Debra Levantrosser is a leading advocate of lean in Michigan, lecturer for Industrial & Operations Engineering, and Tauber Institute team project advisor.
Q: What first brought you to the University of Michigan?
I had been working in the Lean Manufacturing space for 20+ years in industry and had formed the Michigan Lean Consortium, a non-profit organization bringing lean principles to all Michigan organizations. I had also been teaching at the university level part time for 20 years. I had been doing some work with Dr. Jeff Liker who asked if I’d be interested in taking over his IOE 425 course on Lean Manufacturing. To me, this was the equivalent of Elvis asking me to sing on stage with him so of course I said yes.
Q: Describe your experiences as an instructor at Michigan, and working with the Tauber Institute.
I love getting to know my students and helping them learn. My department gives me the freedom to use active learning techniques in class and I appreciate that freedom because my philosophy on teaching is to engage the students in the learning process. My students are extremely smart and interesting and I learn so much from them! Working with the Tauber Institute has been a fantastic experience in getting to know engineering and business students and watch them grow as they work on projects at real businesses. I enjoy helping them bridge the gap between classroom learnings and the real world, which can be a bit challenging but also fun.
Q: What do you consider to be highlights of your career thus far?
My career has taken many twists and turns which has made for an interesting ride. Three highlights were attending the Disney University when I was the Quality Coordinator at Vassar Brothers Hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York. It was a fascinating experience applying Disney concepts in a health care setting. Another highlight was living in Southeast Asia and growing PricewaterhouseCoopers’ business to the top consulting firm in the region. Learning Asian languages and being immersed in the culture definitely have had an impact on how I see the world today. Finally, the last highlight on my short list is being an entrepreneur. I have owned several businesses and for the last six years have owned a food truck and soon, a restaurant, called Shimmy Shack. We bring the delicious side of vegan and gluten free comfort food to the masses with our sassy brand. Being an entrepreneur is definitely the most challenging part of my career to date. I became bored with Corporate America and am definitely the opposite with Shimmy Shack.
Q: What new developments in Operations do you find most exciting?
My interest lies in lean manufacturing and lean thinking so I find it extremely interesting that lean is now being implemented in governments, food service and higher education. The sky is the limit with the where lean can be applied and I find it gratifying to see it spread. Benjamin Franklin was an early lean thinker using the principles to form and run our government and would be thrilled to see the applicability evolve. There is no doubt in my mind that if engineers and business majors learn about lean, they will have definite job security in the years to come.
Q: What do you predict will be different in Operations management 10 years from now?
Lean will be the normal way of problem solving and running a company. Lean in operations will be become the standard way of working.
Q: What skills do you feel are most important for today's Operations students to develop?
Ethics, managing a team, leading a team, being a good team member, conflict management, influencing skills, resourcefulness and accountability. The technical skills are important but these other skills are critical for being able to work successfully in operations.
Q: What do you consider to be the Tauber Institute’s most significant contributions to Operations education?
Three things – 1. The wide range of course offerings on both the hard and soft skills needed to be successful 2. The mix of academic and industry-based faculty and 3. The applicability of classroom principles via real world projects at companies of all sizes.
Q: What is your most memorable classroom moment?
I have two – 1. Having Lt. Governor as a guest speaker talking about life in politics and how lean has helped government and 2. Hearing a student exclaim ‘We need lean in my co-op!!!’.