James K. Franz is a product engineer, teacher, Lean consultant, and all-around automotive industry professional who has been instrumental to the formulation and promulgation of the Toyota Way, both through his co-founding of the Toyota Way Academy and his co-authoring of the enormously influential book The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement – Linking Strategy and Operational Excellence to Achieve Superior Performance.
Mr. Franz’s car career began in the early 1980s as a Toyota production manager who trained in Japan for his occupation. He began at the NUMMI plant in Fremont, California. He went to Japan for a while to work with Motomachi, and then he returned to America to help lead the opening of Toyota’s Kentucky paint facility. The launch of this $250 million facility was so successful as to be revolutionary. He found his time in Kentucky very productive, even finding a spare moment to get his private pilot’s license at the Bluegrass International Airport of Lexington, Kentucky. After these triumphs, Mr. Franz pursued opportunities elsewhere in the automotive industry. In 1993, he left for a four-year assignment at Ford Australia, bringing his knowledge of Lean practices and procedures to a new continent as head of their Stamping, Assembly, Casting, and Powertrain facilities.
After more than two decades on the front lines of the automotive industry, Mr. Franz left Ford in 2004. A new opportunity was calling his name. He was asked to come aboard as the senior lean consultant for award-winning author Dr. Jeffrey Liker. Their collaboration proved fruitful, and within four years of its inception, they chose to embark on a new and possibly more influential project than ever before. The Toyota Way Academy, an institution Mr. Franz uniquely suited to cofound, was created in partnership with Dr. Liker in 2008. The academy was a singular success, educating the next generation of automotive industry professionals and inspiring a book, The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement – Linking Strategy and Operational Excellence to Achieve Superior Performance. This book, co-written with Dr. Liker, led to several awards, including a Shingo Prize for Operational Research. This is the highest form of recognition that the operational research field can bestow. The book has proven to be a worldwide success and is currently being published in 10 different languages. He has also had the chance to work with companies as varied as Bosch, Exxon Mobil, Android Industries, Benteler Automotive, Caterpillar, Dakkota, Grand Rapids Chair, Hertz, MENLO Logistics, SAF Holland, Visteon, WABCO, and countless others.
In 2017, Mr. Franz joined the Broad College of Business board at Michigan State University. He has now risen to Managing Director of the Demmer Center for Business Transformation. Mr. Franz’s educational history has been quite comprehensive. He got a Bachelor of Science degree in Manufacturing Systems Engineering from the General Motors Institute of Michigan and a Master of Science degree in Engineering Management from the University of Michigan. As mentioned, he is also a private pilot with no experience or ability. He remains a member of the Aircraft Owner’s and Pilot’s Association and the Experimental Aviation Association.