Colonel Jyuji Hewitt: Plant on the Front Lines

Colonel Jyuji Hewitt: Plant on the Front Lines

Colonel Jyuji Hewitt is commander of McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in southeastern Oklahoma, which manufactures nearly every non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal.

I'm actually the counterculture for many of you. I'm in the organization that many of you are trying to break away from. There are a lot of things I do in my business that you probably do, too. And that's a large part of what this RealTime seminar is all about.

I'm a soldier. It's an unusual thing for me to come and talk about leadership and management, although that's what people do in the military. The way I get my assignments and the way I got to be in command of McAlester is very different than the way you do. I go through the process of a board. They go through my file, compared to the other people, and get assigned competitively.

When I took command, it was my job to take this organization, assess where it's at, and take it where it needs to go. A normal command is two years. I requested three years because I wanted my family to be in one place for awhile.

I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Charles Fishman. Since that article was run, the next thing I know, we're aired on NPR. After NPR, Nightline came in. CBS. MSNBC. Local broadcast. This is a culture change for a munitions plant that's been in operation for 60 years. Some people thought it was absolutely wrong to get that sort of publicity. They didn't know want people to know where we're at. They didn't want terrorists to know. But if you go online, you can get all sorts of information about McAlester. Let's tell our story.

I want to tell the story about our workforce, because that's what this is all about. My job is really easy. We start with a set of values. In the military we have a set of values. And you can see those values at work right here. You also hear some other words, like family.

When I took command of the factory, the week before, there had been an accident. That had been the first accident in 30 years. That's a generation of workers. It shocked the workplace. My job was to rebuild that trust and do the investigation so it doesn't happen again. Then September 2001 comes around. When I was first heard about the planes, I told our workforce they're going after the economic and governmental centers of our nation. I had to address the workforce about the situation with fear in their eyes. Ladies and gentlemen, your nation needs you now more than it ever did. Let's go ahead and support our nation by doing what we do best -- making munitions for our war fighters.

What do I do in the short period of time I have: three years? You need to have vision. You have to make munitions. And you need to have a program to bring in some new modes of management like lean manufacturing.

Question: How exactly did you rebuild trust after the accident?

Hewitt: You have to share with the workforce the accident that had happened. We had a formal board of inquiry, and we shared the results of that and told them what we would do so it never happened again. For me, safety is No. 1. Polly said something about quality. Every bomb has to go off. If a pilot drops a bomb and it doesn't go off, that pilot has to go back in. I want my workforce to understand that what they're doing has a direct link.

Question: How are you able to gain the trust and respect of nonmilitary personnel where they know that you're only there for a short time?

Hewitt: You need to get them to understand where they need to go. The workforce understands the need to be efficient and safe. We need to put out a quality product because if we can't, there's someone out there who thinks they can.

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