Old Favorites

By Lloyd Graff

Lloyd and Noah Graff are traveling for a family funeral today, so we’ve scoured the archives for some favorite pieces to re-visit.

The Illusion of Security
May 2011 Volume 07 Issue 04

What is your “net worth?”

I remember my father used to calculate his net worth often and would meticulously record the amount his assets exceeded his liabilities on sheets of paper he kept in an accordion file in his desk at home.

When I worked with my Dad we would periodically discuss his net worth. He talked about it with reverence, sometimes in hushed tones, like the figures were inscribed on sacred parchment. And they truly were to him.

Those numbers he wrote down yearly were his personal score card of success, his record of succeeding or failing. They were figures that meant “security” for him. He told me that a rising net worth made him feel more secure, which was a feeling he sought more desperately than any other in his life. But the irony that I came to understand more clearly as we both matured was that he never felt “secure.” No matter how much money he had in the bank or in stocks it wasn’t enough for him to feel “secure.”

Read more here.

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What We Do

August 2010 Volume 06 Issue 06

The Budweiser radio commercial extols the virtue of beechwood aging and its beer’s crisp, clean taste. Heaven knows what those revered adjectives mean. Bud’s spot ended with a telling sentence, “It’s what we do.” That line meant something to me.

Budweiser was stating very clearly that brewing beer “is what we do,” and I buy the premise—if not the product. Defining what we do is important.

Can you succinctly—in one pithy sentence—say, “I grow delicious potatoes,” or “I make stainless steel,” or “I fly a Boeing 737 for Southwest Airlines”?

In a sophisticated economy like America’s, many of us have trouble devising a simple, declaratory sentence that explains what we do so clearly that we understand it, much less an uninitiated listener. It’s the cocktail party opener, the elevator speech, or the first sentence on the mortgage application.

But I think answering the question “what do you do?” for yourself is a deeper interrogatory that can bring clarity and momentum to a foggy, plodding career and even a foundering personal life.

Read more here.

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Finding Peace with Our Choices
December 2009, Volume 05 Issue 08

The death of financier Bruce Wasserstein, a friend from college days, hit me like an unsheathed blow to the chin. It wasn’t just because he had survived quadruple bypass surgery in 2001 or that he was three years younger than me and succumbed to heart failure. It was more about Bruce living the life of a superstar in finance, a master of the universe, a self-made Wall Street billionaire, who I knew from time spent working together on the University of Michigan college newspaper.

Those were heady nights of hot lead sliding out of linotype machines, wedged into heavy trays that turned into plates for the 3:00 a.m. printing.

Bruce wrote about the big issues, like student conflicts with the college administrators over divulging information to a Congressional witch hunting committee. It was Vietnam War time and the campus was alive with dissent; Bruce Wasserstein was smack in the middle of the controversy. I wrote about basketball, football and life, as the sports editor.

I remember Bruce coming up to me and saying, “Lloyd, what are you doing writing sports? Come over to the news staff and do something important.”

That remark was a portend about how our lives would diverge over the next four decades.

Bruce was a brilliant guy, a chess player, oblivious to his personal appearance. Dan Okrent, a sports writer on my team at Michigan, who became an editor at Time Magazine and The New York Times, described Bruce as a “complete slob” in The Michigan Daily obituary. Bruce was usually the smartest guy in the room, even if it was a big room of very smart people—and he knew it.

Read more here.

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Foxcows

By Lloyd Graff

Foxconn’s choice of southern Wisconsin for their first major American manufacturing plant is fascinating to me as someone who has seen the Midwest absolutely battered by Chinese competition for the last 25 years.

The days are gone since Foxconn in China slung nets under the windows of the dormitories where its young employees resided to catch the suicidal workers, so depressed after a brutal day of assembling iPhones.  Now Foxconn is confident enough of its manufacturing prowess and managerial acumen to stick a giant factory in a Wisconsin cow pasture and recruit its workers from the broken down, bankrupt towns in the neighborhood like Beloit, Kenosha, and Rockford, Illinois.  Not that there are not vexing problems related to worker depression in the semi-rural Midwest.  Opioid addiction and alcoholism are rampant, and nets will not help them there.

So why would Foxconn choose southeast Wisconsin?  Perhaps the biggest reason is Chicago.  They get exurban Chicago at a huge discount.  Chinese management will be able to fly into O’Hare and get to the new plant in an hour, but everything will be cheaper in Bristol, Wisconsin, than close to the airport.  They are following the Amazon play book.

Amazon is building giant fulfillment centers west and south of Chicago.  They staff these 1,000,000-square-foot mega plants with $13-per-hour people who come and go depending on how fast Amazon runs the conveyor belts.

Amazon has proved that you can recruit thousands of workers in a short period of time, work them hard but fairly, and retain enough of them to justify building more plants in the Chicago metropolitan area.  Access to arterial highways is essential for Amazon, and it will be for Foxconn, too.

Amazon and Foxconn will challenge virtually every employer in the Chicago/Milwaukee area and lift the threshold for wages.  Amazon offers health insurance and tuition subsidies after one year on the job.  Employees will make $13 per hour, the new minimum wage for able-bodied, modestly intelligent people who will work hard.  It will be interesting to see whether Foxconn will make stringent drug testing a condition of employment.  My research indicates an oral swab at the preliminary interview is Amazon’s entrance test with random testing on the shop floor.

Why is Foxconn going to manufacture in the United States?  I think it is partly political; putting a plant in Paul Ryan’s district that voted for President Trump makes sense, short term.  Being close to its American customers can’t hurt.  Stashing money outside of China is a good hedge for Foxconn’s bosses.  And it’s hard to resist amber waves of grain.

What do you think?

Question:  Should companies drug test?

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54321

By Noah Graff

About a month ago I stumbled upon a book which continues to change my life every day, The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins.

I’ve listened to several self-help books over the years that I found thought provoking and sensible, but none ever changed my life. They sometimes even made me feel down on myself. I felt so overwhelmed by all the advice that I could not get myself to do much of anything they prescribed.

Then I found The 5 Second Rule, which did change my life.

What is “The 5 Second Rule”?

The purpose of the 5 Second Rule is that if we want to find success in our lives, both on a personal and professional level we have to do things we don’t feel like doing. Perhaps we need to confront a work colleague or family member. Maybe we have to work on a project longer than we had planned. We have to tell someone we love them. We have to pay bills. We have to exercise and not eat crappy foods. We have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves, and most importantly we have to get out of bed in the morning!

Ten years ago Mel Robbins had hit rock bottom in her life. She had gone from being hired as a host of a Fox News reality show to being unemployed, deep in debt and drinking too much. She says that she had a lot of trouble getting out of bed in the morning because she did not want to face her grim world, so she would repeatedly hit the snooze button. Of course, staying in bed only worsened her situation.

One morning as she laid in bed trying to avoid her problems she decided to count “Five, Four, Three, Two, One,” and she suddenly blasted out of bed like a rocket. She then realized that by counting down from five she could also make herself do all the things she needed to do to fix her life but didn’t feel like doing. Robbins says she even learned to use the 5 Second Rule to stop feelings of worry, depression and anxiety. Before long she dug herself out of her hole and began to thrive in her life.

It is human nature to let indecisiveness, fear, laziness and other mental obstacles stop us from doing the things we know we need to do to be successful and happy. The way the 5 Second Rule works is that the moment you have an idea to do something you start counting down from five and just do it. You don’t give your brain a chance to talk itself out of it. You just start counting down from five and act. Robbins sites scientific research that explains why counting down from five enables decisiveness in the brain. The research also says that counting down from five to zero works much better than counting up to five.

I can testify that I’ve become a lot better at calling customers on the phone since embracing the 5 Second Rule. The moment I hit “zero” I am dialing. Also, if I am mingling in a group of people I’m much less likely to hesitate to introduce myself, and I am more likely to speak up about things I feel are important. When I know I need to exercise but feel tired I’m better at forcing myself to start. I used the 5 Second Rule to get down to writing this blog. It’s the small accomplishments that build on top of each other which lead to life-changing high achievement. You can’t get to the promised land unless you go step by step. That’s how The 5 Second Rule changed my life while all the previous self-help books left me feeling stuck.

Question: Do you think self-help books are a waste of time?

Mel Robbins Explains 5 Second Rule

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Black and White

By Lloyd Graff

I am not a racist. I am not a Racist! I am not a RACIST! I wanted to hire a person to call people in the machining business to prospect for surplus machinery for sale and find potential customers. I decided to place an ad on a local Internet classifieds page mostly used by people looking for a plumber or exchanging muffin recipes. This approach had worked beautifully two months ago in locating a new factory employee whose wife saw our wanted ad an hour after we had placed it. She called, set up an appointment for her husband, and I hired him on the spot.

The area I live in is predominantly African American, so I anticipated calls mainly from Black women. And I anticipated my problem. How would my 99% White clientele treat a woman who speaks with a “Black accent”? Just writing that sentence offends me. I hate that I care about the reaction of biased phone answerers, but then I think of myself and how I unconsciously respond to “Black English” when I hear it. Viscerally I recognize it immediately and discount the speaker.

My job is to run a business and make money. If a “Black accent” makes a potential customer tune out the caller, that caller has failed in that mission.

Does that mean I have to rule out hiring a pleasant glib telephone prober who happens to sound “Black” on the phone? Can she help how she sounds? Does it occur to her that the community she will be connecting with might reject her because of an initial reaction to her voice?

Maybe I am all wrong about this. Maybe it is my own deep-seated racism speaking to me and the machining audience does not notice it or care. I don’t know.

I do know that my own racism plagues me every day. I hate my own biases. I deliberately try to behave as if I am pure of heart and mind on race. But that doesn’t get me off the hook.

My next-door neighbors are Black. My neighborhood schools are comprised primarily of Black students. My wife’s educational therapy practice has mostly Black kids. But I am not color blind and I never will be, I regret to say.

I am stuck with being who I am. I can feel something, but I don’t have to act on it. I don’t have to discriminate.

And then I hear the voice on the phone and I am silently tormented by my wicked personal racial facts of life. The voice won’t work for this job. I know it. Damn it. I know it. I hired a White woman with a “White voice.” Racism stinks. Racism is awful. Lloyd, you are a racist.

Question: Do you feel racist sometimes?

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Eclipsed Machinery?

By Lloyd Graff

Where are your eclipse sunglasses?

It isn’t a dumb question because the flimsy, one use only, $2 shades are the stuff of a provocative metaphor for how we live our lives. This issue came up after reading Seth Godin’s pithy short blog this past Tuesday, “The Market for Used Eclipse Sunglasses,” which I will reprise now.

“It doesn’t matter how many you have. It doesn’t matter how much you paid for them. It doesn’t matter how long the line was yesterday. The market is gone. It’s a sunk cost. Falling in love with what we have and reminding yourself of what it cost you is no help at all. The same goes for the value of the assets we invested in, the rare skills we used to possess, the position in the marketplace we worked so hard to get. New days require new decisions.”

As a used machine tool dealer who has speculated on and collected the eclipse sunglasses of the machining world for decades this blog was gold. I walked around my 20,000 square foot warehouse yesterday looking at Wickman and National Acme, Schutte and Gildemeister cam operated screw machines. At one moment, they looked like iron excrement, and then a customer called from New England looking for three machines, and the flotsam and jetsam sparkled like sapphires and rubies in my mind’s eye.

Value is in the eye of the beholder. The collector sees a fortune in old comic books and an ugly clunky wooden desk made in 1840 by a venerated craftsman. For a hobbyist a solid 40-year-old Bridgeport mill or sturdy little South Bend lathe are perfect for basement experimenting.

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Seth Godin is also right, I must admit. In business we cannot be trapped by our eclipse sunglasses, no matter how useful they were for a few precious minutes on Monday.

There is an auction coming up on August 29 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with 40 well-maintained cam operated Tornos Swiss-type screw machines. They made money for the family that owned the shop for many decades. They probably will be sold and packaged for shops in Vietnam after the auction. Today, the shop owner probably looks at them ruefully, like eclipse sunglasses that he kept way too long.

When I discussed the Godin blog with my children and grandchildren they reacted to the one-day glasses with a different angle. To them, the sunglasses were an artifact, but one of value, because in five years they could pull them out of a closet and recall a wonderful memory of sharing the eclipse experience on August 21, 2017. For them the eclipse sunglasses were like a photo album or a poster advertising the first concert they attended. That view intrigued me. It romanticized the junk. But it does not change the kernel of truth in Godin’s blog. Graff-Pinkert cannot run a business selling machines whose main value is sentimentality.

The old iron, the now useless sunglasses, the obsolete ideas we cling to from childhood must be pitched or we will become the doddering hosts of tomorrow’s roving pickers.

Question 1: Are mechanical machine tools the eclipse sunglasses of manufacturing?

Question 2: Do you have a Bridgeport in your basement?

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Life Saver

By Lloyd Graff

On Monday, August 14, my wife, Risa, received a Facebook message from a woman named Diana. In 1995 they were both on a commuter train to downtown Chicago when Diana’s 3-week-old daughter Keisha stopped breathing. Even worse, blood was coming out of the baby’s mouth. Risa had recently taken a CPR class at her Tae-Kwan-Doe school. Everybody else on the train seemed paralyzed, but Risa raced to the baby and administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. There was no time to think. She had the courage and the knowledge to step up. The train ultimately stopped and the mother and child were helicoptered to Children’s hospital. The baby survived and thrived.

In Diana’s note she thanked Risa and sent a photo of 22-year-old Keisha with with her own 2-year-old son. Risa had only heard from Diana one other time since the incident, when Keisha was still a baby. It was a very sweet August anniversary for all three.

I am also celebrating the gift of life in August. August 29, 2008, was the day my life almost ended with a catastrophic heart event. After a terrible summer vacation in New Buffalo, Michigan, where I probably almost died climbing up a sand dune, I began to push my denial aside enough to think I was quite sick, though probably with pre-pneumonia, rather than severe angina.

Metra Commuter Train in Chicago

After getting back to Chicago I finally decided I’d better see a doctor friend of mine, Chris Costas. Chris put a stethoscope on me, looked at my face and then told me he was wheeling me himself to the ER of St. Francis hospital in Evanston, Illinois. The last thing I remember of that day was the nurse asking me if I cared if they cut my underwear off.

My wife, Risa, tells me that by the grace of God there was a cardiac interventionist available to attempt to insert a stent in my blocked left anterior descending artery (the “Widow Maker”). The procedure was an extremely difficult one because of the 100% blockage, but if the cardiologist could not pull it off my odds of living were awful. I had to get stronger to be able to have the quadruple bypass I needed, and that could only happen if he could somehow get the stent in.

Dr. Muhammad Akbar, the cardiologist, somehow inserted the stent. When asked how he did it he silently pointed skyward. I was on a ventilator for 13 days after that. The bypass surgery was successful, and I feel truly blessed as I celebrate the beauty of living every day.

August also makes me think of my Mom, Thais Kassel, who was born August 15, 1923. She was a loving and kind woman. Great Cubs fan, too.

August is such a beautiful month.

Question: Have you ever saved a life or had your life saved?

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Steel Driving Machine

By Lloyd Graff

It is rare to read a long article in The Washington Post that delves into the life of a guy who pushes the button on a punch press thousands of times a day. But Chico Harlan did it brilliantly in his feature piece last Saturday.

The two-thousand-word article was about more than just Bobby Campbell who works at Tenere Corporation in Dresser, Wisconsin. It was probably the best depiction of the struggle to find capable and reliable factory staff in America 2017 that I have read. I wish I had written it.

I talked to The Post’s Chico Harlan on the phone to compliment him and get more background on the piece. He spent nine days in a Holiday Inn Express in the middle of no-where Wisconsin because he and his editors, and indirectly Jeff Bezos of Amazon who owns The Washington Post, thought the piece was that important. The American labor market, especially manufacturing, is a multifaceted mess, and this mid-sized firm named Tenere, owned by a private equity group, was that rare company which would allow a reporter like Harlan full access to the shop floor and the lives of its employees.

Tenere is a big fabricating job shop. On a good day it has 550 employees banging out sheet metal components primarily for the electronics industry. They are not high-tech products, but they must fit nicely for the disk drive companies that purchase them. Tenere has a plant in Mexico, but the core of the business is in the northwest corner of Wisconsin, 90 minutes from the Twin Cities. Not many folks live in the small towns like Dresser, and you aren’t going to attract many young people with $12-$13 per hour jobs. Harlan says Tenere chronically is 120 workers short of where they would like to be, with a three-shift operation of punching, bending and assembly. The firm is constantly trying to hire and continually discarding the weak applicants who often self-select by quitting during their first week. They have bent their hiring standards to allow in people who have had criminal or substance abuse problems and still they cannot get the people they need. The writer spent a lot of time with Bobby Campbell, the press operator with a long-term drinking problem. Harlan wrote sympathetically about Bobby’s agonizing ride home each night in which he passes a dozen gas stations and mini-marts selling beer. His urge to stop and buy a dozen cans is often unbearable, and if he buys them he’ll probably down them all in one sitting.

Tenere has a lot of folks like Bobby Campbell to deal with, which is what brought the company to Matt Bush and Rob Goldiez and their robot rental startup, Hirebotics, after a manager read about them in the trade publication, The Fabricator. Day after day Bobby Campbell misses his quotas, but Tenere needs Campbell because he is the best they can get – at least until Matt and Rob brought in the robots from Denmark made by Universal Robots.

Hirebotics is a year-old company according to Goldiez. He and his partner are engineers, formerly working at a unit of Berkshire Hathaway, who saw the potential for being the vital facilitator between the robot seller and the end user like Tenere that faces huge operational problems on a shop floor lacking sophistication and distrustful of automation. Goldiez told me they are being swamped with inquiries since The Post piece and the article in The Fabricator.

A Universal Robot is a $32,000 robotic arm, not one of the monster Kuka or ABB machines welding car bodies you see at Toyota or Ford.

Matt and Rob packed two robotic arms and their wiring packages into their car in Nashville and drove to the northwest corner of Wisconsin to install them themselves. They are very hands-on guys. Their intriguing business proposition is that they rent the robots by usage for $15 per hour. The machines are expected to be used 80 hours per week, minimum. Records of uptime are kept on the Cloud.

It took eight days for Bush and Goldiez to officially integrate the robots into Tenere’s production, making “claws” and “holsters” out of sheet metal. They are not really replacing people, just augmenting production for people like Bobby Campbell who tries his best but cannot keep up with the company’s production goal.

For highly reliable Annie Larson, another Tenere employee highlighted in the story, the second robot installed is a godsend. Her team is supposed to be comprised of 12 people but usually only 6 or 7 show up. Her robot doesn’t have sick kids or divorce court to deal with and hits its quotas every day. She’s happy about it because it takes stress out of her life when the team falls behind.

Tenere is now planning for robots 3 and 4 from Hirebotics. They had been considering busing in people from a Somali community in the Twin Cities, a 90-minute trip, but the robots may make that unnecessary. For now the company is starting to manage its “arms” race.

Question: Over the next 10 years will robots save or kill more jobs in America?

Read Harlan’s Washington Post Article “Rise of the Machines.”

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What are YOU selling?

By Lloyd Graff

I’m sitting on a wooden chair at my local Starbucks next to a kiosk of snacks I’ve never seen anybody buy. I’m sipping an iced latte. It’s decent, but I didn’t come here for the coffee. I just needed a table with some energy in the room that would make it easier for the words to flow for this blog. The latte is my space rental price, and I think it is well worth $4.53 to me for the two-hour lease with a reasonably clean bathroom and affable staff.

I think Starbucks founder Howard Schultz has always known what he was selling at Starbucks. In his early biography the poor Jewish boy from New York City, whose Dad was a $20,000 a year city truck driver, describes how he ended up in Seattle after dropping out of Northern Michigan University when the football coach realized he was never going to quarterback the varsity. Schultz was hardly a coffee maven then, but he traveled to Sweden in an early job and saw how the Scandinavians used to hang out and schmooze while sipping coffee, and he had a vision of what an American coffee chain could be.

His brilliant insight was that all over the modern world people hungered for a “third place”—not home, not work—where they could hang out and talk. There were bars, of course, but they had all kinds of stigma and only satisfied an older, nighttime clientele. The coffee shop, if it was correctly located, with the proper selections of coffee and food, comfortable seating, welcoming baristas (coffee makers) who were friendly and intelligent, could fill an enormous gap in food presentation.

Courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

What Howard Schultz understood intuitively in the late 1980s was that coffee was the hook to pull in his audience but he did not have to sell the best gourmet coffee in the world. The key to his real success was obtaining the best store locations and then subletting the space to coffee drinkers like me who couldn’t tell Brazilian from Sumatran beans in a million years. Who knew what a latte was before Schultz? And the Frappuccino, the masterpiece of Mr. Starbucks, was a billion-dollar invention that a true coffeeist would sneer at.

In business you have to know what you are selling. I think Gene Haas has been enormously successful in the brutally competitive machine tool game because he sold moderately priced machines and Haas service. The local repair technician with spare parts in his truck is Gene’s Haas’s great innovation. In many cases I think Haas sells service with a machine thrown in.

I believe machining companies sell absolute reliability more than anything else. Customers say they buy primarily on price, but in many cases after a few years with the same supplier they check price infrequently. They want to know that the product arrives on time, that the quality can be counted on and that the supplier listens to them. They may say it’s all about price, but usually it isn’t. And if it is only about price, who needs them?

I’m finishing my latte now. The coffee grinder is humming but I barely notice it. My car is right outside the door. Very convenient. Parking is one of the nice plusses with this Starbucks. Schultz coming through again.

At Starbucks, it’s not the coffee. It’s the location. They know what they are selling.

Question: Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts or Maxwell House?

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Repealing and Replacing My Career

By Stephanie Herzfeld

It initially felt like I was sucker punched. The air left my lungs, and I was left momentarily speechless and very confused. What, I’m being let go?

I should’ve seen the writing on the wall. There were warning signs months in advance that I was blind to or perhaps that I just didn’t want to see. They started giving me new assignments that were unrelated to my area of expertise because there wasn’t enough of “my” type of work to keep me billable. Stress levels were on the rise in the office, and as the surest sign of impending doom, I was given a serious salary cut.

I’d come home some days so wound up over work I must have been vibrating like a tuning fork. Nevertheless I persisted, even though taking this job was actually something I had hesitations about from day one. From the start, my colleagues and bosses came across as aggressive, and the office always had a nervous, edgy energy. But I had never quit anything in my entire life, and the idea of throwing in the towel and looking for something new simply wasn’t a concept I could wrap my mind around. And, I was trapped in the “golden handcuffs.” How could I give up a job with great benefits and a good salary (even after the pay cut) in this economy? So I hung on and held out hope that work would improve, until it didn’t.

I was laid off from my public relations job in early April, and after a day or two of feeling sorry for myself and processing the shock of the situation while hibernating at home, watching TV and eating ice cream I actually started to feel better. I wasn’t happy about being unemployed, but I had the sensation that the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. I was no longer tethered to a job that wasn’t right for me—a job that I likely would not have left had I not been forced to go.

I wondered what to do next. After returning from a serendipitous trip to Spain (traveling allowed me to put everything on pause and clear my head!), I thought about my professional background. I was 37 years old and had worked in PR for big agencies for the past 12 years, 10 years in New York before coming to Chicago.

Although I have a background in communications/PR and a degree in journalism, I knew that I didn’t want to go back to the same type of corporate environment of the big PR agency that I’d just come from.

Triumphant Jerry Maguire after being fired.

I saw a career counselor to help me find my calling. She guided me on how to marry my field of expertise in communications to the causes I’m interested in. She wanted me to take a step back and think about what it would take to make me get excited about getting out of bed in the morning. Although my ultimate goal is to find a job, we discussed the benefits of volunteering (in tandem with job hunting) to help me test drive possible career paths and fill my resume gap. We also discussed the technical aspects of job hunting and the importance of putting out feelers to my personal and professional contacts because as is the case with online dating, the more of yourself you put out there, the more you will receive back—it is a numbers game.

Working with her I discovered that being a CEO of a Fortune 500 company won’t make me happy. Neither will working at a tech start up. Following an exercise in which I had to make a list of 50 companies that I’d like to work for, I discovered what I had an inkling about all along—that I’d like to work for an organization that “does good.” Simply put, I’d like to work for an organization that contributes to the greater good in a meaningful way and prioritizes this above profits (so I’m thinking I likely won’t work for Martin Shkreli).

Women’s issues have always been important to me, and they have become even more so since the presidential election. Also I’m a huge animal lover. These interests have led me to volunteer at Paws and Planned Parenthood. At Paws I’m still in the training phase, shadowing cat experts before I’m allowed to interact with/“socialize” the cats. (Apparently, playing with and petting the cats so they become accustomed to humans are nuanced skills that require rigorous training.) Meanwhile, at Planned Parenthood I’ve been helping design educational materials on birth control. (FYI, abortion is actually only a small part of Planned Parenthood’s services—health screenings, counseling and community outreach account for the majority of the work the organization does.) It’s been fascinating to dive into the history of contraception as I pull presentations together, and I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have access to this type of healthcare… for now. After just a few volunteer sessions they have already started hinting about paying jobs that could be available.

Life is so short that it’s a pity to spend your life going to a job that makes you miserable. Getting laid off in April is probably one of the best things to ever happen to me. Now it’s time to both repeal… and REPLACE my former career path.

Question: What was the best or worst career change you made in your life?

Stephanie Herzfeld has been working in the PR field for 12 years. If you know of an interesting job in the field of “doing good” email her at stephanieherzfeld429@gmail.com.

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Renaissance Machinery Dealer

By Noah Graff

A few weeks ago I traveled to Berlin, Germany. During my stay I visited a used machine tools company called Innovac GmbH where I met with its owners Dr. Mohammad Ehsasi and his wife, Cathy Farrar. Innovac sells just about every type of equipment—from woodworking machines, presses, rotary transfers and refrigeration machines to milking machines. It’s always interesting to meet other machinery dealers because I get to learn about their business philosophies and find out how they got into the esoteric used machine tools racket.

Dr. Ehsasi grew up in Iran. He went to the United States in 1976 to get a master’s degree in physics at the University of Maine where he met his wife Cathy. After a few years the couple moved to Berlin where Ehsasi did research at the world-renowned Max Planck Institute.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 a lot of idle used equipment and entire factories came on the market in East Germany. Ehsasi had many contacts in Middle Eastern countries who were looking to acquire bargain priced used equipment so he got into the business of moving entire factories in a wide range of industries to an equally wide range of countries in Europe and around the world. As time went on Ehsasi stopped the labor-intensive transport of entire factories and focused on individual pieces of equipment.

Universal Room Module from H.O.M.E. Modular Systems

Dr. Ehsasi is a renaissance machinery dealer. Several years ago he and his wife started a B2B magazine in Germany called Trade & Contact that covered the machining industry around the world. They told me it was a labor of love that they unfortunately had to end because producing it took too much time and too many resources while they were also trying to run a machinery business—familiar story.

Screw-connected Framework of Room Module from H.O.M.E. Modular Systems

Today Ehsasi has a new passion project, a company called H.O.M.E. Modular Systems. After the natural disasters of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the earthquake in Japan in 2011 Ehsasi realized the world needed quality temporary housing for disaster relief. Temporary housing kits already existed, but they required the components of the buildings to be welded together, and their quality standards varied. Ehsasi’s temporary housing system on the other hand uses a simple screw-connected framework which enables end users to assemble and disassemble structures easily themselves. Ehsasi says that two people with a forklift can assemble a structure’s framework in one hour. He says that in 40 hours an entire living space can be finished with ready-made components for a bedroom, office, kitchenette and bathroom. The Universal Room Modules in a disaster area can be easily disassembled and transported after the crisis ends to new places to be used for new applications such as another shelter or a standalone office. Using modern manufacturing techniques it is possible for H.O.M.E. to produce 200 or more modules in one day.

Interior of Universal Room Module from H.O.M.E. Modular Systems

However, Ehsasi’s unique vision is to produce temporary structures of high enough quality that people will buy them to use as living or working spaces in a normal economy, not just in disaster areas. Recently, Ehsasi has engineered heavier duty modules that can be stacked up to three levels. Local building materials can be used and the potential for designs is limitless, making them attractive for both architects and end-users.

We machinery dealers have to be flexible. There is a finite amount of iron treasure to trade in this world but an infinite amount of new ideas to try out and needs to meet.

Question 1: Could you live happily in a 400 square foot house?

Question 2: Do you feel like you are anti-immigrant?

For more information email info@innovac-home.de or go to www.innovac-home.de

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