Monthly Archives: August 2018

Swarfcast Ep. 6 – The Mind of an Auctioneer with Robert Levy

By Lloyd Graff

Scroll down to listen to the podcast interview with Robert Levy.

In today’s podcast we interviewed Robert Levy, longtime industrial auctioneer and owner of Robert Levy Associates, a firm that consults with companies looking to monetize their industrial assets.

Robert joined his family auction business, Norman Levy Associates, in 1980 but only had the opportunity to work with his father for three years. He and his brother continued to grow the company until finally selling it to DoveBid (now GoIndustry DoveBid) in 2000 for $30 million. He stayed on the board of directors at DoveBid but then parted ways four years later, dissatisfied with the direction of the company, which many unhappy former Norman Levy Associates employees had already quit.

At the end of the interview Robert said, “I’ve been in the business 40 years and I’ve been in three companies, and I would still like to be in the one I was at originally.” It was an interesting comment, but my bet is that Robert doesn’t regret his life’s journey from stand to stand.

Robert Levy of Robert Levy Associates, Inc.

Sometimes you have to burn down the old to grow and thrive, and if nothing else just survive. Sometimes the clear choice is to sell out to a competitor or private equity firm. Or, you hire someone like Robert to help liquidate your assets that are not giving you what you need anymore. Then go build something new and great.

You still get to keep your fond memories of the past.

Question: Does bidding in an auction excite you or make you crazy?

Share this post

So You Want to Buy a House?

By Lloyd Graff

I heard a National Public Radio piece recently on the shortage of homes on the market. The reporter, Ben Marcus, was reporting from Denver on his local market, which is seeing prices skyrocket. He focused on the rehab boom. Rehabs on bathrooms, kitchens and basements, along with home additions are going nuts in the Mile-High City. The parallel phenomenon is that very few new or used homes are coming on the market despite ferocious demand. A partial explanation Marcus honed in on was the large number of homes bought during the recession which were converted to rentals. The fat and happy owners are now unwilling to sell units because they are making such a sweet return renting them out. If they sold them they would owe capital gains taxes and be faced with a difficult task of replacing their rising investment with a comparable or better one.

*****

I look over my own front yard and see several lovely suburban homes that my neighbors can’t give away. I see well-manicured single-family dwellings mostly built in the 1970s and 1980s—some ranch style, some two story—on 12,000 to 20,000-square-foot lots.

Kitchen renovation

The area is quiet, well policed and modestly taxed by Chicago (Cook County) standards. Average family income is over $100,000. So why is this a housing desert? The easy answer, and everyone knows it, is RACE. The neighborhood is 70% African American and 30% White with a smattering of Asians, Latinos and maybe a stray Inuit or Apache.

In my day job, I am a used machinery dealer who spends his days assessing the values of machine tools, looking for mispriced lathes and mills.

I’m also a huge baseball fan and I love to analyze Major League Baseball trades, looking for the next Justin Verlander deal that locks up a pennant for Houston while leaving Detroit with three very young prospects, a jockstrap and a pair of used socks.

If a house sells for $800,000 in a fairly White suburb 28 miles north or west of downtown Chicago but sells for $200,000 next door to me in the south, when if ever, will the price disparity begin to narrow?

I am an “expert,” I think, in pricing anomalies, but this emotional one defies my reasoning. I do not know the algorithm of race. I have spent many years trying to nail it down in an analytical way, but I cannot get my arms around it.

What I observe in my area is that the older White people are dying or moving to sterile institutions that cater to their needs. The wealthiest ones are moving to downtown Chicago, Florida or Arizona, or where their kids live if they like one another.

Some African Americans from Chicago or other cities do buy into my neighborhood, but lenders may not see the area as particularly attractive for appreciation. Young Whites seemingly are afraid to be pioneers. So, the enormous price differential continues, even in good economic times despite rising home prices all over.

Racial fear, animosity, naiveté and stereotyping are all at play, yet racial intermarriage is on the rise and Barack Obama was a two term President not long ago.

Things are “a changing”? Well, maybe. But when the spread narrows $100,000 between my home and a comparable one in the the North or West Chicago suburbs I will begin to believe it’s happening

Question: Is it stupid to buy a home?

Share this post

Swarfcast Ep. 5 – Esben Østergaard of Universal Robots

By Noah and Lloyd Graff

Scroll down below the blog to listen to the podcast interview with Esben Østergaard.

Today’s Swarfcast is an interview Noah and I recently conducted with Esben Østergaard, founder and chief technology officer of Universal Robots, a Danish firm that sold out in 2015 to automation conglomerate Teradyne for $285 million.

Esben started the company on a shoestring with his partners in 2005. They struggled to build a viable prototype and then luckily found an investor who believed in their idea of a compact, inexpensive robot that was easily programmed by factory floor workers. The robot was intended to be used as a tool for a person, or “cobot.” It was not intended to be used as stand-alone automation like traditional robots developed for giant automotive plants, doing work around the clock on the same job year after year.

Esben got into robots as a child, developing his first crude robot to solve a problem for his father who was working as an engineer building the water system in Seibu City in the Philippines. At the time, his father’s staff was using dogs and piglets to carry cables through the pipes, but the animals proved unreliable and ornery. Esben developed a battery powered robot made from Legos to pull the cables though, which beat chasing dogs around the project.

In the senior year of his Masters Degree studies, Esben and a team of other students developed a robot soccer team which ultimately won a World Championship in the event. Later he studied and worked in Los Angeles and Japan, but eventually returned to the University of Southern Denmark for graduate work and a teaching position.

His passion was to start a company to bring about his vision of a low cost but exceptional robotic arm that would aid people on the factory floor, rather than replace them.

In 2008, with the company starving for the cash needed to develop the distribution and sales to reach the 25 units per month break even point, they found an investor.

Esben Østergaard of Universal Robots

Esben is delighted by the creative ways people are using his cobots, which most people can learn to program in a free 88-minute online course. Universal Robots are giving massages, being used in hospitals for rehab, and landing airplanes as co-pilots. They have even found their way into movies as villains. “You don’t even have to dress them up,” Esben says.

We asked him if he felt that robots would ultimately replace many people in the work force. He said that many companies who have bought Universal Robots actually end up hiring more people because their businesses grow.

Esben said that he sees the definition of “work” constantly evolving. He said that if a person from a hundred years ago saw a modern office she would not be able to identify a single person working. History has shown that people are driven to work, but they must keep adapting and constantly reeducating themselves as technology advances.

Question: Are you afraid a robot will take your job?

Share this post