It has now been one week since Dr. James Harrington passed away at the age of 95. He was a giant among quality professionals, having published over 50 books and inspired thousands through his presentations and articles in leading publications on quality and business improvement.

Jim with other Quality Giants, Dr Edward Deming, Dr Joseph Juran, and Dr Kaoru Ishikawa

Jim had a distinguished career, working for IBM, Ernst & Young and Systemcorp, where he led and developed significant quality and project management related initiatives before starting his own highly successful management consultancy, Harrington Management Systems. Alongside this he served in leadership roles in promoting quality around the world as Chairman of the International Academy for Quality and the American Society for Quality. Even in his 90s, Jim remained passionate about quality, working every day, publishing at least one professional book each year, and writing fictional books in his later years. He kept up to date with the latest knowledge, with recent publications on innovation and artificial intelligence.

I first met Jim at the “World Congress for TQM,” a congress organized by Professor Gopal Kanji, in September 2003. I wanted to talk to him about the which I had recently launched, to seek his approval. When I eventually plucked up the courage to speak to him, I was so grateful that he showed genuine interest in my work, despite my youth and limited achievements. From that point, we developed a strong relationship, both serving on the Advisory Board of the e-TQM College in Dubai, thanks to invitations from Professor Mohamed Zairi and Dr. Mansoor Al Awar.

In 2010, Jim invited me to join him on a lecture tour of China for a week, courtesy of the Shanghai Association for Quality. He spoke about Process Improvement, and I spoke on Benchmarking. We were joined by Doug Nelson, who used to work for Jim. Doug also sadly passed away this year. Traveling with Jim and hearing his stories on how businesses should be utilizing quality tools, particularly quality costs and value mapping to remove waste and bureaucracy, left an indelible mark.

Since then, Jim always volunteered to be involved in activities I organized including serving as a judge for the International Best Practice Competition. Last year, in 2023, he entered his own best practice into the competition with his “TIME (Total Innovation Management Excellence) methodology,” which won first place in the “Innovation Systems and Approaches” category.

This year, Jim was set to be a judge again and enter another best practice into the competition. He was enthusiastically looking forward to this and submitted his application despite his poor health, hoping to recover soon. Sadly, he didn’t recover.
What I will miss most are his Skype calls. He would often call me when he saw me online. I always felt guilty for not calling him as often, thinking I was his junior and didn’t want to disturb him, or I didn’t call him because I was too busy—I regret this now, I should have made more of an effort. Jim’s generous nature of reaching out to people to say hello and showing genuine interest in others was perhaps his strongest attribute—something we could all learn from and an approach I will try to adopt moving forward.

I remember Jim as an amazing man with the enthusiasm of a 20-year-old. Every Skype call, he had new ideas, new projects starting, and ambitious plans. I always wondered how he could do all these things and why he didn’t slow down—the answer was that he loved learning, contributing to the business world, and writing. He would also ask when he could come to New Zealand to go fishing or if we could meet in the UAE to connect with our mutual friend, Professor Hadi Tigani, and run another conference on quality.

I have many of Jim’s books—his benchmarking book is right by me now—but these can’t replace Jim and his calls. He will be deeply missed.
Here are some photos of happy memories from the past.

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Author:Dr Robin Mann
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