Monthly Archives: January 2010

Stephan Marbury’s Full Court Press On China

By Noah Graff

One American is doing a full court press to balance the U.S. trade deficit with China.

Stephon Marbury, one of the NBA’s all time greatest bums and wastes of talent has gone to play in China. He’s not playing for a thriving cosmopolitan city such as Beijing or Shanghai, he’s playing for the Taiyuan Shanxi Zhongyu Professional Basketball Club, one of the worst teams in the league, in the podunk, coal mining city of Taiyuan. The entire city is covered by a thin layer of coal dust, including Zhongyu’s Binhe Sports Stadium, which holds around 4,500 people.

His new team, ranks fifteenth out of 17 teams and will have to win 14 of its next 16 games to make the playoffs. It is allotted $60,000 to pay two foreign players combined, one of whom will have to be cut to make room for Marbury. The team has mandatory 9:00 a.m. practices six days a week. The Chinese are known to emphasize unselfish, team basketball. Marbury is widely known as ball hog and first class jerk, to opponents, coaches and teammates. Not to mention, last year his skills diminished to the point where the Knicks bought out the 21 million dollars left on his contract. It’s addition by subtraction when you have a cancer on a team, who also stinks. Many doubt he will last a week with his new Chinese team. If history serves as an indicator the odds him lasting are poor, Bonzi Wells, another NBA player with a spotty past went to the same club back in 2008. He lasted 14 games.

So why Marbury there? He’s in a poor, remote, hick town in China that 99 percent of the western world has never heard of? Money of course. For a second I thought it was that he just fell off the deep end, which he may still have done. What else would motivate a guy like Marbury.

He’s going to China to promote his low cost signature Starbury line of shoes and apparel to the 300 million Chinese people who play basketball. His shoes, which cost as little as $15, haven’t been that popular here. I’ve never seen anybody wear them. He’s one of the worst athletes to aspire to be like, so it makes sense that no American who could afford better would buy his stuff.

But the Chinese don’t know that much about him. To them he’s just an NBA player who at one point was considered pretty high profile. If he can stick in Zhongyu the rest of the season, fool the Chinese into thinking he’s a great guy, his scheme may just be genius. And probably a screenplay will be written about it.

It’s a prototypical sports movie. Bad team brings in selfish, washed-up former star to play or to coach. Then they remember their love for the game and there’s magic and the team is victorious. Maybe throw in a Chinese love interest for Stephon. It would be perfect.

Question: Do you think he will last through the season? Do you hope he fails?

Source: Wall Street Journal

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Industry Scuttlebutt

Brad and Jeff Ohlemacher with President Obama at EMC Precision Machining

For EMC Precision Machining in Elyria, Ohio, it was just another day at the office last Friday—except for President Obama stopping by for a walkthrough and photo op. For Jeff and Brad Ohlemacher, the owners, it was a chance to show off the plant to, who knows, maybe a big new customer. The video on their Web site shows the Ohlemacher brothers introducing the President to family members including Jack, Brad’s young son and several engineers in the plant.

Obama came to Elyria and Lorain, Ohio, to connect with small business people who are the key to new hiring in this country. He gave a brief talk at Lorain Community College and chose to go to EMC Precision, which was on a short list of desirable sites to visit. The Ohlemachers had six days from the first call to prepare for the Big Boss.

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While scrolling through Google, my brother Jim found a 644 Wickman 7-axis machine in use at a factory in Bournemouth, England. He visited the Web site and found a company called Hemp Technologies. Their product is “The Green Grinder” which according to the site is made of “high quality” HE30 aluminum and is then CNC turned and milled on a Wickman lathe. The site boasts, “The herb grinders are hand finished and feature our 31 spring steel pins.”

I wonder, is there enough demand in England for this product to justify buying a $250,000 CNC multi-spindle?

Question: If somebody contacted you to make a part used in cigarette manufacturing, would you take the contract?

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The “Bullwhip Effect” on Caterpillar

Good article in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday on the “bullwhip effect” as it relates to Caterpillar. Caterpillar Inc. recently told its steel suppliers that it will more than double its purchases of the metal this year—even if the company’s own sales don’t rise at all. What does a company like Cat do when it is rebuilding inventories? It means big increases for suppliers. How does a supplier cope with a sudden surge in orders after a long dry spell in survival mode? How do you beef up ordering and production if you are a small firm whose credit lines are already overextended? Read the article.

Question: Have you seen the bullwhip effect yet in your business?

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Story Time

By Lloyd Graff

I remember virtually nothing from my early childhood. I sometimes think I was born when I was five years old. My parents told me that I did not talk until I was three. They actually thought I was retarded.

But I do remember one thing quite vividly from my early years—my mother performing dramatic readings in dialect for my sister and I in the park. She would pack a picnic lunch, we would go outside, and she would read stories, doing several voices like it was a radio performance. Her favorite was about an immigrant mother taking children to an amusement park. I had never been to such a place but she made it come alive for me.

She didn’t read from a kid’s storybook. She had a green colored “elocution” folio of short plays, and I can still feel her joy and energy when she got into character and delivered the lines to me and my sister Susan sitting in rapt attention.

When I was an adult my mother told me that those readings were a highlight of her parenting, and she cherished the yellowing books of readings as mementos of a happy time for her.

I did not do dramatic readings for my children, but I did make up stories and recount events from my own childhood. I’m starting to do it now for my granddaughters.

Kids may say they want the newest toy or doll or video game, but I think it’s the stories and the joy that will make a lasting happy imprint.

Question: What stories do you remember from your childhood?

Peter Falk reads to Fred Savage in the film The Princess Bride

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Swarf – Find Your Own Goat

For my 65th birthday on December 16th my daughter gave me a goat. When she told me about the gift I figured it was an effort to expiate the curse of the billy goat on my cherished Chicago Cubs. But no, this was an animal with an even better purpose.

For my Medicare birthday Sarah purchased a goat in my name from the WorldVision charity, which I’m told ended up in a small farm in Ecuador where it will provide milk for a family. The gift gave me pleasure, not only because it ended up in South America and not dropping dung on my patio and eating the hostas in the garden. It also gave me an insight into marketing to a jaded world, inundated with muddy media messages.

My daughter, a sophisticated and frugal person, put out $120 for a charity gift and photo of a cuddly goat presented to a milk deprived family in Ecuador. The goat sold her. The WorldVision Catalog would have ended up in the recycling bin along with a dozen other worthwhile charitable pitches, except for the hairy can eater on the cover of the brochure.

From a business standpoint the message is “sell the goat not the widget.” Your company and your product need a story and an image. I’m not talking about a building photo or a promise of precision.

Everybody has a building and if you can’t produce quality you would have been washed out two recessions ago. You need buzz, or at least a baa and your own credible goat to separate you from the herd. The competition wants to sell stuff. The buyer wants an authentic story.

Find your own goat.

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Negotiating Like Pirates

By Lloyd Graff


Pirate Negotiator

Connecting the dots from Wednesday’s news. Scott Brown, the Republican, won Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, which he had held for 47 years. Brown’s résumé includes posing nude for Cosmopolitan in 1982 and having a daughter who was both a semifinalist on American Idol and a starter for the Boston College basketball squad.

Then there’s the saga of competing Somali pirate teams threatening to shoot at each other and blow up a Greek oil tanker if they don’t collect a ransom.

Don’t forget about Kraft’s $19.5 billion takeover of Cadbury, the $145 billion in tainted investment bankers’ bonuses, and the proposed Obama tax on the earnings of TARP babies.

A few more dots—a record week for junk bond sales, credit squeezed further for small business and the Federal Housing Administration, and Lebron James passing up the Slam Dunk Competition at the NBA All Star Weekend.

Here’s my take.

Scott Brown meshed with voters who are scared and angry at a Washington that rewards investment bankers, health insurance companies and big multinationals, while average Americans can’t get jobs because small business can’t get money.

The health care reform bill looks like an insider’s game brokered by snippy Nancy Pelosi and sourpuss Harry Reid. Reid probably won’t even win reelection in Nevada.

Health care reform looks like it has been hijacked by the insurance thugs, drug companies and greedy politicians, who look a lot like Somali pirates threatening to blow it up if they can’t get their cut.

I think the investment bankers at Goldman Sachs who played the Wall Street chaos like a banjo are also Somali pirate-like, and the dealmakers at Lazard are Captain Hooks, making fortunes for merging macaroni and crème eggs with Kraft and Cadbury. It feels unfair that Joe Schmo gets blacklisted for a job because he suffers from diabetes from eating too much mac’n cheese and chocolate bars. Life is often unfair—just look at poor Haiti.

Scott Brown’s election is a slap at the cynical partisan politics that rewards pirates. Unfortunately, replacing Ted Kennedy with the Republican who challenged Barack Obama to a two-on-two basketball game last night (teaming with his daughter) is no slam dunk for meaningful change in Washington. Obama could sure use Lebron on his team.

Question: Who are the baddies and pirates, legislators bargaining for goodies or investment bankers profiting from TARP?

Ayla Brown Singing National Anthem at her own basketball game

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Industry Scuttlebutt

The Machinist's APPrentice 2010

Jim Rowe, one of Today’s Machining World’s past “Shop Doc” columnists, recently invented two iPhone Apps to deal with everyday math problems confronting machinists, programmers and engineers. Presently at the iPhone APP store the “Machinist APPrentice 2010” is available for $2.99. It gives you 4 sections to choose from: Milling, Turning, References and Math / Conversions. “The Journeymen,” soon to be released sells for $9.99, and has a much more expanded platform with a variety of Chip Thinning Factors being calculated for Radial Width of Cut, Ballnose Depth of Cut, Torodial Depth of Cut and 45 Degree Lead Angles. Rowe has no formal computer programming training, just the knowledge from decades of CNC programming. Get more info on his products at his Web site: www.smartcalculations.com. Also as a side project Rowe is designing an iPhone app for www.todaysmachiningworld.com. We’ll keep you posted when it’s out.

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The PMPA management update conference is February 26 to March 1 in Scottsdale. For health and economic reasons I’ve missed the last several, but with Alan Beaulieu of the Institute for Trend Research on the docket, I’ve got to go. Three years ago his brother and associate at Trend predicted the economy’s turns with uncanny accuracy. I wish I had planned accordingly, I’d be a lot richer. This guy is really good at predicting and he does not waffle.

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Got a call from Wendy Rogers of AMSCO last week. Wendy is crusty as ever even in his mid eighties. He was interested in buying Acme cams if we would sell them cheap enough. Yesterday, I picked up the phone and Bill Currier was on the line. Bill had an eight hole turret for a Brown & Sharpe to offer. Incidentally, he’s still playing golf at 91. Old screw machine guys never die, they just _________. You fill it in on the  comments.

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Okuma recently ran a contest offering a prize of the free use of one of their machine tools for year to the company that created the most compelling video or essay expressing why they need the machine.

The entries poured in and the Okuma team gathered a lot of leads. But I think the long-term benefits may be that people in the company got a better sense of the job shop customer base, and Okuma took on the image of a company that listens to the members of its community. For probably less than half of what it would cost them to exhibit at a trade show they changed the perception of the company to a significant segment of their clientele.

Question of the day: Do you hope the new health care bill passes?

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Moving Cheese

By Lloyd Graff

Food selling businesses can tell us a lot about best and worst practices in the unending search for elusive success as an entrepreneur.

I spent the holidays in the Bay Area (new granddaughter) and indulged my happy obsession of searching markets for the best and freshest produce, breads and cheeses. Farmers’ Markets are reduced in midwinter, but I indulged my passion at a semi-outdoor market open seven days a week called Milk Pail Market, in Mountain View, Cal., home of Google.

The store was started 36 years ago by Steve Rasmussen and his father when they bought a bankrupt drive-through dairy store and took over the lease. The business started out as an independent dairy. Steve bought tanks, contracted with local milk producers, homogenized and pasteurized raw milk and then sold it to the Silicon Valley locals looking for a better, fresher, cheaper product.

The milk business connected him to dairy farmers and he started buying big rounds of good quality local cheese which he then cut up to sell to his milk clientele. He built up a network of suppliers of superb cheese makers and then started to add fruits and vegetables of impeccable freshness and flavor. The dairy store became more like a cross between a Farmers’ Market and supermarket produce department—and he kept his prices ridiculously low.

Rasmussen competes with a Safeway across the street and a Whole Foods a half mile away. His prices are 25 percent lower than Safeway and around half of Whole Foods, and I consider his quality and service far superior.

The whole store is maybe 4,000 square-feet including an area under an awning and an entrance that spills into a parking lot. The aisles are narrow (he uses small carts), lighting is uneven, cheeses are available for sampling with toothpicks in a tiny nook next to the Acme bread (the best sourdough in the country) delivered twice daily. There are no checkout lanes. People just line up at the counter where cashiers also pack their groceries. AND it all works. Magnificently.

I look at Milk Pail Market and wonder why people make business so hard and complicated. Rasmussen runs one 4,000 square-foot store, buys the best stuff, sells it way cheaper than the competition and prospers. He does not plan to franchise—I hope.

Question: What is your favorite Cheese? Do you enjoy stinky cheese?

In Front of Milk Pail Market

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Time to Retire?

By Lloyd Graff

When my arterial plumbing got perilously close to fatal failure 16 months ago, God granted me the opportunity to reassess my life while on a breathing tube for 12 days. The highlight of those days was turning over in my bed (actually, being turned).

My conclusion after the ordeal ended was that I really did not want to make any big changes in my life except one—I wanted to feel my days more intensely. Whatever I got to do in the days I was allotted I was going to do with an awareness and gratitude that was more acute than the automatic-pilotness I often fall into. When I celebrated my Medicare birthday on December 16, I had another period of reflection. At 65 did I want to throttle back or even retire, or did I want to work hard, build, take risks, and mount an expedition to the Himalayas? Anybody out there have a good Sherpa connection?

It brought to mind the famous Bob Newhart comedy routine about the retirement party and the “Gold Watch.” Click to listen.

Retirement Party by Bob Newhart

Question: Do you think you will retire at 65? Will you ever retire?

Bob Newhart in Insomnia

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The Best and Worst Jobs

By Noah Graff

A recent video from the online Wall Street Journal discusses a survey ranking the “best and worst jobs” of the 2010 economy. On the list, actuary ranked as the best occupation and roustabout ranked the worst.

The study, published by a site called Careercast.com, is based on five criteria: work environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands, and level of stress. Feeling good at the end of the day from helping society, and plain old fun were not criteria.

So the best job is actuary—the person who interprets statistics to determine probabilities of accidents, sickness, and death, and loss of property from theft and natural disasters. (Remember Ben Stiller from Along Came Polly. Really relaxed, happy guy.)

The most physically demanding jobs ranked the lowest with lumber jack second to roustabout. In case you’re wondering, roustabouts maintain oil rigging and natural gas equipment. The study rationalized that roustabouts and lumberjacks undergo harsh physical labor in rough, dangerous outdoor environments which then leads to stress. However, there is ok pay for roustabouts at a top-end salary of $49,000 plus overtime, and the employment outlook could be quite good in the present natural gas rush.

Machinist was not mentioned in either list, but welder was number five on the “worst” list, right between dairy farmer at four and garbage collector at six—and NAM wonders why they have trouble getting young people to want to be welders.

Honestly, few of the jobs on both the “10 best” list and the “10 worst” list appealed to me. I’d be more partial to Hollywood film director, pro tennis player, or Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition photographer.

Questions: Does the data in the study surprise you?
What is your dream job, and what job is your nightmare?



WSJ’s Sarah Needleman discusses a survey of the best and worst jobs. Of the best, actuary ranked number one. Of the worst, roustabout was on the bottom.

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