Q&A with Felix Diaz

Felix Diaz is president of the Latin American Region of Pall Corporation, a global leader in providing filtration, separation and purification solutions for fluid management. Diaz will give his keynote presentation at the IIE Annual Conference Tuesday, May 21. 

What is the most pressing challenge in the field of industrial and systems engineering today?

I see as a major challenge balancing the use of technologies and tools like Six Sigma, JIT, lean manufacturing and others, with the need to be aware of all the details that impact operations and people’s behavior. Industrial engineers must continue to become experts in understanding human behavior as this is, in my view, the most difficult variable to be identified, measured and controlled in any process. Industrial engineers should be aware and understand that human behavior is what impacts processes most of the time. We have excellent tools to measure processes and track indicators and statistics, but we tend to forget that people are managing and driving those processes. So we need to strive to become experts at understanding that. Not becoming psychologists, but understanding human behavior from the engineer’s standpoint and the impact in processes. I see that as a very difficult variable to identify since each individual is so different.

I started noticing this early in my career when dealing with people from many different walks of life and in many different cultures. I have traveled to many places … and managed small and large manufacturing and business organizations in many countries in Europe, Asia, Latin America and, of course, the U.S. Even as each country has its own culture and work ethics, I've found that ultimately human behavior is critical when it comes to engaging in manufacturing and/or management activities. Human behavior and motivation is what impacts a process the most.

Then the fundamental question is: How do we effectively measure human behavior impact in a process, and how do we motivate and drive behavior so that we can really have controlled processes? The question applies in low-tech or high-tech process environments and in most of the things we do from an operations or business management standpoint. I see that as the pressing challenge because we tend to rely so much nowadays on technology to try to resolve problems that many times we forget about the human aspects of the process. We need to become masters of understanding human behavior more than anything else.

What do you plan to discuss in your keynote presentation?

My presentation is not going to be a technical presentation. I am not going to be talking about Six Sigma, JIT, lean or any of the very effective tools that are used nowadays because I am sure there will be people in the audience who are much more expert than me on those tools. One of my presentation’s objectives is to help the audience understand that those tools are just that – tools in an arsenal of all the tools we need to have to become successful in our careers.

Generally, I also want to share with the audience, in a very informal and lively way, some of the most memorable and meaningful real-life experiences in managing people, processes and businesses in my 35-plus-year career. I like to talk based on real-life experience, and I am planning to use several examples, like when we were very successful in establishing manufacturing plants in China, a new commercial organization in India or the seamless integration of an acquisition. I am also planning to discuss how I successfully used some high-level manufacturing indicators when managing large global operations in a way that manufacturing improvements were effectively and clearly linked to the financial results of the corporation.

What would you like attendees to take away from your presentation?

That industrial engineering has been and continues to be a fantastic and exciting field that prepares professionals during their formal education and the initial years of their careers in broad-based areas of expertise that then leads to building very strong and lasting management capabilities. These early-year experiences can and will open many doors into diverse areas of operations and business management, where those capabilities will continue to be used to achieve real and measurable improvements impacting an organization’s profitability.

I have enjoyed so much being an industrial engineer and growing professionally and personally that if I had to start my life all over again, I would still be an industrial engineer. But the reason I say that is because I did not stand still during my career doing only what would be considered traditional industrial engineering roles. I expanded my career using the industrial engineering education, background and mindset as a foundation and moving into different roles that eventually allowed me to become a business leader.

I think that my contribution to the younger generation of industrial engineers could be to help them understand where this career can take them.

For more information about Felix Diaz and the other IIE Annual Conference keynote speakers, go to the Keynote Speakers page at www.iienet.org/annual. 

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