The late Bill Smith, widely regarded as the “Father of Six Sigma,” was inducted into iSixSigma’s Six Sigma Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the iSixSigma Live! Summit & Awards in Miami this past January. Smith was the first honoree to the Hall, which will welcome new members annually at the event.

The Six Sigma Hall of Fame recognizes people who have made significant and lasting contributions in the Lean Six Sigma industry. These individuals have consistently fueled corporate growth and shareholder value through the use of Lean Six Sigma during their career. They have commanded the respect and admiration of their peers for their extraordinary service to the industry.
In 1986 Bill Smith – then a senior scientist at Motorola – introduced the concept of Six Sigma to standardize the way defects are counted. In Smith’s words, “We recognized that the issue was not building a single part with one characteristic, it was building a product with thousands of parts. If you reduce the total defects, you increase customer satisfaction and reduce costs.”

Bill Smith, widely known as the "Father of Six Sigma."
Bill Smith, widely known as the “Father of Six Sigma.”

At Motorola, Six Sigma provided the key to addressing quality concerns throughout the organization, from manufacturing to support functions. The application of Six Sigma was instrumental in Motorola’s winning the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1988. Smith died of a heart attack five years later.

Daughter Marjorie Hook, who accepted the award on Smith’s behalf at the Miami event, developed an affinity for Six Sigma and occasionally collaborated with her father for a few years after college. Hook told an iSixSigma staff writer in 2003 that winning the Baldrige Award stands out as a career high point in her father’s life.

“He was thrilled that a good thing was happening to Motorola and that Six Sigma had made such a difference,” she said. “He drafted Six Sigma long before [Motorola Executive Committee Chairman] Bob Galvin ever took it on board. So, for him, it was the culmination of so many years of work and trying to change the way people think about things. He finally had some phenomenal success at Motorola, and he was getting great recognition for it.”

Baldrige Award winners agree to share their quality programs with anyone who is interested. Hook said that since Motorola was the first company to win, others were eager to learn more about Six Sigma. “That’s one of the primary reasons Six Sigma became so widely known,” she said. “He got to spend the last few years of his life traveling around, teaching and introducing Six Sigma to people,” Hook said. “He was so appreciated wherever he went and people were really interested in it. When others started using Six Sigma and seeing results just like Motorola had, he was thrilled.”

Accepting iSixSigma's Six Sigma Hall of Fame Award on behalf of Bill Smith was his daugther, Marjorie Hook.
Accepting iSixSigma’s Six Sigma Hall of Fame Award on behalf of Bill Smith was his daugther, Marjorie Hook.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1929, Bill Smith graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1952 and studied at the University of Minnesota School of Business. In 1987, after working for nearly 35 years in engineering and quality assurance, he joined Motorola, serving as vice president and senior quality assurance manager for the Land Mobile Products Sector.

In honor of Smith’s talents and dedication, Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management established an endowed scholarship in Smith’s name. Dean Donald P. Jacobs of the Kellogg School notified Motorola’s Galvin of the school’s intention less than a month after Smith died.

“Bill was an extremely effective and inspiring communicator,” Jacobs wrote in his July 27, 1993, letter. “He never failed to impress his audience by the depth of his knowledge, the extent of his personal commitment, and the level of his intellectual powers.”

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