Corban student implements new approach to manufacturing

Monday, March 10, 2014

From the classroom to international business, one Hoff School of Business student is already making a difference in his workplace.

During summer 2013, Keith Clark, ’14, started working at MasterCraft Furniture in Stayton, Ore. as a LEAN Coordinator. Its factory builds furniture for IKEA, the largest furniture seller in the world. At 22 years old, the business management major has already helped his employer enact changes which have broad benefits to the company, its workforce and the community. 

MasterCraft owner and CEO Marty Olson has witnessed the precipitous decline in furniture manufacturing in the Pacific Northwest during the past two decades. He said there were 17 factories in 1994 and now there are three. In order to remain viable in a global manufacturing market, he knew changes need to be made in his factory.

“In America there is an opportunity right now,” Olson said.  “However, we aren’t competing with Pacific Northwest companies or even North American companies, but overseas companies. We have to learn a new way of manufacturing. It’s going to take a new attitude looking forward.”

Because Corban does not offer classes specifically for operational management, Assistant Professor of Business Shawn Hussey, Ph.D., recommended Clark take the LEAN Six Sigma Black Belt program. The program is based on Toyota’s successful manufacturing plan. In it, Clark is learning how to identify and resolve manufacturing process inefficiencies and ways to improve customer relations and product development strategies.

“I wanted to find a way for him to channel his interest and get him into the career he wants,” Hussey said. “We built a curriculum for him around the Six Sigma test that gave him the body of knowledge he needed and helped him gain required project management hours.”

In spring 2013, Griff Lindell, dean of the Hoff School of Business, spoke with Olson about internships and employment opportunities and recommended Clark to him. After two interviews, Clark was hired for the position. Clark said he hopes to complete the Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification program by the end of summer 2014.

One of the first things Olson did was task Clark with timing workflows to map inefficiencies in production. In just three short months, Clark presented his findings during an event he co-coordinated with officials from IKEA. His recommendations helped the company streamline operations, improve communications, increase productivity and eliminate work stoppages.

These changes led to 80 percent less walking time, 40 percent more factory floor space and an increasing productivity from approximately 900 new pieces of furniture built each week to nearly 1,300, a 44 percent rise. The increase in production led to MasterCraft hiring 20 new employees.

Although Clark is currently a full-time student and a part-time employee until he graduates May 3, he is already spearheading the effort for MasterCraft to produce a new sofa bed for IKEA that is currently being built in China.

“I really appreciate the real-world experience of the professors at Corban,” Clark said. “The classes play out like they do in real life. I’ve been able to immediately apply what I am learning to my job at MasterCraft.”

Olson said he was impressed by what Hoff School of Business students are not only learning, but applying through internships and its senior capstone project, Corban Consulting Partners. He is now part of the school’s Executive Advisory Board (EAB).

“I admit I’m still an old-school thinker, but we’ve got to listen to fresh thinkers like Keith who are utilizing what they learn through programs like LEAN Six Sigma,” Olson said. “It’s helped us not to work harder, but to work smarter.

“What we are trying to accomplish is way more than we can do on our own,” he added. “In a lot of ways we aren’t a 30-year-old company, but a startup and anytime we can get a school like Corban to walk alongside of us and offer us help, it’s really exciting.”

Despite his accomplishments, Clark said he is humbled that a company the size of MasterCraft would entrust him with these tasks.

“Most people don’t lead these kinds of projects without much more experience,” he said. “MasterCraft doesn’t take these things lightly with so much money at stake. They really have put a lot of trust in me.” Hussey said the level of trust doesn’t surprise him at all.

“Keith is one of the sharpest young men I know,” Hussey said. “This all came together in God’s perfect timing.”

Learn more about the Hoff School of Business or The Corban MBA.

  • Keith Clark, '14, is currently working on the LEAN Six Sigma Black Belt program to help him with his professional goals.

  • Keith Clark, '14, left, is helping MasterCraft Furniture in Stayton, Ore. develop more efficient manufacturing practices.

  • Keith Clark, '14, left, is helping MasterCraft Furniture in Stayton, Ore. develop more efficient manufacturing practices.

  • MasterCraft Furniture owner and CEO Marty Olson hired Keith Clark as a LEAN Coordinator in summer 2013.

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