LEONID USOV and Gennady Grechikhin stare intently at a computer screen at the Butler Automatic, Inc. plant here. Joe Rizzo of the customer service department tells them how he handles orders for spare parts to be used in the company's products - splicing machines that feed paper into web printing presses. The pair watches him enter the order into the computer, which alerts the shipping department to send the part, prints an invoice, and then deducts the part from the plant's inventory list.
Mr. Usov and Mr. Grechikhin move on to the field service department, where Paul Smith tells them that a representative is on call 24 hours a day to assist clients.
``The salesman sells the first machine. The field service representative sells all the rest,'' says technical services manager Frederick Bemis, explaining the importance of providing a customer reliable repair service.
This is no ordinary plant tour. Usov and Grechikhin are Soviet factory managers participating in a unique international exchange program. Their employer, the Soviet Ministry of the Aviation Industry, has contracted with Boston's Northeastern University for a 15-week course in American management methods.
The pilot program consists of about a month of intensive English-language training with emphasis on US business terminology. This is combined with management training in accounting and control, financial management, personnel, marketing, and international trade.
Following the course work, the 16 Soviets, all top executives from ministry enterprises, fanned out to plants around the country for about a month of hands-on experience.
David Boyd, dean of Northeastern's College of Business Administration, says the program is the ``first of its kind in cross-pollination between the classroom and the work place. It allowed the Soviets to reality-test what they had learned in the classroom.''
Back at the Canton plant, Usov and Grechikhin are peppering Mr. Bemis with questions as they walk through the plant: Does a paint-shop worker get early retirement or hazard pay? Does the plant provide uniforms for employees? Are they paid by the piece or by the hour? What about production bonuses? What are the pay differentials at the plant?
``My effort was to build in their minds as much as we could about how we operate as a $30 million-a-year company,'' says Carl Miller, Butler Automatic's vice president for sales. He tried to show the Soviets the entire process of taking an order, producing a product, and getting it out the door. This included advertising, marketing, service, and customer relations. The Soviets, he says, ``had a hard time understanding that we don't produce something that isn't sold.''
The two Soviets express a high opinion of the program. ``The idea of studying [companies'] experience is very useful,'' says Usov, director of a machine-building plant in the Ukrainian city of Pervomaisk. At Butler Automated, he learned that ``they don't just sell. They do all they can to satisfy the customer,'' he says.
Grechikhin, deputy director of a photographic equipment plant in Kharkov, the Ukraine, likes the program's melding of theory and practice. Without this, he says, ``given our different systems of production, it would have been hard to orient ourselves and learn about sales and marketing.''
The Soviets returned to Northeastern this week for a final evaluation of the program and then travel home. Dr. Boyd will travel to the Soviet Union today to discuss with the ministry the possibility of future programs.