Ross Products' employees don't have to look far to see the nutritional company's customers. Their pictures line the walls in the plants -- senior citizens, babies, even members of the employees' families.
"It's not too hard to understand who our customers are and the role we play in making it right for them," says James Hughes, divisional vice president for the company's Quality Center of Excellence for Nutritionals. "It's not like a light bulb doesn't work and you take it back. Our products are expected to work every time somebody uses them."
Quality, then, becomes the focus of Ross, a division of Abbott Laboratories that makes adult and infant nutritional formulas such as Ensure, Similac and Isomil.
"You have to have an organizational commitment to quality," Hughes says. "In general, that's just where everyone in the organization from top to bottom believes that quality is a key business strategy and thinks it's necessary for the success of the business."
In 1999, Abbott executives decided to centralize the company's quality functions. All seven of its divisions had quality structures and processes, but by creating a new corporate Quality Center of Excellence, it could create initiatives to specialize in regulating quality in its three global lines of business: pharmaceuticals, medical devices and nutritional products.
Continuous training and employee involvement ensure quality through all facets of the organization.
"When someone asks, 'How many people do you have in your quality group?' I'm tempted to say 5,000 -- that's everybody in the company," Hughes says, adding that it takes well-trained, well-informed and well-motivated people to maintain quality.
The company offers recognition, awards and gift certificates -- anywhere from $50 to a couple hundred dollars -- to employees for quality initiatives.
"It's a continuous improvement process itself," Hughes says of quality assurance. "You're never there." How to reach: James Hughes, Ross Products, (614) 624-5441 or firstname.lastname@example.org