How the story about a struggling entrepreneur makes the lessons of quality performance so timeless.

“Be so good they can’t ignore you,” – Steve Martin

How do you win over customers at work and bring families together at home? In his 2004 best-seller, “The Ice Cream Maker,” Subir Chowdhury says you focus on the basics and deliver excitement.

We’ll get into the basics of quality performance in a bit because the excitement step is actually the result of focusing on the basics. Through hundreds of examples, we see people who focus on the basics and pay closer attention to small details come forward with extraordinary products, ideas, and services. These are the ones who make their targeted audiences say “wow.” And as we know, getting to “wow,” is an essential part of great marketing.

As Chowdhury explains, the pathway to winning that kind of response boils down to going beyond satisfying basic expectations but exciting our audience with something unexpected that delights.

In contrast, Chowdhury pulls from historical examples: 

  • The $2 billion space shuttle Challenger dazzled the world with innovation destroyed by a tiny flaw in a $900 gasket. The disaster cost seven lives, and the investigation cost $500 million. And it took years for the US to restart its space program. 
  • For years, Japanese and Korean manufacturers were shunned by global markets for inferior products. But then, companies like Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Sony and Samsung focused on the basics and performance and won over customers by boosting quality at every level.
  • Coca-Cola spent millions introducing its bottled water, Dasani, to the European market. The company was so focused on delivering a flawless product launch that it missed an opportunity to provide a new product that surpassed consumer expectations. When European scientists detected an easily detectable and easily accessible impurity, the company was forced to withdraw and relaunch with a better product. 

Drawing Inspiration for Quality Performance

Chowdhury is the chairman and CEO of ASI Consulting Group, located in Bingham Farms, Michigan. The company has a long and storied history of more than 30 years when Ford Motor Co. routinely declared, “Quality is Job One.” The manufacturer formed the Ford Supplier Institute in 1981 to foster unified training programs for suppliers in the automotive industry. Dr. W. Edwards Deming provided the original material for supplier training and also served as the initial instructor for the Institute.

Much of this early work was based on the recommendations and teachings of quality gurus W. Edwards Deming and Genichi Taguchi. Taguchi later transformed that effort into the American Supplier Institute, Inc., becoming today’s ASI Consulting Group.

Positioned as the leader in industrial quality performance management, ASI literally wrote the book on how organizations make quality a crucial part of their culture. From this work, familiar quality standards emerged like Six Sigma, Design for Six Sigma, Quality is Everyone’s Business (QIEB), Robust Engineering and Lean standards are now joined by the more recent and easier to understand Listen-Enrich-Optimize (LEO).

When Chowdhury began his work at ASI in the mid-1990s, he found that many people who underwent training often lost interest in quality performance and management methodology. For instance, quality standards like ISO 9000, frequently pushed by big OEMs onto suppliers, were treated as mundane guidelines and wonky rules that interfered with productivity. That realization caused Chowdhury to wonder what good are rigorous quality standards if most employees don’t understand or care about them?

When Chowdhury published “The Ice Cream Maker,” people discovered a straightforward narrative that made quality approachable to everyone. Even opponents of traditional quality standards perked up wanted to hear more.

10 Quality Performance Lessons from “The Ice Cream Maker”

  1. Profits are the result, the by-product of excellent service.
  2. Turn what you do every day out of necessity into something you love to do.
  3. The better you treat your employees, the better they treat your customers.
  4. Focus on what you do, not just the results.
  5. If you sell something, you have customers: Listen to your clients or customers.
  6. The customer defines quality.
  7. Most American companies are better at delivering “excitement” than providing customers’ basic needs.
  8. Great organizations are built on a thousand great ideas. You’ve got to ask your employees and create an environment that rewards creativity to get the best ideas. Think about how to improve your product or service every day.
  9. It’s not enough to “do your best.” It would be best if you strive for perfection, improving regularly. Pay attention to the details – your customers do.
  10. Everyone is responsible for quality. The actual performance test isn’t how you do your best but at your worst.

Drawing motivation from Action

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself,” – Leo Tolstoy

Chowdhury taps the power of illustrative stories to make readers see how important it is for anyone in any job to embrace quality as the root of everything they do. Many people can easily relate to one of the book’s main characters: 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. 

Much of the story centers around Peter and the manager of the grocery chain and 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, Peter 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.

The characters come to life with concerns and goals we all can relate to (keeping their jobs, growing their business, making a difference, doing something that satisfies them in life and at work). And through the power of inspiring conversations and good stories, readers wind up learning what it takes to have it all in life and at work.

When “The Ice Cream Maker” talks about a common concern, workers feeling they are in unimportant, dead-end jobs, his supermarket friend answers: “Trust me, if you have a job, you’re needed – or else your job wouldn’t exist.”


When Chowdhury introduced the LEO (Listen-Enrich-Optimize) methodology, he helped simplify and standardize how we teach quality performance and management to our clients. In streamlining our lessons, LEO also intensifies the essential components for activating a quality revolution within an organization. When we listen to everyone, enrich ideas and data, and optimize solutions, we overcome mediocrity that exudes from the “good enough” mentality.

The change effect from Chowdhury’s book was so significant that Chrysler quality Vice President Steve Walukas remarked, “The Ice Cream Maker should be mandatory reading for anyone entering the workforce.”

The Washington Post summed up “The Ice Cream Maker” by concluding, “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.”

Chowdhury’s book reads like a fun novel rather than a wonky book of rules. It’s full of great conversations that many of us can relate to. The subtitle prepares us with how this conversation provides “An Inspiring Tale About Making Quality the Key Ingredient to Everything You Do.”

We can take heart that the lessons in these pages surpass a simple anecdote about doing better at work. Instead, it’s about doing better in life!

Partial sources:

Open Library: The Ice Cream Maker 

Penguin Random House: The Ice Cream Maker