Hi, my name is Peter Herku, and I would like to introduce myself, tell my story about my life, so that you can understand me better. I was born in Hungary in the ’70s, and I was raised up there in a communist country. I didn’t notice a lot of things because everyone had the same situation, everyone had work and had some income. So I was not poor, I was happy in my life. I was good at school, I liked it. I like very much to be good at something, so I also like to be good at karate.
I was going to karate training and what I liked there … and if I go back now, first I liked the structure of karate because it’s clear what is your role, how you have to greet each other, what is the training all about? What is the structure, how you train, what exercises you do. So I liked it very much because it was a clear structure. I also liked it very much that they can be better and better in a measurable way. So it was like with belts, with white belt or blue belt. So you could say exercise, take exams and get better and better, get higher and higher level. So I ended up just before the black belt, so brown belt I had.
I studied secondary school then I moved to Budapest, to the capital of Hungary to study chemical engineering. I was not a really chemist in that sense, I’m more like the management part of chemical engineering and the optimization part. Again, looking back, it’s quite evident that I liked that part more because I started to be interested in processes, like production process, manufacturing process, and how you can improve it, optimize it to get better results. That is still in me today. I’m still interested in that aspect of business.
Just after the wall came down, my father died, age of 47, very young, so just too early. So he couldn’t be at my wedding, I married a Dutch girl. I met my wife at the Balaton Lake, on holiday and it still works, so meeting somebody on holiday and then having a relationship until you get married. So that’s what happened with me and first we lived in Hungary because I still had two years left from the university. For the last half year, we moved to the Netherlands close to Eindhoven in the Netherlands to finish my dissertation.
After I finished it, six months later, we had to move back again because I had no residence permit, so I was not allowed to stay, although we were married. So we packed again, made a decision and moved back. I started working in Hungary at the ExxonMobil and it was a good year, but also a very challenging year. This is my first job, and we had bought a house with a Dutch mortgage and we earned local money. In that year we had 35% devaluation of the money, so we had to pay more and more and more for a mortgage, so we decided after one year, “Okay, let’s sell the house, pack in again and try the second time in the Netherlands.” Within ExxonMobil, I could get a job in Breda, that’s the Benelux office in Benelux from ExxonMobil. So I could start there working, it was very nice.
It was again challenging because it was all in Dutch. I could speak a little bit Dutch. I could speak English, of course, Hungarian, of course, but Dutch, very little, although I had lessons from my wife at home. So I had a rough time starting in the Netherlands, new job and like with big corporations, like Exxon, you come, you joined the company as a young graduate and you are in a pool and you are compared with each other to see who is the best who can get promoted quickly and who will stay behind. I was rather in the back instead of in the front of the pool because of my language, because of my background. I to do everything in Dutch, I had to learn business finance. I was a business analyst, but I had no business background at all. I was good with numbers because of chemical engineering background, but that was it.
I was a business analyst in the industry and wholesale department, so it’s a sales department, where every Monday before noon, I had to prepare a weekly report on sales from all kind of industries, like sales to aviation, sales to sea bunkers, big ships, sales to road companies, sales to inland water trade, sales of liquid gas for all kind of use, industrial use. So it was very, very complex business, very diverse. I had a big, big challenge to understand the business, understand why we sell more, why we sell less, what was the reason? How can I explain the reason why we are behind or with sales, or really above our budget? Monday at noon was very sharp and I missed the deadlines a few times.
My supervisor, Linze de Vries, he taught me a very hard lesson. I said, “12 o’clock, it’s 12 o’clock, no later than that and I really insist on it.” And I really had to stress to achieve that, to be on time, but I learnt it very quickly, it was good. At that time. I felt bad because until that point, I was always the best in class, best in the karate training, and now I was not good anymore. So it was a hard lesson, but a very good lesson, very important lesson. It’s also a cultural change because the Dutch people like to say it as it is, they are direct in their communication, so it was a good but hard lesson.
I started getting interested in business, finance, trying to predict the future, trying to predict the financial performance of company. It was later I moved to the treasury department of ExxonMobil, so I started getting more interested in P&L’s and balance sheet and cashflow statement. I decided to join a Webster University, to do an MBA course, training. I got my master of business administration degree at Webster University, they had a campus in Leiden in the Netherlands, but it’s a US-based university. It was very good because until that point, I’d only chemical technical background, but now I had a broad background, in marketing, finance, and HR and all that kind of stuff, operations.
Moving to other companies, I had different chemical companies or financial companies where I was a head of finance, head of administration, CFO level as well. Lastly, I joined a big machine manufacturer, German company, family-owned company but a big one and they are building machines, mainly for paper industry, paper production. I was in charge at one of their site in the Netherlands and what I liked there was that I could experiment and build up something new, like management reporting and financial reporting and I was involved in automation as well.
How can I automate processes to make it more effective? I liked it very much, and I was so good at that. My monthly reporting was basically a hundred percent automated, or for a huge part.
I had time left. There was another company, other sister company, a subsidiary where they also needed someone like me. I had two subsidiaries under my leadership for finance and there, I got to know Lean Six Sigma because the subsidiary, the second one, was in financial problems and production had to be geared up and improved, and many things needed to be changed. There was a new production director coming into the company who had great practical experience with Lean and Six Sigma, process improvement methodology.
I said, “Okay, I would like to learn it as well.” I was selected as one of the five European black belts, as they call it, who got a five week of training in Germany, in Lean Six Sigma and then we came back to our companies. We had in Europe, all kind of improvement projects, Lean Six Sigma projects. Liked these very much in the Netherlands, but I had also project in Austria, in Germany, in Sweden, in Spain, and in Italy. It was a very good experience to have it.
After a few years, doing all kind of projects, savings really sometimes a hundred thousand and millions of euros on a yearly base. This mother company wanted me to come back in finance and move to Dubai.
I didn’t want that. I did want to go back to finance because I’ve seen that with Lean Six Sigma, I can have so much impact on the result of a company and not only from finance, but from operations and because at the end, operations is where things are happening. Finance is only a reflection of how good we are in operations and sales. So I did not want to go back to finance anymore and I didn’t feel like moving to Dubai for four or five years. At that time, we started with foster parenting, so we had our first foster child. Now we have four, with our three own children, so getting busy at home.
So I started working as a consultant in Lean Six Sigma as a solopreneur, self-employed. What I liked is that I not only was working in manufacturing companies, but also service companies like technical service, maintenance companies. Later I moved to healthcare industry. First in elderly care, or district nursing, or that kind of healthcare companies, and nowadays in hospitals and rehabilitation centers.
What I liked is that the principles of Lean Six Sigma is the same, whether you are working with Lean Six Sigma in a manufacturing setting, or in a service company, or a finance company, or a healthcare company, the basic principles are the same.
What are they? You have a customer because you work for somebody, so you always have a customer even if you are an accountant or HR professional, you have a customer.
Secondly, you follow certain steps, so you have a process that you should be aware of and improve. You always have a process.
Thirdly, there are things that are not going well and if you just ask your customers, they will tell you where you can improve.
It doesn’t matter where you are, you can use Lean Six Sigma and this is what I’ve done and because I spent a lot of time with private clients working in their organization, I really had a feeling that at the end, I don’t reach enough people with this.
Everybody has the right to enjoy their work more, and they will if they can spend their time on valuable activities instead of wasteful activities, which they don’t see anymore, because they’re used to it. E.g. looking for information, correcting faulty data, doing it over and over again, asking again, all kind of wasteful activities, that we are used to it.
Everybody has a right to enjoy their work more, so I want to create a community where, as an ambitious professional, you can come together in a safe setting, without noise of social media, without being approached by salespeople, or by Lean Six Sigma consultants like myself J. No, come together so that you can share knowledge with each other, help each other and tell your story, how do you improve your work? How do you improve your output? Your quality of your output? How do you serve your customers better than yesterday?
I am sure it’s a great opportunity to learn from each other and motivate each other because it can be tough to do it alone.