Expert Interview – Process Improvement Through Lean Six Sigma

For this month’s Expert Interview I sat down with Angelo Nicosia, Dade Paper’s Corporate Process Improvement Manager. In addition to managing several of the company’s financial functions, Angelo is an expert at developing and implementing cost and efficiency improvements. In addition to an MBA, he holds a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification and has completed the coursework for his Black Belt.

 LC: How many years have you been in this role?

AN: I’ve been with Dade Paper for over 12 years. When I first started, I focused mainly on finance and over time process improvement became part of my job. To that end, I began to study Lean Six Sigma several years ago and earned various certifications.

LC: What is Lean Six Sigma?

AN: Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that relies on a collaborative team effort to improve performance by systematically removing waste. There are eight types of waste analyzed: defects, overproduction, waiting, non-utilized talent, transportation, inventory, motion, extra-processing.

Six Sigma as a methodology provides an organized, specific, repeatable means of assessing and resolving challenges through a process titled:

Define / Measure / Analyze / Improve / Control.

This approach focuses on cause and effect with analytical problem solving tools within a management structure to assure results.

LC: Can you share an example of how you employed this methodology and the outcome?

AN: Yes, in this case we had an issue with one of our suppliers. Their invoices contained a lot of errors and it was causing our A/P department to allocate a great deal of time to address the problem. Because multiple branch locations were being serviced by this supplier, the errors were compounded. Despite A/P’s efforts, they were unable to solve the problem on their own. By applying the Lean Six Sigma method we were able to identify all of the contributing factors that caused the invoice errors. We were then able to design a new process in partnership with the supplier to reduce and eventually eliminate the errors. We established measureable performance indicators, better integration between people, process and technology. We engaged all of the stakeholders in the process to ensure acceptance, adoption and compliance. In the end, we eliminated the invoice errors.

LC: Is the process very complex?

AN: It can be, but by following the Lean Six Sigma method and applying critical thinking we can address just about any challenge and develop better ways to do things. I would encourage any business to apply these principles to address their challenges. The investment is worth it.

LC: What are the steps to becoming Lean Six Sigma certified and implementing a program?

AN: The first step is to find a good training program. I completed my training program at Nova Southeastern University in South Florida. There are many other institutions that offer this type of program throughout the United States including Strategy Associates. After completing the levels of training, referred to as “belts” much like martial arts, the next step is to implement the program on the right foot. There are 5 areas to address:

  1. Ensure that you have sustained leadership support from all levels and departments.
  2. Design a deployment strategy that closely aligns the goals of Lean Six Sigma with overall organizational business goals.
  3. Offer mentoring and coaching support to the new members or “belts” on the Lean Six Sigma team to help them learn to execute projects.
  4. Select projects and prioritize them correctly to ensure that the team has the data and authority needed to succeed.
  5. Communicate the benefits of Lean Six Sigma deployment to the entire organization, enlist their support and share the success stories.

LC: Do you have any tips that a business owner or manager could implement today to eliminate waste from their operation?

AN: Wasting resources, whether its materials or time, has a negative impact on the bottom line. A couple of very simple ways to reduce and prevent waste are to make sure you are purchasing the right products and implementing the right processes for the job. This holds true no matter what type of business, from a quick-serve restaurant to a cleaning contractor. For example, a quick-serve restaurant should use the appropriate size and style of take-out containers which can reduce packaging costs, streamline assembly and help with portion control. For cleaning contractors, proper training and task assignment can reduce labor costs and improve safety. Also, by investing in high quality equipment and maintaining that equipment properly the contractor can reduce expenses over time. Lean Six Sigma is a road map to identifying the opportunities for waste reduction and process improvement no matter what type of business you manage.

Angelo and his team employ the Lean Six Sigma principles each day to ensure that Dade Paper’s internal operations are efficient, cost effective and continuously improving. 

Expert Interview – Challenges Facing the Healthcare Industry

This month I interviewed Don Emrick, Dade Paper’s Director of Healthcare Sales. Don is an expert in the healthcare market segment. He works with hospitals and senior living communities, helping them address needs and challenges.

LC: Don, how long have you been working in this field?

DE: I have been in the distribution sales profession for about 37 years now. The last 20 has been in the healthcare segment, representing both manufacturers of healthcare products and distributors of those products.

LC: What are some of the changes you have seen in the industry over the last 2 decades?

DE: One big change is the population explosion. The Baby Boomer generation is retiring and the need for senior living communities is increasing. Today in America 10,000 people turned 65. By 2030, 18% of the population will be 65 years or older. Another change is in how Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement claims are paid. There are more regulations that impact the amount of reimbursement available. It’s a critical issue.

LC: Can you explain a bit more about that?

DE: Yes, this issue focuses on HAIs or Healthcare Acquired Infections. This has become a very serious problem that affects one of every 20 patients a year, roughly 1.7 million people. With an average cost of $14,000 per incident, these HAIs result in a cost of $20 billion annually. Under the current regulations, the healthcare facility is NOT reimbursed for the treatment cost of infections acquired within their walls.

LC: That must have a detrimental impact on financial stability. What steps can administrators take to minimize these instances?

DE: The best preventative measures are improving hand-hygiene and surface disinfection. These activities have always been important, but today even more so. Having defined and well-implemented best practices, as well as a disciplined means of measurement, are the best steps to take to address this issue. There many new and innovative products available that specifically address these protocols. One example is a disinfectant wipe that requires a much shorter dwell-time on the surface to be effective when compared to a traditional disinfectant spray. Purchasing better products and implementing training programs is a small investment compared to the cost of just one infection.

LC: What is another current issue this industry is wrestling with?

DE: In today’s world, hospitals and senior living communities have to manage their online reputation. Information including HCAHPS scores, which relate to patient satisfaction, and patient reviews are readily available to the public. A low score or a negative blog post can damage reputations. Consumers have options and they do their homework online to make decisions on what healthcare facilities to use. The same best practices that address HAIs, such as proper hand-hygiene and cleanliness, can have a positive impact on reputation.

Cost control is another challenge that administrators must face. Their budgets are squeezed but it is impossible to eliminate most of the materials and labor needed to maintain cleanliness. It is a difficult situation.

LC: What is your expert advice to an administrator?

DE: Rely on your suppliers for assistance. An experienced supplier partner can help address many of these issues from selecting the best products to offering training programs for custodial staff. Manufacturers are constantly innovating and developing better solutions. A good partner will bring these options to their customers and explain the features and benefits as well as cost-in-use information. They should be looking out for ways to help you improve your operations, not just taking orders for products.

Another good idea is to have spend-per-bed analyzed. By breaking down the expenditures at this level of detail and comparing to industry-wide benchmarks, areas for cost-savings improvement as well as potential process errors can be identified and addressed. These consultative services are offered at no charge by knowledgeable supplier partners such as Dade Paper.

Don Emrick and his team of Healthcare Specialists are available to consult with healthcare facilities throughout the Eastern United States. Don can be reached at

Expert Interview – Hotel Laundry Solutions

This month, I interviewed Billy White, Dade Paper’s Director of Hospitality Sales. Billy is an expert on hotel laundry and housekeeping products and procedures. He spends much of his time working directly with hotel housekeeping managers, helping them improve their operations and elevate guest satisfaction. The appearance, softness and cleanliness of towels, bedding and table linens can make a big impact on overall guest satisfaction, so it is important to ensure laundry practices deliver the best results.

LC: How many years have you been in the business of providing solutions to the hospitality segment?

BW: I have been working in the hospitality segment since 1976, so about 40 years. When I started in the laundry segment of the business, the majority of on-premises laundries were processing their linen with dry chemicals, that is to say powders. Powders were economical and effective. The problem was dosing. The operators were either pouring in too much, too little, or the product was not getting in to the wash wheel.

Right around this time, chemical suppliers started introducing liquid laundry alternatives. This allowed the operator to introduce the proper builders, detergent, bleaches, softeners and sours in the proper dosing at the correct formula time.

LC: So, procedures are just as important as the products?

BW: Absolutely. There are excellent products on the market but they must be used properly to be effective. As an experienced distributor, this is where we can help our customers.

LC: What are some of the challenges hotels are having today?

BW: Over the years, linen prices have risen dramatically. It is extremely important to get white, bright, soft, and pleasant smelling sheets, towels, pillowcases, wash cloths, etc. in one wash cycle. This reduces replacement linen cost, water, sewage, utility and labor costs. These costs represent 92% of the total laundry operations. The chemicals only represent 8% of the cost.

LC: What innovative solutions are available that can help operators reduce their costs?

BW: We have started implementing cold water washing cycles that reduce the temperature of the water to save on utilities. Also, using less water per cycle saves on water and sewage charges and shorter cycle times save on labor. New chemical formulas utilize neutral pH chemistry which does not harm the cotton fibers, prolonging the life of the linens. We have been able to save operators 30%-37% of their total laundry spend.

LC: What are some simple things hotels can do to make a big impact in a short period of time?

BW: The simplest thing is to provide training classes for laundry personnel in pre-spotting, sorting, loading and proper drying times. All of these procedures, when done correctly, save time and money and ensure the linens look and feel great.

Billy White can be reached at  He is available to consult with all of Dade Paper’s current (and future) hospitality segment customers.

Earth Day Turns 45

Tomorrow, April 22nd , is Earth Day and the 45th anniversary of what is considered the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.

Earth Day was founded by Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after he witnessed the destruction caused by a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Senator Nelson proposed a “national teach-in on the environment” and enlisted colleagues and members of the community to support the initiative. On April 22, 1970 over 20 million Americans in cities across the nation participated in rallies for a healthy, sustainable environment.

The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

In 1990 Earth Day went global with over 200 million people in 141 countries participating in the movement. Recycling efforts became a worldwide focus as did pollution prevention.

In 1995 President Bill Clinton awarded Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to civilians in the United States, for his role as Earth Day founder.

This year, 192 countries will take part in Earth Day events and educational programs. Dade Paper will be participating in Celebrate Earth Day at the Orlando International Airport. Organized by the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, this event provides an opportunity for airport staff, passengers, and members of the community to learn about sustainability initiatives at the airport. Our team members will be on hand to answer questions about green cleaning and sustainable foodservice packaging.

Founded by the organizers of the first Earth Day, the Earth Day Network (EDN) also promotes year-round environmental citizenship around the globe. To learn more, visit their website at

The Value Beyond ROI

Companies in the United States invest $20 billion a year on sales training programs.   Yet many believe they are not getting an acceptable ROI.  Expenses include travel, meeting production, meals and activities, not to mention time out of the field for all employees involved.  That is a big commitment of a company’s resources. Considering that only 50% of the learning content is retained after 5 weeks and as little as 16% is retained after 90 days, you may ask “Why do it at all?”

Maybe the issue lies in that the expectations for these training programs are off target?  Of course most managers will tell you that sales training should lead to higher and more profitable sales.  And, yes, that is true.  But there is something different that can be gained from live training programs that will ultimately payoff in improved results.  Let me take you back a few weeks to explain.

Recently, Dade Paper hosted a training program for a group of our new sales consultants.   We brought them in from various regions of the country and spent 4 days presenting a great deal of information.  The agenda was aggressive.  But while we had them as a captive audience, we wanted to cover as much subject matter as possible.  All of the information was important from company history to standard operating procedures, to sales programs, etc.  It would have been hard to edit the agenda and leave material out.

By the third day, I started to feel like we had pushed the limit of what could be absorbed in a one week.  The attendees were looking a little shell-shocked and our team of presenters was drinking a lot of coffee.   Those aforementioned learning retention statistics were looming in my brain.  We loaded up USB drives with all of the material presented including slide decks, PDFs, templates, and even a glossary of Dade Paper-isms.   If the attendees could refer back to the material as needed, that would help mitigate the information overload.

On the last day we surveyed the attendees for their feedback.  It was while reading their comments that the true ROI became apparent.  What this group took home was not just information gleaned from series of presentations and a UBS drive in their pocket. It was a sense of belonging and the understanding that our company is invested in their personal success and professional development.  In the days that followed, we received additional emails and hand-written notes thanking us for the experience.  The value was in the human connections made, the motivation sparked, the engagement with our company’s culture and the expansion of our dedicated team.

The attendees may not remember all of the company statistics, processes or sales materials we presented.  But I am fairly certain they will remember how they felt about having a place in our family and being a valued member of our team.