Winner: Northwest Center, Seattle
When the Northwest Center wanted to lean up its operations, it didn’t just hire a consultant. It brought in Masaaki Imai, known as the father of the philosophy of kaizen, which focuses on the concept of continual improvement. It also invited business leaders from around the region to join in. That mixture of business thinking and social enterprise characterizes the Northwest Center, which provides training and employment for the developmentally disabled. Results are showing up on the business side, through Electronetics, an Everett contract manufacturer that has doubled its profit during the past two years, and the Northwest Center Assembly and Packaging division, which has tripled revenue in the same period.
The better the business side does, the more Northwest Center can help its clients in finding meaningful employment and to operate its programs in the community. Lean is part of that; by identifying ways to streamline operations and boost efficiency, Northwest Center adds production capacity without having to add infrastructure. The organization also makes a point of designing the work to incorporate the abilities of its employees. The result, says CEO Tom Everill: “Innovative methods have enabled us to increase the employment of people that previously had severe challenges finding and maintaining jobs.”