Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
In my Aug.
2, 2010 review of "In Fed We Trust"  (Link: ; I referenced Lawrence Kasdan's 1981 film noir classic "Body Heat" -- especially the dinner scene where William Hurt is told by Kathleen Turner's husband Richard Crenna that he became rich by doing "whatever it takes."

Edmund Walker, played by the late, great actor Crenna, doesn't know but Hurt and Turner are about to apply his rule  to their relationship and put a violent end to his life. In my review I wrote that "in repeating the mantra 'Whatever It Takes' to save the country from 'Depression 2.0', Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke is unconsciously -- or maybe consciously -- channeling the similar statement of the Richard Crenna character ... as he tells the William Hurt character he became rich by doing 'whatever it takes.'"

Now comes the late Michael Hammer and co-author Lisa W. Hershman who the same reference (on Page 121) in their business book "Faster Cheaper Better: The 9 Levers for Transforming How Work Gets Done" (Crown Business, 320 pages, $27.50). They get the movie's date wrong, saying it was released in 1984, but they approved of Edmund Walker's statement that "a professional is someone who does what it takes, as opposed to an ordinary worker, who does what he's told."

I was about to consign "Faster  Cheaper Better" to the scrap heap or write a negative review about business books and their oft repeated cliches when I came to that "Body Heat" anecdote at the beginning of Chapter 4. I decided to continue reading and give the authors a chance to prove themselves. Of course, Michael Hammer, Ph.D., who died in 2008, didn't have to prove anything: He's the co-author of the 1993 business classic "Reengineering the Corporation."

In that book -- which has become a staple in engineering corporate transformations -- Hammer and co-author James Champy  critique the management procedures of American business and say "It is no longer necessary or desirable for companies to organize their work around Adam Smith's division of labor.... Post-industrial companies must be re-engineered,' requiring a fresh start, going back to the beginning to invent a better way of accomplishing tasks. The process requires a leader with vision using information technologies, consulting closely with suppliers to reduce inventories, and empowering employees so that decision-making 'becomes part of the work.'"

"Faster Cheaper Better" is the logical progression of the ideas presented in "Reengineering the Corporation." The sections that appealed the most to me were the ones dealing with process ownership, especially Chapter 3, "Taking Ownership," that presents the elements of this process. My checkered post-college career has not been limited to journalism, my start of which dates back 45 years to January 1966 with my first reporting job at the Hammond (IN.) Times: I worked for a while as a sales engineer for a small manufacturing company in the Chicago area, as well as spending a year or so not far from that firm at of the biggest steel mills in the world -- in the 1960s -- Youngstown Sheet & Tube. I started my career after graduating from college as a claims adjuster for a famous insurance company that will be celebrating its centennial next year. I spent three years with that company, so I can say with confidence that I know how corporations think, at least how they did in the 1960s.

Apparently not much has changed in the ensueing decades, if Hammer and Hershman are to be believed: It’s no secret: everyone knows that the way most companies do things is screwed up. Surprisingly, though, herein lays the biggest opportunity for improving growth and profitability in a world in which consumers are tapped out and competition is coming from the devastating combination of low-wage countries with high skills.

For more than a decade, following his landmark "Reengineering the Corporation", Michael Hammer did “deep dives” into the processes of companies in every imaginable business — from oil refineries to software developers, factories, retailers, and hospitals — to understand the nuts and bolts of how they do their work, and then to advise them how to do it differently to become faster, cheaper, better. The results were the right product, at the right time, with the right price and quality — businesses that not only ate the competitions’ lunch but their breakfast and dinner, too.

Hammer and Hershman examine a company's operations not in terms of piecemeal fragments of work performed in a hodge-podge of isolated functional departments but as large-scale holistic work units transformed many companies, enabling them to meet the unique challenges of our time.

Companies are always talking about teamwork, the authors note, but most workers are concerned, logically enough, with their own careers, not as members of a team. They show how management can appeal to the basic (maybe even the baser!) instincts of workers by a major reordering of the corporate structure. When the 1993 book was published, the Internet and the World Wide Web were in their infancy; today, they are major facts of life -- boots on the ground, as it were -- that every organization must deal with.

Case studies in their book, mostly in the final section, show how these end-to-end process re-engineerings have been applied in real enterprises, including Tetra Pak, a Swedish packaging equipment company; Gamesa, a Mexico-based leader in cookie production; and Clorox, a household cleaning icon. Other companies explored include Four Aces, Hattaway Inc., and Acme Specialties

Tetra Pak: (Chapter 8) --  By the early 2000s, the food packaging giant Tetra Pak was showing the signs of decline that often afflict mature companies. Market share was beginning to drop, customers were complaining how hard it was to do business with the company and new competitors were challenging Tetra Pak with product innovations. Instead of turning into a dinosaur sinking into the corporate swamp, Tetra Pak created new ways of working, improving product development and launch, streamlining engineer maintenance schedules, restructuring its supply chain to generate 50 percent improvement in "perfect orders" and to cut inventory in half.

Gamesa: (Chapter 9) -- Once Mexico's foremost producer of sweet snacks, Gamesa found itself mired in hierarchical bureaucracy and management methods when it was acquired by PepsiCo in 1990. The company's focus on costs, not the value of its products, resulted in inconsistent product quality, inefficient manufacturing, and a lack of innovation. A revelation in 1996 forced the company to focus on the customer. CEO Jose Luis Prado simplified Gamesa's vision to become the favorite convenient, nutritious and fun food company. It didn't happen overnight, but the reengineering of Gamesa resulted in the company's obtaining PepsiCo's highest recognition award.

Clorox: (Chapter 3) -- The household icon known for quick cleanups was struggling with product delivery issues. In 2001 Rick Magoun became the first process owner at Clorox, where he created a three-year journey map for the order-to-cash process to improve delivery problems. Magoun's journey map specified the level of performance for the metrics that the order-to-cash process was to achieve in each of the coming three years, including on-time delivery, error-free order receipt and forecast accuracy. The map became the basis for an annual action plan and a monthly scorecard of process performance. The result: Clorox saw perfect orders increase 300 percent while costs went down.

About the authors

Michael Hammer (1948-2008) was the co-author of "Reengineering the Corporation" and the author of "The Agenda," as well as numerous articles in the Harvard Business Review, The Economist, MIT Sloan Management and other publications. Lisa W. Hershman is the CEO of Hammer and Company. She previously served as corporate senior vice president at Avnet Inc.