Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey
As the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program celebrates its 25th anniversary, I’d like to remember the program’s namesake—and perhaps remind us of the unbreakable tie that Baldrige has always had to a strong economy, jobs, and American prosperity.
On July 26, 1987, one day after a tragic rodeo accident that led to Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige’s death, “President Reagan said Baldrige played a key role in the ‘rebirth of our country’s prosperity.’ He was a loyal member of the Cabinet whose common-sense wisdom and counsel [the president] relied on often and deeply valued,” according to Cynthia Gorney in The Washington Post.
But how are Malcolm Baldrige and the program named in his honor tied to American prosperity?
“What I am saying about Mac Baldrige adds up to a simple but extraordinary quality that I would call, more than anything else, ‘American.’ In his directness, in his honesty, in his independence, in his disregard for rank, in his courage, he embodied the best of the American spirit. I suppose we think of that spirit as living most of all in cowboys.” Congressional Record, U.S. House of Representatives, August 5, 1987
“[Malcolm Baldrige] said that the difference between the Washington circuit and the cowboy circuit was that ‘cowboys don’t talk much unless they have something to say.’” David R. Frasier, The New York Times, 1987
“In addition to being a card carrying member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, Mr. Baldrige seems to have the credentials that Reagan aides were looking for: recognition in the business community and a willingness to take on the tough reindustrialization and trade problems facing the nation. . . . Baldrige has been involved in manufacturing for more than three decades and in the national Republican Party politics for nearly two. But, friends say, he‘s most at home on the range.” Eileen Alt Powell, The Wall Street Journal, 1981
“He treated everyone with the same measure of courtesy and respect—from his driver to the President. He never judged a man or woman by rank or trappings. Despite his many remarkable successes, worldly success was not the way he measured people. No, money was not, position was not, qualities of character were. Honesty, courage, industry and humility. These were his yardsticks.” President Ronald Reagan, remarks at Baldrige’s memorial service, The National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., July 29, 1987
The Baldrige Performance Excellence Program today still promotes the same American values and prosperity. It also still represents all American industries—including even the cowboy circuit. (For example, 2009 Baldrige Award recipient VA Cooperative Studies Program Clinical Research Pharmacy Coordinating Center uses “Cowboy Ethics” as part of its new employee orientation.)
The photo above demonstrates Mac’s lasso prowess. How might you caption that photo today?