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Remarks on Presenting the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards

December 06, 1996

Thank you very much. Secretary Kantor; Mrs. Baldrige; Senator Pressler; Congresswoman Slaughter; Congressman Ramstad; my good friend Earnie Deavenport; Mary Good—let me thank all of you. And let me say a special word of thanks to Arati Prabhakar, the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, for the work that she has done in this Baldrige process. Thank you, ma'am. And Senator Pressler, as you leave the United States Senate after a distinguished career, let me thank you especially for the work you did to pass the telecommunications law, which will help America immeasurably and create hundreds of thousands of these kinds of good jobs in the years ahead. Thank you, sir.

I'd also like to thank the Army Band for doing such a good job here today. Thank you very much.

You know, when they were playing the national anthem, which normally I sing out of tune at the top of my lungs, but my voice has been a little constrained lately—my approval is at an all-time high when I'm hoarse and can't speak. [Laughter] I couldn't help thinking, as I was listening to the national anthem, what America was like when Francis Scott Key wrote that anthem and what he would think about what we have just seen today, how proud it would make the people who fought to start this country and who worked to hold it together to see what we have become after 200 years. And for all of you, I thank you.

I was listening to all the speakers here, and I was put in mind of the first public speech I ever gave as an elected official. Almost 20 years ago now, I was elected attorney general of my home State, and I was invited to the Rotary Club officers installation banquet in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in January of 1977. The banquet started at 6:30. I was introduced to speak at 10 minutes to 10. [Laughter] There were about 500 people there, and all of them but 3 got to talk, and they went home mad. [Laughter] But it was a wonderful night. There was entertainment from the local school groups, and you know, everybody got to talk. It was like it should have been: It was a community event; a lot of people talked. And then this fellow got up to introduce me. And I was nervous as a cat— my first speech as an elected official. And the first words out of his mouth—just how I feel after hearing them speak—he said, "You know, we could stop here and have had a very nice evening." [Laughter] I know he didn't mean it that way. [Laughter] But we could stop right here and have had a wonderful, wonderful ceremony.

This is the 3d year I've had the privilege of honoring the Baldrige Quality Award winners, and every year I feel more strongly that this is the way America ought to work. This is the way all of our organizations ought to work. This is the way our families should work, the way our charities should work, the way our religious institutions should work, the way our colleges and universities should work, the way our schools should work, and the way our Government should work.

Recognizing companies that have proved that excellence and good citizenship are compatible, that understand that business endeavors, like life, are much more a journey than a destination—it's a very, very special thing for me. And I hope that my presence here helps to get all of you the recognition you deserve around the country, and hope that it will inspire more and more business people and more and more people in every organized form of human endeavor in our Nation to follow your lead.

This is an especially meaningful day for me today also because I used to do this with Secretary Kantor's predecessor, Ron Brown, and last March we had a ceremony like this at the White House, which was one of the last official duties Ron Brown performed before his untimely death on his mission to the Balkans. Let me say that he's probably smiling down at us today.

And let me also say how very grateful I am to my long-term friend Mickey Kantor for his outstanding job as Secretary of Commerce. First he was our trade ambassador, where he negotiated over 200 agreements—unprecedented record in the history of American trade—everything from big agreements like NAFTA and the GATT agreement, over 21 agreements with Japan. In each of those areas in the aggregate, our exports to Japan have increased 85 percent in those 21 areas. There is no precedent for it.

And I was thinking of, as he was up here talking, too much of what Americans hear about public service is negative from time to time. Most of the people who work for this Department and most of the people who have worked for your Government make America a better place. And Mickey Kantor and the people here at the Department of Commerce are shining examples of that, and I thank them for it.

I also want to thank the private sector partners in this endeavor, the 28 previous winning companies, the examiners, the Baldrige Foundation. For almost 10 years this award has been remarkably successful as a public-private partnership. We will have to have more of these in the future if America is to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

I'm very pleased that there will be new winners in the categories of nonprofit health and education organizations. I can tell you that if you look at the percentage of our economy and, more important, the stake in our quality of life and our future in health care and education, this is coming not a moment too soon.

Finally, let me say a special word of appreciation to the Vice President for the work that he has led in our endeavors to have the Federal Government do more of what all of you are doing. Our Government has about a quarter of a million fewer people in it than it did the day I became President. We've abolished hundreds of programs. We've privatized more operations than ever before. And we've been able to reduce the deficit by 60 percent and still continue to invest in education, in research and technology and environmental protection, the things that will keep our country strong in the future.

I'm proud of the fact that, thanks to you and millions like you, our economy is strong and growing stronger every day. Today we learned that in November, while there was a small increase in the unemployment rate, wage increases continued to come to American workers because of increasing productivity. We had 118,000 more jobs, which means in the last 3 years and 10 months our economy has produced 11.9 million new working opportunities for the American people, something all of you can be very, very proud of.

Now we have to keep this going. I'm very much committed to passing a bipartisan balanced budget plan with the Congress which will keep our interest rates down, keep our economy growing, and continue to honor our commitments to our children, our future, our economy, our parents, and the quality of the environment.

But whatever we do, we know that ultimately American progress will rise or fall on the performance of American business and American workers. Both large and small, American businesses are the engine that will help to carry us into the 21st century. Two decades ago, our companies had little competition from abroad. Today, we know we compete in the world for jobs and markets. The business community has led the way in sensitizing all Americans that we must measure ourselves by high standards. We must achieve high global standards. That is what I seek for the performance of your Government, for the performance of our educational institutions, for every single endeavor in the United States.

ADAC Laboratories' commitment to the customers has resulted in its phenomenal turnaround. Just think about tripling your revenues in 3 years. Now, if we could do that without a tax increase, there would be no deficit problem. [Laughter]

Let me—I applaud Dana Commercial Credit Corporation's commitment to its customers, its employees, and its community for the style of management that encourages employees to act on their own ideas and for your financial support of the Toledo School Board. Now, let me say that Mr. Morcott and I have been friends for a long time, and the Dana Corporation has a different sort of plant in Arkansas, one of the most highly roboticized plants in the United States, making truck transmissions. One of the things I liked about that place the first time I ever visited it was that there were no parking spaces dedicated to the bigwigs. So if the plant manager showed up late, he might have to walk a block and a half to work. [Laughter] However, I rejected that suggestion for the State Capitol when I was Governor—[laughter]—which just goes to show you, we all have work to do. [Laughter]

Custom Research Corporation has proved you don't have to be the biggest to be the best; 97 percent of a clientele being delighted is something that any organization would be delighted to achieve.

When I heard them reading the measures of how they define their success and they talked about the—talking about all their employee endeavors, and I saw all of the cheers coming from all of you as well as from Trident Precision Manufacturing over there with their banners, again I say, think about the idea that every organization we're involved in ought to work this way, if we invest in training and education as Trident has. And one of the things I want to say about them that I especially appreciate that was not mentioned: In this era of downsizing, I want to commend you for hiring people who had worked for larger companies and who were downsized. A lot of people who have been downsized still have outsized contributions to make to the American economy and to American society. And small businesses are going to have to take up that slack. I thank you for making that a priority.

Just think: satisfied customers; energized employees who are involved; respect and commitment to the communities in which you're involved in; investing in technology and the future; still making a profit; and at least by the evidence we've seen here, having a good time doing it. If every family in every organization of any kind in this country worked that way, we wouldn't have very many problems in the United States. That's the message I want to go across America today, and I thank you for sending it loud and clear every day in your lives.

Let me finally close by asking one more thing of you. America needs more strong companies like this and more organizations like this to be prepared for the next century. I believe with all my heart we are entering an age of greater human possibility than ever. It means in simple terms to me that in a place like America, more children will have a chance to grow up and live out their dreams than ever before. It means if we do the right thing, we will grow stronger and more prosperous while helping more people all around the world to do things that we take for granted now but which would fulfill their dreams and their God-given potential in a way that has never been possible before.

But to do it we have to understand that in times when things are changing rapidly, we have to be able to open our eyes and open our ears and open our hearts; we have to be able to think anew and act anew; we have to be dedicated to the idea of community, the idea of partnership, the idea that we can each have more personal, individual fulfillment when we work together with other people to help them achieve the same objectives.

That's the only way we can move able-bodied people from welfare to work. A lot of you are going to have to help with that. We passed a law that says that able-bodied people can only draw welfare so long, but what are they going to do? Go into the street, or go into the work force? Every State ought to be willing to give those welfare checks to employers as job subsidies to move more people from welfare to work, and every vital company ought to be willing to examine themselves to see what they could do, because we don't have the money, and we shouldn't have these large-scale job programs funded by the Government with only welfare workers in them.

We want to change a whole culture here and move people into the mainstream of American life. And that can best be done by a company hiring one or two or three and then another company doing the same thing, until we have a ripple effect all across America and we don't have a welfare system and an unemployment system anymore, we have a system that deals with people when they're temporarily out of the work force, organizes those who can move into the work force, and helps those who, through no fault of their own, are simply unable to help themselves. That is an America that would be worthy of the pride, the honor, and the support of every single citizen of this country. We cannot do it unless the private sector is a partner.

We cannot help our schools to meet the highest standards of excellence unless those of you who understand the world in which we are living and the one toward which we are moving demand that we have, yes, a lot of local control and more schools that are committed to kind of creative excellence in the way that you are, but we also measure performance by national standards of excellence, and we know that the measurements are good. Because I believe all children can learn, and I am tired of people hiding behind various bureaucratic hedges to avoid measuring up and giving all our children a chance to learn. You can lead the way, and we need you to do it.

We have participated in a celebration of what is best about America. You have all thrilled me beyond measure. I loved seeing all the different things you did. I had the best seat in the house today. The Secretary and Earnie and I, we didn't have to worry about what we were going to say. We didn't even have to worry about our constituents the way these folks did. They were the political leaders here today. [Laughter]

I got to spend this whole time looking into your faces. Those are the looks I want to see on the faces of every American child, and you can help us do it.

Thank you, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:35 p.m. at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Margaret Baldrige, widow of former Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige; Earnest Deavenport, president, Malcolm Baldrige Award Foundation; Mary L. Good, Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology; and Southwood (Woody) J. Morcott, chairman and chief executive officer, Dana Commercial Credit Corp.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Presenting the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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