Lean Living A new job, a new way of life My life has changed since I started this job 31/2 years ago. I had a vague notion that the Big Three had learned some nifty manufacturing methods from their Japanese competitors, but beyond that I was clueless.

I started hearing about the Toyota Production System and its relentless pursuit to eliminate waste, simplify processes and buy only what you need. I'm learning this science from the auto-makers and suppliers I cover. They all have manufacturing systems that they credit for massive improvements in productivity.

I've heard so much about "getting lean" that I find myself applying this philosophy to my daily life. It's fun analyzing your daily rituals and contemplating a better way to do them. Perhaps even develop a process for doing them. It's all about saving time and maximizing resources.

So in summer, when the dehumidifier is sucking gallons of water out of the musty basement, I start a load of laundry when the dehumidifier bucket is full. Adding that water to the wash contributes nearly three gallons to a conservative estimate of four loads of laundry a week.

I've also been on a mission to find the best way to mow my backyard. It's not your simple rectangle. It's L-shaped, and there are two huge trees, a vegetable garden and a massive playscape. Way too many turns. I think I need to simply mow over the garden. I'll let you know when I've achieved Mow-vana.

There's a plan for everything. When I helped my buddy Ray build a deck in June, we conquered it with good planning. In one day, we had anchored the joists, laid the entire decking surface, capped the ends and even finished part of the railing. We got into a groove and quickly discovered a system for just about everything. It didn't hurt that Ray's a manufacturing engineer. Too bad he kept losing the chuck key for the drill.

And then there's waste. We now recycle just about everything in our home. Even when I crashed the moving truck five years ago and destroyed our two-piece entertainment unit, I couldn't bare to pitch the massive pieces of beautiful oak-veneer sheet that used to be a stereo tower and curio cabinet. So now the floor of my attic is the nicest on the block.

Likewise, we've been purging our home of things we won't use. We've gotten rid of so much stuff that the Purple Heart and Council for the Blind don't even call us for donations anymore. They just send a truck every other week.

When shopping, I try to buy only what my family needs - not the junk food it wants. We shop at Sam's Club (for price, of course) and stock the pantry. I buy large bundles of toilet paper. But when I see other shoppers loading up THREE shopping carts in desperate attempts to max out the cargo hold on their Excursions, I suddenly feel like a tight-fisted Big Three purchasing agent.

This passion for efficiency has touched my work life as well. When I do phone interviews, I use a head-set so my hands are free to type notes. No more cradling the phone against my shoulder. I don't see my chiropractor as often.

Now, I'm on a new mission - to apply lean thinking to my craft. Why should I interview people with long titles and multi-syllable names when there are people like Ken Way, Joe Day and Bill Hunt eager to chat? As for Dana's Joseph Magliochetti, I'll make an exception - despite all those syllables.

And don't be surprised if my stories from now on are devoid of flowery sentences. Quotes - who needs 'em? Make your point. Move on. Short sentences best.

If this job doesn't work out, I can write vanity pl8s 4 a living.

It was only a few months ago on this page that Tim Leuliette extolled the virtues of private ownership for automotive suppliers (see WAW, June '00, p.64). The former Detroit Diesel Corp. vice chairman joined with former U.S. Treasury Secretary David Stockman to create Heartland Industrial Partners, a private equity firm with an eye on undervalued suppliers. In August, Heartland announces its first acquisition: metalforming specialist MascoTech Inc. of Taylor, MI, for more than $2 billion, or about $17 per share. The MascoTech board of directors approves the deal.

The Nissan Revival Plan is a bitter pill to swallow for suppliers. The Japanese automaker wants aggressive price cuts averaging 8% in 2000, 7% in 2001 and 5% in 2002. Hundreds of suppliers have committed to follow the edict, but some suppliers declined and are seeking new business elsewhere. Nissan also is divesting its equity holdings in all but four of 1,400 suppliers, creating new opportunities for other suppliers. For example, Johnson Controls Inc. gets Nissan's seating business. Nissan will sell its driveshaft manufacturing plant in Tochigi to GKN plc and its plastic fuel tank operations to Solvay Automotive Asia KK.

Robert Oswald, a luminary in the supplier industry as chairman, president and chief executive of Robert Bosch Corp., retires on Dec. 31 at the age of 59 to spend more time with family. Mr. Oswald, who has held the top North American post since 1996, has presided over enormous growth for Bosch in the U.S. in brake systems and gasoline fuel injection. His replacement is Kurt Liedtke, who heads Bosch's Australian operations. Mr. Oswald also was the first American appointed to the board of management of German-based parent company Robert Bosch GmbH.