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May Leng Yau-Patterson implements lean practices at DaimlerChrysler

As director of manufacturing action process, she helps plants stay competitive and injects new thinking and perspectives into business processes


May Leng Yau-Patterson: focus on what adds value for customers.

May Leng Yau-Patterson: focus on what adds value for customers.

Keeping the company competitive in the marketplace is the mission of May Leng Yau-Patterson, director of manufacturing action process at DaimlerChrysler (Detroit, MI). "We want to build vehicles in the most cost-efficient way, and focus on what adds value for our customers," she says. "We're trying to inject new thinking and new perspectives to become more competitive."

Her duties include facilitating benchmark strategies and implementing business plans to increase productivity. The objective is to improve current processes and introduce new processes and new programs.

She also sets productivity targets throughout the company. And she mentors some of her direct reports and some new grads in DaimlerChrysler's International Management Associate Program.

Action teams, tools and resources
The job lets Yau-Patterson do what she likes best, combining tech knowhow with business smarts in a global company. Besides determining strategies, she sends action teams to company plants to help achieve efficient workflow and learn how to apply lean manufacturing processes.

There are over 100 employees and 100 contractors in Yau-Patterson's group, working through seven direct reports. They offer tools and expertise to help the plants improve throughput and productivity levels.

The group works with product engineering, advanced manufacturing engineering, procurement and supply and employee relations. The results of all this collaboration are measured regularly.

Yau-Patterson presents the productivity results to the company board and managers. She also provides validated performance numbers for the Harbour Report, an annual competitive analysis that the automotive industry uses to compare productivity from company to company and identify areas for improvement.

It started with benchmarking
Yau-Patterson was recruited by DaimlerChrysler some three years ago as senior manager for the competitive benchmarking process. Her work in benchmarking best practices in automotive manufacturing led to a model of the ideal assembly plant process.

Her ability to benchmark in the automotive industry, she notes, is enhanced by the good relationships she maintains with companies she used to work for.

Growing up international
Yau-Patterson grew up in Malaysia. She was one of five children, the first generation in the family to go to college. Her father owned his own construction business and is also in real estate.

Yau-Patterson went to boarding school in Singapore and finished high school in the United Kingdom. Then she came to the U.S. to earn her 1984 BS in systems analysis and 1986 MS in operations research at the University of Miami, FL.

Head start with Ryder
At college she did an internship at Ryder Integrated Logistics (Miami, FL), a unit of the truck rental company, which sponsored her masters thesis research. She had access to an early PC at Ryder, and used it to design a mileage algorithm that was integrated into the company's routing and scheduling system.

After she graduated, Ryder sponsored Yau-Patterson for a work permit and hired her as a business systems designer. She worked on logistics systems development, testing and documentation.

She moved up to distribution design and was part of the team that won the Saturn and Toyota logistics business for Ryder. This was her first exposure to the world of automotive manufacturing.

When a new Saturn plant was established in Spring Hill, TN and a new Toyota Motor Manufacturing plant went up in Georgetown, KY, Yau-Patterson, working for Ryder, designed transportation logistics solutions for them.

Moving along
Yau-Patterson's mentor and former boss had left to become president of a subsidiary of TNT Logistics Corp (Tampa, FL), and in 1990 he persuaded her to come over. In four years at TNT, Yau-Patterson was lead logistics manager and then director of process engineering.

But TNT decided to move the office to Baltimore, MD, and Yau-Patterson's husband, who owns a technology consulting business, had a major contract in Chicago, IL. It was obviously time for a change.

She interviewed with Exel Logistics (Columbus, OH). Columbus is within a few hundred miles of Chicago, easy commuting compared with her husband's worldwide travels, so it was a deal.

At Exel, Yau-Patterson led the automotive sector's integrated logistics design group as director of process engineering. The group, she explains, designed logistics solutions, developed competitive pricing and generated materials management solutions for new and expanded business areas.

"When I started with Exel, they didn't have a lot of automotive business," Yau Patterson recalls. But soon Yau-Patterson transitioned from designing solutions to selling them. After less than a year at Exel she became business development director for the automotive sector, and "The VP sent me after more automotive business," she says with a smile.

It worked too well. General Motors (GM, Detroit, MI), one of her customers, liked her style so well that it hired her away.

On to DaimlerChrysler
GM brought her in as senior advisor of competitive manufacturing on the lean manufacturing team. She was there for five years. But then two colleagues left GM for key posts at DaimlerChrysler. In 2002 they asked Yau-Patterson to join them, and she did.

DaimlerChrysler offers its people a women's network and several minority networking groups, including one for Asians. Yau-Patterson's main networking interest, however, is as management co-chair on a product quality improvement committee, a union/management joint program. It promotes employee participation in the DaimlerChrysler suggestion program for continuous improvement.

Successful migration
Yau-Patterson was originally attracted to Florida because its climate is warm and she thought she "didn't do well in cold weather." That's all in the past, of course. Now she, her husband and their seven-year-old daughter enjoy downhill skiing in the cold Michigan winter as well as water sports in summer and jogging all year.

As Yau-Patterson looks at her northern migration, she recalls that she and her husband used to travel to Detroit on business and didn't like it much. "Now we love it, and we're making our lives and careers here," she says.


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