Hi, I’m Dennis.

Dennis Keay

Since you’re here, I assume you might be interested in knowing a little more about me, and perhaps why I got into Business Improvement Consulting or Lean Consulting in the first place.

As part of my career, I worked in a large international automotive organization, initially in engineering roles as Facilities Engineer, and as a Specialist Engineer with both technical and managerial responsibilities. I also worked in a Vehicle Program Management role, and, not surprisingly, as an internal Business Improvement Coach and Facilitator. Over a number of years, amongst other things, I was responsible for:

  • Facility management and maintenance
  • Capital Projects: feasibility studies, planning, implementation and commissioning
  • Leading a diverse team of people from shop floor, upwards
  • Departmental budgeting
  • ISO 9001 implementation
  • Internal training and development of personnel
  • Program Quality Management for imported vehicles
  • Coaching others in Business Improvement
  • Facilitating various business improvement projects and events (commonly known as ‘Kaizen’ events)
  • Reviewing how we could introduce ‘Design for Six Sigma’ (DFSS) methodology into the organization.

In each of these roles, I applied Lean Manufacturing / Lean Thinking principles and practices, even in administrative related processes.

The role as an internal Lean Continuous Improvement Coach provided broad access across the company to work on a range of business improvement activities from manufacturing through to administrative improvement projects in, for example, the Finance Department and the Human Resources Department. This role provided the opportunity to work with many people, at all levels in the business.

  • A key learning for me was how critical it is to engage people in the improvement process, and how critical it is to gain alignment between people who have differing needs and agendas.

By that stage in my career, I already had various academic qualifications under my belt such as a Mechanical Engineering Degree, a Master of Engineering Science Degree, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, and formal qualifications in Training and Assessment.

But formal qualifications ARE NOT what it’s about!

Business improvement is about people knowing what to do, willing to do it, and, most importantly, working together as a team to do it.

Even though I had achieved significant formal qualifications, I’ve always been pretty grounded. My parents, both of whom are very bright people but were brought up in circumstances different from mine, have no formal qualifications. They worked hard to afford me the privilege of going to university in the first place to become an engineer.

When I was a young child they were small business owners and suffered the stresses of working very long hours, seven days per week, with very little real ‘family time’ or opportunity to take holidays. They realized that they’d be better off with just dad working for someone else, and mum either adopting the traditional housewife role, or working when she chose to in part-time employment, so that’s what they did.

Not having any formal qualifications, dad took up employment as a forklift / crane driver, storeman and packer. He remained in that role for several years. It was not a satisfying job for him, and it was during these years that I initially developed empathy with ‘blue collar’ workers.

Socializing with dad’s workmates, I got to understand the frustrations they often felt when, even though they had experiences and insights that many of the managers were unaware of, they were often not listened to, and weren’t in positions to strongly influence their work environment. They were often an untapped, under-utilized resource.

This understanding and empathy put me in good stead early in my career when it came to working with people on the shop floor who reported to me. They have an enormous amount to offer, when we take the time to listen and consider what they are saying.

 

A Powerful Experience Outside of Work

One of the most personally rewarding experiences I had while working in industry was an ‘extra curricula’ activity.
I was a member of a Toastmasters club, and had volunteered to facilitate a Speechcraft course to develop the public speaking skills of an organization called ‘The Compassionate Friends’ (TCF). TCF is a self-help support organization for bereaved parents and siblings who have lost loved ones from causes such as drug over-dose, motor-vehicle accidents, terminal medical conditions, and even suicide.

The reason they wanted to do the Speechcraft course was to develop confidence in public speaking so that they could share their personal stories with others in the general community, in an effort to help others avoid the tragedies that had beset their families and loved ones.

The course involved one evening per week over the period of 8 weeks. During this period, participants had the opportunity to practice their public speaking skills in a safe, facilitated, supportive environment where I provided guidance to help them become more effective in sharing their messages.

At the end of the course, I was particularly touched by the effect the course on two of the participants. One of these was a mother who had lost a daughter in tragic circumstances. She thanked me profusely as she told me that through the course, she had re-established a love of life and something to look forward to.

The other was a father, a gentleman in his sixties, who had lost his only son. I received a letter from him, thanking me. Among other things, the letter said that I had ‘changed his life!’

I found the sentiments from these people very moving. They had a powerful effect on me, and showed me the true effect I could have on others by acting as a catalyst, sharing some time, some experience, and engaging with them. I fostered the environment and conditions for true change to occur in the lives of these people, and they did the rest.

They had a common goal and were committed to the process.

This was also a very powerful learning experience for me, and one of the factors that led me on the path of leaving a large corporate environment to work with owners and leaders in small to medium sized businesses who are committed to making real changes in their business, and often to their stressful lives.

 

What’s the Secret?

There were many multi-million dollar projects that I was responsible for over the years in my corporate life, and I remember being asked by an Executive Director what my biggest achievement was. My answer was simple:

“Putting a great team together!”

It was doing that that enabled me to achieve great project outcomes…something I couldn’t have achieved on my own.

The secret, if there is one, is to treat everyone with respect and accept that we’re all equal. None of us individually has all of the answers, but we each have our own unique part or parts in the jigsaw. Mine is often to act as a catalyst to help show others what the picture looks like, or can look like, and help bring all the pieces together, so that the whole is much more than just the sum of the pieces.

That’s where I find personal satisfaction.

Where I find greatest leverage is in coaching and mentoring business owners and leaders, since businesses are merely reflections of their leaders.

Business leaders are often so time poor that they are flat-out controlling all the daily activities and spot fires that it leaves them little time to research and try new things. So acting as a trusted advisor, and bringing new knowledge and understanding into the business by coaching and mentoring them, and providing support mechanisms to cascade this down the line, is where the leverage comes from.

Small to medium businesses in Australia are what drives our economy, and they need all the support they can get. It’s a passion of mine to help them.

So now you know a little more about me, I look forward to getting to know more about you. I hope to meet you soon.