Norman Bodek (1932-2020)

Condolences to the family of Mr. Norman Bodek (obituary).

Norman Bodek 12 10 2020a

I had many wonderful phone and email conversations with Norman over the last 18 years. He was a beloved figure, always accessible and always helpful. A humble man, life-long learner, and earnest in his life’s mission to help humanity and the planet. He would help anyone who asked and do more than asked. Norman was always searching for treasures to generously share with other people. He was incredibly devoted to his work and he produced a large body of great work.

For those of you who do not know much about Norman Bodek, here is some background information from a endnote in the book Better Thinking, Better Results, about The Wiremold Company’s Lean transformation. When writing the book in winter 2002, I contacted Norman and asked him who was the business leader that best comprehended the books he published. The answer is shown in Note 1, below.

Bodek 12 10 2020a

The books that Norman published in the late 1980s through the late 1990s were treasures for academics and practitioners alike. These seminal works will remain useful for many decades to come. But before the books, Norman published the “Productivity” newsletter. Below is Volume 2, Issue 1, proving that Norman was a leader at the forefront in bring us this new and valuable information.


Here is an e-mail exchange between me and Norman Bodek, beginning on 18 January 2017

Hi Norman – I hope you are well. I have a question that I think you may be able to answer. The 1988 English edition of Ohno’s book, Toyota Production System, does not contain the Preface that was in Ohno’s 1978 Japanese edition. By any chance, do you have those 2 or 3 pages of the 1978 Preface translated from Japanese when the English edition was being made back in 1987? I’d like to know what those pages said. The reason I ask is: curiosity, to better understand the history, Ohno’s reasons for writing the book, etc.

Norman’s reply, 7 February 2017:

Dear Bob, Noriko has given you special treatment. Best wishes, Norman.

Bodek 12 10 202b

Here is what Norman meant by “Noriko has given you special treatment.” Norman’s wife, Noriko, was kind enough to translate of the Preface of Toyota Seisan Hoshiki for me. Norman was always accessible and always helpful to others, and his wife as well.

I added bold highlighting to some passages in the above image to emphasize key elements of the Preface to Mr. Ohno’s 1978 book Toyota Seisan Hoshiki (Toyota Production Method). Perhaps the most significant passages relate to the way of thinking that led to the creation of TPS, understanding TPS correctly, not “abusing” TPS by “picking and choosing,” and not bullying suppliers. Reflecting on these four things 42 years later, we see that, generally, people have yet to understand the way of thinking, TPS is most often implemented incorrectly, TPS is almost always cherry-picked, and suppliers are still bullied. There remains a lot to learn both cognitively and in practice to overcome “their distorted understanding of Toyota Production System.” In this simple Preface, Ohno-san provides valuable insights and warnings that remain relevant today and in the future. And it is thanks to Norman and Noriko that we now have this useful information.

Norman Bodek devoted his life to teaching and helping others better understand progressive ways of thinking and doing things so they can develop as people, improve processes, humanize business, and make the world a better place. He was a role model for others to follow.

Everybody loved Norman. Our community was blessed by his long presence and his legacy will remain with us forever.

Noriko Norman1
Noriko and Norman in 2018
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