4 Downton Abbey Characters Who’d Make Great Quality Professionals (and 4 Who’d Be Bloody Awful)

Is there a Lady Mary sitting in the cubicle next to you?   


Are you experiencing Downton withdrawal now that the award-winning PBS costume drama is officially over?

You’re not alone. Monday morning water cooler banter hasn’t been the same since our friends in the Great House threw the dust shields over the furniture and bid us farewell. If you’remissing your favorite Downton characters, don’t fret. There is probably a Mr. Carson or Lady Mary sitting in the cubicle next to you. After all, several members of the Crawley household, upstairs and down, possess the skills and personality traits needed for a successful career in quality management—others clearly don’t. Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Mrs. Hughes: Despite the fancy dresses and lavish dinner parties, the upper-crust Crawleys always seem to be one Foxtrot away from financial ruin. Sweeping social and political reform at the turn of the 20th century meant vast estates like Downton had to tighten the purse strings to survive. Each season, harried housekeeper Elsie Hughes faced the unenviable task of running the estate to the family’s (and Mr. Carson’s) exacting standards with ever dwindling resources. By the series finale, Downton was down to two lady’s maids and one footman—the horror! Like any good quality professional, Mrs. Hughes was an excellent problem solver and a master at doing more with less. Who wouldn’twant her on their quality team?

Mr. Carson: Professional, fastidious and results-oriented, on paper Downton’s long-standing butler, Charlie Carson, seems like a perfect candidate for a long and distinguished career in the quality business. Alas, his severe resistance to change and new technology—in his case, the telephone and electric toaster—would put the kibosh on his quality management métier. Good quality professionals realize that change is inevitable, and they embrace it. Great quality professionals go one step further and use their superior communication skills to get others excited about change. Sorry, Charlie, but when it comes to quality, inflexible perfectionists need not apply. 

Lady Mary: Like Carson, posh, entitled Lady Mary is traditional to a fault, and she expects everyone to conform to her will. Remember the drama that ensued when poor Mrs. Hughes did not want to accept Mary’s offer to get married in the Great Hall? Even when her intentions are admirable, Lady Mary acts like a bully in a ball gown. Effective quality professionals know you cannot force people to “do” quality. Instead, you must help them recognize that good quality is good for business, which is good for everyone. The ability to work with the other professionals and departments in your company, not against them, is critical to your sanity and success. There’s something about Mary, but it is not an illustrious career in quality management.

Cora Crowley, Countess of Grantham: Despite being a wealthy American heiress, Lady Grantham is no snob. She is forward-thinking, open-minded, resourceful and down-to-earth. Whether she is carrying a corpse through the Abbey under the cover of night to avoid scandal or running a convalescent home for wounded soldiers, Cora is not afraid to get her gloves dirty, which is why she’d make an excellent quality professional. You cannot manage quality from an ivory tower. In fact, it often fails upon the quality professional to do the dirty work no one else wants to do, e.g., identify his or her organization’s faults and try to improve or eliminate them. Not everyone is up to the task.

Robert Crowley, Earl of Grantham: Viscount Downton, His Lordship, the 7th Earl of Grantham—Downton’s well-intentioned but misguided patriarch has answered to many grand titles; however, qualityprofessional would not be one of them. Despite being the master of a massive estate, and responsible for the livelihood of many, Robert relies on luck (e.g., marrying a rich American heiress), risky investment schemes and dusty thinking to keep his ancestral home afloat. Worse, he dismisses the advice of his business-savvy son-in-laws because they lack an aristocratic pedigree. He assumes they cannot possibly understand what it is like to have his problems and responsibilities. Good quality professionals know that inspiration and ideas can come from the unlikeliest of places. Therefore, they are willing to interact with a wide variety of people, from salespeople to suppliers, and listen to—and learn from—them. Unlike Lord Grantham, they do not make decisions based on emotion or because “that’s the way it has always been done.” They rely on data and evidence-based best practices.
Mr. Molesley: Quiet and somewhat awkward, Joseph Molesley may not be the ideal quality management candidate, but he has potential. In season one, he convinced reluctant heir presumptive Matthew Crawley, who saw no need for servants, to take advantage of his valet services. How often have you had to convince or sell upper-level management on the benefits of quality? Molesley has worn many hats throughout the series. He started out as a butler, became a valet, was demoted to footman (due to a lack of available jobs after the war) and eventually left service to become a teacher, a profession which, at the time, was difficult for someone of his class and economic background to achieve. Molesley became a success because, like all effective quality professionals, he constantly sought and a found opportunities for improvement. He was passionate about his job. Passion, belief in the importance of what you do and a commitment to continuous improvement will take you far in the quality management field.

Thomas Barrow: Downton’s scheming under-butler is clever and ambitious. If you have a defect or weakness, Thomas will find it; he would make an excellent root causeinvestigator. Sadly, Thomas uses his intelligence to upstage others and incite conflict. While conflict can be beneficial, and lead to improved processes, products,and outcomes, it is dangerous when it becomes a way of doing business. Good quality professionals are team players. They do not succumb to gossiping, finger-pointing or blame. If there’s an issue, they want to be part of the solution, not the problem. They understand that emotional intelligence is just as important as “regular” intelligence. Thomas did start to turn things around by the series finale, so perhaps he is quality management material after all?

Lady Edith: Underdogs everywhere rejoiced when long-suffering plain-Jane Lady Edith triumphed in the finale, marrying Bertie Pelham, the Marquess of Hexham, and becoming the highest ranking—and richest—Crawley of them all. Take that, Lady Mary! Quality professionals can identify with the struggles of stoic middle daughter Edith, wedged between the glamourous Lady Mary and the rebellious Lady Sybil, and having to endure one hardship after another. Like Edith, quality professionals have a reputation of being dour and dutiful, performing a job that’s important and necessary but not terribly exciting or fun. Nonsense! Quality is serious business, certainly. After all, quality errors can lead to devastating and deadly consequences. However, as quality guru William Edwards Deming pointed out, the quest for quality does not have to be dreary and oppressive. A good attitude and an “onwards and upwards” mindsight are the marks of a great quality professional.

Did your favorite character make the grade? What traits do you think quality professionals need to succeed? 
Lisa Weeks, a marketing communications specialist at MasterControl, writes extensively about technology, the life sciences, and other regulated environments. Her two decades of marketing and advertising experience include work with McNeil Pharmaceuticals, SAP AG, SCA Mölnlycke Health Care, Crozer-Keystone Health Systems, and NovaCare Rehabilitation/Select Med. Connect with her on LinkedIn or GxP Lifeline.