This phrase ‘a little bit bold & outrageous’ was constantly used by my father, Charles J. Latino early in his Reliability career. Charles founded and led one of the first corporate, global Reliability Engineering R&D groups in the U.S. for a company called Allied Chemical at the time (known as Honeywell today). This was in 1972!
This is meant to be a reflection on the courage it took to drive Reliability concepts into a major chemical corporation nearly 50 years ago. So when we think it is hard to do so today, imagine what it took these Reliability Pioneers (pictured above) to do it so long ago.
We dedicated the last edition of our book, Root Cause Analysis: Improving Performance for Bottom-Line Results, to our ‘Dad’, Charles J. Latino. We wanted to make this edition special. As a result, we reached out to many of the original members of Charles’ Reliability team, to ask for their reflections. We wanted to know how their pioneering efforts in the 70’s affected the rest of their careers and their personal lives. Most of these guys are in the picture above (even if they deny it, due to the ‘look’:-).
Reliability engineering is all about a proactive perspective not only at work, but in our personal lives…it is not just a job, it is a way of life and Charles exemplified that passion. That passion for Reliability was contagious as the following reflections will attest to.
I write this for personal and sentimental reasons, but I also wanted to express how one has to have the courage to be ‘a little bit bold and outrageous’ in order to be a disruptor. This term was not coined back then, but I firmly believe that Charles was the original ‘Reliability Disruptor’. After reading his impacts on his teams’ lives, let me know if you think the same.
Thanks for taking the time to reflect on his influence on the Reliability field. Perhaps you will understand that Reliability is essentially genetic and built into his children’s DNA.
C. Robert Nelms
We all can count on one hand the number of people that have made profound influences on our lives. I recall, in 1994 when writing my first book, the struggle within me as I tried to decide who to dedicate it to — my wife, my parents, or Charles J. Latino. I met him in 1974, and quickly knew him as Charlie – that’s what we all called him. In the early years, I was in awe of him – his insights, his mannerisms. He was monumental. Until I met Charlie, I was “timid and safe.” But through the years, as I came to know him better, his impact on me can be summed-up in the words of the book he had wanted to write: “Bold and Outrageous.” He found that path, and cleared the way. I chose to follow. Later on, when he first established the present-day Reliability Center, I had the honor of traveling alone with him all over the USA and Canada, helping to carry his bags, get medicines for him, share so many private dinners, go on walks with him while he recuperated from illnesses. He became part of me. Looking back, I realize that I am who I am, to a huge extent, because of Charles Latino.
When a testing group became a “Reliability Engineering” department, what was different from the past? Mechanical failures still happened. Much of the difference was Charlie. It was no longer just repair or replace, it was time to determine the “root causes” of the failure, fix the root causes and stop the failure. Eddy current testing, high speed photography and nuclear devices were added to vibration and thickness testing equipment. The failed bearing was studied. Maybe it’s better to upgrade it, change the design or change the material. Things ran better and longer. That’s a good thing.
Charlie also looked at people, all people – mechanics and engineers, operators and chemists. Often now, looking at people is to place blame. Charlie looked at people to learn, to do things better, to do jobs better. Sometimes a change could reduce “human error”. That’s a good thing.
I don’t know if Charlie ever used the term “think outside the box” but he believed it. Doing things as before may be all right but if things can be done better, if things can be done easier, or if things can last longer, Charlie would insist that changes are needed. I miss Charlie Latino.
Charlie was a man of courage, and devotion. To me, he was a mentor, a friend, and sometimes a boss. Most memorably however he stood as a paragon example of what it meant to be committed to a vision and to hold true to that vision through thick and thin. His enthusiasm was contagious and his encouragement made anything seem possible and worth striving for. It was an honor and a blessing to have known and worked alongside Charlie.
In 1974 I was just out of Business school with a newly minted MBA when I joined the Reliability Center. Most of my “B” school contemporaries were joining banks and brokerage firms and questioned my decision to join an engineering organization. But I had good reason. I had family connections to Allied Chemical (now Honeywell) and they told me Charlie Latino was making big waves within Allied. And as any MBA’s will tell you, working for a wave maker is usually an exciting and beneficial place to be. I was right to join the Reliability Center because I quickly confirmed that although Charlie was an engineer, he was foremost a gifted leader and businessman who was determined to dramatically improve the efficiency of Allied’s far-flung manufacturing processes. Charlie proved over and over again that Reliability Engineering was an effective bottom-line oriented business tool.
Most everything I learned about leadership and integrity I learned from Charlie Latino. In the years since working for Charlie I have often formulated successful solutions by asking “What would Charlie do?
I first met Charles (Charlie) Latino in December of 1963. He was the head of the Plant Engineering Department at an Allied Chemical (now Honeywell) Plant in Chesterfield, VA. I was a college senior interviewing for an engineering position upon my graduation in June of 1964. Charlie offered me a job and thus became my boss, mentor and friend.
During the following years, I witnessed Charlie develop and implement programs to improve the mechanical reliability of this plant. Recognizing the benefits of these programs, Charlie led efforts to install these programs in other plants in the corporation. Ultimately Charlie decided to form Reliability Center, Inc. to share his concepts with other corporations throughout the world. He became a much sought after speaker at trade conferences and seminars globally.
As the years went by, my friendship with Charlie grew. Along with the friendship, our trust in one another grew also.
I’m not positive of when I met Charles, but I know he was responsible for my new job in 1973 and my continuing career 35+ years later. When I started that “new job” at Allied Chemical, the title was “Maintenance Engineer” and a few months later we became “Reliability Engineers”.
In those days, the traditional engineering departments in chemical plants involved Plant Engineers, responsible for designing and installing the machinery and facilities, and Process Engineers, responsible for the chemical process and process equipment. In looking at the gaps between the true plant capacity and the typical production rates, Charles realized that there was a glaring discontinuity between the capabilities of the traditional structure and the needs of the plant. From this realization, he developed the idea of a multidiscipline “Reliability Engineering Department” that would work closely with the plant personnel to improve operating reliability. Allied Chemical formed Reliability Engineering Departments in several of their larger plants and we were the disciples trying to put “Charles’ ideas” into practice.
The basic approach was to look at everything and anything that acted as a limit on the plant’s capacity and then find ways to overcome it, and the term “Charles ideas” can’t begin to describe the scope of the projects. The initial investigations searched for physical failure causes, but they rapidly grew into in-depth analyses to uncover the latent roots, and the projects ranged from the development of routine predictive maintenance programs, to implementing specialized NDT practices, to installing a receiving inspection program for maintenance materials.
Charles often said that an investment into true root cause analysis returned more than one thousand fold. The results were from these early projects were spectacular and helped the “Reliability Approach” to expand from Maintenance into Engineering and other areas of the corporate structure.
After Allied-Signal decided to change their corporate direction, Charles took the Reliability Center private and continued to preach the value of extending “failure analysis” into true “Root Cause Analysis” and the exposure of the latent roots. During this time, I had the pleasure of working with Charles (and Jan Smith) both in presenting many seminars on “The Reliability Approach” and in investigations into plant and corporate root causes.
I have always thought of Charles as humorous, honest, and a politically-fearless gentleman. It was inevitable that, when these investigations found structural weaknesses in the way the plant or the corporation was operated, it was Charles’ duty to tell them about their errors, and he politely told them “like it was”, clearly explaining the logic behind the findings … and more than once was told not to come back.
He was a pleasure to work with, a great teacher, and a pioneer in transforming the way we think of maintenance and problem-solving.
I had the opportunity to meet Charles J. Latino in the late 70’s. Charlie had started a reliability engineering group out of Allied Signal Company’s Hopewell, VA manufacturing facility and his department was engaged to assure that the processing facility for a new specialty chemical (i.e. Hazardous Material) operation was constructed and operated as engineered. I was so impressed with the Reliability Center’s work and Charlie’s leadership, I asked to join his team!
The next few years of working with Charlie and our team brought a continuous stream of new technical challenges where his insights, character and competence not only made following him easy, but provided an invaluable leadership model which benefited all of us. On a daily basis, or whenever there was a crisis to be addressed, Charlie was smart enough to let us make the decisions we had to make, wise enough to know when to intervene, and shrewd enough to provide “air cover” so we could grow professionally.
Few individuals in our lives have such an impact…..Charlie’s lessons are with me always!
William (Bill) Salot
Charles Latino started his career as an entry level Chemical Engineer with Allied Chemical and Dye Corporation in 1951. In his early years he observed how manufacturing processes constantly kept failing and all that people did was fix it – no one seemed interested in WHY it was failing! He recognized that the aerospace industry could reliably keep planes operational, why couldn’t manufacturing be as reliable?
This started his career in the field of Reliability Engineering. Charles Latino pioneered Reliability Engineering into the manufacturing industry. As his career positions elevated him in the Allied organization based on his Reliability successes, he eventually ended up as a Corporate Department Head of R&D for Reliability Engineering. In this position he was able to develop Reliability Engineering departments within Allied around the world.
In 1985, Charles decided to fully retire from Allied Chemical but chose to continue his dream of bringing Reliability to other industries in need. In 1985 Charles took the risky move of purchasing his Reliability Engineering group from Allied Chemical. As a result he was able to spread his Reliability Engineering concepts and ideas to companies around the world.
During the next 25 years Charles’ firm, Reliability Center, Inc. (RCI) has worked with most every Fortune 500 company and in 15 different countries around the world. RCI has trained over 50,000 students in various Reliability Engineering practices such as Root Cause Analysis, Failure Modes and Effects Analysis and Opportunity Analysis. Thousands of these students came through Hopewell for this training thus supporting the local economy.
Charles’s firm works with such noted companies as the United States Coast Guard, Adolph Coors Brewing, International Paper, ChevronTexaco, Shell, Eli Lilly, UPS, M&M Mars, Bon Secours Healthcare System, the U.S. Navy and Homeland Security.
RCI has developed a comprehensive software program to assist in these analyses called PROACT.
Charles had five children, of which four (4) help run his business and one (1) lives in the Roanoke area. Charles was supported by his wife Marie, who was the “glue” that keeps it all together when you run a family business!
In the late 1960’s, Charles was responsible for engineering and maintenance at Allied Chemical’s Chesterfield nylon plant. The plant experienced a prolonged period of severe operational problems that the industry referred to as a “blitz”. Continued operation at this level of performance was impossible. An option being considered by corporate to rectify the poor reliability and resulting process upsets and low yields was to increase equipment redundancy. Charles knew there was a fundamentally better and more cost effective way to control reliability. He acted upon the opportunity that came with a difficult problem and convinced the plant manager and corporate management to try condition monitoring, failure prediction and root cause failure analysis. As a result, Reliability Engineering that is practiced in process plants today was born. I was fortunate to be involved with this early work, made possible by Charles’s vision and persuasion, and to be mentored by him for nearly forty years.
After Charles took Allied’s Reliability Center independent, I had many opportunities to work with him, his sons and staff. Charles led plant reliability studies for various clients which gave me a chance to work side-by-side with him as a team member. Discussing identified reasons for non-optimum plant performance, their solutions and strategies for their acceptance and implementation gave me insight into Charles that I never realized earlier. As most performance issues are management related, we often had observations and recommendations that plant management would rather not hear. Charles never balked at telling it like it was. While consultants often lean too far toward giving the client what he wants to hear, Charles never had that inclination. He always pushed the client toward what the client needed for performance excellence. This allowed me to see his integrity and character first hand. I have often heard character defined as “doing what is right when no one is looking”. But Charles redefined character for me as “doing what is right, although others are looking and disapproving”. I will forever be thankful to Charles for showing me what integrity and character truly look like. Because Charles was the man that he was, facilities around the world are more reliable and safer. But what is more important to me is that I am much better having had Charles as a friend, mentor and example.
In 1973, straight out of college, I became a member of Allied Chemical’s reliability group under the leadership of Charles (Charlie) Latino. He always introduced himself as Charles but we all called him Charlie.
Those were heady days. We worked on the cutting edge of concepts and technologies that changed how we solved problems and how maintenance was performed. I remember thinking, at the time, this is how maintenance is supposed to be done but when I would try explaining to colleagues what we were doing I would get blank stares in response. It was that revolutionary! Charlie was a champion of this change. He took on non-believers all the way up the corporate ladder.
In the mid 1990’s I convinced Charlie to come to a gold mine in Nevada where I worked to give a seminar on Reliability Centered Maintenance. We spent 4 days working long hours but his enthusiasm for the subject was still strong and contagious. It was during this time that Charlie introduced me to his term “bold and outrageous” with regards to getting these concepts accepted. It is a term I understood immediately based on how Charlie worked to convince people of the value of reliability concepts throughout his career. It is how those of us that worked for him have tried to live our lives.
Charlie was my mentor and a true friend. He taught me a great deal that has served me well throughout my career.
When we talk about our purpose in life, I can tell you that my Dad’s purpose was to make the planet more reliable via equipment, process and human reliability!!! That may sound corny, but I tell you he lived and breathed Reliability all the way to his passing in 2007.
My siblings and I are so proud to call him our ‘Dad’ and to see what a significant impact he had on people’s lives and on the field of Reliability. Thanks for your interest in learning a bit about our Reliability history.
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