Dr. Mikel Harry made his mark in business and had an impact on everyone he met. He was a force to be reckoned with, and I was fortunate to have known him and to have worked with him.

That’s not to say, however, that we always agreed or got along. Like many trailblazers, Mikel’s personality and style evoked a myriad of emotions from the people he came into contact with – from admiration and respect to anger and frustration. As for me, he undoubtedly, had a tremendous effect on my life and career, and I’m definitely the better for having known him. I met Mikel in the early nineties and I’ll always remember how awed I was by his ability to talk about and promote Six Sigma, something he truly believed would help make businesses more efficient. I always liked to say he was a genius marketer, and he was, but that doesn’t tell the whole story about his success.

Mikel‘s goal was always clear to everyone around him: he wanted to become the next Demming, and indeed, he succeeded. He became the next great quality guru. When Mikel spoke, people not only listened, they acted. In the early nineties, he was able to pull together the scattered Motorola Six Sigma program methodologies into a comprehensive, consistent deployment protocol. He not only succeeded but he relished the opportunity. This is probably why when he went in to talk to a company about Six Sigma, he was never intimidated, no matter how big the company or who he was meeting, whether it was with Motorola or when he went in to talk to Jack Welch and convinced him that Six Sigma was just what GE needed.

Yes, he could go head to head with the best of them, but his true gift, as the principal architect of Six Sigma, was not just in developing the system and marketing it, but identifying the right people to go in and use it to get results.

That’s where I came into the picture. He undeniably influenced my life in many positive ways and helped transform me from a staff statistician at a university to an effective business leader. Early in my career, Mikel was not only my employer, but also my mentor, who brought me under his wing and gave me the space to develop my leadership skills without ever micro-managing me. He would give me an assignment and give me the space to make it happen. With Mikel, I was his consultant for the ABB, Allied Signal, and Polaroid. All were highly successful Six Sigma deployments, and I ended up becoming an Allied Signal employee, opting out of my consulting contract with the Six Sigma Academy. After Allied Signal, I founded Sigma Breakthrough Technologies (SBTI). While Mikel may not have been pleased that I went on my own, we remained on friendly terms and I never forgot who the real innovator was – Mikel Harry, whose brilliance helped so many companies and indeed, is largely responsible for the success of SBTI.

Above all, Mikel valued friendship and competency. If Mikel was your friend, you knew he had your back. If you worked with him, you knew he’d do everything to make your business a success. Both of these traits made him a successful business leader and a truly great man. I remember a couple of my last interactions with him that typify his personality and heart. The first was at a Six Sigma conference a few years ago. He greeted me goodheartedly – and with words I cannot print here – but as he took me out to see his new Lamborghini, we talked about old times and I saw right away that he was the same tough as nails Six Sigma genius, guru, and marketer. The second thing that comes to mind was one time when we were driving along a hot and lonely Arizona highway together and came across an old couple in a broken down RV. Mikel didn’t hesitate: he pulled right over, got out and told them to get in his car and out of that Arizona heat. He took them where they needed to go without regard for his own personal needs and schedule.

Yes, Mikel Harry was a great business leader, but what I’ll always remember most about him, was that he was a great friend with a heart of gold.

Steve Zinkgraf | SBTI Founder