Monthly Archives: December 2016

One Hole at a Time

By Lloyd Graff

I’ve seen a lot of change in my lifetime.  Cubs winning the World Series.  The Berlin Wall falling.  The Internet altering work and pleasure.  And on my birthday this year, I read the announcement that the Jackson Park Golf Course and the old South Shore Country Club in Chicago are going to be turned into the Pebble Beach of the Midwest, and huge national golf tournaments will be played on it.

Tiger Woods, at the urging of President Barack Obama, is going to design the course, which will be adjacent to the Obama Library.

If Tiger does his job well and the money comes through, this course could be virtually unique in the world – a 7000-yard public course, nestled on Lake Michigan, 8 minutes from McCormick Place and 10 minutes from the University of Chicago.  But it will also be adjacent to the ugly South Side black ghetto of Chicago, a violent, murderous, scary jungle of apartments that you wouldn’t want to walk into for fear you wouldn’t walk out alive.

I know the area well.  The first 18 years of my life were spent living near the Jackson Park Golf Course’s 6th hole.  My buddy Howard Isador and I played that hole hundreds of times, whacking irons at the green between foursomes during the summers.  We played with golf balls that lousy swingers sliced onto our lawns, bouncing hard against the cement of 67th Street at Euclid Avenue.

South Shore Country Club back in the day. Courtesy of chuckmanplaces.wordpress.com

A few years later Michelle Robinson’s family moved into a house at 74th and Euclid, seven blocks south of us.  That was a few years before she met and married Barack Obama.

Chicago has always been a city of neighborhoods and races.  There is Irish Chicago, Italian Chicago, Polish Chicago, Jewish Chicago, Mexican Chicago, Puerto Rican Chicago, Chinatown and the African American Ghetto.

The unique thing about Jackson Park Golf Course was that Blacks and Whites played the course together, even back in the 1950s and ‘60s, for $3 a round.  But not at the South Shore Country Club that shared a border with Jackson Park.  It was all White.  And it wasn’t a genteel, friendly, tolerant White country club.  It was a nasty, don’t you dare come on my precious grounds if you’re Black or Mexican or Jewish, kind of club.

They didn’t have to put up any signs.  Everybody just knew it.  And they wanted you to know it.  My friend Jerry Levine started delivering flowers for a local florist in 1958.  When he had to deliver to the magnificent South Shore Country Club Clubhouse he says he would run in with his flowers and get out quickly but stealthily, fearful that somebody might ask to see if he was circumcised.  Ah, those were the good old days.

By the mid 1970s enough people who looked like Michelle Robinson’s family moved in to make the folks at South Shore find a different club.  The club was sold to the Daley-led city and the clubhouse made into a cultural center.  The golf course fell into disuse, and the private beach the club controlled became a beach mainly used by African Americans.

This was my Chicago in the 1960s and ‘70s.  It was White, but if Blacks got too close it turned—quickly.  My parents moved out to a downtown condo right after my younger brother, Jim, graduated from the University of Chicago Lab School.  Jim, my sister Susan and I all went to Lab because the local public high school was almost all Black, dangerous and awful.  Michelle Robinson attended the elite Whitney Young High School rather than South Shore High, a block from her home.

This was the Chicago and America that I grew up in.  So when I see Barack Obama become President and Michelle of 74th and Euclid become a beloved First Lady I am proud.  And when Jackson Park and South Shore Country Club merge to become Tiger Woods’ signature Championship Golf Course on Lake Michigan I know this country has really moved in my lifetime.  Change comes hard in America.  Very hard in Chicago.  One hole at a time.

Question: Do you love or hate golf?

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How Not to Get a Job

By Anonymous

As a headhunter who recruits in the fields of engineering and manufacturing, I can often judge in a matter of seconds whether a candidate could be a good fit for a particular position. When a resume fails to include a sentence identifying or describing the candidate’s current or former employer, he risks being eliminated for a position for which he could be eminently qualified.

If the candidate has worked for a manufacturer of hula-hoops while I’m searching for a Quality Engineer with experience in the rocket launching industry it is not important for me to know about his previous employers. But if I were searching for someone with experience in the toy and leisure field, then by not alerting me to the company’s hula-hoop specialty a candidate could miss out on a potential dream job.

A Single Sentence—Huge Potential Career Dividends

So what is the solution for making sure your resume is a career boosting friend and not a foe? Include a single sentence capturing what your previous employer does or who its core audience is. If the hiring company is a leading manufacturer of products that rotate around one’s waist, don’t forget to mention the company’s signature line of hula-hoops.

An excellent method of making sure your resume is crystal clear is to have someone unfamiliar with your industry read it over. Ask the reader if he understands what your previous employer does. Then ask if he has a grasp of what you’ve done in the past. His observations might be an eye opener on whether your resume is hitting its intended mark.

Seinfeld’s George Costanza applying for job with the NY Yankees

Make It Easy on the Reader

As a headhunter, I often delve into career areas outside of my comfort zone of engineering and manufacturing. When I venture into these new niches, it is reassuring to find a resume that doesn’t speak over my head. I occasionally have “aha” moments where I read about an employer and say to myself, “So that’s what they do.” This revelation can trigger the next critical step of matching an employer with a suitable candidate.

When speaking with a recruiter for the first time, you’ll make a friend for life by politely asking if you can answer any questions about your profession, industry or technical skill set.  Educating someone in a non-judgmental way is a sure-fire method of expanding your networking team.

Another helpful resume tip is to avoid playing “Where’s Waldo?” Think like an employer and don’t make the reader hunt for key words that reenforce why you’re the best person for the job. If an employer is seeking a machinist with Trak, Haas and Fanuc experience don’t wait until the interview to share you have this exact background.

Resume Treasure Map

A candidate should view his resume as a “treasure map.” Your resume should highlight career jewels that hopefully match your skills with an employer’s needs. These nuggets are the linchpin to the resume reader, who wants to interview the candidate holding a treasure chest of technical skills, education or experience.

Finally, unlike your favorite mystery novel, don’t leave the best for last. I admit that I sometimes have a short attention span when reading a resume. If I don’t find what I’m looking for in the upper half of the first page, it’s possible I’ll move on to the next candidate. The best resumes, novels and fishing lures open with a hook. If the reader gets an early taste of what he is looking for, it’s more likely the rest of your resume will get a thorough read and lead to an interview.

Questions:

Does it worry you that Donald Trump does not have experience in government on his resume?

What has been your experience with headhunters?

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Ding Dong School

By Lloyd Graff

I’ve been talking to a lot of smart people and reading some well-researched material so I can pretend I know stuff that you don’t already know.

One thing I really wanted to get my brain around is whether well-paying manufacturing jobs will be “coming back” to the United States.

My conclusion – old jobs are not coming back, but millions of new jobs will be created. Some will pay well, others will not. People will be rewarded for being industrious, flexible, creative and well-prepared for being able to add value in the cracks where automation and artificial intelligence have not figured out how to penetrate yet.

I remember, back in the day, when Graff-Pinkert needed a machinist who could be trained to be a machine tool rebuilder. We had a variety of applicants including one Union member from the Pullman Works plant of the International Harvester Corporation. He was a pleasant guy, but his training at Harvester had left him completely helpless to work in a small shop that valued versatility and efficiency. We asked him to display his skills on a lathe and he confessed that at IH he had only run round bars. We thanked him and told him he was not prepared to work for us. As he walked out he asked plaintively if his buddy could have the job, because “he knows how to run hex.”

That Harvester plant is long gone. The 10,000 workers that trudged to work, paid their Union dues to the Teamsters year after year, and produced the same axles and fenders on the same machines decade after decade are retired, dead or working at Home Depot today.

Harvester will never be resurrected. We have lost 40% of the plants with 1,000 employees or more in recent years. Big unionized factories are dinosaurs and in a few more years they will have almost totally vanished.

The last bastion of Union membership is in government. Half of Union the workers today work for taxpayers, but the inequities in the contracts negotiated by weak or corrupt elected or appointed nabobs will come back to haunt them. According to Michael Hicks, a very smart professor I talked to this week from Ball State in Muncie, Indiana, a Chicago teacher’s pension today is bigger than that of a Three-Star General. The Charter School movement in places like Chicago, which has special appeal to African American parents, poses a big threat to status quo education, which is why the Teachers’ Unions despise the trend.

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The “good jobs coming back” theme took another hit in the scrotum in a conversation I had with Steve Tamasi, the head of Boston Centerless Corp.

His company is one of the foremost suppliers of ground stock, much of which goes to companies using Swiss-type sliding headstock machines to supply the medical device, electronics, and aerospace industries. Tamasi’s firm is doing well, but with more than half of his volume coming from the medical device sector he has been fighting the mega merger trend in the industry. The medical device lines are maturing and consolidating. The 2.3% tax on revenue to finance Obamacare also punished the industry. When organic growth shrinks, big companies merge. It’s what they do. Then they do their magic. According to Steve Tamasi, they reduced inventory and hammered on the supply chain. It’s Merger 101. Then they cut employees, reduced the number of factories and declared bonuses for the brilliant executives who survived the knife.

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A robot places boxes of Twinkies into shipping boxes at the Hostess plant in Emporia, Kansas which produces 1,000,000 Twinkies a day.

I recommend a terrific article in The New York Times on the purchase and sale of Hostess Twinkies and Ding Dongs brands. Two hedge funds partnered on the deal, Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos Fund owned by Dean Metropoulos. They bought the brands and eight factories at a bankruptcy auction in 2013 for $410 million which they borrowed against their assets and their reputation for shrewdness. The money came from the Texas Teacher’s Pension Fund and other institutions.

An acquaintance of mine who works for a prominent foundation in Chicago told me that his $1 billion-dollar institution seldom gets a chance to get in on a deal like Hostess Brands because the hedge funds can usually fund the most interesting deals with a few days of calls and meetings in New York. Princeton University alone has a $90 billion endowment fund and they are always looking for Hostess-Ding Dong kinds of deals.

Mr. Metropoulos specializes in food deals. He made a killing on Vlasic Pickles. He closed five of the eight Hostess bakeries, automated the bakery in Emporia, Kansas to maximize the output, expanded a factory in Columbus, Georgia with incentives from the state, streamlined the supply chain and bludgeoned suppliers. He turned Hostess into one humdinger of a deal. In a few years, Black and Metropoulos sold the company to another hedge fund for $2.3 billion. Head count at Hostess had shrunk from 8,000 to 1,400 people. The Union bakeries were the first to go. I think there are still some “good jobs” in Emporia, Kansas.

I am not condemning Black and Metropoulos. If they had not bought Hostess some other hedge fund would have.

With automation and artificial intelligence coming on even stronger in the 2020s there will be even fewer of those “good factory jobs.” Today factory jobs comprise 9% of the jobs in the United States. Even without the competition from China and Mexico that number will fall. And China and Mexico face the same issues we have here – stagnant wages and shrinking, “good jobs in the factory.”

The trends don’t lie. Teach your kids how to pitch.

Question: Would you consider $13/hour jobs at Amazon “good jobs?”

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5-Axis 4 Grand

By Lloyd Graff

In the fall of 2015 Michelle and Matt Hertel gave birth to a baby girl and a 5-axis CNC milling machine in Montana.

Their baby girl, Ruby, is flourishing and so is their other baby, the Pocket NC 5-axis mill, which sells for $4,000 naked, out of their small factory in Bozeman, Montana.

Before they moved back to Big Sky Country where they grew up, Michelle and Matt lived in the Seattle area. Michelle was a mechanical engineer at Boeing, and Matt was a night shift machinist at Electroimpact Corporation, which makes enormous automation equipment for the aerospace industry. He says that while on breaks he and a fellow machinist would fantasize about building a tiny but capable CNC machine for the sophisticated hobbyist.

He and Michelle ultimately decided to go back home to start a family and a company. They bought a house with a garage that became their workshop, then sold the house to finance their dream until they could build the prototype that would satisfy them and potential investors.

Matt and Michelle Hertel with their Pocket NC 5-Axis Mill

Their original plan was to build a 3-axis CNC mill but later decided that for a little more money and engineering work they could build a 5-axis machine that would give them a competitive advantage. The least expensive 5-axis machine on the market was $50-$60,000, more than ten times the price of their desired price point.

By August of 2015 they were set to go into production of their mill in their rented garage in Bozeman. Michelle was due to give birth in September. Their pitch video was polished and ready for prime time on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. Each contributor of $3,500 on Kickstarter would get first dibs on a Pocket NC 5-axis desktop milling machine.

They hit their goal of $355,000, which enabled them to buy the materials for 100 machines. Kickstarter took a 5% commission, and they lost an additional 3% from the contributors who used credit cards, but it was enough to get going. Matt and Michelle did everything at the beginning. Now they are a group of four mechanical engineers and an assembly person. Michelle is working part-time.

Pocket NC 5-Axis Mill

They surpassed their initial target of 100 machines, and each month’s sales are beating the previous month’s. They have sold more than 300 machines. Matt says they quickly discovered that the hobbyist market barely existed for a machine costing $4,000 to $6,000, depending on accessories, but they found that labs, universities, small businesses and professionals were looking for a tiny, versatile mill for experimenting and making parts quickly. There are Pocket NC machines now at NASA, MIT and the European Space Agency. Production has escalated to well over 20 machines per month, and Matt is looking for an additional employee, which is not so easy to find in Bozeman, which has the lowest unemployment of any metropolitan area in the country of over 200,000 people. It is the photonics (laser) mecca of America.

Obviously, a tiny mill that can be transported in a suitcase is not an Okuma or a Haas machine. It is not meant for material tougher to machine than aluminum and its tolerances are only guaranteed to +/- 0.005. It is not a mass market machine, but it has its niche, and it appears to be a fairly large and untouched market. A lab can find $5k in the cookie jar quite easily, so it can bypass many of the bureaucratic justifications.

For Matt and Michelle the next goal is to improve the strength and capability of their machine without dramatically changing the price point.

The Hertels are living the American Dream now, and they are doing so without killing themselves. Matt leaves the shop at 5-6pm to play with their little girl, Ruby. At a year and a half both of their babies are growing like gangbusters.

Question: Would you be interested in a Pocket NC Mill?

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Home on the Steppe

By Noah Graff

Those Russian thieves! First they steal back Crimea, then they steal our election (maybe?), and now they are poaching our talented labor force. They are bribing our good ol’ American cowboys to help them build their latest empire—Beef!

In 2010 Russia passed the Food Security Doctrine, which set a goal for the country to become self-sufficient in its food production. The country has never had a domestic beef industry, with most of its beef having to be imported. Rich Russians want easier access to a great ribeye and there is a huge opportunity to export beef to China and the Gulf States. The new industry also provides jobs. Russia is in the midst of a Beef Rush.

In the last six years, Miratorg, Russia’s biggest beef-producing company, acquired vast fields abandoned after the fall of the Soviet Union. It ripped up weeds and forests and planted imported grass seed. It imported tractors, horses, and cattle, predominantly from the U.S. and Australia, and in just a few years produced a herd of around 400,000 cows. Miratorg says it wants to have a herd of 1 million cows by the end of the decade. The U.S. cattle industry took centuries to develop its infrastructure and breed cattle optimized for beef, but with the aid of high-tech genetics and a vertically integrated business model Miratorg, in a span of five years, created the largest herd in the world. In the U.S. we have several steps in the steak industry. A calf spends about a year in pasture, then goes on to a feedlot, then a processing facility and finally to a restaurant. At Miratorg every stage is under one roof. It even has cooking demos for preparing steak.

Sergei Shilin, Russian Cowboy at Miratorg. Courtesy of www.Newsworks.org.

But like almost all businesses, the beef business cannot succeed without skilled workers. So in addition to importing grass and cattle Miratorg has brought over some American cowboys to train the Russian workers who knew nothing about cattle ranching. Today the United States has fewer cattle than it has had at any time since the 1950s, so the job market for cowboys in the United States has thinned significantly. Miratorg has lured American cowboys to come to Russia by offering to double their pay in the United States.

To teach cowboy skills and create a passion for the cowboy way of life Miratorg created its own version of a rodeo. The Russian rodeos are similar to those in the United States. They have events like barrel racing, roping and trailer loading. DJs play patriotic songs that talk about the greatness of Russia. One rodeo song talks about Russia taking Alaska back from the United States. Another proclaims “Give me a horse and a Sword!” Parachutists known as “Aerial Cowboys” float down into the arena. Russian cowboys wear kerchiefs with traditional Russian patterns rather than the classic bandanas worn by American cowboys.

Russian Cowboys. Courtesy of www.Newsworks.org.

According to the sources for this blog, the Russian cowboys, which the Russians call “operators,” have been thriving since the American cowboys were brought in, embracing the cowboy work ethic and becoming experts in skills of the trade such as riding, lassoing and doctoring calves. Sadly, very few of the 1000 or so Russian cowboys have gotten to eat an actual steak. A quality steak costs more than a day’s salary for a Russian cowboy.

Question: What’s your favorite cut of meat? How do you like it prepared?

Sources for blog: newsworks.org and NPR.org.

Listen to the NPR story: 

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