Mar. 12, 2019
BY CHARLES MOSS
When Guy Deloach left his position as Executive Vice President of Operations at Toyota Boshoku Corporation, he spent a lot of his time traveling to Europe, Australia and Asia. He had been in the automotive industry for most of his career and loved what he did. But when he began lecturing at several universities on the side, he discovered how much he enjoyed the feeling of molding young people into the next generation of business leaders. So, he quit Toyota and went into teaching full time, becoming a business professor at Lee University in 2007.
After starting at Lee, Deloach began an immersion program for junior- and senior-year business students. Partnering with area corporations such as Bayer Pharmaceutical, Schering-Plough and Merck, Lee University helped students gain hands-on experience at these companies.
Through this program, Deloach met Andrew Van Breugel, who at the time, was running one of the business units for Merck in Singapore. Van Breugel reached out to Deloach and offered his students an opportunity to go to Singapore and work in some of the business management and operational excellence areas under him. This turned into an annual event, with Deloach and Van Breugel forming a working business relationship that would, 10 years later, lead Van Breugel from Australia to East Tennessee as a managing partner with Rock Creek Informatics (RCI).
What started in 2008 as a part-time business consultancy quietly helping companies operate more efficiently, has turned into a full-time business for Deloach, his four partners and their team.
Kenneth Hatch, one of the managing partners, met Deloach while giving a speech on the Volkswagen Production System. After finding out they had both worked for Toyota, they soon discovered they shared the same passion for helping organizations in lean transformation, which led to their partnership in business.
“My 29 years of using, teaching and coaching lean has made one thing clear. Lean operations are not accomplished by sacrificing employees’ jobs, but by training and coaching all the members of the organization to find and eliminate waste in their jobs,” Hatch says.
The whole RCI team shares that mindset.
“We’ve always been of the mindset that we choose a customer as much as they choose us,” Deloach says. “RCI has always operated by word of mouth and grown organically over the last nine years. But in the last year, we’ve experienced significant growth. So, we’ve been able to expand our service and product offerings, adding business intelligence and human resource-related capabilities to serve our clients better.”
So, how does RCI help customers become more efficient? And what does the end result look like?
Deloach puts it like this: an organization has a problem. It’s either a margin or cost issue, a delivery or throughput issue or a business intelligence problem. Deloach and his team blend their expansive Toyota Production System experience with business intelligence.
Then, working with everyone in the company, not just leaders, but employees in every position, RCI teaches them new methods of operation that solve the problem. This process has brought unparalleled results to their clients and friends.
Some of RCI’s clients have seen more than an 800 percent return on their investment with the firm, resulting in millions of dollars in cost savings and sales. And it is all due to RCI’s ability to help these companies shorten their time to market, increase productivity and manage business based on insights from analytics. RCI also uses their outside perspective, in-depth data review and focus on human interaction and work environment to help solve business problems where other firms have failed.
“We don't come in and treat every client the same,” says Dan Koukol, a partner with RCI, who started as an intern there more than seven years ago. “We do a current state assessment. Then, we spend a week or more, depending on the scope of the project and the size of the organization, conducting many interviews with personnel. We capture tons of quantitative and qualitative data to produce a holistic current state.”
Using the data they collect, RCI recommends potential improvements within systems or processes. And make no mistake, RCI is not about firing staff to save a few bucks. That’s not how they operate. As important as processes and business intelligence are, they know it’s the people that truly make or break an organization.
“We reduce the waste, make sure the culture is right for driving excellence and exceed customer expectations,” Koukol says. “So it's like a triangle - the people, processes and analytics. We make all employees consultants themselves.”
While a lot of RCI’s clients have been in the manufacturing industry, over the last two years, RCI has been branching out to other industries, including health care.
RCI has partnered with Sanofi since Aug. 2016. Over the past two and a half years, RCI has supported various OpEx consulting and business intelligence projects with their operations group in Chattanooga, helping to deliver continuous value to the organization. RCI assisted in the development of a product that helped Sanofi's OTC North America Quality group place second in the 2018 Global Innovation & Technology Awards held in Gentilly, France. Recently, RCI has been working with their scheduling and planning departments to provide BI tools to optimize processes and improve efficiencies within the manufacturing group here locally.
As RCI expands, Van Breugel, who’s been a partner with the firm for a year while working for another company, joined full time, moving his family to the Chattanooga area from Australia. His role is expanding, too. With the business now poised for further growth, the partners have concluded full-time leadership of the firm is needed to support the growing employee numbers and client base. Just like for their clients, RCI is introducing more structure and process to their operations, and Van Breugel will work with the firm’s employees and partners to bring RCI to this next level.
“My particular passion is working with leaders to help them understand their role in improving their business,” Van Breugel says. “If you're a senior leader, you have given up the option to do the work that your managers do. You now have a different role. That role is to improve the business, improve processes and drive performance. So now leaders must learn how to do that.”
Having worked in senior roles for years, Van Breugel is acutely aware there is too much emphasis on the tools and the techniques of continuous improvement and not enough emphasis on the people and how to continuously improve them. That’ll be his focus at RCI.
Consulting, however, can get expensive. RCI is aware of this, and that’s why the firm works to keep its rates competitive using a shared risk model. This means that while working with RCI, there is frequent review of deliverables with the client to ensure value is being realized through the work being performed. Using metrics, targets and clear deliverables, RCI tracks performance with the client through the engagement to ensure agreed performance is being met. RCI performs the initial work at a reduced rate and only bills the full agreed amount after the client is satisfied that the stated deliverables have been met.
“We want to fill a niche where the flexibility is high, and we want to take away the nervousness that clients sometimes have about engaging consultants,” Van Breugel says. “The reason we want to do this is that we actually want to help them improve their business. That's more important to us than making money. This is our passion. I think people value that. We are not like some of the big consulting firms. We want to partner with organizations, particularly small to medium enterprises, and we don't want just to go in and do projects. We want to teach their people how to sustain the gains that together we have delivered.”
This means that some projects can continue for several years, as companies strive to expand and build on improvements, while others last just a few weeks to address a particular workflow problem. The RCI team takes a hands-on approach, often spending weeks or even months working out of their clients’ offices to make sure continuous improvement is happening.
RCI is unique in its approach to process improvement, data management and, most importantly, the human element. That’s where the experience and skill set of the group is rounded out, with the addition of Alyssa Douglass to the partnership team. With a background in industrial-organizational psychology, her focus is on helping individuals, teams and organizations perform better. Using a data-driven approach, she works with clients to develop more effective methods to hire, train and retain employees.
Employee training and happiness are absolute priorities for RCI, which is why the basis for change starts with an interview process that includes employees at every level. The company builds deep relationships with its clients that last months and even years. Its shared risk model promotes trust from the beginning of the relationship, and because RCI doesn't believe in non-compete agreements, there have been times that the firm’s employees have gone on to work for clients, all due to the company’s priority of putting people first.
Deloach values his employees and holds RCI to the same improvement standards he has for clients. He says their leadership team aims for consistent improvement, not only for their clients but for themselves and their own employee training and growth.
“This firm is about transforming ... transforming organizations, individual lives and, hopefully, transforming East Tennessee.”