INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—When it came time for Industry Week magazine to honor the most influential executive and thought leaders in U.S. manufacturing, the organization inducted Kelley School of Business Professor Emeritus Robert “Doc” Hall into the 2012 Manufacturing Hall of Fame.
“You cannot have a discussion about the early proponents of lean manufacturing in the United States without placing Robert ‘Doc’ Hall high on that list,” the Industry Week article read. “For more than 30 years, Hall has been both a student and strong advocate of Japanese production methods and lean manufacturing techniques.”
With a background in engineering and manufacturing at both Eli Lilly and Union Carbide, Hall began teaching in 1970. His book Zero Inventories, published in 1983, was among the first on the topic of lean manufacturing.
“In the late ‘70s, a man who is still my Japanese sensei on lean came to the university with three industry friends to take a course in Indianapolis,” said Hall. “I was teaching an MBA materials management course, featuring MRP (Material Requirements Planning), and they wanted an official course.
“They invited me to Japan and it became obvious that unless U.S. companies began to change quickly our ways in manufacturing, the Japanese were going to eat our lunch. And as it turned out, they proceeded to eat a lot of our lunch anyway.”
For the next thirty years, Hall became a student and advocate of Japanese and lean manufacturing methods.
“I had to get this message to the people that could do something with it,” he said. “This is how my faculty work with manufacturers began. I spent a lot of time trying to get the message to action people.”
In 1984, Hall made 185 presentations across the U.S. on the topic of lean manufacturing, missing only one of his classes due to a plane delay. A founding member of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, Hall received the organization’s award for outstanding lifetime service, as well as the Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ Gold Medal. He has also served as a judge for Industry Week’s Best Plants competition.
“Bob strikes me as the most famous Kelley School of Business professor whom nobody in academia knows, but who is known throughout the world,” said Roger Schmenner, professor emeritus of operations management at Kelley. “I have been in factories in Europe and have seen his books.
“Bob led the rest of us who teach operations management. I’ll never forget reading his book, Zero Inventories, for the first time; it changed my life,” remembered Schmenner. “Bob is the reason I’m at Indiana University. His book was just a revelation to those of us who read it. He was the intellectual leader for so many in manufacturing who were thinking about what the Japanese were doing.”
Hall taught undergraduate and MBA courses at Kelley Indianapolis until his retirement in 2002. Hall is now chairman of the Compression Institute, an organization born out of his 2009 book, Compression, which continues his work to improve efficiency.
“We have to learn, especially in the industrial world, to live better but to use a lot less doing it,” Hall explained. “That objective simplifies things a great deal.”