The Ice Cream Maker: An Inspiring Tale about Making Quality the Key Ingredient in Everything You Do

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Innovation, claims quality consultant Subir Chowdhury, is part of America’s DNA. No other country in the world matches America’s creative drive and its ability to turn innovative ideas into revolutionary products–from antilock brakes and steel-belted radial tires to sophisticated software and microprocessors. But as fast as we introduce new products, we lose the markets we establish to countries that know how to manufacture higher quality versions for less money. As Japanese and European firms win market share by concentrating on quality, America is continually forced to rely on innovation to stay ahead.

In The Ice Cream Maker, Chowdhury uses a simple story to illustrate how businesses can instill quality into our culture and into every product we design, build, and market. The protagonist of the story is Peter Delvecchio, the manager of a regional ice cream company, who is determined to sell its ice cream to a flourishing national grocery chain, Natural Foods. In conversations with the Natural Foods manager, Peter learns how the extraordinarily successful retailer achieves its renowned high standard of excellence, both in the services it provides its customers and in the foods it manufactures and sells. Quality, he discovers, must be the mission of every employee; by learning to listen, enrich, and optimize, he can encourage and sustain the highest levels of quality in everything the company does.

Like Fish! and Who Moved My Cheese? The Ice Cream Maker offers an essential and universal lesson about one of industry's foremost challenges in a thoroughly engaging style. For managers and executives, small business owners and entrepreneurs, The Ice Cream Maker is a compelling, eye-opening guide to the most effective ways to achieve excellence and become industry leaders on the global stage.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Nobody, according to Six Sigma guru Subir Chowdhury, can match America's ability to turn innovative ideas into revolutionary products. But almost as quickly as we introduce new products, we lose the markets to countries that specialize in manufacturing higher-quality versions for less money. In The Ice Cream Maker, Chowdhury provides a memorable parable about quality, excellence, and ice cream.
From the Publisher

“Great book! The Ice Cream Maker should be mandatory reading for anyone entering the workforce.”

–Steve Walukas, Vice President, Corporate Quality, DaimlerChrysler Corporation

“This business gem is short in length, but boundless in the depth of its insight and wisdom. If there is only one book and one author I could recommend in the world of quality, it would be The Ice Cream Maker and Subir Chowdhury.”

–Marshall Goldsmith, founding partner of Marshall Goldsmith Partners, and author of The Leader of the Future

“Fabulous! The Ice Cream Maker offers a great illustration of the amazing results that can be achieved by engaging your entire workforce in the efforts to improve quality.” 

– Lee A. Mundy, Executive Director, Strategic Quality Initiative, General Motors Corporation 

"In 115 jargon-free pages, [Chowdhury] boils down most of the wisdom of modern management theory and practice that is equally relevant to chief executive and front-line clerk."

---- THE WASHINGTON POST (10-9-2005)

"The Ice Cream Maker becoming a kind of Detroit Bible, at once raising our expectations and our self-confidence. That's bold self-promotion --
chutzpah -- a quality that our battered region could use right now."

---THE DETROIT NEWS (11/13/2005)

"Subir Chowdhury's mission is to make quality part of America's corporate DNA. The Ice Cream Maker is a great step on the path to this end."

--- KEN BLANCHARD, coauthor of The One Minute Manager

Library Journal
This brief but timely volume provides much-needed advice and insight into improving quality in American business practices. Chowdhury (CEO, ASI Consulting Group; The Power of Six Sigma) offers a parable in which the manager of an ice cream manufacturing company learns from a successful grocery retailer how success is achieved. Through a fascinating dialog between the two men, readers will learn about the "Listen, Enrich, and Optimize (LEO)" concept. Chowdhury, an internationally known management and quality consultant, drives home the important point of building and providing quality in every aspect of the organizational culture to establish and retain a position in the global market. He also reaffirms the idea that "the bottom line in quality is defined by the customer." For a company to be successful, its products must meet customers' expectations, performing as promised, even exciting or delighting the customer. Small-business owners/managers and business students and faculty will all learn from this practical parable with the moral that in the long run "quality is cheaper `than good enough.' "-Susan C. Awe, Univ. of New Mexico, Albuquerque Education Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385514781
  • Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/4/2005
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 102,273
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.82 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Subir Chowdhury is the author of the international bestsellers The Power of Six Sigma, as well as Design for Six Sigma. As chairman and CEO of ASI Consulting Group (, he advises CEOs and senior leaders of Fortune 100 companies, and in private and public sectors all over the world, helping them make quality a part of their business culture. His works are cited frequently in the national and international media. He lives in Northville, Michigan.

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Read an Excerpt


A Bucket of Ice Water

It was a Monday afternoon in May when my life changed forever.

I was working away at my job as the Plant Manager for Dairy Cream, a regional ice cream company, when Reggie, one of our sales reps, came breezing through the door an hour earlier than I expected. He had a big appointment with Natural Foods, the booming national food chain that has had a branch here in town for ten years or so. I thought that perhaps he hadn't made his sales call yet, until he shook his head, and with an easy-going shrug, gave me a "thumbs down" signal. He'd failed again to sell even a half-pint to Natural Foods. "Well get 'em next time," he said nonchalantly, with the faith of a Cubs fan.

It was no skin off his nose, I could tell. After all, no one really expected him to make the sale. We'd been trying for years. In fact, he seemed relieved. Going down there had become an annual chore I had made him perform, and he had completed it. It was one less thing he had to do.

Only this year I had really been counting on making that sale. We'd come up with three new flavors using natural ingredients that I thought would knock their socks off. That was the way we'd originally made a name for ourselves--with radical new flavors that had gotten us not only local publicity and a surge in sales, but national attention. But my new flavors strategy seemed to have fizzled with Natural Foods.

What was worrying me most was something I couldn't tell Reggie or anyone else. Our boss and founder, Malcolm Jones, had recently expressed his disappointment to me at our lack of sales growth. Our profit margins were shrinking. Malcolm had told me if things didn't get better soon, he would have to make some serious changes. One solution, he said, would be to bring another management team on board. Or, he intimated, he might be forced to sell our factory outright to a national manufacturer, or scuttle the ice cream factory altogether by selling the land to a real estate developer. "I don't care what you have to do to turn things around. But get it done. I'm putting this on your shoulders." With suburban sprawl spreading past the highway belt encircling our city, I had no doubt Malcolm could make more money selling the land to a developer than he could running it with its current revenues. Either way, however, I would be out of a job. With a wife and two young kids, eight and six, Malcolm's rebuke jolted me out of my complacency.

Although I had grown up in town, I had taken the job at Dairy Cream only two years ago, after spending ten years in a food manufacturing company in Denver. It seemed to me it was only recently that our family felt settled. My wife Jean had landed a new job at one of the local bank branches, and our son and daughter had a growing circle of friends in the neighborhood. But there was no way we could swing the mortgage and everything else on Jean's salary alone.

And if I failed at Dairy Cream, what would I do? I wasn't necessarily the smartest guy in the room but I worked hard at my job. I had come up with a number of management initiatives and employee morale programs to improve our manufacturing processes and increase our production.

But lately, nothing seemed to make a difference. Our ice cream appealed neither to the high-end, premium buyers, nor was it competitive with the lower priced budget brands. We were caught in the middle, and getting squeezed from both ends.

I'd never failed at my job before, but I'd begun to run out of answers. What could I do, I worried, to avoid this fate? What would happen to all the people under me if Malcolm sold the business--or the land?

That morning, I had held out hope that Natural Foods might be our savior. I knew that if we could sell our brand to just one branch of their chain, it would significantly boost our numbers. Their sales are so strong, they'd carry us with them. And then, of course, it would give us a foot in the door to try to land an account with the entire chain, multiplying our modest profits many times, overnight. And because Natural Foods has such a fabulous reputation for quality products and customer service, being picked up by them would signal to other retailers that we had earned the stamp of approval from the toughest judge in the food business, leading to more contracts.

So when Reggie returned to tell me we got another 'no go' from Natural Foods after an abbreviated ten-minute conversation with their buyer, my heart sank lower than my work boots. Reggie said he barely got his first sentence out when the buyer started asking questions he couldn't really answer.

"Such as?"

"Such as the density of our ice cream, the percentage of 'mix-ins,' in weight and volume, the success rate of our packaging--"

"The success rate of our packaging?!?"

"That's what I mean," Reggie said. "I'd never heard such questions before."

I was dumbfounded. How could Natural Foods make their decision on whether or not to carry our ice cream based on such arcane questions?

My disappointment, however, soon changed to determination. I couldn't just let this account go. Years ago I knew one of the higher ups in the store. Darn it, I would go and make the pitch to them myself. Although I was scheduled to meet with our Director of Quality that day, I found myself taking off my safety goggles and lab coat, putting on my jacket and grabbing my keys before I was even aware of what I was doing. I'm not a sales rep--I have absolutely no sales experience--but I knew how crucial this sale was. I had to get it. I hopped into my car--a SUV we had just bought two months earlier to help trundle the kids around town, I reflected ruefully, thinking of the payments--to go down to Natural Foods myself.

Although I had always refused to shop at Natural Foods--because they had never bought our ice cream--I had no trouble finding their store, a huge building located at one of our major intersections. Essentially a fancy grocery store, it looks nothing like the Biggie-Mart I frequent. The storefront consists of huge windows framed in brick, looking more like a bookstore than a grocery store. From across the parking lot you could see the 30-foot high rafters inside--the entire ceiling painted beige, not the depressing black or shocking white of most stores--and the friendly banners hanging above each cash register. Whether you cared about the products or not, the store's design had a way of drawing you in.

I wanted not to like the place, but I still couldn't help but notice the lengths Natural Foods took to make you feel welcome. Despite my boycott, my wife still shopped there, and often gushed about what a great place it was, gently mocking my stubbornness at refusing to cross its doors. I soon found out what she was talking about.

I walked through the front doors--my wife claimed that if they ever closed them, she hadn't seen it--which are so expansive it's virtually impossible to bump into another customer, no matter how busy the foot traffic. A blast of invitingly cool air greeted me on this hot summer day. I walked past the push-carts, all of them a shining, robust green, neatly organized in a fan design to allow maximum access and minimum hassle. I noticed an unmistakable fragrance, and looked to my left to see a veritable wall of flowers, like a scene from a rich impressionist painting. Soft, soothing music wafted down from above. The ten-second experience of walking into Natural Foods was as warm a welcome as a store can give you, transporting you to some place inviting and exotic, in just a few feet.

"Hello, how are you?" a friendly voice asked with such genuine sincerity that I assumed she was a friend of mine. I didn't recognize her, however, and must have looked puzzled. "Can I help you?" she asked.

"No thanks," I answered. She was clearly not an official greeter, just a friendly employee doing her job arranging the floral display, while saying hello to as many customers as she could. I soon heard a chorus of similar greetings around the store, many of them quickly evolving into longer conversations.

My first look inside revealed just how clean and fresh, warm and welcoming the entire store was. It didn't feel at all like my local chain grocery--and certainly not like our factory. But I quickly dismissed the thought. After all, they were in retail, and we sell to stores, not customers.

Just past the flowers I found the "Help Center," manned by two cheerful employees, one of whom seemed free to answer a question.

"Hello there," the information woman said. "I'm Jenny. How can I help you today?" When I had gotten out of my car I'm sure I wore a stubborn scowl, but it was impossible to maintain a downturned mouth in the face of such a friendly smile. I had left the factory in such a rush that I couldn't recall the name of the buyer Reggie had talked to. But I remembered one of my parents' neighbors had taken a managerial job at Natural Foods years ago, and I had decided to give him a shot first.

"Does Mr. McMaster still work here?" I asked.

"Ohhhh, yes," she said, grinning. "I'm sure he's around here somewhere. Is he expecting you?"

"No," I admitted. "Is that a problem?"

"Not at all," she said. "He talks to lots of customers every day, and I doubt any of them have made an appointment yet."

"Well, actually," I said, "I'm not really a customer. I'm an old neighbor, from way back. I haven't seen him in, geez, probably ten years."

"Wow!" she laughed, joking, "Does he owe you money?"

"No," I said, smiling, unable to resist her humor. "Actually I'm here on a sales call."

"If you haven't seen Mike in awhile, maybe I'd better take you to him."

Jenny stepped out from behind the counter, told her co-worker she'd be right back, and led me through the store.

"Is his office in the back?" I asked.

"Mike's office will be our last stop. You're more likely to find him in the parking lot, gathering carts, or at the entrance fiddling with the flowers, than sitting at his desk. Most of the time he's roaming the store, talking with customers and our team members."

We walked through aisles that were even wider than I had imagined when I saw the store from afar in my car. They were immaculate, and comfortably organized. The shelves were made of rich cherry wood, and cantilevered to break up the sterile, straight lines of most conventional stores. The lighting was softer, too, than the harsh fluorescent lighting of the typical grocery store, with a variety of lush green plants, making this huge box feel more like a cute coffee shop than the gigantic food franchise it actually was. 

What I noticed most of all, though, was the number of employees we walked past--dozens, easily--stocking shelves, fashioning imaginative displays with co-workers, talking with customers. It was clear that rather than regarding their customers' questions as a nuisance, it was the favorite part of their jobs. 

Jenny found Mike helping a customer in the pasta section, discussing the vast array of choices. He was undeniably older than I'd remembered, but he'd aged well, still lean and spry, with the same glint burning brightly in his eyes. Mike was asking the customer a detailed series of questions to determine exactly the kind of meal she was planning to prepare, and what pasta and sauce might work best for her purposes.

He gave us a "Just a moment" gesture, then asked the customer a few more questions about how often she visited Natural Foods (every week, she said), what she liked best (the selection and the service) and what she thought they could do better. "Hmmm," she said. "That's hard to say. I come here an awful lot, and I love it. But I suppose it'd be helpful if you had some sort of information card or sheet for your products, so I wouldn't have to ask a clerk like you every time I had a question."

"Ms. Truax, it's always a pleasure talking to our customers, but you have a very good idea. I'll see what I can do."

"Thanks," she said. "And please, call me Samantha."

"Samantha it is. Thanks for visiting our store."

When he turned to us, said, "Now, you have to be Frank Delvecchio's son, Pete, aren't you?"

"Yes," I said, extending my hand. "You have an amazing memory. Last time I saw you, I was just home from college, with long hair and glasses."

He chuckled. "And I must have been 35, with some hair, and no glasses!" He thanked Jenny for her help. "It's great to see you again, Peter. Can I buy you a cup of coffee?"

"Sure," I said. "Thank you. And call me Pete. I think only my mom still calls me Peter."

"And you can call me Mike."

"Mike it is," I said.

Mike started walking me toward the café in the front of the store, awash in sunlight pouring through the lightly tinted picture windows, where he found an open table for us to chat.

A friendly waitress came over to take our order. "Do you have latte?" I asked.

"Of course," the waitress said. "And you, Mike?"

"Make it two, Monica. Thanks." Then Mike turned his attention back to me. "So, to what do I owe this pleasure?"

"First, it's good to see you again," I said, suddenly a little embarrassed that I hadn't stopped in to see him before. I'd forgotten what a friendly neighbor Mike had been.

"Ditto." he replied. "But I've got a hunch you didn't come down just to say hello!"

His remark disarmed me. He must be used to sales calls by now, I realized. "You're right," I said. "I'm the Factory Supervisor for Dairy Cream now. I've been there the last couple of years. And I've been dying to get our ice cream in your store for a long time. I remembered you had helped get Natural Foods' founder get the chain off the ground years ago, before relocating back here in town. So I thought I'd come down to see if you still worked here."

He spread his arms. "Now you have your answer!"

"What do you do here?" I asked. "I'm guessing from what Jenny said that you're not actually a clerk."

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 18 of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The Ice Cream Maker

    "The better you treat your employees, the better they treat your customers"

    Day by day we realize that the world is changing. From the day we stepped into the 21st century, the way we saw things, people, places, and businesses has changed. This book is a sole representative of just that fact. Mr. Chowdhury has brought in the most important aspect to many organizations today. "People".

    The book is a simple story of a man who tries more than anyone in his organization to bring back the momentum and quality, and in return save the jobs of his and thousand others. The element he focuses on is their customers.

    Peter was a simple Plant manager at Dairy Cream. When sales was going down tremendously, he was given the ultimatum of getting it back into track soon or close down the entire plant. Realizing that the latter was not a good choice, especially for the fact that he would lose his job too, he took a different turn and got advice from one of his friends who always rejected his ice creams to be in their stores.

    The book goes through the changes that peter implements through out the organization after countless sessions with his friend, who advices him that "Quality" and "Customer service" is everything when it comes to selling your products and keeping your customers happy. We see a great portrayal of how small companies with humble beginnings emerge amidst the overruling competition in the industry.

    "Great companies are built on a thousand great ideas. To get the best ideas you have to ask your employees."

    It's a great book on how Peter changed the entire thinking and the creativity of the organization just by doing the most key things most organizations lack. Listening to your employees and customers. He realized that he needed to get the best from his employees and for that he needed to keep them satisfied. In turn they managed to produce the best ice cream that their customers wanted and loved. I would recommend this book to any organization, because it will show you exactly what you need to change in your business.

    "The real measure of performance is not how you do at your best, but how you do at your worse."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2006

    Wakes you up!!!

    Having read numerous books on the importance of great customer service and how to achieve it, I can tell you the Ice Cream Maker is the one that hit me squarely between the eyes. Mainly because through the use of the story Mr. Chowdhury clarifies just how easily you can change the paradigm of your organization and produce dramatic results in customer service and company performance. I read it twice in one day it was so great.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2005

    Everyone has Customers!

    Subir Chowdhury's latest book is a gem and is destined to be a classic! It was difficult to put down and at only 109 pages, it did not take long to read this inspiring parable (I have re-read it three times now). It takes quality to a new level and simplifies the process of producing the highest quality by having the reader follow three steps: Listen, Enrich and Optimize (LEO)-- with everything starting and finishing with the customer. The lessons in this book can be applied to self, small business, large corporations, schools, and governments -- EVERYONE has customers. It is a MUST read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2005

    Simple, but Profound

    This is a short, simple business book along the lines of Who Moved My Cheese and FISH. However, having read the two previous titles, I found The Ice Cream Maker to be more applicable to my organization, with ideas that hopefully would help us to make long-term changes. The book centers around quality and customer service, and really makes you realize how low our expectations have gotten as consumers. It's such a pleasant surprise to receive truly good customer service, and hopefully this book will go a long way in helping American companies make that a more common occurrence. This book teaches companies how to truly listen to their customers and employees in order to make significant, and profitable, changes. Great book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2005

    Enjoyable, fast read

    I REALLY enjoyed your book. I¿m always hesitant about reading `work¿ or marketing books, but you put the reader at ease and do not talk down to them as if they were un-educated slobs who need to be taught. Thank you for that. I also found it very informative not just from a `customer service, how do I raise my profits¿ book, but you also care about the consumers. This has really been lost from the American corporate structure for a while now. I am glad to see that you have taken a pro-consumer, pro-quality approach

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2005

    Mr. Chowdhury knows business

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and though it only took me but an hour and a half from start to finish, I found it to be both substantial and inspirational. This book almost tricks you into believing it is a simple 'tale about making QUALITY the key ingredient in everything you do' but it truly is a very smart business guide.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2005

    Little book, big ideas - not only for ice cream!

    Not in the many years that I've been reading have I ever spent time as well as the 70-something minutes that it took to read this book. Subir puts into writing some blatantly obvious facts that so many of us overlook in our day to day lives not only as business owners, but as marriage partners, parents, children and friends. This book presents ideas to make all walks of relationships better, and I'm so glad I took the time to read it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2005

    An Insightful, Quick Read

    You can easily finish reading this book in one evening, but the ideas it brings up keep you thinking for days. This book tells us of a fictitious ice cream manufacturer in search of 'quality.' Along the way, their manager realizes that he, and his employees, needed to change their way of thinking. The principles brought forward can easily be applied to any field, not just manufacturing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2005


    I just finished The Ice Cream Maker and it was an inspiring book which related well to my line of work. Stresses the importance of Quality in the work that we do. This was a quick easy read that was enjoyable as much as it was informative. I think this book would especially be good for people in the customer service and manufacturing industry.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2005

    Great book

    I just got done doing a preview of this book and I have to say it was a very informative book that was well put together. The ease of reading it was incrediable, it all flowed together wonderfully. The book can be applied to work as well as everyday life. Doing your best at all you do, is a reflection of you, your work and success in all areas of your life. I truly enjoyed this book and recommend it highly. Honestly this is not the typical type of book I would read and I was pleasently surprised. I also emailed the author to tell him how much I enjoyed he book . I quickly got a response back, which told me he believed and practiced everything he wrote about in the book. Which put a smile on my face.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2005

    Thank you Subir Chowdhury for a book of this stature...

    I am only on page 51 of this book and I have realized that it is a very important business tool. It is not just for customer service, but for all aspects of life. I, personally have worked in many different industries and this book applies to all of them, including retail, banking, human resources, collections, finance, etc...this list can go on forever. Currently I work in a financial office working in Merger Resolution. On a daily basis, my employess are on the phone with shareholders of companies (40 different companies) and they must have great customer service, empathy and knowledge and be able to assist these people in the time span of a phone call. We have quality assurance measures in place, but 'The Ice Cream Maker' clearly points out that if somebody is unhappy with their job/work environment it will affect the quality of their work. I cannot wait to finish this book and I will add it to the other books that I currently suggest all of my employess read.

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    Posted January 8, 2010

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    Posted January 24, 2010

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    Posted January 10, 2010

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    Posted September 21, 2011

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