Remembering Freddy Ballé

Published on
November 27, 2023
Roberto Priolo
Roberto Priolo
Roberto Priolo is editor at the Lean Global Network and Planet Lean
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FEATURE - On Oct. 31, the Lean movement lost one of its pioneers. In this article, Dan Jones reflects on the legacy of Freddy Ballé.

Words: Dan Jones, co-founder of the Lean movement

We all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. One of those giants was Freddy Ballé, who passed away on Oct. 31. He was one of the first in Europe to understand the importance of the Toyota Production System when he worked at Renault in the 1970s. He went on an annual pilgrimage to Japan to seek answers to his questions about TPS from leading sensei at Toyota.

He used this knowledge to build the Valeo Production System. Early on, Toyota told me that only two suppliers in Europe really understood TPS - Freddy Ballé at Valeo and Peter Marks at Robert Bosch. Freddy then developed similar production and product development systems at Sommer Allibert and Faurecia.

One of the best things I did was convince Jim Womack to publish the first lean novels by Freddy and his son Michael. The Gold Mine, The Lean Manager and Lead with Respect showed a worldwide audience the thinking and behavior that makes an lean system work.

I first met Freddy at a supply chain workshop organized by McKinsey in Paris, and each time I met him after that I came away with new insights into lean. This learning continued as his wisdom infected the articles and books Michael and I worked on to explore the learning processes behind Lean Thinking.

I can still hear his voice saying, "Focus on the details of the work and understand its importance to the client and the system as a whole. Thank you, Freddy, for your example and your inspiration.

These wise words are more relevant than ever, now that Toyota is not only developing solid-state batteries, but also leading the way in scaling up production of one of the key building blocks of the post-carbon era, in addition to their pioneering work on hydrogen fuel cells.


Dan Jones is co-founder of the Lean movement

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