“To be candid, I was very skeptical. It seemed like the concepts were simply common sense. I thought, ‘Where’s the return on investment?’ ”
Tim Ney, CEO, Armed Forces YMCA
Back in 2011, that’s what Tim Ney, then chief operating officer for Feeding America San Diego, thought about Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, a kind of accounting martial arts for executives.
During the course of the project and with support from his staff, the overhaul of the non-profit’s distribution center and product flow resulted in a significant savings of $239,000. Each dollar equates to six meals, so the savings made a measurable difference in the community, as well.
“The overall impact on staff morale, our donors, our customers, and our bottom line was beyond measure,” said Ney. “It was a win-win in every way.”
As the largest hunger-relief organization in San Diego County, privately funded with no government subsidies, Feeding America San Diego delivers nutritious donated food at no charge to 73,000 local hungry children, families, and seniors each week — one in six residents, with half being children.
After each of his Lean Six Sigma Black Belt sessions at UC San Diego Extension, Ney met with his staff to share and implement his latest findings. “The biggest difference was in how we focused on serving our customers better,” he said, “and achieved measurably greater efficiencies.”
After four years at the non-profit’s helm, Ney felt gratified that the Lean Six Sigma Black Belt concepts — part of the Lean Enterprise management system — made a substantial impact, not only on him as a top executive but on his 32-member staff.
“When I started, our staff and processes weren’t structured in a practical way to enable good decision-making,” said Ney. “The tools from the program allowed us to work better as a cross-functional team and be extremely efficient.”
Utilizing the Japanese system of “Kaizen,” a central precept of Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, Ney focused on slimming down all processes to achieve maximum efficiency.
“Tim was very strategic and super focused on performance measurement,” said Jennifer Gilmore, executive director of Feeding America San Diego, who hired Ney four years ago. “There was no project too big that he wasn’t willing to undertake. He truly embraced all of our challenges.”
Based on his bottom-line success, Ney, forty-two, was hired in mid-January by another San Diego non-profit, the Armed Forces YMCA, as its chief executive officer. The agency provides tens of thousands of locally-based military members and their families with life-enriching programs ranging from donated food to family counseling with an overarching goal of military life easier.
Already Ney has instituted Lean Six Sigma concepts into his new role. “As before, I want to create an organizational culture of change-makers,” he said. “My job is to teach our staff how to think lean as opposed to just me being the only one who understands the concept.”
As a previous member of the U.S. Marine Corps’ 1st Force Reconnaissance Co., an ultra-elite reconnaissance and hostage-rescue outfit, Ney surely knows how to overcome adversity. Asked what he learned during his eight-year military career, he said, “We called it ‘intentional fortitude.’ You do whatever it takes.”
That in mind, he’s not only a believer in Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, he’s an advocate.
"In American culture, we’re very focused on the single-hero mentality, that one person gets all the praise or all the blame,” he said. “But I’m confident that by working together, you can create an entire team of Lean Enterprise experts.”