My Fill of Recycling

By Lloyd Graff.

Photo courtesy of

Martin Winterkorn, the CEO of Volkswagon, is now unemployed because his company dealt improperly with the waste from 12 million diesel cars.

Waste is a hot topic again. An XPRIZE of $20 million is now being offered as a challenge to make useful, economically viable products from the carbon dioxide waste, which pours out of coal and natural gas fired power plants all over the world. The unfortunate people who live in Singapore, Malaysia and Beijing are now walking around with masks. They deal everyday with the awful debilitating haze which blankets their air.

In America we recycle our plastic water bottles almost like a religious ritual. Kids who have grown up on environmental orthodoxy since they were three think that they are saving the planet one yogurt cup at a time.

I think we need to think about what’s important in the waste world and what is just a waste of time and energy.

I buy into the consensus view that CO2 from power plants burning coal and natural gas is a legitimate hazard. But I think the fervor over recycling, versus just burying our leftovers like we used to do in the good old days, is misplaced. Most of the lovely forest preserves in the Chicago area are covered up landfills. In New York City the gorgeous tennis facility where they play the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament is a former landfill. Let’s give garbage its due. Dig a big hole in a strategic spot and a decade later you may have a spectacular piece of real estate.

John Tierney has written extensively about the reign of recycling. In his recent piece in The New York Times he argues quite persuasively that for regular people the only environmentally sensible products to recycle are aluminum, paper and cardboard. Plastic and especially food scraps are environmentally wasteful to recycle. He says it would take 40,000 recycled plastic bottles to offset the greenhouse effect of one passenger’s coach round-trip flight from New York to London, 100,000 bottles to compensate for business class trip. If you rinse the bottles that figure would be even higher as it puts more carbon in the atmosphere from obtaining the water.

The environment virtues of electric cars have been strongly promoted by Tesla and Toyota, but the bottom line carbon dioxide savings versus an efficient gasoline engine are minimal if you figure in the carbon dioxide coming from the coal burning power plants that are charging the batteries each day.

I have heard the blind recitations from the waste groupies about saving the planet by joining Seattle and San Francisco in moving toward a “zero waste” policy by recycling every button and hot dog wrapper, but it does not make either economic or environmental sense to go that far.

From the financial side, the recycling business is in the toilet. It is cheaper to produce virgin material in many cases than to recycle, even if you accept the argument that greenhouse gases are a significant cost to the people and the planet. I remain hopeful that the best and brightest minds, with the new economic incentive of the XPRIZE, which is funded by a big utility, NRG, and the Alberta Oil Sands Group, will figure out a good way to recycle the carbon dioxide waste of electricity generating power plants and manufacturing facilities. Meanwhile, plenty of communities will happily host environmentally safe landfills for a fee, and I can guiltlessly send my food scraps down my disposal and throw out my accumulating plastic bags without any tinge of remorse.

Question: Do you feel guilty when you don’t recycle?

Share this post

Phony Fumes

By Lloyd Graff.

In this Sept. 23, 2015 file photo, company logos of the German car manufacturer Volkswagen sit in a box at a scrap yard in Berlin, Germany. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)

The mess that Volkswagen now finds itself in will be a business case study that students at Harvard and Penn will have fun with for years. But for VW it is a problem that just keeps getting worse by the day. It has cost VW CEO Martin Winterkorn his job and will cost the company many, many billions of dollars.

As a spectator who has never even considered owning a diesel automobile, I find it a fascinating case of over-reaching, because Winterkorn promised everybody he was going to run the biggest car company in the world and do it by pushing diesel cars.

Unfortunately, the EPA in the U.S. would not oblige VW like the Europeans had by relaxing the emissions standards on the uniquely nasty emissions of diesels. A conspiratorial thinker might believe that the tough diesel emissions standards were instigated by VW’s competitors in America, but I doubt it. The EPA, particularly under the Obama administration, appears to hate all the auto companies, except maybe Tesla. VW probably thought it could buy the EPA or cajole it, or muscle it like it does the European regulators, but then the company discovered nothing was going to work except adding very expensive pollution control equipment to its cheap little small cars that would make the cars either uncompetitive on price or unprofitable, or both. So VW decided to go with the cheating software fix, that in its arrogance figured nobody would ever catch.

You can fool some of the people, some of the time – you know the rest. The suspicion is that maybe somebody from BMW, who knew how much it cost to put the costly diesel emission controls on their $60,000 SUV, made a call or sent a love note to the EPA, saying that VW’s cheap pollution fix did not add up. So the EPA decided to test and retest the small VWs to find out what the company’s secret sauce was. The secret sauce was software trickery that falsified the emission test results.

If it was only diesels in the U.S. it would have been a blow to the company, but since VW’s cars were a sales flop here, anyway, it would not have been a catastrophe. But when you are dealing in lies, you better be a consistent liar, which VW was. The deceptive diesel software is in all of the small European diesels too, about 11 million on the streets, all spewing worse fumes out the tailpipe than their test readings indicated. Wolfsburg – you have a problem!

As a business story, it is all so juicy. Corporate arrogance, lies, clever masking software, CEO resignation, regulators in Europe running for cover! Personal injury lawyers are probably figuring out whether they can manufacture some lawsuits out of it.

The Tanaka airbag failure took many years to unravel, but the Volkswagen diesel bubble broke quickly.

Volkswagen’s disconnect with the American market has some parallels with what I discussed in the DMG MORI story I wrote a couple of days ago. DMG wants to be the biggest machine tool builder in the world. Tying up with Mori-Seiki seemed like a good way to get there. But like VW’s difficulties working with an American market that dislikes diesel and navigating American regulators who would not simply wink at an inconsistency when it stared them in the face, DMG has had trouble responding to the service needs of American manufacturers.

The automotive industry as a whole must feel edgy these days. We appear to be close to the beginning of an enormous shift in the market. Apple and Google want to sell an autonomous car in five years. Tesla hopes to bring its mass market electric car to market in 2017. Uber wants to change the way we own and drive cars. It just commandeered almost the entire robotics department from Carnegie-Mellon to speed up its driverless car ambitions. Mercedes, BMW and VW recently bought Nokia’s mapping software for $3 billion to try to catch up on the autonomous car.

We are near some kind of inflection point where software will become more significant than hardware in car purchases. This is what Silicon Valley sees as the trillion dollar opportunity.

Martin Winterkorn was playing yesterday’s game by trying to use software trickery to mask a flaw in his hardware. Apple and Google are rich enough to muscle their way into the automotive world by either buying or hiring Tesla or another car builder to make their vehicles, which they see as software delivery packages. VW and many other car companies have more to worry about than phony fumes.

Question: If diesels were price competitive would you buy one?

Share this post

Reading Between the Lines at DMG MORI USA

By Lloyd Graff.

Dr. Thorsten Schmidt will be taking over DMG MORI AMERICA.

It was the kind of PR blurb that arrives 40 times a day, making some inane announcement that everybody ignores. It came on Friday after 5pm, which is the time PR firms send stuff that they don’t really want you to read. That’s why I read it.

It was a pretty juicy piece of news, if you could read between the lines.

The DMG/Mori Seiki combo, which was announced in 2012 around IMTS, is making some major changes. Mark Mohr, the President of the combined American operation, is being sent to Davis, California, to run the DMG MORI USA manufacturing plant. Mohr had replaced Thomas Dillon in 2012 to much fanfare, as head of the merged DMG MORI USA operation. Davis, California is not exactly Siberia. It is a nice college town in Middle-of-Nowhere, California. The company is dispatching Dr. Thorsten Schmidt from the corporate office in Germany to run the U.S. organization. They are going to dramatically expand the number of direct sales and service offices in the U.S. to 27.

What does this announcement really mean? Maybe it means that the DMG MORI people in Germany have awakened to the mess they have in America with the pseudo takeover of Mori Seiki here. The unannounced rationale for the deal three years ago was to improve the service and reputation of the German machine tool builder in the U.S. by building on Mori’s reputation.

DMG makes wonderful machines and they are strong all over the world, but in the U.S. they could not get traction before the merger. They sent a new general manager every couple of years to the Chicago office, but it didn’t help.

Meanwhile, Mori was looking for assistance in Europe, which was the genesis of the deal. But from what I hear on the street the merger has not worked well, at least not here. Thus we have Dr. Schmidt to the rescue, and Mark Mohr is headed to a cow town to run a factory.

I have met Dr. Schmidt a couple of times. He is a high powered young guy and may well be the next head of DMG MORI. But this is a clear signal that the Germans will be calling the shots now at DMG MORI USA, which though not surprising, probably makes the folks at Mazak, Doosan, Haas and Okuma feel pretty good, because service has been the Achilles heel of DMG in America, and weakening service for Mori Seiki has harmed its reputation recently. The announcement also must be scary for the distribution network of the company because it implies that they will be going direct, which means cutting out the dealers in many areas. This is a dicey proposition, too. Machine tool builders constantly fret about direct sales versus representation. It’s a frequent topic at every IMTS. It will be a huge task to expand direct sales rapidly, and improve service. There are just not enough skilled service people available. It will not be easy to recruit an army of them around the country. And it will be an expensive task.

Was this predictable in 2012? Yes, and putting Mark Mohr in the lead position seemed like a good first step. But following a guy with Mr. Dillon’s stature was tough. Trying to make a marriage with DMG work in the U.S. was apparently an insurmountable task for Mohr.

Now we have Schmidt coming to save the day. If he can pull this makeover off he will deserve to be called Superman, and win the CEO job. Meshing the three different cultures – American, Japanese and German, while changing distribution and beefing up service will be a brutal task. For a German to do this from suburban Chicago after exiling the incumbent – yikes.

Good luck, Dr. Schmidt.

Question: Do you prefer to work directly with a machine tool company, or with distributors?

Share this post

Industry Scuttlebutt

By Lloyd Graff.

The National Football League is two weeks into its season and New England and Green Bay look very strong because they have great quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Aaron Rogers. Who will win the Super Bowl? I have no idea, but the biggest winners may be the owners of the massive Fantasy Football sites that blanket ESPN and Fox with ads,, and Those internet sites have taken in a ton of venture capital money and sold pieces to ESPN and Comcast to fund their enormous advertising campaigns. With approximately 35 million people playing and the sites taking a piece of the action for handling the data and transferring  money, it sounds like a lot better business than turning metal. Both sites are valued at more than $1 billion.

It is changing the way fans look at the games. No longer is the primary question, “did the Steelers or Lions win the game,” but “how many touchdowns did Roethlisberger pass for,” or “how many catches did Calvin Johnson make?” The stats are everything. Who won? Who cares …


Hilary Clinton coming out against building the Keystone XL Pipeline now only makes her look weaker and phonier.  With oil at $45 a barrel building the pipeline into the U.S. for tar sands crude had become a non-issue. With fracking starting to go down but loads more oil to drill in the Dakotas, Texas, Pennsylvania etc., Keystone has long since left the front pages. If she had come out one way or the other three years ago on Keystone she could have been seen as a leader. Doing it today she looks like a total wimp. I did not think she could blow the Democratic nomination, but today it looks better than 50-50. Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders could beat her.


Don Pellmann ran the 100 yard dash in 27 seconds. Sounds pretty slow. Not really. Pellmann is 100 years old. He just competed in the San Diego Senior Olympics. That time set a record for the 100-and-over age group. He also set records in the discus, shot put and high jump.

His disappointment was in not making height in the pole vault.

Pellmann retired from his job at a General Electric subsidiary in 1970. He was a gymnast in college and has stayed active. But he is not a health nut. He doesn’t take vitamins or supplements and prepared for the competition by eating macaroni and cheese the night before.


Kudos to Janet Yellen and the Federal Reserve for not raising interest rates at the last Fed meeting.

China’s economic problems, the depression in virtually all commodities, and the spreading industrial malaise from $45 a barrel oil, is dragging down the U.S. economy more than most people think. An interest rate boost now could have greased the way into a recession. Good call, Ms. Yellen.


What an amazing baseball season this has been for me. The Cubs rebuilding process has worked amazingly well. They were so bad for so long that they got top draft picks and used the picks wisely to get great young hitters. They traded for more talent, stealing Addison Russell from Oakland and Kyle Hendricks from Texas. The biggest coup was trading Scott Feldman to Baltimore for Pedro Strop and Jake Arrieta. Arrieta is taking his place as one of the great pitchers in the game and should win 20 games this year.

The final step was hiring Joe Madden as Manager. Madden had become a free agent through a clause in his contract. The Cubs had to act in three days to take advantage of the opening, which they did to the anger and dismay of Tampa Bay’s ownership. It was the best move of all.

Go Cubs Go.

Question: Do you play Fantasy Football? If so, how much time do you spend on it in a week?

Share this post

One Student at a Time

By Lloyd Graff.

Risa Graff with a student.

My wife, Risa, has been an educational therapist for four decades. She pushes her students to develop a positive mindset about their ability to learn. She helps them to develop persistence. She helps them find a sense of joy in learning.

It is a really hard job. She does her work in an office in our home, working one on one with students, so I’ve had more than a peek at her work through the years. I’ve seen her agonize over kids who struggle with brains and bodies that do not want to allow them to conform with the rules of school. I’ve heard her talk about advocating for students in meeting after meeting with administrators, some of whom were rigid or were slaves to dumb rules not made for students who are wired differently from most other kids. I’ve seen kids who have been handicapped by well meaning parents who help them avoid tough challenges because the parents so desperately want their children to be successful.

Often, by the time parents bring their children to Risa, a lot of bad things have happened to them in school. Kids are often failing, ditching, depressed, mocked or feeling absolutely miserable about school.

She used to say that she was in the “make school easier business,” but she has given up that slogan because it makes her sound like a tutor, not an educational therapist who pays as much attention to the psyche as the algebra. Risa is not just somebody trying to boost a “C” to a “B”.

Dealing with kids one on one is intense work. Risa develops a unique plan for each student with an understanding of their learning styles and strengths. About 10 years ago she had a student who was highly dyslexic and despised organized school. He felt like a failure in the classroom but was a gifted mechanic in his part time job. The young man dropped out of high school, but with the help of his family and Risa began an aggressive program to develop the math and reading skills which would enable him to grow into a highly valued employee in the family’s auto repair business.

Another student that Risa had a few years ago was about to be asked to leave an elite Chicago private school because he was extremely disorganized and could never hand in his homework on time. She helped him with organizational problems and aided him in learning how to manage his medication. He not only got his act together to go to college, but is now finishing Med School with an attainable goal of being a researcher.

Not all of Risa’s students reached their potential. One student that Risa loved deeply died of a horrible genetic disease at 14. Her issues were not classic learning problems, but trying to have a semblance of normality in her school life when her body was so out of control. Risa is emotionally involved with most of her students but none more so than with that loving child.

Sometimes former students come back when facing a special challenge. One young man with learning issues that had dogged him throughout his school career decided to join the Marine Corps. To be accepted, he needed to pass a minimum reading and math competency test, which he accomplished with Risa’s special assistance.

Because she often sees students for many years, sometimes over a decade, Risa develops close personal relationships with the kids and their families. She is Facebook friends with many former students today, including one who earned a PhD in English and another who has pursued an acting career and performed on national TV.

The term educational therapist also applies to the therapeutic work she does with parents who are often confused and depressed about the academic and personal struggles of their children. Risa spends a significant amount of her time counseling parents.

She has colleagues around the country to consult with, but today one of her closest consultants is our son Ari Graff, who has indirectly gone into her field as a neuropsychologist, specializing in testing people with learning issues. Risa and Ari often refer to one another, though their practices are not formally connected. They often lapse into talking shop at family gatherings, similar to how Noah and I sometimes discuss the machinery business.

In recent years, the terms ADD and ADHD have slipped into the common speech of school parents. Parents often come to Risa with more knowledge of their children’s learning problems than they might have had 25 years ago. But parents rarely understand that such issues will be lifelong companions for their kids, and that it may take a long time to understand the problems and learn how to deal with them at different stages in their children’s lives.

Risa and I have been partners through her 40 years of practice, and I have been a sounding board for her like she has been for me on business issues. She is circumspect about individual cases, but with her office in our home, I have had a chance to see her students develop over the years.

Her career has turned out to be an education for me.

Question: Was school a bad experience for you? Why?

Share this post

Golf and Race in Chicago

By Lloyd Graff.

Jackson Park Golf Course, Chicago, IL.

Golf, race and prejudice have had a long tortured connection in Chicago. Now it looks like we will see a new chapter near my old home on the South side of Chicago.

Golf course developers are eyeing the Chicago Park District’s 27 holes of pleasant, but pedestrian golf for a potential super course with Chicago lakefront views to accommodate a big time pro championship course. It could be a Pebble Beach of the Midwest.

This is also the area where the Barack Obama Library may be built. It is a pebble’s throw from Michelle Obama’s home when she was growing up. On a good day it is a 12 minute drive from downtown.

I lived across from the 6th hole of the 18-hole Jackson Park course. I practiced my 6 iron shot between foursomes and shot in the 80s and 90s as a teenager. Mainly I played softball on the course in an open area between the 6th hole and the highway exit golfers had to cross to continue their rounds.

When I was growing up, the 18-hole Jackson Park course was a comfortable $3 a round public course. White players, but a smattering of African Americans played. The neighborhood course stretched from Stony Island Avenue which had long been the Black-White boundary as I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s.

Further east, away from my house, but contiguous to Jackson Park, was the South Shore Country Club with a cozy 9-hole course bordering Lake Michigan. The Country Club was virtually all Irish Catholics. No Jews or Blacks need apply.

This kind of map was a microcosm of Chicago. Neighborhoods were Irish, Jewish, Black, German, Chinese etc. And many people were desperate to keep it that way. But the Black population was exploding on the South side of Chicago and eventually the white neighborhoods were breeched.

Those who stayed often sent their kids to private or parochial schools, but eventually almost all of the Whites fled the South side.

The restrictive South Shore Country Club engineered a deal to sell their lake front land to the Chicago park District in 1974.

Jackson Park remained a pleasant if not challenging muni course. South Shore remained a short little 9-holer.

And now as the sprawling suburban golf courses are emptying because young people live in the city and are indifferent to the burbs, developers are dreaming of a super course on the lakefront hosting a major tournament year after year – 12 minutes from State and Madison.

Chicago has changed a lot in my lifetime. The people who argue that racism is racism and Black people’s position in America has barely changed in the 50 years since the march on Selma and the Voting Rights Act’s passage are crazy. There is still a significant income disparity between Blacks and Whites, but we have an African American President and the possibility of a Black Republican Presidential candidate in Ben Carson for 2016. That would have been hard to imagine in 1965.

The overt discrimination of the restrictive South Shore Country Club that blatantly rejected Jews and Blacks is gone – happily. I remember as a kid wondering briefly why Jews could not belong there, but then dismissing the thought because – “that’s just the way it is” I realized.

America has changed so much in 50 years in acceptance of minorities. Is there still racism and prejudice? Of course. But neighborhoods are much more mixed today. The South Shore Country Club’s institutionalized hating is gone.

A Super Golf Course with special rates for locals and big money provided for caddie scholarships is in the works for a primarily African American area of Chicago.

Do White cops still terrorize young Black men in Chicago? Do young Black men still scare the hell out of cops? Yes, of course. But today if you go out to Jackson Park Golf Course by yourself you will likely play in an integrated foursome. Golf and life in Chicago have changed immensely for the better in my lifetime. I expect that positive change to continue.

Question: Do you feel better or worse about race relations than you used to?

Share this post

New Player in the Brass Section

By Lloyd Graff.

These unusual urinals at a pub in Freiburg, south Germany, were put in by landlord Martin Hartmann. Courtesy of

In a deal that is supposed to close by the end of the third quarter, Watts Water Technologies is selling certain assets related to its brass fittings, brass & tubular and vinyl tubing product lines to Sioux Chief Mfg. Co. (“Sioux Chief”) of Kansas City, Missouri. The selling price approximates to $35.5 million.

My understanding is that Tribal Manufacturing, of Marshall, Michigan, will get the keys to the Chesnee, South Carolina, brass turning plant of Watts Water Technologies. This is a big deal in the screw machine world because the South Carolina plant did most of the turned parts work for Watts. It was a core asset of the $3 billion in sales of Watts’ operation, or at least I thought so. But the management team at the Watts home office in Massachusetts felt the company would be better served by selling the plant to Sioux Chief Mfg. Co., with Watts as the prime customer.

Tribal Manufacturing, of Marshall, Michigan, an affiliate of Sioux Chief Mfg. Co. will get the keys to the Chesnee, South Carolina, brass turning plant of Watts Water Technologies. This is a big deal in the screw machine world because the South Carolina plant did most of the turned parts work for Watts. It was a core asset of the $3 billion in sales of Watts’ operation, or at least I thought so. But the management team at the Watts home office in Massachusetts felt the company would be better served by selling the plant to Sioux Chief Mfg. Co., with Watts as the prime customer.

For Watts, the deal is interesting because they offload a plant full of old Acmes and Davenports that was not a profit center for them. They used the Chesnee plant as a captive supplier of turned parts and put very little fresh money into the plant for years. The goal for Chesnee was to break even and pour out quality brass goods at cheap prices for the various divisions of the water goods giant. It apparently worked quite well, as Watts has prospered and the stock has soared.

Watts has also shut down most of its Chinese manufacturing in recent years and proudly applauds itself for making most of its manufactured goods in America.

I believe they had a profile of the company in mind of whom they wanted to sell the Chesnee plant, an American firm that would keep it going for a significant length of time. Watts got a sharp operator who really knows the brass fittings business in Tribal.

For Tribal, the Watts deal means volume. Chesnee is a well run operation, but a new operator is going to bring in outside people and try to cut the overhead, one way or another. Watts is expecting good parts at fair prices. If they do not get both, volumes figure to drop over time. If Watts is happy long-term, sales from the parent company will go up and Tribal will win big.

My guess is that Watts did not want to sell to a competitor like Moen that has a plant in the Carolinas. Tribal is not a real competitor for Watts. Basically they are a job shop for the brass goods industry and now they are a lot bigger with many more multi-spindles to run.

The brass folks will all be watching closely to see how the chips will fall.

Question: Is it risky to buy a company with only one customer?

Share this post

What Do You Keep?

By Lloyd Graff.

Where have all the souvenirs gone?

I find it ironic that we seemingly hacve a collectibles boom, with TV shows like Pickers and Antique Road Show, but if you go to a tool show like IMTS or the PMPA April extravaganza you leave with nary a keepsake that is worthy of a shelf in your office or a chest in the attic.

I was reminded of the value of a souvenir twice this past week. I went to a wedding in New Jersey and took a 20-year-old t-shirt to wear at the family lake house where the wedding took place. The shirt had been artfully designed for a Bar Mitzvah of twin brothers in the same extended family in 1995. It had a family tree on the back of the shirt.

It seemed like all the people at the wedding wanted to inspect the t-shirt and recollect the occasion 20 years earlier on Long Island. I love the shirt, and I wear it frequently to exercise in. It was a 50% polyester 50% cotton garment and it has easily withstood hundreds of washings without fading or tearing. This shirt passes many tests. It has family significance because of the family tree on the back and the celebration of the occasion on the front. It is useful, and it is remarkably durable. Very few keepsakes pass so many tests.

The second souvenir that popped into memory this week was the brass bell machined by a National Acme Screw Machine at the 1970 International Machine Tool Show.

Jeff Kovalenko of Elkhart, Indiana, sent me a photo of the Acme staff who worked that show, which included his father. The title of the email was Tintinnabulation, which referred to the brass bell, complete with the dinger. The word “tintinnabulation” was used in an Edgar Allen Poe poem, and means the sustained ring made by a bell.

I remember that show only because of the National Acme exhibit and the beautiful brass bell, with the National Acme inscription.

The bell was the perfect intersection of engineering, art and execution. It was also the perfect keepsake. The bells still come up on eBay from time to time. My brother Jim has a collection of them that he cherishes.

I ask you, where are the cool souvenirs these days? Is everybody so bottom line driven that they are afraid to give away anything of value at a show? It seems odd that a company will spend a million bucks at IMTS but not a nickel on a memorable reminder.

I think it is less about tight-fisted bean counters and more about creativity. It’s hard to come up with an idea like a bell with a brass dinger and then convince a bunch of engineers and sales people it is worth the effort to pull it off.

I’d like to hear about keepsakes that you value, like a home run ball you caught at Yankee Stadium or a beer mug you brought back from Vienna. Maybe it’s a cap from Army Basic Training, or a piece of shrapnel from Iraq. Why do you care about it so much? Is it in your will to go to someone else?

My son Ari has his comic books from childhood stashed away at our house. I know a guy who has kept a 2 5/8″ Conomatic, virtually unused, out of the Atchison caves. He hasn’t used it more than three months. That is one big old souvenir.

Question: What do you keep?

Share this post

Horrible Boss?

By Lloyd Graff.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Photo courtesy of

Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, is one of the most brilliant, innovative entrepreneurs in the world. In just 20 years as head of the company he founded from scratch, he has built the biggest, most efficient online retailer in the world.

And the New York Times just spent thousands of words on the front page hating on him for being a demanding boss.

Bezos is a zealot about his business. You don’t become a billionaire after being abandoned by your father as an infant in Albuquerque if you’re a pushover. He is absolutely driven and he does not suffer gladly slacker employees who watch the clock. He wants his people to buy into his vision for the company whether they work on the floor at one of the Amazon’s 90 fulfillment centers (enormous automated warehouses) or at its corporate office in Seattle as a software engineer or executive.

The company is remarkable in its ambition. Amazon just unveiled one hour delivery in Seattle for an extra charge, and two hour delivery for no extra charge for Amazon Prime members.

The problem the New York Times has, I would argue, is that it is pro union, pro $15 per hour minimum wage, and pro old school retailer like Macy’s and Lord and Taylor, who buy full page ads (which Amazon doesn’t do). The paper is jealous of Bezos’ success and his tough approach.

My question to you readers is, do you care whether Bezos is a warm and fuzzy boss when you order a Toto toilet, an audio book from Audible, or watch The Walking Dead on Amazon Prime video?

It is not a totally dumb question. If a boss is a racist, misogynist or a traitor it definitely would affect my choice to buy a TV from his company. If the boss was a Mafioso or a werewolf I probably would not buy from him, but a hard ass business guy probably does not bother me enough to shun the Charmin. That is my threshold for a national retailer like Amazon. On the other hand, if in person, I saw a manager of a local hardware store berate a poor kid trying to learn a summer job I might buy a screwdriver elsewhere.

Jeff Bezos is a heroic figure to me as an entrepreneur. I think he rocks. I love that he bought the Washington Post for $250 million, which is pocket change for him but probably a real irritant to its competitor The New York Times.

Jeff Bezos, keep the innovations coming. Maybe one day your drones will deliver my pizza. I wish you were a gentleman and a scholar, but if my Nikes from Amazon fit, I’ll wear them.

Questions: When making a buying a decision, do you care about the behavior of the company’s boss?

Do you judge entrepreneurs solely based their accomplishments?

Share this post

A Day to Remember

By Lloyd Graff.

Three generations of Graffs at a Cubs game. 2015

The game was over, the Chicago Cubs had completed a four game sweep of the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field in Chicago and I was there to witness it with my three granddaughters.

We were walking out and everybody in our group was in the bathroom but me. I paused and shed a few tears while I mumbled a short prayer of thanks, that I was able to share this moment with my family.

My daughter, Sarah, is a Rabbi in California. She and her husband Scott and kids usually come to Chicago once a year. This year she was determined that her children would get the three generation Wrigley Field experience. She studied the schedule and picked out the only day game that would work and bought the tickets online. This was a family, a spiritual and a practical decision on her part, because every year in her most important sermon, the one people literally wait to hear for 12 months, she makes a reference to the Chicago Cubs. It’s part of her signature. She’s been doing it for 13 years, on the most important holiday of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur.

My children understand my relationship with the Cubs is a visceral one. They may not feel it with the fervor of their father, but they experienced it at least vicariously enough to sing baseball songs to me when I was in the hospital waiting for heart surgery seven years ago.

My wife Risa is not a baseball fan. She is indifferent to the Cubs, but through our 45 years of marriage she has respected my commitment to the team. She wanted to be at the Wrigley Field game with Sarah and Scott and the kids. (One of the great things about Sarah’s marriage to Scott is that he is from Chicago too and a lifelong Cubs fan, so the kids are purebreds).

The seven of us packed into a rented Ford van and headed to the ballpark. The girls had never been to a Major League park, but the older ones, 10 and 7, understood the game and Orli, the 5-year-old, had some sense of the event from TV experience and going to a minor league game in San Jose.

It was a perfect day for baseball and we settled into our seats, 20 rows above third base. The game was a pitchers’ duel with the Cubs taking a 2-0 lead early and clinging to it until the 9th inning. Joe Maddon, the Cubs manager, brought his closer, Hector Rondon, into the game. Rondon immediately got into trouble, loading the bases with nobody out. It was the kind of game a fan of the Cubbies knew in his heart of hearts would end badly.

But these are the new Cubs of 2015 and there is magic with this team. Rondon proceeded to strike out the side with no runs scoring and amazingly the Cubs beat the World Champion Giants to sweep the four game series.

Everybody was standing during the crazy 9th inning and continued to sing and sing again, Go Cubs Go, the theme song when they win. It was thrilling and chilling. The girls were enthralled by the sheer energy of the moment amidst 40,000 fans who stayed way past the end. Even Risa got into it and kept saying to us all how much she enjoyed the game.

Sure, it was only a game, an orchestrated moneymaking event, if you want to be cynical, but for the seven of us who were lucky enough to be present at Wrigley that Sunday it was a beautiful moment that would tie the generations together.

I had gone to Cub games in my youth with my Mom who had gone to games with her father. Through the years it became one of our favorite ways to communicate, as we discussed what was happening with the team.

Recently my son-in-law Scott called me at 11pm to rejoice in a Kyle Schwarber game winning homer. One of these days I hope one of my granddaughters will make that call. When the Cubs-Giants game ended and the music stopped, I was grateful to pause and rejoice in the moment. We never get enough special moments like that when three generations weave together in such exquisite joy.

Question: What activity ties the generations of your family together?

Share this post