by Christopher Paris

I know I shouldn’t, and they certainly want me to stop, but I can’t help sending the occasional lead to Underwriter’s Labs (UL). UL doesn’t want free leads because, you know, in this Golden Age of ISO 9001 registration, the certification bodies are so flush with clients they can pick and choose who they use as unpaid, non-commissioned, independent and unbiased sources.

If you just snorted your crackers into your brandy, I forgive you. That was sarcasm.

But, yes, the UL “blacklist” of Oxebridge, apparently initiated by one Mike Caruso, is still in effect. How does a registrar blacklist an ISO 9001 consulting firm, when registrars have no power whatsoever over consultants?

It’s all done in the spirit of continual improvement. Or something.

Back in 2007, UL’s freshly-minted Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Ken Berger was looking for improvement initiatives to justify UL’s training expenses enhance their services when he contacted Oxebridge — out of the blue — asking for feedback. Why Oxebridge? We had a number of clients registered with UL and were even considering using them for our own ISO 9001 registration.*

I provided them some feedback on shortening their client contracts, which were at least twice the size of other registrars, and UL happily agreed. Mr. Berger came back for more feedback, and I pointed out that I felt their website was skirting dangerously close to offering “tailored training” to registration clients, something prohibited by ISO 17021.

Then… silence.

Well nothing rattles the alarms more than total quiet, so I knew I was onto something. After a year of gentle poking, and receiving no response on the issue, even after the issue was tossed to Mr. Caruso (a “chief engineer” at UL, which is surprising because I didn’t know registrars ran on steam engines), it became clear that UL wasn’t going to address the issue. So Oxebridge tossed it up the food chain into ANAB’s lap. ANAB ruled on the side of UL, and we didn’t make a fuss. It was a pretty tepid request for clarification, and the only reason ANAB was invoked was because of UL’s steadfast refusal to respond to the issue at all… in itself, a violation of ISO 17021.

But Oxebridge let it drop.

UL… not so much.

Underhanded Labs

Like a petulant child denied candy after a seven-hour fudge binge, UL let it be known, through their sales rep Morgan Blue, that Oxebridge was “blacklisted” – UL would no longer provide services to any known Oxebridge client. And — get this — this was two years after the Black Belt fiasco.

I called Mr. Caruso and asked him what UL was thinking by “banning” an organization that they had no control over whatsoever, and how it made sense to intentionally cut themselves off from free leads. I also questioned the integrity of an organization that audits other’s ability to respond to complaints, when that organization chooses to (a) ignore complaints and then (b) attempts to punish the complainant.

Mr. Caruso was unrepentent. When I asked to be put in touch with UL’s impartiality committee, I was told, no, that wasn’t going to happen. Mr. Caruso was the head of the impartiality committee.

(Wouldn’t have mattered anyway, it seems. ANAB recently ruled that registrars can deny access to impartiality committees even to those folks who feel the registrars are being… well, … “partial”.)

So, armed only with spite and childish defiance, UL shot off its own foot. Two Oxebridge clients jumped ship and signed up with other registrars, and UL temporarily lost its spot on our list of “recommended” registrars, cutting itself off from the growing AS9100 market.

A short while later, DQS merged with UL, but there was no budging on the Oxebridge “blacklist.” Mike Caruso was promoted to VP of Certifications, apparently rewarded for his efforts in reducing paperwork (mainly the processing of contracts coming across the transom), and for single-handedly proving that Lean Six Sigma is a complete charade, ready to be dropped by management at the slightest hint of inconvenience.

The Shallow End of the Pool

The thing is, despite executives clearly educated in the school of Deluded Self-Defeating Management, their auditors remain pretty well-trained, especially in the ISO 9001 certification arena. Aerospace is a little spotty (some interpretations by their AS9100 staff are Tang-flavored, fruit loop crazy), but overall it’s a solid organization. I can’t fault UL’s auditors for having management that believes “impunity” is spelled not only with a “U” but also an “L”. I also don’t like to deny clients, who are craving good auditors in a sea of dismal tinpot dictators, a possible lead on a fair registration audit.

So now I provide leads to UL under a fake name. Sometimes it’s “Hammersmith Thundergod” or “Cornflake Johanssen.” Other times I just cut to the chase and sign emails with the name “Randy Daugherty” with an “A”.

I kid. I don’t actually do that.

But when asked, I do provide clients a list of five or six registrars, and UL made it back on the list. That list includes a disclaimer that Oxebridge only “recommends” the registrars on the basis of ourĀ clients’ feedback, not any single opinion or for any kind of financial compensation. We then tell them if they want to approach UL, they need to keep our name out of it. Many ask why, and then (surprise!) send their RFQ’s to NSF instead. They don’t need the hassle.

Some, however, sign up with UL anyway. The implementations go just as smooth as before the Caruso blacklist, the registration audits go just as well, and checks sent to UL are cashed just as quickly.

Funny thing… UL is still hungry for clients. They are still in there scrapping with the rest of them, trying to get a bite out of those juicy contracts. They just have no idea who’s sliding that slab of steak under their door at night.

( After the fallout with UL, Oxebridge pursued Smithers as its registrar. After the Smithers debacle, Oxebridge has since abandoned the notion of ISO 9001 certification, realizing that in order to maintain complete independence from all registrars, we couldn’t really hire one.)

About Christopher Paris

Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001 and Surviving AS9100. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.


ISO 45001 Implementation