William Edwards Deming (October 14, 1900 – December 20, 1993)


William Edwards Deming was an American engineer, statistician, professor, author, lecturer, and management consultant. Initially educated as an electrical engineer and later specializing in mathematical physics, Deming’s most notable achievement was as the architect of The Deming Method; a commercial corporate system based on efficient business organization, high quality product standards and an emphasis on customer satisfaction. Deming’s ideas and techniques were eagerly and widely adopted in post war Japan by a number of Japanese manufacturers who afterwards experienced unheard-of levels of quality, productivity and demand which would help transform Japan into an international economic powerhouse by the early 1980’s.

Deming made a significant contribution to Japan’s reputation for innovative, high-quality products, and for its economic power. He is regarded as having had more impact on Japanese manufacturing and business than any other individual not of Japanese heritage. Deming also helped develop the sampling techniques still in use today by the US Department of the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

William Edwards Deming was born in Sioux City, Iowa; however, he was raised in Polk City, Iowa on his grandfather Henry Coffin Edwards’s chicken farm, then later on a 40-acre farm purchased by his father in Powell, Wyoming. He was the son of William Albert Deming and Pluma Irene Edwards. His parents were both well-educated and emphasized the importance of education to their children.

Deming married Agnes Bell in 1922. She died in 1930, a little more than a year after they adopted a daughter, Dorothy (died 1984). Deming made use of various private homes to help raise the infant and married again in 1932 to Lola Elizabeth Shupe (died 1986), with whom he coauthored several papers. Lola and he had two more children, Diana (born 1934) and Linda (born 1943). Deming was survived by Diana and Linda, along with seven grandchildren.

In 1927, Deming was introduced to Walter A. Shewhart of the Bell Telephone Laboratories by C.H. Kunsman of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Deming found great inspiration in the work of Shewhart, the originator of the concepts of statistical control of processes. Shewhart’s influence motivated Deming’s interest in developing the means of applying statistical methods to industrial production and management. Deming recognized these ideas could be applied not only to manufacturing processes, but also to the processes by which enterprises are organized, operated and managed. This key insight provided for establishing his enormous influence on the economics of the industrialized world after 1950.

In 1936, Deming studied under Sir Ronald Fisher and Jerzy Neyman at University College in London, England. During World War II, Deming was a member of the five-man Emergency Technical Committee. Statistical methods were widely applied during World War II, but faded into disuse a few years later in the face of huge overseas demand for American mass-produced products. Deming was a professor of statistics at the New York University Graduate School of Business Administration from 1946 until his death in 1993 and also taught at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business from 1988–1993.

During the Allied occupation of Japan in 1947, Deming was asked by the United States Department of the Army at the request of General Douglas MacArthur to assist in conducting a census in Japan. While in Japan, his expertise in quality-control techniques, combined with his involvement in Japanese society, eventually brought him an invitation from the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE).

Deming trained hundreds of Japanese engineers, managers, and scholars in advanced concepts of quality and management (including top Japanese industrialists such as Akio Morita, the cofounder of Sony Corp). Deming’s message to Japan’s chief executives was that improving quality standards would help reduce expenses, while increasing productivity and market share. The improved product quality combined with lowered costs created a new international demand for Japanese products.

Because Deming declined to accept any royalties from the implementation of his system, the JUSE board of directors elected to permanently establish the distinguished Deming Prize in December 1950 to repay him for his friendship and kindness. The Deming Prize still continues to exert a considerable amount of influence in Japan over the national disciplines of corporate quality control and management. In 1960, Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi of Japan, acting on behalf of Emperor Hirohito, awarded Deming Japan’s Order of the Sacred Treasure, Second Class. The citation on the medal recognizes Deming’s contributions to Japan’s post war, industrial rebirth and international success.

Deming continued to run his own consultancy business in the United States, but remained largely unknown and unrecognized in his own country of origin and work. In 1980, he was prominently featured in an NBC TV documentary about the increasing industrial competition the United States was facing from Japan titled If Japan Can… Why Can’t We?  As a result of that broadcast, demand for his services increased dramatically. Deming continued consulting for different industries throughout the world until his death at the age of 93.

In 1982, Deming’s book Quality, Productivity, and Competitive Position was published by the MIT Center for Advanced Engineering and renamed Out of the Crisis later in 1986. In it, he offers a theory of management based on his famous 14 Points for Management and writes:

“Long-term commitment to new learning and new philosophy is required of any management that seeks transformation. The timid and the fainthearted, and the people that expect quick results, are doomed to failure and disappointment.”

Deming’s methodology, ideas and workshops regarding Total Quality Management have had a profound affect and extremely broad influence on international business in the latter half of the Twentieth Century.

Over the course of his career, Deming also received dozens of academic awards, including an honorary PhD from Oregon State University. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan awarded Deming the National Medal of Technology .” In 1988, he received the Distinguished Career in Science Award from the National Academy of Sciences for his forceful promotion of statistical methodology, contributions to sampling theory and for his advocacy to corporations and nations of a general management philosophy that consistently resulted in improved product quality.

The philosophy of W Edwards Deming may be summarized as follows:

“Any prevailing style of management must undergo transformation to improve. A system is incapable of understanding itself. The transformation requires a view from outside.”

“The first step is transformation of the individual though the application of the system of profound knowledge. This transformation is discontinuous. Once transformed, the individual will perceive new meaning to his life, events, numbers, and to the interactions between people.”

“Once the individual understands the system of profound knowledge, he will apply its principles in every kind of relationship with other people. He will have a basis for judgment of his own decisions and for transformation of the organizations in which he belongs. “

Deming died on December 20, 1993 in his sleep from cancer at the age of 93 in his Washington home. When asked toward the end of his life how he would wish to be remembered, he replied, “I probably won’t even be remembered.” After a pause, he added, “Well, maybe … as someone who spent his entire life trying to keep America from committing suicide.”

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