The Lean Builder Blog: Marshall Field had it right

December 21, 2011

Last weekend was the annual Christmas sojourn to my wife’s relatives in Chicago. On the obligatory trip downtown to Marshall Field’s to see the Christmas decorations, visions of credit card slips danced in my head as my wife and daughter pursued something precious that surely could not be found elsewhere. As they searched, my mind naturally turned to thoughts of Lean, rather how much waste I could find in the store’s products and processes. Yes, it is an obsession. Then my eyes fell upon this plaque, something that Marshall Field himself wrote in the 1800’s.  I took this snapshot.

What more can you add to this remarkable “idea of a company” written so long ago? If every company had followed this credo then and since, our world would be a much better place.

* Note: Marshall Field’s was purchased by the Dayton-Hudson Corporation (today’s Target Corporation with some of the highest customer loyalty of any retailer). Dayton-Hudson rebranded their Dayton and Hudson’s Department stores with the Marshall Field’s moniker, which stores were briefly owned in turn by May Department Stores, then Federated Department Stores, before finally being folded into the Macy’s chain. Along the way, incredible customer loyalty (aka: value) was lost.

Sometimes on paper the numbers look right, but still the equation will not calculate. A similarly hard lesson has been learned by many large builders in the past decade. Lean is never just about cost; in fact, without value, Lean has no meaning at all.


Scott Sedam is president of TrueNorth Development, a consulting and training firm that works with builders to improve products, process, and profits. A senior contributing editor to Professional Builder, Scott has written award-winning commentary on all aspects of the business of home building and won the 2015 Jesse H. Neal Award, business journalism's most prestigious prize, for his commentary in Pro Builder. Scott invites you to join TrueNorth's Lean Building Group on LinkedIn and welcomes your feedback at or 248.446.1275.


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