Monthly Archives: March 2018

A Patient’s Perspective

By Lloyd Graff

Today I get to do my twenty-first straight day of radiation treatment. Don’t feel sorry for me at all, this is my fortunate opportunity to save my sight by deactivating a slow growing benign tumor in my brain which is dangerously close to my optic nerve. The proximity to the nerve is the reason that the surgeon who operated on me two years ago left the remnant of the tumor. It was just too close, even for the most skilled surgeon, to remove the whole thing.

I have been doing the radiation at around noon, which is the ideal time to navigate the traffic from my office to the hospital and back without dramatically messing up my work day. It is a 25-minute trip each way. On most days, the radiation procedure, from hitting the hospital to walking out the door to head back to my office is 30 minutes, except when I see my doctor.

The weekly doctor meeting is what prompted me to write this piece.

My primary doctor for this procedure has been informative and positive. He told me and my wife, Risa, that he has treated many cases very similar to mine with excellent results. He told me I might experience a little fatigue, but it will go away after the treatments are over. The reason for 30 small doses of radiation rather than 3-7 larger zaps is that it is safer and usually more effective in the long term for this kind of tumor.

So far, I have felt absolutely tiptop. Except when I have seen the doctor who has subbed for my regular doctor when he has been away over the past month.

The radiation oncologist who has seen me on two occasions (although I think he forgot he saw me the first time) has given off a strangely different vibe.

When I saw him last Thursday he asked me with distinctly low energy how I was feeling. I told him I was “feeling great.” I said the “great” with emphasis because I knew he was going to continue with a line of questioning aimed at discovering problems I was having.

“Have you been nauseous?” “No,” I said. “Have you lost any sight?” he asked. “No, my vision is the same.” “How tired are you?” he asked. I answered truthfully that my workouts have been better during the course of the treatment. “I have felt tired around 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon, but I always do,” I told him. “It will get worse,” he said.

I could not wait to get out of the office. I had girded myself for his negativity when I discovered my regular doctor was not in, but he still eroded my upbeat mood. I became angry.

I recently listened to a Seth Godin podcast on the power of placebo. Numerous clinical tests have shown that placebos are often as effective as medicines and treatments. This radiologist, in a 10-minute session, where he did not seem to want to be, had undermined my positive outlook.

I decided to write him a note giving him a patient’s perspective on our meeting. I looked him up that night on the hospital’s Website, guessed what his email address was and wrote him a letter about what it felt like for me at that last meeting. I read it to Risa and she advised caution about sending it. I decided not to send it, but then I read his vitae and saw that he specialized in treating kids. At that point connecting with him became about his child patients and their parents. Maybe an email from me telling him how it felt to be his patient would help him as he dealt with kids who were a lot more vulnerable than I was.

I sent the email to the doctor at 9:30 p.m. last Thursday and wondered if I would get a reply.

He did send a short email back the next day. He addressed it to “Mr. Lloyd.” He did correct that a while later, but I wonder if I got through to him at all.

I don’t believe the doctor is a jerk, but I don’t think he knows how to communicate with his patients to help them believe in their treatment and their ability to heal. It’s an issue we all have in our relationships, but for a doctor the costs of messing things up are greater than just an everyday misstep.

Question: Are you afraid to go to the doctor?

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Man of Steel?

By Lloyd Graff

The tariffs being imposed by the Trump administration on foreign steel and aluminum are an intriguing bargaining chip from a macro economic standpoint, but a pain in the ass for most shops trying to turn metal into profit versus competitors across the globe.

For nimble companies with the skill and patience to file the paperwork for exclusions, the tariffs may become a competitive advantage against the folks who just call Central Steel and grit their teeth. For those firms whose primary added value comes from intellectual property the added raw material cost will be immaterial.

This is a situation where being in a trade group like the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA) adds real value because the group and its consultant in Washington are doing the research to guide members through the bureaucratic maze of steel and aluminum categories to elude most of the sting of tariffs. If Trump’s primary goal is to impress the Chinese and Europeans that the U.S. is tired of being a patsy on international trade, he should not be worried if American companies navigate their way through the government shoals. It’s what he would have done if he was buying rebar for a new hotel building.

*****

Talking about the PMPA, at its recent Management Update conference in San Diego, its favorite economist and “Carnac the Magnificent,” Brian Beaulieu, spoke. He sees a magnificent 2018 for the people in our business with 2019 still strong. He is bullish on the next five years for those who have survived the 15-year shakeout in the industry. He is an advocate of raising prices, raising wages and instituting training programs to raise productivity. Instead of complaining about employees, he says, make them better.

Beaulieu also predicts that electric cars are here to stay, which will have a dramatic effect on the amount of parts currently being produced for internal combustion engines. He feels automotive component work will deteriorate steadily over the next 10 years. You have been warned.

*****

I am not that much into TV drama shows these days, but I heartily recommend the new season of Homeland on Showtime. This is the seventh season of the show, which stars Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin (my distant cousin), and so far it is clearly the best of all of them. I have seen the first six episodes and they get more riveting each week. This season has heavy political overtones relating to the 2016 Presidential election and the possibility of malignant foreign intervention. It is not really anti-Clinton or Trump, but it illuminates the danger of manipulation through technology and exploiting the divisions which make us vulnerable. I think the show is brilliant and extremely scary.

******

I know a lot of folks are down on the NCAA Basketball Tournament because of scandal and the best players heading for the NBA, but if you just enjoy the game and the all out effort of the kids playing it, you will love the 2018 version.

My hometown favorite, Loyola of Chicago, won two games on buzzer beaters to advance to the Round of 16. They have no players with a prayer of going pro, but they play a beautiful passing game coupled with ball fakes that reminds me of teams in the 1960s.

Villanova, another Catholic city school, is probably the favorite now, because they have excellent athletes and play selflessly. They also have Kevin Brunson, who is the best pure point guard in college ball. His father played in the NBA, and he totally gets the game. He may not have the body of an NBA star, but he is a shrewd player who knows how to lead and win.

Villanova is my pick to triumph, but I would love to see them play Kentucky, which has a tremendous collection of Freshman who will soon play pro. John Calipari, underrated as a coach, has made these egotistical allstars into a real team at this point in the season. They are only a fifth seed and lack a true point guard, but wow, do they have talent, and they seem willing to play together long enough to make it to the Finals.

It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch this NCAA play out.

Question: Do you you think many voters’ feelings were manipulated in the 2016 election? Do you care?

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32 Pounds Ago

By Lloyd Graff

I have lost 32 pounds over the last four months, and I am stunned. It has not been that hard to do once I decided it was something I truly wanted to do.

Tony Robins says the “WHY” question is the most important, and I agree. If you ask yourself, “why do I want to lose weight?” and you answer, “I want to feel better and live longer,” the how will make itself apparent. In my case the why and how questions became salient during a doctor’s visit in which my blood pressure reading was on the wrong side of 160 and my weight was crowding 270. My doctor Scott Stern at the University of Chicago asked me if I was serious about losing weight. I nodded yes, and this time I actually meant it.

He said, “Lloyd, I’m going to recommend a book to you, Always Hungry? by Daniel Ludwig.” He said he had read it himself and learned a lot of new things.

I listened to some of the book on audio then bought the hardcover, really figuring deep in my oversized gut it would be another one that would soon be forgotten on the shelf.

But it wasn’t forgotten, because Ludwig’s basic premise was so counterintuitive that I was attracted to it, particularly with Dr. Stern’s endorsement.

The gist of Dr. Daniel Ludwig’s thesis, based on a scholar’s storehouse of research is that you need to stop eating refined processed foods, sugary sweets, simple carbs like white potatoes, wheat and corn and replace them with fruits and vegetables, protein and FAT. Yes, FAT. In fact, fat is really the secret to making this eating regimen work, because replacing the sugars, processed foods and simple carbs with fat and protein like yogurt, cheese, eggs and meat reduces your cravings for the bad stuff. It also ends the insulin spikes that are one of the main reasons we have an epidemic of diabetes and obesity in America.

I am not a diabetic, but my father and his siblings were, as were both of his parents. I have always feared becoming diabetic, having seen so much of it growing up.

For me, Ludwig’s regimen was rather simple. Breakfast became eggs, berries, whole fat yogurt and grapefruit. No juice, no cereal, no bananas (too sugary) no sugar in the coffee, no BREAD. The no bread rule was the only one that bothered me a little at the beginning, but when I saw the pounds melting off quickly, I easily made my peace with it.

Lunch was a salad with a dressing, sometimes with meat or eggs added, never a sandwich. Another option was soup or meat leftovers from dinner.

Dinner was normally meat, chicken or fish with some kind of fat with it, plus a vegetable like broccoli, cauliflower or beans. Never potatoes.

Snacks during the afternoon now have become mainly almonds, which I like to toast, or sometimes pecans or walnuts. Occasionally I’ll eat a big scoop of peanut butter with no sugar added. I like Sweet Ella’s by Koeze of Grand Rapids.

For sweetness breaks, I favor berries and dark chocolate, at least 70% cacao. There is not much sugar in one quarter of a big Lindt chocolate bar.

In the first month I lost 10 pounds. I was down almost 20 in two. Four months later I was down 32 pounds and needed to buy new pants and belts.

I have not significantly changed my exercise routine, but everything is easier now. My blood numbers are all good, mild arthritis has improved in my hands and knees and interestingly, shoes and socks fit better because my legs and feet don’t swell.

During these past four months I have totally ignored calorie counting. It is just not an issue if I don’t eat sugars and simple carbs in significant quantities.

The new eating habits have not been difficult to develop once I understood that cookies and toast and fries were killing me. My goal had been to get down to my weight when I left the hospital after my heart attack nine and a half years ago.

Frankly, I never expected to get anywhere close to the 30-pound loss level. Yet, to my amazement, I reached it in 11 weeks.

How did I celebrate it?

Strawberries dipped in dark chocolate was just perfect.

Question: Do you trust your doctor?

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All the Wrong Places

By Lloyd Graff

The conventional wisdom is that “I need employees, but I can’t find them.”

This seems odd to me. I’ve been hearing the same lament for so many years and it still does not ring true. In a workforce of 161 million people in the U.S. with millions of ambitious, bright, stable people there are always going to be folks who want to make a change to improve their lot.

Allow me to throw out a few ideas that may kindle a new approach to finding productive employees or fresh employment opportunities.

  1. Stop looking in all the old familiar places. Don’t be so linear. There are white collar people, maybe even in your own company who would rather be in the plant, actually involved in making things directly. Have you asked around lately? We recently hired a person who had been repairing cell phones at a Batteries Plus shop. Met him while we needed an emergency repair on an iPhone. He had been a computer science major who dropped out after 2.5 years because of money woes. He impressed me with his intensity and conscientiousness and I left him my card as I left. He called to ask or an interview shortly afterwards and I hired him. He says there are other talented mechanical people in their shops who would readily leave for an opportunity to better themselves. He was making $15 an hour.
  2. Use social media to prospect for people who are in your circle of acquaintances or who might be connected to others in your chain of “friends.” Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. are enormously useful in extending reach to “non-linear” people who would never have reached your glimpse. Graff-Pinkert recently hired somebody who had just been laid off after 20 years with a company. His wife saw a brief notice in a local web page mainly aimed at local babysitters and gardeners. He was a bit shell-shocked about losing his job, but his wife knew us through her administrative job and it led to a fortuitous hire for both of us. He has been a great find. Social media is enormously powerful because it circumvents the usual employment matchup services with a much more creative searching technique, “the grapevine.”
  3. Forget about “the drug test.” How often have I heard the lament, “we can’t find anybody who can pass the drug test.” Maybe I’m naïve, but marijuana usage does not mean somebody should be blackballed out of hand. A more serious drug problem will become fairly obvious in an interview or, worst case, soon after hiring. Amazon is hiring tens of thousands of people these days. I am sure some are people who might not pass a strict drug test. They wash them out quickly if they can’t do their arduous job. If they can do the job they don’t really care what they do at home. Do you drug test all of your current employees, randomly?
  4. Don’t be a slave to the company pay scale. Talent is always a valuable commodity. Ask yourself if you are hiring, how much incremental value to the firm could a particular person add to the company. If the person would allow an extra $250,000 in annual revenue and would cost $60,000 it would make sense to hire her, even if the prevailing wage was $50,000. I think we get hung up on cost rather than value. I know there are few secrets at a company and jealousies can be a problem, but so is lost opportunity.
  5. If you are the boss and you realize you made a bad hire, fire the mistake quickly.

Question: What creative hiring ideas do you have?

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