At a time when most companies are shrinking their work forces and cutting back on educating and training employees, LSG Sky Chefs has been increasing those efforts over the past couple of years by implementing lean manufacturing – mainly concepts in the Toyota Production System. “We basically started a lean manufacturing initiative, and every year since 2006, we’ve been building upon that process,” Senior Vice President of U.S. Operations Jeff Miller explains. “Now, it is a global-wide initiative, and in North America, what we started doing is asking ourselves how we can go faster.”
The Irving, Texas-based firm is an in-flight service provider that supplies frozen meals and meal boxes to 300 airlines worldwide. The company serves 49 countries from 200 locations and serves 400 million meals annually.
Other services the firm provides include things such as logistics and in-flight management and equipment, it says. The company notes it considers itself a leading expert in managing the complete in-flight service supply chain for airlines.
“As an in-flight services provider, our job is to make sure that, with our help, airlines can offer passengers an outstanding onboard experience that is unique and absolutely loyal to their brand values,” it says. “But there is more to what we do. We want to make the in-flight side of our customers’ operations less complicated by partnering with them and building the best possible solution.”
The concepts that the company implements involve eliminating waste, improving productivity and quality, and reducing costs. “It wasn’t always productivity-driven – it was cash flow,” Miller notes. “We kept adding lean manufacturing into our system to drive continuous improvement.”
Lean is implemented in all departments of LSG Sky Chefs, such as legal, finance, sales, purchasing and program management – there are no exceptions. “Everyone uses lean concepts and
tools,” he says.
Miller notes that the company has seen many benefits of implementing lean philosophies. “We haven’t gone out of business,” he continues. “We improved productivity in a number of areas. There were also lead time improvements because we focused on our business processes. [They include] typical lean savings.” Educating its employees was a major factor in making lean successful. Last year, the company rolled out a lean boot camp where employees spent one week understanding lean and ways to drive out waste. This program taught employees what they need to bring back to their respective offices. “There are two elements that are essential [to implement lean] – knowledge and leadership,” Miller explains. “People have the knowledge, but they need the right leadership in place.”
Implementing lean proved to be essential to LSG Sky Chefs when the recession hit, as well as when resources like fuel costs skyrocketed. “The economy has been difficult for us,” Miller says. “The last couple of years, we’ve been dealing with the economic conditions at hand while providing our customers with the highest quality.”
Although the number of flights has decreased, there has been a growing demand in the industry to upgrade the catering services of the aircraft, especially in first-class and business seats, as well as international flights.
To meet this growing demand, the company has worked with top-notch chefs to develop menus, including some well-known chefs from the Food Network. “We worked with them on how to create the menu and get them 35,000 feet in the air,” Miller explains. “A lot of people don’t understand the intricacies involved to purchase the ingredients, prepare it and [transport it] on the plane, and get it presented [in-flight].”
However, going the extra mile is not a new concept for the company. “Service, quality, striving for excellence, exceptional attention to our customers’ needs and outstanding levels of efficiency – these are the keys to our continued success,” it says.
Being green and focusing on environmental concerns is also important to LSG Sky Chefs. “The environment represents an increasingly important issue to everyone, which is why it is firmly anchored in LSG Sky Chef’s company philosophy,” the company says. “Taking nothing for granted, we have carefully reviewed every aspect of the way we do business.”
“We run workshops where we focus on how to eliminate [non-sustainable practices] and develop products that are more environmentally friendly,” Miller says. “We look at how we generate that waste to begin with, and in some cases, try to reuse or recycle items. For example, [we do not throw] plastic containers in landfills.”
This is being practiced in its locations worldwide. “It’s a global initiative and we’re focusing on working with the customer,” he continues. “At our Seattle location, we started using biodiesel as an alternative to traditional fuel.”
The company also strives to save energy by using energy-efficient light fixtures and not leaving lights, equipment, and water on when they’re not being used. “We’re in the process of evaluating our facilities and seeking opportunities on how to improve them,” Miller says.
Passion for the Industry
LSG Sky Chefs has more than 30,000 employees from more than 100 countries. “We strive to make LSG Sky Chefs a great place to work,” the company says. “We remain respectful and supportive of our diverse work force and broad culture, and recognize the benefits of the wide backgrounds of our suppliers, customers and partners.”
Miller says that LSG’s major goal is to make its airline customers look good. “We’re trying to develop their brand and the services they’re trying to provide,” he says. “We look at how we can support them. We basically provide a worldwide logistics platform. We’re helping our customers solve their problems and the logistics of what service is on their airplanes. Our role is being behind the scenes, and that’s how we take it. We make sure to give customers the highest-quality service for their brand. We’re a silent partner, and our goal is to make them successful.
“Since the company is operational 24/7, operating in a very dynamic environment, our corporate culture is very energized and creative,” Miller says. “Our company is built around being responsive to changes in our business environment. If you want to sit in an office and do the same thing every day, this isn’t the place to be.
“We’re constantly looking at what challenges the customers have and how we can be a part of creating solutions,” he continues. “I think there is always going to be a focus on high-quality food to the airline customers. In old films, they used to have chefs on the airplane and customers cutting off a piece of a big prime rib. Today, it’s not like that.
“What’s it going to be? I think it’s going to be a range because of the type of customers we have,” he continues. “Our goal is identifying how we continue to play a role in providing that service.
“I think one of the real strengths of the company is that, when I look back at what’s going on in the industry, there’s a real passion in the business,” Miller says. “Whether it was the events of 9/11 – which drastically changed the business – or the events of $150 barrel of oil, and the worst economy most have ever seen, we still see planes fly every day. People still travel by air, and while it’s less than it was a year ago, it’s still a viable business. The customer is part of that 24/7, 365 days. I think the people at LSG have passion, and it’s fun to work with people like that.”