Mint Condition

Take a lesson in change from people who make change for a living. Philip Diehl and his colleagues at the U.S. Mint have transformed a clumsy bureaucracy into a fast-moving enterprise with great customer service and a cutting-edge presence on the Web.

Philip N. Diehl makes change — literally. As director of the United States Mint, he and his colleagues produce roughly 20 billion circulating coins per year — those nickels, dimes, and quarters that jingle in your pockets and feed parking meters. They also manufacture and sell collectibles, commemoratives, and bullion coins. With annual revenues of $2.5 billion, 2,200 employees, and four manufacturing plants, the Mint makes money by making money.


More important, Philip Diehl knows how to make change — deep-seated, far-reaching, this-feels-like-a-different-place kind of change. When he took charge of the Mint in September 1994, the agency lived up to every negative stereotype of a government bureaucracy. It was inefficient, slow moving, and utterly clueless about the standards of performance in the business world. One telling example: The Mint’s primary responsibility is to keep an adequate supply of coins in circulation on behalf of its main customer, the Federal Reserve System. But six years ago, no one at the Mint could tell you how many coins were in its inventory.

Not that many Mint officials thought it was a big problem. Diehl remembers his first visit to the agency’s headquarters, shortly after he was appointed by President Clinton. “I got to the building a little after 5 PM, and the hallways were empty. There wasn’t a person in sight. I actually called my wife and told her that there must have been a bomb scare; but there wasn’t. It was just business as usual at this sleepy, 201-year-old government agency that had lost its passion.”

Today, the Mint is exploding every stereotype of a government agency — and is setting a standard for performance and improvement that would be the envy of most private companies. Are you trying to improve customer relations? According to the influential American Customer Satisfaction Index, the Mint now ranks second only to Mercedes-Benz North America in customer satisfaction. Are you trying to create new lines of business from your existing people and assets? The Mint is turning its police force — the folks who, among other responsibilities, guard Fort Knox — into a revenue-generating unit that sells its services to other federal agencies and to foreign governments. It has also launched a new product line — the heralded 50 State Quarters Program — that is attracting a new generation of young collectors. What’s more, the Mint has gone “.com” in a big way — using the Web to generate customer feedback on coin designs and taking the “eBay approach” to sell collectibles online.


“We’ve fundamentally changed people’s expectations of our performance,” Diehl declares with obvious satisfaction. “We’ve changed the expectations of our stakeholders on Capitol Hill. We’ve changed the expectations of our employees in terms of how they’re treated. And we’ve changed our customers’ expectations of our performance. In the old days, we shipped fewer than 50% of our orders within eight weeks. Today, if it takes two weeks for customers to receive an order, they complain. When you change expectations, it’s very hard for an organization to relax and slip back into old patterns of behavior.”

Diehl, 48, whose nearly six-year tenure is drawing to a close, believes that the Mint’s transformation is comparable to some of the better-known change programs in a private sector. It’s hard to argue with his assessment. “I was sitting in my staff meeting yesterday afternoon,” he says. “I was listening to my director of marketing describe the huge demand for our products and all the things we’re doing on the Web. We’ve had three straight weeks of million-dollar sales on the Web, and I fully expect that we’ll soon have our first million-dollar day. I told the folks who were around that table, ‘If this were a company, a bunch of you would be IPO millionaires — just based on what we’ve done over the past six months.’ And that’s the remarkable thing about what’s happened. People have achieved this huge turnaround without any of the traditional incentives that companies use. Folks here get modest bonuses and free jackets. They’re not doing it for the money.”

Change Customer Expectations

Philip Diehl cuts an imposing figure. He’s tall, with a full head of jet-black hair, a confident voice, and a slight Texas twang. He arrived at the Mint with an impressive background: former chief of staff of the Senate Finance Committee and Lloyd Bentsen’s first chief of staff during Bentsen’s tenure as secretary of the treasury. In other words, Diehl could have spent his early days as director of the Mint making bold declarations, big promises, perhaps even dire threats. But as a change agent who is in it for the long term, he chose another path.


“I’ve always been in a hurry,” he says. “It’s sort of my personal style. But I didn’t rush the changes at the Mint. I started small, with a few initiatives here and there. Then as the envelope was pushed or as roadblocks appeared, problems were tackled as they cropped up and progress continued. Big changes have been made over the past six years, but they’ve been made incrementally. You do big things by doing lots of small things.”

Back in 1994, Diehl and his change-minded Mint colleagues could have taken their first small steps in just about any direction. Costs needed to be cut. Manufacturing plants needed to be streamlined. But Diehl’s first critical decision was to focus on changes that got to the heart of the Mint’s relationship with its customers. “One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned,” he says, “is that if you identify a problem that customers really care about, and then commit yourself publicly to fixing it — taking that risk is absolutely crucial to changing an organization. And if you fix the problem, you build an incredible sense of confidence that the organization can tackle the next problem.”

The customer-service problems that needed to be fixed were plentiful, especially on the collectibles side. Sure, the Mint manufactures dimes and quarters and guards the gold in Fort Knox. But it also runs a huge mail-order business — a government version of L.L. Bean or Lands’ End — with distributors in 45 foreign countries, that sells coins to more than 1.1 million collectors. Last year, that business alone generated revenue of more than $1 billion.


But the collectibles and commemoratives operation was big despite the Mint, not because of it. Its customer-service center in Lanham, Maryland was something out of Charles Dickens rather than Tom Peters. The center sat on the second floor of a converted warehouse. Customer-service reps were packed into a dismal space where the heat didn’t work in the winter and the air-conditioning failed in the summer. “It was god-awful,” says Diehl. To make matters worse, the center was housed in the same building as a U.S. Postal Service regional package-handling facility. Anytime postal workers stumbled on a strange-looking package, they’d issue a bomb scare, and the entire building would be evacuated. As a result, it wasn’t all that unusual for an incoming call to be answered not by a U.S. Mint customer-service rep (no matter how frostbitten or heat exhausted) but by an answering machine.

This dysfunctional environment produced depressing results. The Mint was fulfilling only half of its mail orders within eight weeks. The rest, jokes Kevin Cullinane, 48, assistant director for customer care, would take anywhere from eight weeks to infinity. “That type of performance would bankrupt a private company,” says Cullinane. But as a government agency, the Mint simply ignored the reality of its performance. “There was no sense of urgency about the problem,” says Diehl, “or even a sense that there was a problem.”

The situation got worse still. One reason that the Mint didn’t feel a sense of urgency about its frayed relationships with customers was that it was basically forbidden from interacting with them. Prior to the Clinton Administration, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) actively discouraged agencies from spending money on focus groups and surveys — the most rudimentary tools used by private companies to gauge their performance. “OMB never saw the benefit of having an agency talk to its customers,” Diehl says half-seriously. “In fact, it suspected that if you were talking with them, you were conspiring with them — to get Congress to do something that OMB didn’t want done.”


That paranoid mind-set created a bureaucratic maze in which every customer-survey instrument that the Mint wanted to use had to be approved by OMB — a review process that took, on average, six months. So Diehl hit on a simple idea: If the Mint couldn’t survey its customers officially, Diehl himself would do so unofficially. A few weeks after joining the Mint, he embarked on his own personal fact-finding mission. He went to coin conventions, talked with the hobby press, found situations in which he could interact with collectors. He shunned the ceremonial role that the director of the Mint usually played at these functions (collectors would line up to ask for Diehl’s autograph), and did what any smart politician (and change agent) would do: He worked the room.

Diehl asked questions, listened, and learned. He quickly identified the two most widely shared complaints about how the Mint did business. One, it took too long to get coins into its customers’ hands. Two, because the Mint required payment up front, it was holding onto its customers’ money for an unreasonably long time.

So Diehl and his colleagues got to work. A task force was formed to work on the two issues. Three months later, the group had made some progress. But Diehl knew that it would take more heat to get the fires going: “We had to put our reputation on the line.” He went public with his customer-service agenda. To a very active hobby press, the general media, and a nervous Mint staff, Diehl promised that from then on, the Mint would process 95% of its orders within six weeks. That was far from Diehl’s ultimate goal — but it was a big improvement over existing performance.


His gambit worked. The sense of urgency increased, and a sense of accountability to external customers kept the pressure up. “Our task force figured out how to meet the six-week goal,” Diehl says. “Then it set a standard for processing 95% of all orders within four weeks. Over the past five years, we’ve tightened the standard several more times. Today, we are delivering 95% of our products within two weeks, and we’re delivering some products within one.”

Those tangible achievements touched off a wave of customer-service improvements at the Mint. Incoming calls to the new customer-service center, located only four miles (but a world away) from the old facility in Lanham, get answered, on average, in 17.5 seconds rather than in 2 minutes. Letters about problems or complaints get handled within 3 days, rather than the 42 days it took 3 years ago. Returns or credits get issued in 3 days versus 31.

“Five years ago,” says Cullinane, “most people at the Mint, and especially the people in customer service, believed that their job was to protect the assets of the U.S. government. Before we send you your coins, we’re going to make sure that your check clears, that your credit is good. We really believed that customers were trying to defraud the government or take advantage of us. Today, we have gone to the other extreme: The customer is right. The customer is king. We want our service to rank with the best in business.”


It does. A few years into Diehl’s tenure, the Mint (along with several other agencies) got permission to be part of the American Customer Satisfaction Index, an annual poll conducted by the National Quality Research Center at the University of Michigan Business School. Talk about a turnaround. The Mint received the best scores of any agency included in the study. But based on its scores, the Mint would have ranked second in service among the 200 private-sector companies in the poll — just behind Mercedes-Benz North America and tied with H.J. Heinz.

Kevin Cullinane feels the changes personally. “The interest in our products is just phenomenal,” he says. “A few years ago, if I went to a party and said I worked at the Mint, someone might say, ‘How about those dollar bills?’ when, of course, we make coins. Today, when I tell someone I’m from the Mint, you can see the excitement: ‘What’s happening with the new quarters? I loved the one for New Jersey!’ “

Change How You Think about Change

The first wave of change at the Mint was impressive — but inadequate. It was certainly better to answer a customer call in 17 seconds than in 2 minutes. And it was better to deliver orders in two weeks than in eight weeks. But the challenges at the Mint ran deeper than what such technocratic fixes could solve. There were fundamental problems with strategy, marketing, even how the agency defined the business it was in. Put simply, the Mint had an identity crisis. Was it, essentially, a passive manufacturing organization that responded to the demands of Congress and the Federal Reserve? Or was it a market-driven organization that could launch product innovations, introduce new promotional campaigns, and change the game in a business that it has been in for 200 years? “The Mint needed a new story to move it into the future,” says Diehl. “So the story of the Mint was retold, starting with its founding by Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. The story reminded people that the Mint was on the leading edge of the industrial revolution and was one of the first manufacturing companies in the United States. Telling that story helped to create a new spirit among the staff. It got us further out of our bunker mentality.”


As the leadership of the Mint thought more deeply about the agency’s identity and future, one of its first insights was that its product offerings were flawed — especially when it came to collectibles and commemoratives. For one thing, it was selling too many of them. Five or six times a year, Congress would come up with an idea for a commemorative coin to raise money for a pet cause. But these programs, based more on political calculations than on market demand, were highly unpopular with collectors. It got so bad that in 1995, the coin-collecting community actually threatened to boycott the Atlanta Centennial Olympic commemorative — which would be competing with five other commemoratives in circulation.

“Scarcity drives collectibles,” says Diehl. “But we were becoming the coin-of-the-month club.” So he and his crew marched to Capitol Hill to convince Congress to limit its commemorative coin fix to two per year. “We had finally committed to representing the interests of our collectors,” says Diehl. “And we demonstrated that we were prepared to defend those interests.”

Reducing an oversupply of bad coins simply inspired the next challenge: creating a more robust market for good coins. The fact was, congressional meddling aside, most of the Mint’s coins weren’t very compelling. The themes weren’t interesting. The designs, which almost never changed, weren’t engaging. But that hadn’t always been the case. Back in the 19th century, coin designs were ambitious, and they did change frequently — which is why collecting had become so popular. But in the 20th century, once the Mint began putting dead presidents on coins, it became virtually impossible to take them off. Asks Diehl: “Who’s going to propose removing George Washington from the quarter?” Still, Diehl and his crew understood that unless they changed how the Mint made its change, their ability to make lasting change at the Mint would be limited.


Enter marketing director David Pickens. Pickens, 53, loves coins. He’s been a coin collector, off and on, since he was eight years old. It was this early love of coins that gave Pickens a sense of what the Mint’s future might hold. “I realized that the Mint could use its heritage and legacy to make change,” says Pickens, whose official title is associate director for numismatics. “There aren’t many organizations that can manufacture to the Mint’s quality levels. Have you heard the term ‘mint condition’? Well, this is the Mint! Yet it has suffered from a lack of strategic imagination and from the stealth marketing that was done.

“The Mint produces a legacy product that people will be collecting through the next several millennia,” Pickens continues. “There’s a mystique to this type of permanence. A coin has the year on it. It has ‘In God We Trust’ on it. It’s sculpture, art, history. It is a representation of our culture and civilization. Most of our customers buy our coins and never intend to sell them. They pass them on to their children or their children’s children.”

The more that Diehl and Pickens thought about the Mint’s long-term strategy, the more they rethought the nature of the business itself. They realized that the Mint wasn’t just in the business of selling collectibles. It was also in the business of creating and fostering exchanges — exchanges between fathers and sons, between brothers and sisters, between perfect strangers. “Coin collectors have always known that coins have two functions in society,” explains Diehl. “Primarily, coins facilitate commerce. But more important, coinage has always been used to tell the story of our nation to its own people, and to itself. Only by understanding how our customers viewed coinage could we rediscover a crucial method of using coins to tell our own story.”


Adds Pickens, “We had forgotten the magic in our product. People were bored with coins. We had failed to see what it was that made coining and coin collecting exciting.”

Thus began one of the most successful consumer-product launches of the 1990s. The Mint’s 50 State Quarters Program, unveiled in December 1998, is a long-term initiative designed to rejuvenate public interest in coins. The program honors each state with its own special quarter. It involves the public (through the governor’s office of each state) in the design process. Every 10 weeks for 10 years, a new state quarter gets put into circulation, released in the order in which each state joined the Union — first Delaware, then Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and so on.

Like most of the changes at the Mint, the initial push for the State Quarters Program came from collectors. For years, they’d urged the Mint to reintroduce circulating commemorative pocket change. But Diehl had been skeptical. His early years at the Mint were tough ones. Even as he was making big changes in Washington, the Mint’s manufacturing operations were struggling to make enough coins. Diehl had neither the funding flexibility nor the personal desire to stimulate additional demand. Over time, though, as he sensed the enthusiasm coming from collectors, he realized that the idea was too good a business opportunity to pass up.


Of course, even a well-designed product needs a well-defined marketing strategy — a competency that the Mint had never developed. How would it tell the public — and especially kids, most of whom were more interested in Pokémon cards than in coins — about this revolutionary new product? Answer: Kermit the Frog. “We were looking for the right person to introduce the program, and he volunteered,” jokes Pickens. In fact, the Jim Henson Co. contacted the Mint after it got wind of the program, and an unprecedented public-private marketing alliance was formed. Kermit, the official Mint spokesfrog, took the agency prime time — promoting the 50 State Quarters Program in commercial spots during shows like NYPD Blue and Jeopardy, and on such cable-TV channels as Nickelodeon, Lifetime, Discovery, and the History Channel.

The results have been stunning. “How many companies have introduced a product that will sell more than 4 billion units in its first year and will be touched by every person in this country?” asks Diehl. “When you think of it in those terms, this program is huge. Even if you only think of it in profit terms, it’s huge.”

Huge, indeed. It costs the Mint about five cents to make a quarter. It sells the quarter, through the Federal Reserve Bank, at face value. Translation: The Mint makes an 80% margin on the sale of every quarter. The baseline demand for quarters averages 1.5 billion a year. By the end of 1999, the Mint expects to have produced a total of 3.5 billion quarters, 2 billion above baseline demand. That’s real money. But profit isn’t the primary objective. “It would be disappointing if, at the end of this 10-year program, all we have to show are 10 enormously profitable years,” says Diehl. “Our underlying goal is to rejuvenate coin collecting by getting the interest of a new generation of coin collectors.”


But the long-term effects will involve more than money. The 50 State Quarters Program has refocused the Mint on the overall collectibles market. And the explosion of Web-based auction sites — eBay,,, and others — is helping a fast-growing activity to grow even faster. In fact, 24% of all coins purchased by collectors are bought online. Diehl and Pickens quickly realized that to maintain the agency’s momentum, the Mint would have to “.com” itself. “There aren’t many companies founded by Thomas Jefferson that are selling products on the Internet,” notes Pickens. This now 207-year-old government agency would have to embrace e-commerce.

Weave a Web of Change

Michele Bartram does not collect coins. But she does wear them. A large gold coin bordered by black onyx hangs around her neck. Two small gold coins, framed by her auburn, shoulder-length hair, dangle from her ears. Bartram does, however, collect piggy banks. Talking a mile a minute, she pulls her collection of antique and brand-new banks from a bag and lines them up on her already-cluttered desk. One of the banks even talks, announcing how much change sits in its belly.

Bartram, 35, had been acting assistant director of e-business at the U.S. Mint’s Office of Electronic Information and Products. Translation: She’s part of the .com crowd — one of the fire-in-the-belly, let’s-move-on-Internet-time change agents behind the Mint’s recent embrace of the online world. “I don’t want to treat symptoms, I want to solve problems,” Bartram declares. “And the Web forces you to address problems that have been swept under the rug for years. That’s why it can feel so threatening. My job is to eliminate fear.”

Bartram signed on with the Mint in 1995, after spending five years at IBM, and several more as a marketing consultant based in Spain. From the moment she walked through the agency’s doors, she found herself in the thick of Diehl’s change program. She created and led a task force that introduced database marketing, an initiative that led to the reorganization of the Mint into three separate business units. The closer she got to the Mint’s customers, the more eager she became to ask them some basic questions: Why do you collect coins? Do you collect other things too? How did you become a collector? Do you consider yourself a serious or a casual collector?

Bartram knew that the Web was the best way to get those answers — and a perfect way to work around bureaucratic obstacles such as OMB. “If I can serve more of the public better and faster electronically, then that’s my duty,” says Bartram. “The Mint’s situation represented one of the best business cases I’d ever seen for using Web-based technology.” And it wasn’t that hard for Bartram to make the case. As a government agency, the Mint has a legally mandated mission not just to serve but also to educate the public — whether the public is defined as coin collectors, contractors, vending-machine makers, or a mother helping her child with a school project on dimes. “If you give people the information that they want,” Bartram notes, “you also have the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, if you like dimes, you might be interested in our collectibles.’ “

Last December, she got the perfect opportunity to show how the Web’s reach could create a powerful blend of education and commerce. The Mint had been in the middle of a tricky product-development program. Congress had passed a law mandating the creation of a new dollar coin to replace the fatally flawed Susan B. Anthony — which was to coins what the Edsel was to cars. (Beginning in 1979, the Mint produced 857 million Susan B. Anthony dollars. Twenty years later, it has yet to exhaust its supply.) The Mint faced some huge — and hugely delicate — questions. What woman from history would replace Susan B. Anthony? How could the Mint embrace its new enthusiasm for ambitious coin design without raising protests from an ever-cautious Congress? What marketing strategies would help the new coin fly off the shelves, rather than gather dust alongside the Susan B.?

The answer to all three questions: Engage the public itself in the design process. Congress left the choice of who’d be on the coin to Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, who formed the Dollar Coin Design Advisory Committee to figure it out. Diehl acted as the chair (but as a nonvoting member) of the committee, whose members included a member of Congress, an architect, a sculptor, a numismatist, a university president, an historian, a businesswoman, and an artist. In June 1998, the committee held two days of televised public hearings and accepted suggestions on who should be on the coin. Out of 19 semifinalists — women like Betsy Ross, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman — the panel selected Sacagawea, the 15-year-old Shoshone leader, navigator, diplomat, and translator who played an integral role in Lewis and Clark’s 1804 expedition from the Ohio River Valley to the Pacific Ocean.

In August, the committee invited 23 artists to submit designs of Sacagawea for the obverse side of the coin. After listening to the feedback of representatives from the Native American community, numismatists, artists, educators, historians, and members of Congress, the committee narrowed 121 designs down to 13. Then it was time to return to the Web. On December 7, 1998 (a day that will live in infamy inside the Mint), Diehl had Bartram and her colleagues post the 13 designs on the agency’s Web site. The site generated an astounding 11.7 million hits in one day — followed by 130,000 email messages over the next two weeks and thousands of letters. “We had more hits on that one day than we’d had the whole year,” says Bartram. “Putting those designs on the Web spawned an impassioned grassroots effort. We received comments not only from individuals but also from entire Native American tribes, from local communities, even from the American School in Japan, which didn’t want to be left out of the process. It was incredible.”

The Sacagawea phenomenon was all anyone needed to sense the power of the Web to shape the Mint’s future. Today, the agency is bursting with online initiatives that would sound familiar in Silicon Valley: digital desktop branding, personalization engines, “My Mint” functions, online email targeting. But the initiative about which Bartram is most excited — the HIP Pocket Change site — is the one that best reflects the Mint’s distinct history and unique products.

HIP, which stands for “history in your pocket,” comprises several services. It’s an educational tool for teachers. It’s also a “digital sandbox” where kids can learn about American history, math, and language arts while they play with coins. Finally, it’s a first step to bringing the Mint closer to the much-invoked (and seldom realized) goal of an online community. “A real community is created when you invite people in, provide a framework, give them resources, step back, and then allow them to create a site that they want and need,” says Diehl, who believes the evolution of HIP is one of the best reflections of the Mint’s future business processes — and the culmination of the changes that have taken place during his tenure.

For this project, Bartram wrote business plans, won grants, and forged partnerships with a host of organizations, including the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, the Department of Education, and the Numismatic Guaranty Corp., which led the community program. The Learning Space, Washington State’s teachers’ network, sent a group of teachers to collaborate with the Mint. Bartram knew that these teachers — who would cocreate the site and develop lesson plans for other teachers — would need a crash course in coins. So she had them meet with coin specialists from the Smithsonian, talk to numismatists, and go on a field trip to the Philadelphia Mint, where they received a behind-the-scenes tour of coin production. “While looking at one machine, a guide was explaining that it cranks out 700 pennies a minute. One teacher looks at me and says, ‘Seven hundred a minute, how many is that in one hour? How many in one day? In a week?’ Instant math lesson!”

Bartram recently moved on from the Mint, to throw herself headlong into the Web by building an Internet company for a traditional retailer. But the enthusiasm that she and her team demonstrated is the best indicator of where Philip Diehl thinks the agency is going.

“My vision for the future doesn’t have much to do with the Mint’s products, markets, performance measures, or efficiency,” he says. “It has to do with the relationship that people here have with their work. My goal is to be part of an organization whose members are engaged as whole people. I want them to have a sense of purpose, excitement, and fulfillment. The ultimate performance metric might be to call people on Sunday night and ask them how they feel about going to work the next day. Are they really looking forward to Monday morning? If the answer is yes, then people can do just about anything.”

Anna Muoio ( is a Fast Company associate editor. Learn more about the U.S. Mint on the Web (, or contact Philip Diehl by email (

Sidebar: The West Point of Turnarounds

Brad Cooper’s initial impressions of his first day on the job were intimidating: a chain-link fence, enormous coils of barbed wire, a guard at the front gate with a machine gun. Walking inside, he was a little less intimidated. “The building was so old,” he says. “It was like walking through The Land That Time Forgot. I thought to myself, ‘I can’t believe I’ve taken this job.'”

Cooper was the first nonpolitical appointee to become superintendent of a local Mint. He was also an experiment in Philip Diehl’s change program. Once Diehl changed the law so that he could appoint whomever he wanted to leadership positions, the question was, Could those people deliver? Cooper, now 38, was a test case: “West Point was considered the black sheep of the Mint. Everyone wondered whether it was going to shut down.” But Cooper didn’t shut it down — he turned it around. He became superintendent in 1996, a year in which West Point made fewer than 638,000 American eagle gold coins — and had reject rates that were higher than 8%. Last year, it made nearly 2.8 million gold coins (along with more than 166,000 platinum coins) — and had reject rates as low as 0.5%.

How did Cooper change so much so fast? By applying to the West Point Mint his personal approach to minting change.

Don’t just do something, sit there.

Cooper knew he had to unleash changes or the facility’s future was in jeopardy. He also sensed a climate of fear among the 220 employees. So for three months, he just listened: “I basically walked around. I met with everyone in small groups. I did nothing — because I knew that if I started acting before I had built trust, any changes would fail.”

Sell hope, not fear.

After his listening tour, Cooper had doubts about the operation’s viability. But he painted a vivid picture of an upbeat future: “I told people that we could radically improve our productivity, quality, and financial position.” He also painted a tough picture of what might happen without change: “Only huge gains could prevent reasonable minds from shutting us down.”

The shortest road to change isn’t a straight line.

Despite his patience, Cooper had a brutal first six months as West Point. But as his changes became performance gains, and as the takeoff in the market for gold bullion triggered big increases in West Point’s production, small strides snowballed into major advances. “The more we improved, the more people wanted to keep improving,” Cooper says. “People here were once considered the worst manufacturing organization in the Mint. Now they see that they can be the best.”

Contact Brad Cooper by email (