Aug. 12, 1932 - Dec. 10, 2020
Norman Bodek a longtime resident of Vancouver, Wash., and currently living in Japan passed away Dec. 10, 2020 at the age of 88.
They called him Mr. Productivity, a title Industry Week gave him in the 1980s and one that stuck until he earned another moniker later in life: the Godfather of Lean. But Norman Bodek's legacy as one of manufacturing's leading voices on the now widely-practiced Japanese production method was borne out of another defining trait: his search for the great masters of any given field.
He first came across the concept that would define his career in a stray business article about Toyota, and soon set out to Japan to learn its manufacturing practices. With no knowledge of manufacturing let alone the language, Norman explored the company's factory floors and spoke to its leaders and engineers. It was one of these initial trips to Japan, which he often dubbed "study missions," that he crossed paths with two men whose work would define his career: Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo. Convinced he had discovered two giants in their field, he set out to translate their work into English, becoming among the first to bring "Just in Time" and "Lean" management to an American audience.
That endeavor propelled his businesses Productivity, Inc. and Productivity Press into an international enterprise that published hundreds of books and was recognized as a leader in the field of manufacturing. For this work, Norman won the Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing and was inducted into Industry Week's Manufacturing Hall of Fame in 2010. Norman continued his work after he sold Productivity, transforming from someone who published others work, to writing and teaching his own.
His central focus in the later work, which continued until the day he passed away at the age of 88, was to help all employees find meaning and creativity in their work. He sought to humanize the "lean," philosophy that had taken on a "mean" side in American industry, often used as an excuse to lay people off or make jobs repetitive. Through lean and his later lectures, Norman sought to instill in his family, friends and students the sort of passion and inspiration he brought to his own work.
Those goals extended into his private life. From the late 1960s on, he was on a constant quest to find a greater meaning in his life. He traveled the world meeting with spiritual leaders, but ultimately found his greatest teacher not far from to his childhood home in New York. He met Albert Rudolph, known by his students simply as Rudi, in 1971, and practiced with him until his death in 1973. Rudi's work, Spiritual Cannibalism, became a guiding text for Norman, one he returned to over throughout his life. One of his favorite sayings he learned from Rudi, "If there is a harder way, show me. It will be beautiful."
The first to tell you that he had a difficult childhood, one where he experienced little to no success at school, he encouraged those around him to not let failures or fears hold them down. The goal was to learn and to grow, and he found an equally-committed student to such guiding principles in his second wife, Dr. Noriko Hosoyamada. Together, they traveled the world in search of the next great text or teacher, before moving to Japan permanently this fall, where they were at work on translating their next great discovery.
Norman is survived by his wife, Noriko; his two daughters, Phillis Bodek and Beth Simone; his son-in-law, George Simone; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren, Amie Miriello and Nick Iorio, Anthony, Sonja and Francis Miriello, Nicholas, Keri and Noah Miriello, Douglas, Laura and Charles Miriello, Samuel,Camila, Zion and Pia Simone, Olivia Simone; and Fitzroy Alexander, who he met on a beach in Grenada when Fitzroy was a child and welcomed him as his "adopted" son.
He will be deeply missed.
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