Apple CEO Tim Cook and Me — Two Auburn Industrial Engineers

Maybe we can leverage our “process improvement” skills to change the world…or possibly even save the planet.

I graduated from Auburn University in 1968 with a degree in Industrial Engineering after earning my way through college, working alternate quarters as a co-op student in industry — with the Southern Railway System in Washington, DC, and Atlanta. I later earned an MBA at the University of Hawaii while serving as an officer in the United States Coast Guard.

1982 Auburn Grad — now CEO of the world’s most valuable company

Tim followed me exactly fourteen years later; also studying Industrial Engineering, also working as a co-op student and later also earning an MBA at another university. Also like me, his career took a very different path than the one that he had envisioned back when he was an MBA student at Duke. And we can thank his trust in his own intuition for that.

Both of us learned about “improving processes” while at Auburn and have applied that knowledge since we left “the loveliest village of the plains.” Tim revolutionized Apple by streamlining the supply chain — a process improvement that led to improved quality, less inventory, quicker response and a key ingredient of what paved the way for Apple to become the most valuable company in the world.

Simple example of process improvement. After graduation, my first process improvement in the real world was reducing the time and cost of taking the monthly inventory at Coast Guard Base retail store in Honolulu in 1969. I noticed right away that the process seemed very cumbersome. First they would count each item and write the count next to its SKU number. Then, they would look up the purchasing record to find the cost of the item. Then they would multiply the cost per unit by the number of units to get the inventory value (at cost).

As the 24-year old “boot ensign” in charge of our retail operations in Hawaii, I noticed that the most time-consuming element of the entire inventory-taking process was looking up the cost of each item. Then, while thinking of ways to “improve the process,” I suddenly realized that everything in the store had the same mark-up (cost + 15%). Hence, if I knew the retail price per unit, I could easily compute the cost of the item by multiplying by 0.8696 (1.0/1.15).

Coast Guard vessel moored at Base Honolulu

So, I simply had them completely eliminate the task of looking up the cost. We began taking the inventory at the “marked retail selling price” and then multiplying that total number by 0.8696. That simple “process improvement” ended up reducing the labor cost of taking inventory by over 50 percent, and also generated more sales because we didn’t have to close the store anymore to take inventory.

My career since the Coast Guard store. During the 42 years since that first process improvement example, I have spent a career “looking at the big picture” and improving processes in a wide variety of industries and situations. A few examples:

  1. The worldwide quality inspection process at Holiday Inns.
  2. The national sales force of Jockey International (underwear and sportswear)
  3. Customer returns reduction program at Sears in Chicago.
  4. Teaching “process improvement” at the ITT Night Vision Group in Virginia.
  5. Improving the off-price sales margins at Polo Ralph Lauren in New York.

Our client in Roanoke in 1994, where I taught the Deming Method of TQM (total quality management) or continuous process improvement.

In every one of the examples listed above, the savings were in the millions of dollars. When you’re dealing with huge numbers in the tens or hundreds of millions, simple improvements can lead to saving millions of dollars.

What about projects saving billions or trillions of dollars? Unlike Tim Cook, since graduating from Auburn 43 years ago, I have never had the opportunity to work on a project with potential savings of more than one billion dollars — much less one trillion dollars — until NOW.

I am talking about the improvement of the “human feeding model” in the Western world. For starters, by cycling our grain through livestock, we’re wasting 90% of the protein, 96% of the calories,  100% of the carbohydrates and 100% of the fiber. After adding up all of the staggering facts, I realized that I had stumbled upon the…

Largest potential improvement ever. After studying the way we eat since 2002, there is no doubt in my mind that the “human feeding model” of the Western world represents, by a huge margin, the greatest process improvement opportunity in the history of planet Earth. Here are my top five categories of savings:

1. Cost of health care. With up to 80% of our health care dollars driven by our food choices, the potential savings are two trillion dollars a year….just in the United States. Throw in Europe, Australia and the rest of the West and you’re looking at over $5 trillion. This is backed up by many decades of scientific and clinical proof.

2. Fossil Fuel. Food production accounts for one-third of our total energy consumption in the USA. Plant-based calories can be produced with 90% less energy than animal-based foods; yielding an overall 30 percent reduction of the total fossil fuel consumption in the USA. Not sure of the total dollar savings here on a global basis, but I am confident that the number is well into the trillions and would probably dwarf that $5 trillion potential dollar savings for health care.

3. Water. When you’re talking about water, you’re not talking as much about saving money as you are talking about saving lives and saving the ecosystem. Once again, our Western diet is grossly inefficient; requiring over ten times more water per calorie of animal foods compared to plant-based foods.

4. World Hunger. Our Western diet requires over ten times as much arable land per person than does a plant-based diet. A shift to plant-based eating makes it possible to feed an ever-growing population while returning millions of acres to Nature. How do you put a dollar number on saving human lives or nurturing our essential biodiversity?

5. Climate Change. Without a doubt, the raising of livestock is the number one human-generated contributor to the greenhouse effect. Curiously, Al Gore didn’t mention this bit of information in the global warming movie for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Recent studies from scientists at the World Bank indicate that livestock account for over 51% of GHG produced by human activity—more than ALL other causes COMBINED. Unlike the task of trying to reduce the use of automobiles and trucks, the #1 cause of global warming could be totally eliminated with a widespread move to plant-based eating. In this category, it’s not about saving money—it’s all about saving the ecosystem, our civilization and ultimately, the human species.

A Return to Harmony…the net effect of all of the above. In just the past fifty years, humankind has inflicted more damage on the fragile harmony of nature than ALL previous generations of humans combined — for the past 200,000 years. Plant-based eating won’t solve this problem overnight, but it is the single most powerful opportunity that we have to get things moving in the right direction quickly.

So what is the total that could be saved? Obviously the savings go way beyond dollars that can be quantified. When we’re talking about world hunger, water, climate change and biodiversity, we’re talking about the future livelihood of all of the millions of species that call this planet home. We’re talking about our long-term survival on this planet.

The Bottom Line. Why is there no concentrated, globally-orchestrated effort underway to get this crucial project moving? Four reasons:

  1. Lack of knowledge. At least 95% of the people (including the smartest and best-educated) in the Western world truly believe that we “need” to eat animal protein to be healthy. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
  2. Resistance to change. People grew up eating a certain way and simply do not want to change. They like what they eat and it’s very important to them. With more knowledge about the consequences of those traditional food choices, many people will begin to change quickly.
  3. Money. Too many special interests riding on the status-quo. For if our global feeding model began to move quickly awash from animal-based foods, many individuals and businesses in the health care, pharmaceutical, livestock, fishing, restaurant and food processing industries would lose a great deal of money.
  4. Lack of leadership. Among the less than 5% who know the complete truth about the power of a plant-based diet; no one has emerged as a leader on the global stage.

When that leader emerges, and the requisite funding is acquired, the “lack of knowledge” problem can be addressed with a MASSIVE global awareness campaign aimed at the most affluent two billion people.

What about the funding? To get things moving quickly enough to avoid the upcoming climate change tipping points, we will likely need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars over the next few years. Where is that money going to come from? From billionaires who know, care and are ready to apply a portion of that resources to this campaign. A seven-word sentence describes their mission in a nutshell: Billionaires gather, plan, pull together, planet-saved.

Tim Cook, this is for you. What we need are a few people “thinking differently” as has been suggested by your former boss. As he so famously said, we need a few more “crazy ones.” Remember them? Those great leaders of the past who were crazy enough to think that they could change the world, were the ones who did.

Want to join me in “thinking differently.” Maybe, a good place to start would be for a couple of Auburn IE’s to get together and talk about what it would take to get the world’s greatest process improvement project underway. Take a look at the following three blogs; then give me a call at 917-399-9700.

This is where I learned all about improving processes. Indeed, the first law of industrial engineering is that “Any process can be improved.”

What does it take to change the world? Maybe less than you think.

Project “Harmony” from Ithaca, New York

Dispelling the “protein myth” and beyond; a report from Ithaca

One more thing, after seeing your address at the 2010 Auburn commencement, I posted the following blog about you; hope you like it. War Eagle! Apple CEO Tim Cook — Intuition, Preparation and Execution.

Meeting with Tim Cook in 2012. Unless he gives me a call in the next few days as requested above, here’s what I plan to do next. After consulting with a friend who is an Apple veteran, I will develop a plan to get this information to Mr. Cook. Perhaps I will send him a note pointing out that our book is mentioned in his latest copy of Auburn Magazine that came out last week. Hopefully, that will lead to a meeting when we can talk about next steps. Stay tuned, 2012 is shaping up to be a very good year.

The following five books and one DVD can be purchased on Amazon for a grand total of less than $60—and will enable you to understand the overwhelming challenges we face—along with the single most-powerful solution of all.

Six-Pack from Hicks—for health, hope & harmony on planet Earth

  1. Healthy Eating, Healthy WorldThe “big picture” about food (our book)
  2. A life changer for millions, including James Cameron. Forks Over Knives DVD 
  3. An essential scientific resource: The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell; the primary book that influenced Bill Clinton to adopt a whole food, plant-based diet.
  4. What have we done to our planet? Full Planet, Empty Plates by Lester Brown
  5. A horrifying wake-up call for leaders. TEN BILLION by Dr. Stephen Emmott
  6. Food choices are the primary cause of our environmental problems, yet our world leaders, scientists & experts are Comfortably Unawareby Richard Oppenlander.

Why should we be eating mostly plants? The “big picture” in 4 minutes.

Want to find out how healthy your family is eating? Take our free 4Leaf Survey. It takes 2 or 3 minutes and you can score it yourself. After taking the survey, please give me your feedback as it will be helpful in the development of our future 4Leaf app for smartphones. Send feedback to

International. We’re now reaching people in over 100 countries. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter or get daily blog notices by “following” us in the top of the right-hand column. For occasional updates, join our periodic mailing list.

J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

To order more of my favorite books—visit our online BookStore now For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, visit our 4Leaf page and also enjoy some great recipes from Lisa’s 4Leaf Kitchen. Got a question? Let me hear from you at Or give me a call on my cell at 917-399-9700.

—J. Morris Hicks, board member since 2012; click banner for more info:

Nutrition Certificate

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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2 Responses to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Me — Two Auburn Industrial Engineers

  1. Jane Timmons says:

    J Morris, when you write about the cost of health care and the gigantic potential savings, are you including also mental and emotional health? I know you are. As a teacher, improving “the human feeding model” has been a dream of mine since I slowly, very slowly, began to realize there was big trouble with how my students were eating. And that lead to all sorts of other problems. Of course there were attention and behavior problems, but I saw also serious social problems. (Sometimes I was on the receiving end of the “social problem”.) I feel certain that if we can help our children eat properly, there will come harmony: internal harmony leading to external harmonies leading to, eventually, global harmony. I feel certain about this.
    Thank you for your work,

  2. Denise says:

    Your blog is giving me hope for our world! Great post! Thank you!

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