Example of quality – Raúl Molteni, his work history and lessons learned

example of quality raul molteni history
The American Society for Quality recognized Raúl Molteni, our CEO, with the 2021 Ishikawa medal for his leadership and outstanding achievements which had a significant positive impact on the human aspects of Quality. In this interview for ASQ, Raúl tells about his career and shares some lessons learned.

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“Setting an example is not the main way to influence others, it is the only one”

– Albert Einstein.

With more than 80,000 members, ASQ is the world’s largest community of quality experts. Created 75 years ago, and headquartered in Milwaukee, United States, the company is a leader in quality training, certification, and quality management tools.

Raúl Molteni, an ASQ member since 1987 – and today a Fellow member – was awarded the Ishikawa medal in 2021 for his contributions in the area of ​​Quality which, according to the association, “are reflected in the positive impact on the human environment of the workplace, as well as the positive impact on the quality of goods and services delivered to customers”.

Due to the pandemic, this award could not be physically delivered until May 2022, at the World Conference of Quality and Improvement that recently took place in Anaheim, California.

What follows is a conversation that ASQ Latin America had with Raúl Molteni for “Quality Examples”.

In the words of Raúl Molteni

Raúl, please tell us what year you joined ASQ and how your concern or love for Quality rose?

It was the end of 1981 and I was working as a training analyst at Ford Motor Argentina, when Oscar Cecchi, the manager, approached me and delivered “Xerox” copies that I remember were about 10 cm thick. And he told me: “This is the thread of the chorizo; it has some thoughts related to statistics and when I return from vacation I want you to explain to me what it is about”.

I must confess that I never understood the first part of his expression; but, of course, I began to study all that material. It went beyond statistics; I saw it much more global, strategic and interesting. It was a mixture of leadership, strategy, improvement, practices, combined with statistics.

Shortly after, Oscar sent me to take a course with the author of that document: W. Edwards Deming. It was my first seminar related to Quality, and it was fantastic from every point of view. It allowed me to understand that what Oscar had given me was the draft of the book Out of the Crisis, and my vision of my own future changed from being a product engineer in an automobile company, to a professional dedicated to helping others to innovate and to improve.

From there, and with two great initial mentors, Oscar and Edward Baker – Deming’s interlocutor at Ford – I began to enter into this world of quality. And, as part of this, in 1987 I became a member of ASQ because I found an environment that offered me excellent training.

Something to add: many believe that I do “ISO 9000”. They relate quality only to controlling, certifying, having procedures… I think that only those of us who are deeply committed understand that, without detracting from these aspects, “Quality” is much more than that.

On the other hand, you have a very important track record as a consultant in Argentina and in Latin America in general. Please tell us briefly about your career path and how you think Quality and ASQ have contributed to it.

I was kind of rebellious my whole life. In my early days at Ford, I supported Quality Circles, which I saw as a means of giving workers back “the right to think”.

When Ford and Volkswagen merged in Argentina, I “rebelled” against the position that technical issues had to be resolved. And I proposed a process that today we would call change management.

I knew that it was much more difficult to reach an agreement on Quality Circle policies or to get ex-Fords and ex-Volkswagens to act as members of the same company than to transfer matrixes from one plant to another. 

So, I used everything I had learned about quality and continuous improvement, I studied social subjects, I formed a support team, and – even when today I think how much I had yet to learn – I found many people, at all levels and sectors, were thankful for the help we gave them to get through the merger.

Years later, while I was working as Human Resources Development Manager in another automotive company and found inconsistencies between what was said and what was done, I rebelled again. I decided to leave the comfort zone of the assigned car and the nice office because I realized that it was more satisfying for me to act as an independent consultant than within an organization. I felt freer to do what I thought had to be done – even if as a consultant I could influence, help reflect, find paths, train, and incorporate methodologies, but not make the final decision.

I was fortunate that entrepreneurs and executives from leading companies – such as Arturo McKeon from The Coca-Cola Company, Luciana Barrera, and Federico Rava from Telefónica – trusted me.

I was creating my own career path and development. I began to specialize in process management and culture – and then to train people and advise on these areas. Later on, I got interested in strategic planning, customer experience, innovation, and employee experience. The themes arose as I understood what I was missing to respond to the true needs of the clients.

I found huge, huge help in the ASQ. My first seminar was on QFD and then others followed such as Benchmarking, Malcolm Baldrige, Kano model, Lean, FMEA, DoE, consulting, and many more. Over the years, I found something as valuable or more valuable than the courses: the annual congresses -the WCQI-. They allowed me to constantly update and meet remarkable people for their knowledge, experience, and human quality. And it gave me an international perspective and touch that I continue to appreciate.

The ITEA and the team competition in Argentina have been a Quality trigger for several companies in your country and for the Latin American region. Please tell us a bit about this experience, leading the competition in your country and bringing teams to international competition in previous years of the World Conference on Quality & Improvement (WCQI).

As I said before, I don’t see Quality as something exclusively technical.

If we read W. E. Deming’s book Out of the Crisis, we will find outstanding spaces dedicated to leadership, culture, and people. If we read Juran’s Quality Handbook or if we listen seriously to Gregory Watson, Blanton Godfrey, Marcos Bertin – all of them ASQ Honorary members – and so many other excellent professionals that for reasons of space I make the mistake of not mentioning, we will find how, in a way or another, highlight those same issues. Achieving environments in which people are passionate, feel worthy, and have fun developing their work and projects comforts and mobilizes me.

When at the end of a WCQI Congress, back in 2007, the International Team Excellence Awards were presented and I saw the enthusiasm of the teams that had competed, I said to myself “how nice it would be to have something like this in Argentina”. I thought it was an excellent way for those who dedicate their energy, and sometimes their own time, to develop projects in a company to have a space to be heard and recognized, something that their own companies usually do not have or create. And that, additionally, was a source of learning for others.

So, together with IPACE (Argentine Professional Institute for Quality and Excellence) and with the unconditional support of Geetha Balagopal (from ASQ) in 2008, we organized the first edition of the Competition with the same criteria as ITEA, but with an evaluation process that had two phases: one for the analysis of documents, and another one for a presentation by the teams.

In 2019 we had to cancel it due to the pandemic, but until then more than 450 people from 91 teams participated, we trained and evaluated 159 judges, and more than 4,000 owners, managers, and employees from more than 50 companies attended the presentations of the teams in the closing day.

The Competition became a remarkable benchmarking, learning, and motivational arena for those presenting, for those attending their presentations, and for the people from the represented companies who enthusiastically supported the teams.

Gold winners and some Silver winners then presented their projects at ITEA. From 2009 to 2019, 7 of those teams received the Gold award, one of them won the Silver award – there was no Gold that year – and 4 got the Bronze awards at ITEA. 

Those successes allowed us to massively spread everything behind Quality and ASQ in Argentina. Additionally, José Carlos Flores Molina, director of the Institute for Quality of the Catholic University of Peru, allowed me to help them install the Leaders of Excellence Competition in Peru with a similar format.

I have enjoyed seeing the results of the projects of the Argentine and Peruvian teams. But, what I enjoyed more is the passion, the potential, and the capacity they showed. I have learned enormously by coaching and accompanying them.

Also, throughout your outstanding career as a member of ASQ, you have held different leadership positions in the Association, please tell us what those positions have been and what experience they have left you with?

I mentioned everything I have received from the ASQ. So, as a “return” I started spending time organizing and leading activities for the ASQ.

For years I have coordinated ASQ Six Sigma Champion, Black Belt, and Green Belt training seminars, I have been the ASQ Country Counselor in Argentina for more than 15 years and I have been an ASQ Board member in 2017 and 2018.

In addition, I am an Academician at the International Academy for Quality, a member of its Board of Trustees, I coordinate its Quality in Governance Think Tank, and I am of the Quality in Planet Earth Concerns Think Tank.

I have dedicated and still dedicate a lot of my time, ad honorem of course, to these activities; To get an idea, the Team Competition alone has required me over 300 hours a year for years.

But, what I have learned and the satisfaction I got from it exceeds vastly my effort and dedication. It is reassuring to work for organizations with the values, principles, codes of ethics, and leaders such as ASQ and IAQ.

In 2021 you were awarded the ASQ Ishikawa medal, which is awarded to those professionals whose contributions in the field of Quality are reflected in the Positive Impact on the human environment of the workplace, as well as the Positive Impact on the quality of goods and services delivered to customers. Please explain to our readers the reasons or the projects for which they gave you this special recognition.

I quote the ASQ nomination: “for my participation and excellent contributions to ASQ, IAQ, and the companies for which I have led projects with a strong emphasis on human aspects; for promulgating the approach of teamwork and staff contribution; for my contribution to the creation of the National Quality Award in Argentina and Paraguay, and for having trained and coached Argentine teams with the record of having participated and received awards at ITEA for more than a decade”.

Basically – I understand – for having insisted since the age of 24 on the importance of teamwork, considering the social aspects as much as the technical ones, achieving superior employee experiences, developing personnel at all levels and functions, and training executive and managerial levels to work towards cultures that respect all of its stakeholders.

But I need to be totally clear about something else: nobody obtains these recognitions by himself. Much of the credit goes to Lucila, Pablo, and Martín, my wife, and children, for their patience with me. To those who stood by me in training, such as María del Carmen Galíndez and Verónica Rosano, who accompanied me in the organization of the Team Competition, as well as Rodolfo Danishewsky, Maximiliano Giménez, Mario Casellini, and José Carlos Flores Molina, or those who executed the projects – the members of the hundreds of teams that I had the fortune to lead or coach over these more than 40 years. I would like to use this opportunity to express my gratitude to all of them publicly.

At ASQ, young people are the future of Quality in the world. What advice can you give to those who are leaving the Universities or who are just beginning their career in the field of Quality and continuous improvement?

Difficult question to answer. What works for one might not work for others. But, I would summarize it in the following.

First, honesty and ethics are not necessarily correlated with success – at least not in the terms most people evaluate it. Nevertheless, do not lose them – it comforts to respect them.

Second, consistently seek improvement and learning. It’s hard because it requires questioning our own decisions and taking action and realizing that we continually make mistakes – but rewarding.

Third, don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. Results are achieved by integrating points of view and efforts and only then choosing on which to focus. Defining what to work on before analyzing the whole picture can lead to low impact or temporary results.

And fourth, that expression – I don’t remember its origin – that says something like “get a job you like so you never have to work again” is very accurate. Difficult moments will always arise but do what you are passionate about, enjoy, have fun and you will not have to “work” again.

Finally, if you can share a message or thought with us for all our Quality professionals, especially in Latin America – for the experienced and the not too experienced – to always print the seal of Quality and humanism in all the projects they undertake.

Being a Quality Professional does not mean being a professional in the Quality area or managing it. It means having and showing quality in all decisions and behaviors.

Use the methodologies you proclaim.

Facilitate, and emphasize similarities rather than discuss differences. Resist the impulse to take advantage of misunderstandings between other people to make yourself stand out.

Challenge the “divide and rule” principle – even if it works for others.

Encourage teamwork and respect and demand everyone to respect the dignity of each other. Before being professionals, we are people integrating a society; quality as people precedes quality as professionals and, much more, to being quality professionals.

Original article published by ASQ LatAm.

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