Phil O’ Nan, Global Director of Operational Excellence at Beam Suntory interview

Beam Suntory’s continuous improvement journey: An interview with Phil O’ Nan, Global Director of Operational Excellence

Beam Suntory produces some of the world’s finest premium spirits such as Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark and Old Grand-Dad. It has a proud history of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship and innovation spanning 225 years.


Beam Suntory hosted the Europe TRACC Practitioners’ Roundtable event where the TRACC Community came together to network, share best practices and discuss the challenges on the CI journey. Phil O’ Nan shared the following CI insights with us at the event.

What influenced your selection of a CI journey partner?

TRACC – versus the other kinds of continuous improvement programmes – really helps us empower the operators. It is one of the first systems I have seen that allows interaction or feedback from the people that are on the plant floor. And in my career I have noticed that it’s very important to get their opinion and feedback so that it becomes a programme that they own and not one where they are told how to do it. It uses a lot of the same tools – Six Sigma, TQM – used before. It really provides a playbook, a step-by-step process that you can follow. It’s not prescriptive; it’s a suggestive type of programme that says ‘Have you looked at these things? Have you considered these? If you have issues or roadblocks or bearers, consider these options’.

Where have you seen the greatest impact and ROI from CI so far?

Visual management, focused improvement and teamwork – a piece that we already had, but it is great to strengthen it. But visual management, I think, has been the most important and impactful best practice for us because it helps us communicate. Executive leaders don’t always speak the language that operators or mechanics speak, and visual management really helps leaders translate what our visions are, what our goals are, and what it means to an operator. The operator relates to a house payment or a car payment but doesn’t necessarily understand direct cost, indirect cost and what they mean. I think visual management has been a great tool to translate information and get people asking, ‘What can I do today that will affect the success or the profit of my company?’

What’s the value of attending TRACC events?

It gives Beam Suntory a chance to meet some of our other regional continuous improvement leaders. So it is a great opportunity for us to come and network. But it’s also good to network with other businesses in our industry, the beverage industry, so Beam and Diageo; Owens Illinois is one of our suppliers, so it’s good to see that one of our suppliers is using the same continuous improvement programme. It’s really exciting. I’ve been to a number of these before, and I always enjoy the practical piece where you talk about a certain implementation action or Stop ‘n Think and say ‘Hey, I’m having problems with what this means or how it works’ and you find other contributors or clients that have ideas on ‘Here is what we did’. It may not always be the perfect idea, but it is an option. So you create some of those networks. It’s just a great opportunity to network and learn about people who also struggle with continuous improvement. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows. There are trips and restarts that we all share, and it’s encouraging when you meet people with the same struggles and successes.

See the full Q&A video with Phil O’ Nan (Former Director of Lean Transformation) below:


“Beam Suntory is committed to Crafting the Spirits that Stir the World with the best quality, and in the most effective, efficient, environmentally sound and safe manner possible through the engagement, growth and development of our team. To help achieve this vision, we focus on our People, our Methods and our Results. The TRACC platform is used to assess and progress the One Beam Suntory Way across our sites, eliminating waste, building standard work and empowering our employees.” – Phil O’ Nan, Director of Lean Transformation at Beam Suntory, Kentucky, USA


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