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March Madness and the Principles of Operational Excellence at THE University of Dayton

You may have heard about THE University of Dayton’s bracket busting tour through the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball tournament and perhaps have seen the pictures of their President, Dr. Dan Curran crowd-surfing with the celebrating students in the streets surrounding the university.  Perhaps a little background is necessary in order to understand the link of March Madness and Operational Excellence at UD.

My wife and I are in the small percentage of people who picked the University of Dayton to proceed to the sweet sixteen in the NCAA basketball tournament.  Dayton, once considered a “bubble” team, (one that may not make the final cut of 64 teams) was seeded 11th in the South region and faces one of the toughest paths to the finals.

Their first game was against interstate foe, The Ohio State University Buckeyes.  I can’t  call this a rivalry game because of Ohio State’s policy of not scheduling games against in-state schools.  The state of Ohio has had it’s share of talented basketball schools – Cincinnati, Xavier, Kent State and Dayton who have all participated in recent NCAA tournaments and have had some success.  Even my alma mater, Cleveland State University made a trip to the sweet sixteen back in 1986, while I was earning my MBA, there.  For some reason, Ohio State will not schedule a regular season game with another in-state school.

Ohio State has represented the cream of the crop when it comes to NCAA Division 1 basketball in Ohio.  We’ve always rooted for the Buckeyes, because of their success and our loyalty to the state of Ohio.

So when the brackets were announced last week, my son, Noah, a freshman at UD was a little torn.  After all, we had taught him that you should be loyal to Ohio State and he had grown up always rooting for them.  Ohio State started as his first choice of schools to attend for his Engineering undergraduate degree – until we visited both Ohio State and Dayton.  Dayton was always a close second due to his older sister having graduated from UD in 2009.  After visiting both schools last year, Dayton won his heart and his mind. So when he texted us with the question, “Who am I supposed to root for in the first round?”  He may have been thinking more about the Billion Dollar challenge than he was about school loyalty.  He later texted, “I want Dayton to win, but I’ve always rooted for OSU.  It’s so conflicting, haha”.  We helped him make a quick adjustment in his thinking and he, my wife and I filled out our brackets with Dayton beating Ohio State and they did!

Next up, Syracuse, a team that at one time during this season was ranked number 1, having won their first 25 games of the season.  Logically, Syracuse should end Dayton’s run in the tournament.  It would be silly to pick Dayton, as the experts only gave them a 3.5% chance of making it to the Sweet Sixteen round.  We picked them anyway and Dayton won.

Their victory set off a celebration in the streets around the campus, which brings me to my link between the NCAA tournament known as March Madness and Operational Excellence on display at UD.

The President of the University goes to gemba.  Not only in the classroom, but he takes to the streets.

As retweeted by the University of Dayton twitter account:  Dayton’s president celebrates ‘s big win by crowd surfing (Pic via ). /

That’s right, University of Dayton president, Dr. Daniel Curran, instead of sitting at home and watching news coverage of the celebration, decided it would be best for him to be a part of it.  He was not afraid to interact with the celebrating students.  It looks like his presence was appreciated by the students, as they could be heard cheering, “Dr. Dan, Dr. Dan, Dr. Dan!”

This represents what many organizations are lacking when it comes to implementing a lean culture.  Their leaders don’t want to go the gemba, where the work is done.  They would rather look at reports on their computer screens and rely on their managers to go see what is going on.  This is what keeps front-line caregivers and associates distanced from their leaders.

We’ve been to Dayton and have met and shook hands with Dr. Curran.  He was at the freshman orientation pep rally and opening Mass this fall when my son started his college journey.  My wife and I watched from the stands as Dr. Curran interacted with the students.  When he spoke later about genuinely being interested in the success of the students, we believed him because we had seen the way he interacted with them.

Dayton practices lean management across the University.  Mark Graban posted about their lean initiatives in their back office operations.

Mark also hosted a podcast with Paul Piechota, Director for the Center for Competitive Change at the University of Dayton School of Engineering.  You can listen to the podcast at 

In the podcast, Paul talks about the support from Dr. Curran and how they have adapted lean as a business strategy.  Dr. Curran’s leadership is a constant message throughout the podcast.

UD’s quest to achieve operational excellence is not a tool-based approach, rather, it is grounded in guiding principles, starting with their roots as a Marianist university.

We had an opportunity to experience another principal of operational excellence (Respect for Every Individual) at UD recently when our son, Noah, called my wife in the morning a few weeks ago complaining of severe abdominal pain.  His roommate had left for the day and there was no one around in his dorm for him to contact.  He was lying on his dorm room floor writhing in pain.  My wife called 911, who contacted University student services.  An ambulance transported Noah to the local hospital where it was discovered that Noah was passing a small kidney stone.   He was given some pain-killing medication and was given a ride back to his dorm where we met him after driving the 3.5 hours to ensure everything was ok.  He is ok now, but it was a scary morning for him and for us.

While we were driving to Dayton, we received a call from Student Services checking to see that everything was ok and offering us housing for the evening if we wanted it.  It is a service that they offer to all parents whose kids require medical attention.  We assured them that Noah was ok and that we would not be staying the night, however, we were extremely pleased and thankful for the personal interest in both Noah’s and our well-being.

We were excited to see Dayton students and Dr. Curran celebrating their success by dancing in the streets last night.  They will be facing Stanford, another bracket busting team, in Memphis on Thursday.  We’re hoping they can continue their dancing in the next two weeks!

We are looking forward to the next few years as we continue to learn and benefit from and celebrate with UD’s President, Faculty, Staff and students.

Goooooo, Dayton Flyers!


Grandpa, tell me ’bout the good old days.

Papa Johnny with my three sons on Halloween, 2001

Today is a special day for many reasons. We are going to my daughter’s house to celebrate my oldest grandson’s 4th birthday.  When he was born, I remember thinking that I was not worthy of the title “Papa Pettry”.  My grandfather owns that title. My father is called “Papa Johnny” by my children.  “”Papa Tim” just doesn’t sound right to me,  so just plain “Papa” will have to do.   As we celebrate the growth of our next generation, we will also take time to remember the events of September 11, 2001 and the sacrifices and memories of previous generations.

September 11th will forever be a day of remembrance for those of us who watched in horror in 2001 as our world changed in front of us.  It forced all of us to question what was important in our lives and served, at least for me and my family, as a point of gathering closer together, seeking comfort in each other.

Papa and Mama Pettry with my brother and me.

My family comes from humble beginnings in the coal country of West Virginia.  Both of my grandfathers worked in the coal mines to support their large families.  Eight kids in my father’s family, ten in my mother’s.  That’s a lot of aunts, uncles and cousins.  I’ve been blessed with a large extended family.

Last year, another tragedy occurred in the coal mine where my Grandfather worked.  The mine in Montcoal, W.V. exploded taking the lives of 29 miners.  It put the town of Montcoal on the global map.  This, however, was not the Montcoal that I remembered.

In anticipation of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary in 2007, I asked my father for the 8 mm videos that he had taken while we were growing up.  I was able to convert the films to digital files and then create updated videos of my parents, their families and friends, and my siblings and their families.  It was a joy to work on these and I watch them frequently.

Putting music to the raw 8mm videos resulted in a one hour montage of my youth.  After the mine explosion, I shared the linked video of my favorite segment on YouTube, to show Montcoal in better times.  (click here to see video). It is special because it includes both of my grandfathers and my great-grandmother.

Memories of the struggles that those before us have endured are what keep me moving forward.  Their hard work made my life easier.  Creating new memories with those who are following me is a joy and I hope that my hard work translates into a better life for them.

Nana and Papa with Nathan and Noah at the circus.

We need to occasionally pause to mourn the loss of our innocence, and we must never let the sacrifices of those who have gone before us go unrecognized or be forgotten.  We must also work harder to create and capture new, happy memories for those who are following us.

Happy birthday, Natey Bee! Love, Papa.

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