visited the Bose Corp. manufacturing facilities on a follow-up inspection tour. The Japanese company was delighted with Bose sound-system technology, and wanted to install the systems in their new cars. But, in a special test, they had found two defective systems in 3,000 cars.

That discovery had prompted an inspection tour six months earlier in which Nissan claimed to have uncovered 78 problems with Bose manufacturing procedures. Convinced that Bose could not correct the problems, Nissan had pushed for a licensing agreement rather than have Bose build the systems itself. But Bose engineers had a different idea, and invited Nissan back for this reinspection. The auditing team walked into the Bose building certain the company could not have corrected the problems.

They came. They saw. They were conquered.

Bose engineers handed the Nissan team thick folders documenting how they had corrected the alleged deficiences-and improvements they had made in procedures Nissan had not cited.

"They couldn't believe we reacted so fast," recalls Dr. Amar Bose, company founder, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, and acoustics-technology legend. "And they were delighted we had done more than they had originally requested."

Wounded pride. Unbeknownst to them, the Nissan team had challenged something important at Bose Corp: the company's perception of itself as a world-class manufacturer. But rather than sulk, the engineering team looked on the Nissan audit as a blessing-and as the impetus for a major overhaul of their manufacturing operation and systems. "We respected the audit team, so we were open to their suggestions," says Warren Harkness, Bose director of Total Quality. "Besides, this was a matter of pride."

In many circles-not to mention living rooms and cars-Bose sound systems are synonomous with quality. Its reputation has catapulted the company to the top echelons of the acoustics industry, and has made Bose the leading seller of component audio systems in the U.S. and Japan. Coupling its noise-cancellation technology used by the aerospace industry, and its various speaker and sound systems, the company has been averaging about 20% growth per year. Latest figures show about $500 million in annual sales worldwide.

With sales results like that, Bose certainly has the ear of a lot of consumers. But what of the industry gurus? They seem impressed too:

Consumer Reports magazine gave the company's 301 Series III system its highest overall score in "Guide to the Gear."

  • Emily Dimaggio-Chester, membership and networking director for the Cambridge, MA-based Center for Quality Management, says the company has taken its quality efforts beyond manufacturing and into the service and sales area, designing quality courses and publishing studies for other Center members.

  • Independent audio expert Daniel Kumin, who writes for several stereo publications, states the company's position within the industry simply: "The quality of Bose parts, manufacturing, and ergonomic design are first-class because the company has great engineering."

And that engineering excellence starts at the top.

"Dr. Bose has enormous technical breadth and creativity, and is a critical thinker at a level I've never seen before," says Richard Paynting, Bose

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