Author Archives: Ridgely Dunn

Book Review: Merchants of Truth

By Jerry Levine

Just as online shopping has transformed U.S. retail sales, the Internet has also remade the newspaper industry, but in a manner less obvious to most people. The old print newspaper business and revenue model has been seriously broken by young upstarts—young both in age and in technology. In Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts, Jill Abramson, a former senior editorial executive at both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, has provided an insider account of an industry fighting for its life. She examines four competitors—the traditional New York Times and Washington Post, and two digital upstarts—BuzzFeed and Vice.

The generational gap among readers of the traditional papers and the upstarts is astounding. The median age of subscribers to the Times or Post is over 60 years old. Whereas, people under 35 get most of their news online. The old system relied heavily on an extensive world-wide staff gathering and reporting stories. The new news organizations like BuzzFeed rely heavily on a small staff gathering online information from various sources, mainly Facebook postings, that then is consolidated, edited, and reposted. What is news is no longer determined top-down by an authority like Walter Cronkite or The New York Times. On the Web, the audience establishes its own priority. The readers become the publishers. Or, more sarcastically, the inmates are running the asylum.

Similar to BuzzFeed, Vice built its business on the back of YouTube. To quote Vice’s founders, Shane Smith and Spike Jonze, “The video site was overflowing with amateur uploads and bootlegged clips. To attract a young audience, stories were told from the street level by people with absolutely no training in news.”

The traditional newspaper model was broken both on the content side as well as the business side, and newspapers were very slow to see it coming. New York Times editors clung to the notion that their new website would merely be a superficial resemblance of their existing print paper. But news and opinion sites like the Huffington Post and Drudge Report were already siphoning off its reporting, digital advertising, and audience.

Other websites were destroying the traditional newspapers’ classified ads, which had accounted for millions of dollars of revenue. Craigslist lured away “for sale” ads, and or grabbed the “help wanted ads.” Travel and auto ads were hammered by Expedia and Autotrader. Local ad revenue also declined as local department stores and businesses closed, due to online shopping. The Washington Post was especially hard hit because classified ads made up 40% of its revenue. Additionally, local papers supported by The New York Times and The Washington Post have been either gutted or closed, depriving many rural and suburban readers of local information, like high school sports.

As profits declined, both papers began extensive cost cutting. The stock price for The Washington Post fell from about $1000/share to under $400/share. It needed a huge cash infusion to avoid going bankrupt. The Graham family proposed selling to Amazon founder and Chairman, Jeff Bezos, based on his Internet expertise. Bezos had three essential questions: 1) Was the Post still an important institution? 2) Could he be optimistic about its future? And 3) Did he have the technical knowledge to reverse the paper’s downward spiral?

He finally concluded yes to all three. Katherine Graham came back with a $250 million proposal and Bezos accepted. Fortunately for Bezos, shortly after the purchase the paper broke the Snowden/NSA story. This gave a short-term boost in readership, but also answered the first of Bezos’s questions: the paper was still relevant.

The Times was also hemorrhaging money, and needed a White Knight. Carlos Slim, the richest man in Mexico, came forward with a $200 million loan at 14% interest and the right to buy 16 million shares (about 17% of the company) at $6.36/ share. (As of this writing, NYT stock is selling for about $32/share and are servicing the loan. Slim made quite a good deal.)

In the near term, both The Washington Post and The New York Times seem to have survived the ferocious waters of the digital revolution. Before Trump, but especially after Trump, both papers moved further to the left in both their editorial positions and their news reporting. They are regularly attacked by the President as “failing” purveyors of “fake news,” with minimal impact on their readership. They have revised their websites to include more news updates and videos. They are still relevant, but need to explore additional revenue streams to maintain financial stability. Most important they need to worry about their aging demographic.

Question: Where do you get your news from?

Jerry Levine is a former chemical engineer, political expert, and frequent contributor to the Today’s Machining World website. Check out our interview with Jerry on Swarfcast Episode 18: Jerry Levine on Why Global Warming is Not a Problem.


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Ep. 33 – Aneesa Muthana, the Success of a Woman in the Machining Business

By Noah and Lloyd Graff

On today’s podcast, we interviewed Aneesa Muthana, owner of Pioneer Service Inc., a CNC machine shop that features 26 Star CNC Swiss lathes. Aneesa shared her fond memories of being raised on the floor of a centerless grinding shop, M&M Quality Grinding, founded by her Yemeni immigrant parents. While other girls were playing with Barbie dolls, Aneesa relished learning to use micrometers and cleaning out oil tanks from Cincinnati centerless grinders. At 23 she left M&M, where she had once thought she would stay forever, and bought into Pioneer Service Inc. a Brown & Sharpe shop owned by her uncle.

Aneesa shared her views on a number of topics, including how women are treated in the machining industry, her preference to work with Star CNC Swiss lathes over Samsung and Brown & Sharpe machines, and the significance of the hijab she wears.

Question: Is being a woman in the machining industry an advantage or disadvantage?

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Guilty Parts?

For many years, I have wavered between being judgmental or agnostic about who I do business with. I felt twinges of discomfort twice this past week.

I had a request for a quote on a Wickman multi-spindle screw machine from a customer who, among many other products, makes accessories for AR-15 semi-automatic weapons. He told me business is robust and they have tripled in size in recent years. He could buy a Wickman multi from someone else (it won’t be as good), but it is in my economic interest to sell him one if he will pay my price and meet my terms.

I felt chills down my spine last Friday when the news hit about the massacre at the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. As in most terrorist attacks such as Parkland and Tree of Life, the perpetrator used an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon.

Would I be a guilty link in the supply chain if I sold a spare part for a screw machine that could have made a component for an AR-15 that had a remote possibility of being used in a terrorist attack? Is it my obligation to give a sniff test to every email inquiry for a machine or screw or bushing? If the inquiry is from Turkey, do I have to check if they support Erdogan or Assad in Syria?

What about Purdue Pharma, and the fabulously rich and highly philanthropic family that controls it, the Sacklers of Connecticut.

Purdue makes OxyContin, fentanyl, codeine, and a line of ADHD drugs. OxyContin is the most prescribed pain controlling drug in America. It has made the lives of millions and millions of people more tolerable during chemotherapy and after surgery.  For most users it is a marvelous drug, but for a significant minority of people who become addicted to it, OxyContin can be an agent of hell.

Purdue Pharma is under constant scrutiny. Its officers have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines, and some have served a small amount of jail time. But the company keeps on making OxyContin, doctors keep prescribing it every day to patients who desperately need its pain reducing power, while the Sacklers get richer and keep giving away millions.

If you run an art museum, a seminary, or a hospital, do you tell the Sackler Foundation you do not want their OxyContin tainted money? Do you tell the doctors not to prescribe it when patients are in bone throbbing pain? If you make parts for the pharma production line that produces OxyContin in Wilson, North Carolina, do you opt out of the supply line and allow an Indian supplier to step in?

I am not a total agnostic on these issues. I am willing to sell a screw or bushing to the company that makes AR-15 accessories, yet I want to know what a Wickman screw machine is supposed to make before I sell one to an inquiring company. Hunting supplies are okay with me, and ammunition for the Army and target shooting is fine. AR-15 bump stocks are not okay for me.

Am I a hypocrite if a sling for an AR-15 is okay, but a bump stock is not. Am I so far down the supply chain that my screw and bushing are inconsequential? In business, we make these kinds of decisions every day.

How do you deal with such questions, or do you just ignore them? If you ran a charity, would you take the Sackler’s OxyContin money to do good works?

Question: Would you produce parts that go in AR-15s?






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Ep. 32 – Work Less and Do More, with Ari Meisel

By Noah Graff

Like many people, I get overwhelmed at work. Sometimes I don’t get the work done I want to do, so I stay at the office an hour or two extra. By the time I get home I feel like I don’t have enough free time for relaxation and other activities.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast with Ari Meisel.

I have been repeatedly listening to a book called The Art of Less Doing, by Ari Meisel, today’s podcast interviewee, which has had a real positive effect on my life. Meisel, who calls himself an “overwhemologist,” has a mission to cure the inefficiencies of folks like me so we can have more success professionally and have a lot more free time. He preaches that the secret to having the time to run a successful business and having free time to relax is to become “replaceable” through automation and outsourcing. He says that if a business cannot be run without you then you don’t own a business, you have the privilege of owning your own job.

In the book and with his coaching firm, Less Doing, Meisel provides resources for people to automate processes and then outsource tasks when necessary by using a virtual assistant. He says the ideal is to automate a task before giving it to another human being to accomplish. Some automation methods can be simple, such as creating automatic bill payments, having supplies automatically queued to be sent at the same time once a month, or having email automatically sorted between junk and important contacts.

Ari Meisel on Replacing YourselfMeisel also believes in the merits of a virtual assistant. This was something I had not really considered before and felt a little embarrassed to try, but several months ago Graff-Pinkert hired a man in Albania to work for $10 per hour. He looks online for new contacts to add to our database and he advertises our machines on the Web. In addition to speaking Albanian he speaks English, Swedish, and Turkish, which may come in handy for Turkish customers in the near future. This has freed me up to talk to customers and focus on more complicated tasks. I admit that he sometimes does a more complete job than I would on certain tasks because my attention would have been diverted. Meisel says that the brain is not designed to multi-task, so this result makes sense.

In addition to automation and outsourcing advice, Meisel prescribes a scientific approach to working efficiently based on brain research. He says it is important to find one’s personal peak time to work, which can vary significantly among people. Mine seems to be from about 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. He also believes that setting time limits makes a huge impact on productivity. Studies show that people often make work take the exact amount of time they are allotted, which is why many people, such as myself, work the most efficiently right before a deadline. Data also shows that the brain often works better in sprints, so rather than trudge through a to-do list, only stopping when one task is finished, it is best to work in 25 minute increments, taking five minute breaks in-between.

The idea of working less hours and becoming replaceable can be difficult for people to swallow because doing more work makes us feel valuable in our workplaces and society, but Meisel teaches that once you learn to do less, you can accomplish so much more.


What tasks do you wish you could do more efficiently?

Are you replaceable at work?

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A Shop Doc Question

Dear Lloyd – I read all of the issues of Today’s Machining World and really enjoy the insight and information. I’m a 62 year old journeyman tool and die maker who morphed into a scientific instrument maker, designer, manager over the last forty years.

In my current position, I am running a CNC department for a 100 year old family business. I’m helping the fourth generation to go another 100 years. The company started as a tool and die shop, moved into manufacturing (almost a captive shop for Western Electric Hawthorne Works), stamping, forming, laser, waterjet, and is now working in CNC machining. We do mostly small lot aerospace work. Right now, I am saddled with a problem I have never encountered.

Question: We need to put a #2 Philips feature on a custom screw on about 300 screws. I don’t think that cold heading is an option due to the material and tolerances. Other than sinker EDM, I don’t know how to make the feature. Do you have any ideas? Any thoughts would be appreciated.

We want to bring back the Shop Doc feature as a frequent part of Swarfblog. Please write us if you have a thorny job you could use help with.

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Plumbing Brass is Sweet

In the machining world, plumbing products are a sweet spot again because even though new home sales are drifting, the rehab/refurb market is thriving. Faucets are fun again. Hot tubs are hot. India is big in plumbing brass, but a lot of its product goes to Asia, Africa, and South America. If you want quality at an affordable price, you buy American.

For me, this brings up many memories of Price Pfister. They used to make a million faucets in Los Angeles and had a name for quality in California. That was until they shut down all of the American production of brass goods and moved production to Mexico and China.

Pfister is now part of Spectrum Brands, based in Madison, Wisconsin, which owns Rayovac batteries, plus several pet care companies including Dingo and Lazy Pet, and makes insect repellent. Last year, Spectrum merged with another holding company called Harbinger, out of Rochester, New York. The Price Pfister that Izzy Familian ran successfully for so many years in LA is now a little piece of the Home Depot and Walmart supply chain.

Price Pfister’s real estate in LA would be worth a fortune today. The New Britain screw machines they ran hard have fanned out over the country or were scrapped. Could Price Pfister have survived in the US? Maybe if they’d moved to Nevada and invested in their people and equipment, but holding companies have no interest in people or continuity. Manufacturing is fungible. If Mexico isn’t working, move it to Shanghai. If Shanghai is a problem, Chennai in India is welcoming. Personally I think with commitment to quality and innovation, Price Pfister could have made it in America.

Question: Could Price Pfister have made it in America?

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Ep. 30 – Developing a Machining Culture with Victor and Betty DaCruz

By Noah and Lloyd Graff

On today’s podcast, we interviewed Victor and Betty DaCruz, owners of DaCruz Manufacturing in Bristol, Connecticut. Victor and Betty have transformed their company over the last three decades from a multi-spindle screw machine shop with ACMEs and New Britains into a high-tech CNC turning operation. While other companies complain about not being able to find quality employees, DaCruz has created a culture that attracts high level young people to work at the company.

Scroll down to listen to this week’s podcast.

Question: Is it a good idea for a husband and wife to work together?

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Michelle and I on Euclid Avenue

I’ve been listening to Michelle Obama’s wonderful autobiography, Becoming, with rapt attention. She is a brilliant writer and a terrific storyteller. What makes the book especially fascinating for me is her references to her birthplace and longtime home at 74th and Euclid in Chicago, 7 short blocks from my home growing up at 67th and Euclid. I’m 19 years older than Michelle, but we share similar memories of growing up on the South Side of Chicago. Yet many of our memories are quite different because of race, ethnicity, and the times.

Michelle Robinson came from a lower middle-class family, but they were rich with togetherness and their parents’ commitment to upward mobility for the two children. Michelle’s dad, Fraser, worked for the Chicago Water Department, checking filtration meters constantly at the enormous Navy Pier facility. It was a safe union job with the city. Fraser was also a Precinct Captain in his neighborhood, making sure everybody voted for Richard Daley and the Democratic machine.

Michelle’s mother, Marian, was a mostly stay-at-home mom who was home at lunch to make sandwiches for Michelle and her friends, and an emotional rock for the whole family, both then and now. She also lived in the White House during Barack’s time in the Oval Office, making sure the Obama daughters had all the love and guidance Michelle and her brother Craig had.

Michelle Obama's Childhood home in Chicago.Seven blocks away from the Robinsons, my mom stayed home to watch over me, my sister, and brother, making all of our meals and lending constant support. Like the Robinsons, who went to all of Craig’s basketball games (he played Division 1 in college), my parents always went to my basketball and baseball games. Several years earlier, I played baseball in the gravel schoolyard at Bryn Mawr Elementary, which Michelle attended, before I went to Hebrew school, three days a week. During the summer, I played Little League and Pony League at Rosenbloom Park, which bordered the Robinson house.

Despite our proximity and similar interests and outlooks, our childhoods did differ. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago Michelle and Craig Robinson constantly dealt with racism, not the overt type that kids encountered where my wife Risa grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, but a type of debilitating racism stemming from diminished opportunities, low expectations, and schools with low-achieving classmates.

I went to an elementary school two decades earlier that had similarities to Bryn Mawr. There were black kids in my class, but the school’s Irish teachers treated white kids, who made up about 2/3 of the class, with respect and had high expectations for our success. The black kids, with a few exceptions, were treated as second-class. The 48 kids in our class were segregated by test scores, which dictated which row of eight we sat in. I was conscious of the unfairness and unkindness inherent in the seating arrangement, but the idea of complaining about it was not in my vocabulary at the age of 10 or 11.

Michelle Robinson graduated from Bryn Mawr and attended Whitney Young High School, a racially diverse, elite magnet public school attended by many of Chicago’s most affluent African Americans. This was the alternative to attending South Shore High, which was 98% black but a couple of blocks from her home. Whitney Young was an hour and a half bus ride on two Chicago buses for her, and the kids paid their own bus fare.

I would have gone to Hyde Park High School, which was also 98% black, but I got into the prestigious University of Chicago Laboratory School, a private school a few miles away, though I usually received a ride from my mom or dad in the morning. My classmates were an amalgam of kids from U of C parents, Jewish kids from the South Side, and commuters from around the city. About 20% were black.

Michelle writes vividly about friends she had growing up, especially one of the daughters of Jesse Jackson, who lived in a beautiful stone house a few blocks from me, although I did not know it at the time.

Michelle graduated from Whitney Young high school and went on to Princeton in 1981, as had her brother Craig, two years earlier. After Princeton, she earned a degree from Harvard Law School and a position at probably the most prestigious law firm in Chicago, Sidley Austin LLP. Nineteen years earlier, I attended the University of Michigan, then joined the Illinois National Guard, and later started peddling screw machines in an office on the South Side of Chicago in 1969.

Michelle eventually made it to the White House with Barack, whom she helped recruit for an internship at Sidley Austin. But both of us will always share Euclid Ave.

Question: Do you ever go back to where you grew up? How does it feel?

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Ep. 29 – Mark Fordyce, Hydromat Maestro

By Noah & Lloyd Graff

On today’s podcast, we interviewed Mark Fordyce, Team Leader of the Hydromat Parts & Rebuild department at Component Bar Products in St. Louis.

Mark is a Hydromat Maestro. He has been working with rotary transfer machines for over 40 years, first as a self-taught setup man in a job shop, followed by working in the engineering department at Hydromat Inc., and then at Component Bar. He is one of the first people Graff-Pinkert calls when we have a question about a Hydromat, and often the machine we are asking for help on was actually originally set up by him.

In the interview, Mark talks about the beauty of the Hydromat machining process and also where he sees the role of Hydromats in the manufacturing industry going forward.

Question: Is it a better business producing high volumes or low volumes of precision parts?

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Ceiling of Complexity

I took a quarterly seminar many years ago taught by Dan Sullivan. It was aimed at entrepreneurs and focused on how you could grow your business and enhance your life through planning and simplification. One of Dan’s catchphrases that I go back to frequently was, “reaching your ceiling of complexity.” As I entered the library this morning to write this piece, that line struck me between the eyes.

I realized that I was bumping my head against that “ceiling” that felt five feet high at that moment. I had attempted to write this blog three times in three days and hit a blank each time, something that rarely happens to me. My head was definitely bruised from bopping into that low ceiling. Why now?

A few days ago, Noah and I attended the Precision Machined Products Association annual Management Update Conference. There were more than 150 people at the event, many of whom I had known for decades. A lot of younger people attended too, which is a sign of vigor and optimism in the industry. The focus of the meeting was on change and the ability to build a foundation of relationships and culture which would enable a business to weather the inevitable ups and downs of being in the game.

Lloyd experiences deep thoughts on buying and selling machining businesses.

Underlying the topics was the tough reality of people nearing what they deem to be “retirement age” struggling to exit the industry and businesses they have loved and prospered in all their lives. How do they exit gracefully with the gains they have made? To whom do they sell the businesses or pass them on? Quite a few people are now asking me to help them in this process, and the emotional investment for families in the center of these decisions is heavier than I expected.

I’m not playing with the private-equity boys who are all about the numbers. The EBITDA, accounts receivable, and the viability of the customers is their only focus. It simplifies the game for them. For me, it is the people, their life’s work, more than just the money that is the magnet, and that’s what makes everything so damn complicated.

Selling a business is a quantum leap more complicated than selling a Wickman or a Nakamura. More emotions, more family input, more tugs and eventually hugs. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it has. Knowing the buyer and seller by their first names is a blessing and a curse. The beauty of selling machining businesses is that I’m invited into people’s lives in a profound way. It gives me a purpose akin to the purpose of writing a blog aimed at the people in this industry.

The deals I’ve been working on are much more complex than selling one machine or buying a package of machines. When somebody is buying a business to gain access to contractual relationships and may encounter erratic income streams, the deal is constantly in flux. The broker becomes an interpreter of facts and feelings on both sides of the transaction and sometimes has to soften the emotions on both sides to keep things on track. My ceiling for complexity rises and falls with the vibes of each deal. I find the process exciting and exhausting at times. I think I’m getting better at it, but occasionally the ceiling is a little bit tight.

Question: How do you simplify your life?

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