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Advisory Board Member Receives Rare Honors

After wading through the dark waters of the Great Recession, Bob Du Fresne of Du Fresne Manufacturing Company (DMC) knew that a big change had to happen if the sheet metal manufacturer was going to get back on its feet. The company had plummeted from 130 employees down to 40, and each day was a question mark asking whether they’d survive the major economic slowdown. Then came that big change that would turn the company around and ultimately earn DMC the Minnesota Performance Excellence Award, based on Baldrige Criteria in 2015. DMC turned to Baldrige Criteria as guidelines to shift how it led and managed its employees.

“We realized that the National Baldrige Criteria would give DMC an opportunity to develop a level of trust with the employees, which would then open doors to a transformation journey for the company,” says Bob Du Fresne, president and CEO of DMC.

Du Fresne, who serves on the U of M’s Manufacturing Operations Management (MM) program Advisory Board, had been aware of the seven pillars that constitute Baldrige Criteria (established in 1991), but implementing them was step one in the company’s transformation journey. The Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence are as follows:

  • Leadership: How upper management leads the organization, and how the organization leads within the community.

  • Strategic planning: How the organization establishes and plans to implement strategic directions.

  • Customer and market focus: How the organization builds and maintains strong, lasting relationships with customers.

  • Measurement, analysis, and knowledge management: How the organization uses data to support key processes and manage performance.

  • Human resource focus: How the organization empowers and involves its workforce.

  • Process management: How the organization designs, manages, and improves key processes.

  • Business/organizational performance results: How the organization performs in terms of customer satisfaction, finances, human resources, supplier and partner performance, operations, governance and social responsibility, and how the organization compares to its competitors.

“I realized that I didn’t want ‘400 million tons of steel manufactured’ written on my tombstone. I wanted it to say 400 people whose lives I affected,” Du Fresne says.

DMC evolved into a human development company that put strong emphasis on creating a level playing field for communication and meaningful work for all employees. Under the new Baldrige Criteria-inspired model, DMC employees starting in temp positions working with their hands could now find themselves working full-time and running state-of-the-art equipment with their minds. The company was essentially creating a new creed, and it was all about enrichment and development of the individual.

In fact, Du Fresne coined a word to describe this internal development: “oblitunity.” It refers to the obligation the CEO feels to provide opportunities for all employees.

DMC also provides oblitunity to future metal workers by promoting the industry in the White Bear Lake School District and providing shadowing opportunities for students. And employees have paid oblitunity forward by providing it to the recipients of their charitable causes. Even after days filled with spot welding kits for elevator kiosks, employees at DMC take time to raise money. Six teams within the company compete with each other to raise the most money for their chosen charities.

In April of 2015, Du Fresne received the Minnesota Performance Excellence Award, based on Baldrige Criteria, making DMC the first Minnesota metal manufacturing company ever to receive the honor.

“We set the bar high for ourselves,” he says. “It’s all about getting better and better while staying passionate about the work you do.”