The Malcolm Baldrige Awards

Three of last year's Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award winners were household names: Cadillac, IBM, and Federal Express. Wallace Co., the fourth, was a little less familiar. Houston-based Wallace had sales of $79 million, spent $1,050 on entry fees, and was chosen over thousands of other small-company entrants for setting new standards for service. "It's the best self-assessment tool," says Wallace executive vice-president Michael Spiess of the rigorous filing routine. "It makes you look at every aspect of your business."

This year's 42-page Application Guidelines outlines seven broad components of a quality-management system, which are partitioned into 32 subcategories and then divided into 99 specific areas of evaluation. At least five reviewers study an entry and write an appraisal of each company's strengths and shortcomings. Win or lose, the observations constitute bargain consultation. "You get untold hours of professionals looking at your company, and then they send you honest, constructive feedback," Spiess marvels. -- Researched by Susan Greco

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For a free copy of the Application Guidelines, call the National Institute of Standards and Technology at (301) 975-2036. Wallace Co. offers an abbreviated version of its successful application. Call Michael Spiess at (713) 672-5809.