COO praises Kettering grad programs

After one graduate degree, most would have had enough. But two?

For Lean Enterprise Institute's (LEI) Helen Zak, two master's degrees from Kettering provide an important foundation from which to make solid decisions in the challenging field of manufacturing.

As COO for LEI, a leading provider of research, publications, events and training for implementing lean thinking, Zak deals with issues that impact manufacturing organizations throughout the U.S. and world on a daily basis. She focuses on how these organizations can incorporate lean principles and practices into their businesses to remain globally competitive. Her experience is well suited to help companies thoroughly understand the importance and opportunity available through lean ideas. She holds a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering from Marquette University, as well as a master's degree in Manufacturing Management and a master's degree in Operations Management, both from Kettering. Before joining LEI, she was vice president of Operations at Thermo Spectronic and held various engineering and operations management positions at Alstom and Delphi.

But perhaps some of her best learned lessons took place during her graduate studies at Kettering in 1993 and 1999. "The program was convenient, flexible and relevant to my career," she said. "It has a reputation for being practical and progressive. Other programs I considered were very traditional and did not address the new ways of doing business-for example, how to optimize supply chains and the use of technology as an enabler are two examples," she added.

Zak also explained that her graduate degrees from Kettering provided a solid foundation for her career in management, as well as provide employers with confidence that she is committed to her field and has the relevant theory to compliment practical experience.

Opportunities to apply her educational learning exist everywhere. To be competitive in the manufacturing industry, Zak said companies "must be lean. Today, it is now a question of how fast you can continuously improve versus the choice to improve or not to improve," she said, adding that if organizations and companies do not improve, "you're dead."

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In her analysis, companies can retain and re-attract manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. by focusing on the total cost of the supply chain.

"Many decisions to move offshore are predicated on labor costs alone," she said, adding that this may be a mistake: "We suggest companies do some 'lean math' before moving offshore."

Items for companies to calculate into lean math include piece cost; cost of slow freight to get the part to the customer; cost of the additional inventory of goods in transit over long distances; cost of additional safety stocks to ensure uninterrupted supply chain; cost of expedited shipments; cost of warranty claims; cost of poor quality; and the list goes on.

And like Kettering's innovative formats for offering graduate instruction through streamed video, CD and the internet, Zak said innovation also plays a pivotal role in all companies these days if they expect to hold and increase their market share. "The companies that can provide the most value to the customer at the smallest cost will win," she said.

Written by Gary J. Erwin
(810) 762-9538

Graduate degree programs

Kettering University has offered graduate programs to
on- and off-campus students since 1982. Each program
is designed to prepare future leaders for a global workplace
with first-class education that reflects the real world. Our
graduate programs provide students with work-integrated
learning experiences and leverage nationally-ranked faculty
recognized for their commitment to practical education.

The following programs are available:

  • MS in Information Technology;
  • MS in Manufacturing Management;
  • MS in Operations Management;
  • MS in Manufacturing Operations;
  • MS in Engineering Management;
  • MBA / MSMO Dual Degree; and
  • MS in Engineering.