Category Archives: Current Events

Ep. 109 – Citizen CNC Swiss Lathes with Marc Klecka

By Noah Graff

Today’s show is the first episode of our new season about Swiss-Type CNC machining. Our guest is Marc Klecka, founder and president of Concentric Corporation, a prominent distributor of Citizen-Cincom CNC Swiss lathes in Cleveland, Ohio.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast, or listen with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

 

Main Points

Marc talks about his company, Concentric, which has been distributing Citizen Swiss machines for 31 years and Miyano for 10 years (after Citizen acquired the company). (2:20)

Marc gives his “5-year-old explanation” of Swiss CNC Machining (sliding headstock machining). He says the original technology of “Swiss style machining” was developed in Switzerland over a hundred years ago for producing high precision watch components. He says what differentiates CNC Swiss machining from conventional CNC turning is that a CNC Swiss machine grips the part with a collet and also supports the part with a guide bushing. This eliminates the vibration that normally occurs when machining bar on a a conventional CNC lathe. (3:00)

Marc says a traditional Swiss part has a length to diameter ratio of 3 to 1 or more because that is the point where you start sacrificing the rigidity and accuracy on a conventional CNC lathe. He tells a story about a Citizen customer who produced a 10-foot part out of aluminum tubing. (4:40)

Marc talks about the importance of running ground bar stock on Swiss machines, particularly for running lights-out. However, he says that says in the 31-year history of Concentric, he estimates that only 30% of the material run (in Swiss mode) on the machines he has sold has been ground bar stock. He says it is a misconception that Swiss Style CNC machines are only good for running ground stock. (7:25)

Marc says that during 2020 Concentric’s business did ok, but the pandemic made it more difficult to sell machines because it was harder to have in person contact with customers. (11:00)


Marc says that there are lots of good brands of machine tools on the market, but he sees the support and service of local distributors as something that sets Citizen apart. He says that many years ago Marubeni Citizen made a point of having all of its local distributors become self-sufficient for servicing customers. He says that all the Citizen sales engineers also are applications engineers. He says it is important to have sales people who can get in the trenches with customers to solve their problems. (12:00)

Marc talks about Citizen’s proprietary LFV (low frequency vibration) technology, which is featured in many of the latest models. It enables operators to control the geometry of the chip coming off the machine using the machine’s CNC control. He says this capability is significant for manufacturers who want to do lightly attended or unattended machining. (17:20)

Marc talks about the significance of the medical sector for Citizen machines. He explains thread whirling for making long bone screws. He discusses a bone screw that was made on a Citizen featuring a laser that performed a cut on that part while still inside the machine (see video). (21:45)

Marc talks about diverse markets where he sees Citizens being used. He says during COVID-19 woodworking has become more popular and Citizen machines are making tools used for the art. Also, he says tattoos have become more popular during the pandemic and Citizen machines are making parts that go into the tattoo gun pens. He says demand continues to grow for parts for the electric car markets. (26:00)

Noah asks Marc tell him something he learned the week before. Marc jokes hat he learned it probably was not a great thing to break into the Capital building. He also said that he learned about the new LNS chip conveyors that are being put on some of the newest Citizen machines equipped with LFV technology. (31:00)

Question: Which Swiss machine do you prefer to use and why?

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A Battery of Questions

By Lloyd Graff

Every few months it’s fun to write a piece that asks, “what if most of the smart people are wrong?”

I just read a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal discussing the $50 billion bet Volkswagen has placed on developing an electric car that is better than a Tesla. Should we be surprised that the best German Engineers, who built the diesel that nobody bought (at least in America) and then lied about its numbers, would build an electric car that wouldn’t work? 

VW has now brought in new people, shoved the boss aside except for window dressing, and started over. 

This was all predictable. It takes a crazy lone wolf like Elon Musk to pull off a viable electric car that can sell a half a million vehicles and satisfy a fairly high percentage of them. Musk has shown he can make an Electric, but to me he has not shown that there is a real mass demand for it, at least he did not in the year 2020. 

I do think quite a few Electrics will sell in China because Chairman Xi is going to force them down people’s throats, but excuse me for being heretical, I don’t think most folks care whether a car has a plug or a gas cap, or floats on hydrogen. They want to get from one place to another, safely and comfortably. They either do not care or accept the concept that an electric car, which is really fueled by coal, natural gas, or God forbid a nuclear power plant, will save the planet from the climate change that “smart people” tell them is happening.

Another surprise for you, fewer and fewer people care about cars and driving these days. I suggest you discuss this with your kids and grandchildren who are supposedly aching for these software engineering masterpieces. When I was 16, everybody begged to get a driver’s license on their birthday. Today many young people would rather ride their bikes.

I think Elon Musk already knows this. This is why he is hedging his bets by focusing on his batteries, spaceships, and tunnels to Las Vegas and Austin.

Volkswagen ID.4 Electric Vehicle

He has built a car for people to brag about, and he has become the richest person in the world by doing it, which may enable him to live on Mars until he is 140. Vehicle companies will sell 90 to 100 million things you use for transportation. Musk’s 500,000 electric cars along with what everybody else is producing have a puny 1% of the market. Now Google, Apple, and possibly the Vatican are working on Electrics because everybody knows they are the next big thing. Except, maybe they aren’t. 

I watched a lot of football over the weekend. One insipid car and pickup truck commercial after another was followed by 797 car insurance advertisements. Liberty, Liberty, Liberty, Liberty, Liberty. Please free me from them or I will Progressively lose 15% of my cerebral cortex. 

There is a reason for the proliferation of GEICOs–the reduction in real driving. COVID and Zoom have diminished driving for almost a year. As a result, fewer accidents. State Farm has crushed it. Post-vaccine, people will still be working more remotely. Driving will shrivel. You can finish the story. 

I will place my bet that Earth will survive despite the “Existential Threat” of sweat. 

Enjoy your self-driving electric Volkswagen. I think I’ll walk.

Question: Does a Hybrid car make more sense?

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Ep. 107 – Reshaping the Supply Chain After COVID-19, with Professor Yossi Sheffi

By Noah Graff

Our guest on today’s show is Professor Yossi Sheffi, author of the new book, The New (AB)NORMAL: Reshaping Business and Supply Chain Strategy Beyond Covid-19.

In the interview, Sheffi explains how companies and governments around the world have dealt with the supply chain disruption over the past year’s pandemic. He also gives insight on how people can prepare for the next time the world’s supply chain is turned on its head

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

 

 

Main Points

Yossi defines supply chain as the series of activities that take a product from the raw material stage to a finished product through a series of transportation, shipping, and creation until it finally reaches the consumer. He says the final stop of the supply chain is the responsible disposal of the product after it has been used. (3:15)

Yossi gives his background. He studied civil engineering in Israel and then came to the United States to conduct operational research at MIT, where he studied network theory. Originally he wanted to utilize his education in the urban planning and transportation sector, but he became frustrated because nobody was applying what he thought were brilliant ideas. Eventually he found an opportunity working with trucking companies, using the same mathematical principles he had researched, in the end saving these businesses a lot of money. From there, he branched out into working with the customers of the trucking firms such as manufacturers, retailers, and distributors to optimize their operations. In the process, he started five companies, which he says were all successful and sold out to larger companies. Yossi said he always returned to MIT because he is passionate about teaching and research. (4:35)

Yossi says the secret to being able to do so many projects is to have a very understanding wife. He credits her with keeping their relationship strong and helping him maintain a good relationship with his kids, despite working more or less 24/7. (6:10)

Yossi discusses some of his past books which cover different aspects of the supply chain. In March of 2020, while he was working on a book about new supply chain innovations, the world was struck by the COVID-19 pandemic. He saw this as one of the most significant historical events in the history of the world’s supply chain, so he stopped working on the book he was writing and wrote the New (AB)Normal from March until August of 2020. He says it was essential to get the book out quickly before COVID-19 became tired, old news. (8:30)


Yossi talks about how the US is still slow in fighting COVID-19. He compares vaccination rates in the US to those in Israel. He says Israel plans to have its entire population vaccinated in two and a half months. At the time of this interview (Dec. 2020) Israel was vaccinating upwards of 150,000 people a day, while his home state of Massachusetts was only vaccinating 30,000 people daily. (9:50)

Yossi says one distinct thing about Israel’s approach to the coronavirus is that its government did not hedge its bets of the efficacy of the vaccines. It assumed the two vaccines based on the mRNA from Moderna and Pfizer were effective and ordered them before they were approved by the FDA. Ironically the country was currently in lockdown at the time of the interview, while health professionals were administering the vaccine from 5AM until 10PM (soon to be 24/7). He says the Israeli government even got some of the ultra orthodox authorities on board with administering vaccines on the sabbath by invoking a rabbinical rule that states life is more sacred than anything else. (11:45)

Yossi compares the supply chain challenges for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to those in the automotive supply chain. He says that in some ways distributing the vaccine is easier because no one is concerned about minimizing costs. (14:15)

Yossi discusses the bullwhip effect on the world’s supply chain, which was significantly apparent in 2020. He says when estimates for supply and demand become distorted because of a disrupted supply chain, the solution for manufactures to not overreact in their inventory buying is to listen to the final consumer. Thus, even Tier 2 or Tier 3 automotive suppliers should be monitoring car sales to predict upcoming production demand, rather than only listening to what the Tier 1 companies tell them. (16:05)

Yossi talks about China. He says country’s autocratic measures enabled it to quarantine successfully and get the pandemic under control. He says that early on during the pandemic, the Chinese government asked banks to give significant loans to medium and small sized companies. He says the Chinese government preferred to keep companies running rather than give money to individual citizens, while in the US the government preferred to support individuals rather than protect businesses. He says that European countries also preferred to support companies rather than individual citizens during the pandemic. He adds that it’s unclear which approach was the best choice. (19:50)

Yossi shares what he found the most shocking about how the supply chain malfunctioned during the pandemic. He says medical supplies in the United States were terribly low, leaving many hospital workers unprotected. He says the US used to have a strategic reserve of PPEs and other medical equipment, but it withered away during the Obama administration. In his new book, Yossi gives suggestions on how the United States should prepare for a future pandemic, including rebuilding a strategic inventory. He also says hospitals need to be stress tested for crises events, and a medical personnel reserve, much like the Army Reserves should be created. The medical personnel reserve would be comprised of people trained to do basic care. It would free up nurses and doctors to do more difficult work. (24:45) 

Yossi gives advice to Tier 2 and Tier 3 manufacturers on how to survive a pandemic. He says they need to ensure they are not too leveraged. He also encourages membership in larger manufacturing associations so they have a voice that represents their types of businesses in Washington. (28:45)

Yossi says he is skeptical that significant manufacturing work in China will return to the US or move elsewhere because it is extremely difficult to replicate the extensive supply chain infrastructure that already exists in China. He says some final assembly of products may leave China, but the parts will continue to be made there. He says this is why it is vital to keep the manufacturing and proprietary knowledge that is already in the United States from leaving. (31:50)

Yossi says that one of the most interesting things he has learned about recently is the COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Israel. He says one key difference between the vaccination process in Israel verses in the US is that in the US patients are required to sign legal wavers to protect against lawsuits, while in Israel just getting in line is considered legally signing off on the procedure. This enables much greater efficiency in the vaccination process. (32:55)

Question: What would you have done differently in 2020?

 

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Customers For Sale

By Lloyd Graff

You can’t buy love, so they say. But can you buy a customer? If you can, how do you do it and what does it cost? 

This is a question that I think about from a number of angles. One of my jobs at Graff-Pinkert is to help people buy and sell businesses in the machining field. I don’t use the term broker because I see my role not so much as a matchmaker but more as counselor, an advisor to both buyer and seller as they go through the arduous task of developing and completing a transaction that has a decent chance of surviving and possibly even thriving. 

I often know both parties interested in a deal. This may be because I’ve been around for a while. Also, my life is more of an open book than most folks in the business because of the blog, magazine, and podcast, and because I care about the people involved almost as much as the fee. This is a good thing because in this field the fees are highly elusive.

People and companies want to buy machining businesses to acquire new customers, sometimes in a field that is unknown to them. If the selling company has a long-term, closely entwined relationship with a client, and the person who built that connection is leaving soon upon closing, establishing a new relationship is not easy. Introductions are helpful, but the team that does the crucial work must believe in the new folks who are buying the business. The acquirers need to show the proper respect for the previous ownership and team, while attempting to discover how they might do things differently and better. They have to anticipate that the staff they inherited are not going to be enchanted with them, particularly at the beginning. 

Businesses are often sold because they are old and/or rotting. They have held on to the old customers because of goodwill, inertia, and proximity, but family grievances, age, illness, clients changing ownership, and a myriad of other factors may be hidden by rosie looking cashflow and nice looking machinery and buildings. 

Sellers almost always ask too much for what they are selling. They leave it to the would-be buyer to discover the skeletons hidden under the 6061 aluminum chips. 

This is where the advisor in the deal may have to become a business therapist, telling both parties to get real if they have any chance to finally make a deal. 

You get to a point in a lot of deals where the lawyers have mucked things up to balloon their fees, the accountants have made the numbers hopelessly confusing, neither side trusts the other–usually for good reason–and everybody is tired of one another.

This is when I may actually earn my fee, reminding the seller that they might as well get realistic about what the business is really worth and advising the buyer that every deal has psoriasis, but at least this one has a unique aspect that will make it a winner if they just stick it out a bit longer.

Usually that underlying basic value resides in the customers the buyer will acquire and how they can add their special sauce to make the company even more appealing over time. 

Headphone Maker Beats Acquired by Apple

The therapy occasionally works, and sometimes it’s even true. The smart buyers, who have been through the process many times before, know how hard it is to get to the finish line. They will ignore their cautious lawyers and believe in their own conception of value, knowing that a lot of what they thought was valuable will prove to be a dream. But they will make it work anyway. 

That’s the deal game, whether it’s Apple buying headset maker Beats for $3.2 billion, or Joe’s Machining Team buying Jimmy’s Machining Team to get Jimmy’s customers.

Question: Can you buy a customer?

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2020, Yu Is Gone

By Lloyd Graff

What do I want to write about in the last blog of 2020? Baseball, naturally. 

My Chicago Cubs traded their Most Valuable Player, pitcher Yu Darvish, to the San Diego Padres yesterday for four prospects and a journeyman pitcher. It signaled the end of a six-year streak of playoffs or at least contention, that changed the way the world had always looked at the Cubs as lovable losers. It is likely the stars of the 2016 World Series winning team will be mostly gone soon, perhaps even before the 2021 season begins. 

I know you probably couldn’t care less about the ruminations of a lifelong Cubs fan, but the process the team management is going through is what every business owner and virtually every person with a life must go through at various times. 

A kid matures physically into an adult. He or she is confronted with a fistful of choices. Who are they? Are they questioning and rebellious, or happily passive? Do they learn new stuff easily, or is school work a strange foreign language? Are they possibly even stuck in the wrong person’s body?

Adults often choose a partner at a young age and discover the choice was a bad one a few years later. A business runs into headwinds because the market for their product shifts, like what happened recently in the oil patch. New technology obsoletes their special knowledge, or political pressure destroys their market as we saw with tobacco.

In a few days we sail into 2021. Uncertain waters for sure. The Cubbies acknowledged that the team they have been for half a decade can no longer win. 

The American government will have new management in Washington. A tough year, with everything revolving around a destructive virus, is ending. 

How about you? Are you stuck? Or are you feeling agile and motivated? Do you see an interesting, alluring new path, or are you just happy as a daisy sitting right where you are now?

Cubs star pitcher, Yu Darvish

Personally, I’m quite okay at this moment, although the machinery business was a bummer in 2020. Selling multi-spindle screw machines was a dismal path which we have veered from. Lingering too long in that briar patch left us quite scratched up. Getting rid of the players or product that you have won with for many years is tough, like trading your best pitcher for 18-year-old prospects. But it is exciting too. It gives you hope.

When you know in your bones that the old course is a certain loser, the smart thing to do is to study the options, talk to the scouts–and jump.

Happy New Year.

Question: What will you miss about 2020?

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Best of Swarfblog: Doing Business With Santa Math

By Noah Graff

The Today’s Machining World team are on break for the holidays. Meanwhile, we thought you’d enjoy this blog by Noah Graff from April 2010. We wish you a joyful holiday season, and a safe and happy New Year!

From dreambox.com

I spoke on a panel about the power of social networking and blogs at the Precision Machined Products Association tech conference on Monday. My specific segment was on how best to use videos to promote your business.

The presentation seemed well received by our good sized audience, and at the end we fielded some questions. Someone in charge of marketing at a company attending the conference asked us, “How do I justify to my boss the ROI on having a blog?” We all responded by saying that your ROI from a blog isn’t easily quantifiable, yet that doesn’t mean it can’t be a powerful tool for self-promotion.

Seth Godin’s blog April 27th (2010) summed it up in an astute way. Godin says that ROI from having a Blog or Forum is like “Santa Math.” It’s not a normal investment like paying for a college degree that could lead to a high paying career.

You have to do a blog because you genuinely want to give to a community of people.  Having a great blog or publication takes dedication, care and heart. Those efforts have to be genuine in order to create something that people love and value. This he compares to the way Santa Claus operates. Santa flies everywhere, giving presents and good cheer to people and doesn’t ask anything in return. Doing this he earns trust, friendship and gratitude. Maybe one day he can license his image and make a chunk of change to feed the reindeer and elves. But Santa wouldn’t be the loved icon he is if he was expecting money in return for giving presents to kids and brightening people’s lives.

Question: Does your business have a blog?

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Ep. 106 – The Machining World of 2020, with Noah and Lloyd Graff

By Noah and Lloyd Graff

On today’s show we’re looking back on the year 2020.

Obviously, it was a tough year for the majority of people around the world. Loved ones were taken away, and many businesses couldn’t stay afloat. There were a lot of things that sucked. But there were a few pleasant surprises along the way as well. People adapted, they embraced limitations, and even found new opportunities for success.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

 

 

Main Points

Lloyd says that one of the first things that comes to mind when he thinks of 2020 is his fear of getting COVID-19. He says his brain is constantly occupied by considering all of the safety precautions he has to take. (1:55)

Noah says he is tired of everyone talking about COVID-19 almost as much as he is tired of the actual presence of the virus. (2:30)

Lloyd says one interesting trend he has noticed in 2020 is that despite Tesla’s stock quadrupling and the media’s dire predictions about man made climate change, Americans are buying a lot of SUVs and trucks, rather than electric cars. He says this should be a positive signal for the precision machining industry that the internal combustion engine is going to stay relevant for a while. (3:13)

Noah and Lloyd comment about a weak cam multi-spindle market in 2020 and remark that CNC multi-spindles are too expensive for a lot of endusers. (5:10)

Lloyd talks about how the PPP was a successful governmental program despite the fact that some fraudsters took advantage of it. He says the PPP was essential for medium and small companies when business fell apart in April. He says if it had not been for the PPP small businesses would have been decimated and the supply chain would have been in disarray. However, it was not as successful for various small businesses who didn’t have relationships with good bankers. The big question now is if the PPP money will be taxed. This will affect a lot of businesses, including Graff-Pinkert. (5:30)

Noah says used CNC Swiss machines were a very hot item in 2020.  Lloyd says companies had great years if they were in the firearms business or doing medical work related to fighting COVID-19. However, medical work for applications other than fighting the pandemic was soft because many medical procedures were postponed while hospitals focused on fighting COVID-19. Also the commercial aerospace business was soft because of Boeing’s internal problems and less people flying. (7:30)

Noah and Lloyd remark that despite the CNC Swiss boom, Graff-Pinkert recently bought several cam multi-spindles including an ACME-GRIDLEY 1-1/4” RB-8 and 1-5/8” RBN-8. Lloyd says that it could be a good year in automotive because of a strong demand for SUVs. (11:15)

Lloyd says a surprising trend in 2020 was that the stock market thrived despite the pandemic. Not only are all the major stock indexes at all time highs, profits for major companies are also expected to be at all time highs. However, this does not include the oil companies, who had terrible years. (12:40)

Lloyd says that using Zoom to communicate with family was something significant for him in 2020. He has not seen has not seen his grandchildren in California for a year, but he feels like he has stayed close to them. (13:40)

Noah talks about he and his wife, Stephanie, moving in with his parents for the month of October while their condo was having work done. The ability for Stephanie to do her work via Zoom made it possible. While Noah went to the office at Graff-Pinkert, Lloyd, Risa, and Stephanie all enjoyed sharing a communal workspace at home. (14:30)

Lloyd says he personally knows many people leaving big cities like New York to move near their parents because the ability to work remotely has enabled them to go wherever they want. He says rent prices in New York are decreasing and real estate markets in places like Phoenix, Arizona, or Boise, Idaho, are booming. (16:00)

Noah says one thing he is looking forward to in 2020 is continuing to produce the Swarfcast podcast. He says it is fulfilling to him to provide listeners with helpful knowledge and entertainment. (18:40)

Lloyd and Noah reflect on whether more young people are going into manufacturing. Noah says he meets a lot of young people when selling machines. Still, he is not sure whether the owners of the companies he meets are indicative of the overall workforce in the machining industry. Lloyd ponders why more African Americans don’t go into the machining business. (19:20)

Lloyd says in 2021 he is looking forward to not talking about COVID-19, not fearing the pandemic, and being together with his family again. (21:30)

Noah says he appreciates that the pandemic has influenced he and his wife to spend more time with his brother and nephew because they have less choices of people to see and activities to do. He hopes they continue to do this after the pandemic ends. (22:00)

Noah and Lloyd discuss their favorite TV shows they binge watched in 2020. Lloyd says Outlander was his favorite show. He also liked The Right Stuff and Tehran. Noah also liked Outlander and Tehran, and lately he has gotten into watching The Mandalorian. (24:30)

Noah and Lloyd end the interview saying that one of the best parts of 2020 was getting to work together—usually. (27:30)

Questions: What are you looking forward to in 2021?

What favorite TV shows did you binge watch in 2020?

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Greeks and Turks Fighting COVID-19

By Lloyd Graff

The Aegean Sea is 186 miles wide, separating Greece from Turkey. The countries have a different alphabet and language, and for a thousand years they have hated each other. 

But today’s blog is about two Turkish doctors and a Greek veterinarian who came together to rescue us from COVID-19.

The story starts with Uğur Şahin, whose parents moved to Cologne, Germany, from Turkey to work at the Ford factories in the mid-1960s when Uğur was 4 years old. At a young age, Uğur committed himself to developing a cure for cancer, and became a doctor and scientist. 

His wife, Özlem Türeci, two years younger, also came to Germany as a young child. Her father was a surgeon at a small Catholic Hospital. She wanted to emulate the selflessness of the nuns she had observed in her dad’s hospital and also became a doctor and researcher.

The two dedicated scientists eventually met one another and fell in love. They got married during a lunch break and then rushed back to their medical research.

They were recognized for their impressive research, but like many visionaries they could not find the freedom and support they wanted working for a large pharmaceutical company, so they started their own company in 2001.

They received the backing of twin billionaire brothers, Thomas and Andreas Struengmann, to finance a company called Ganymed Pharmaceuticals. The brothers previously had made a fortune backing the early developer of Lipitor and saw a future in the research of Şahin and Türeci.

The Turkish doctors eventually became enthralled with a line of research developed in the United States at the University of Pennsylvania called messenger RNA, which they saw as a pathway to developing a variety of drugs and possibly leading to a cancer cure based on using the body’s immune system. They started a second company in 2008 called BioNTech, which included messenger RNA in its range of cancer research technologies.

They sold their first company in 2016 to Astellas Pharma to focus on messenger RNA at BioNTech. The Struengmann brothers continued to support BioNTech and now control 47% of the company. The significant fortune that Şahin and Türeci have aquired does not mean much to the couple, who bicycle to work from their modest apartment near their office in Mainz, Germany. To them, the money is primarily a vehicle to fuel their research.

Drs. Özlem Türeci, Uğur Şahin, and Albert Bourla

This is where the Greek connection begins. The research on messenger RNA at BioNTech showed promise for a flu vaccine to Dr. Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, the American drug giant based in New Jersey. Like many huge Pharma companies, Pfizer possessed the pieces that a relatively peanut sized company like BioNTech lacked. Pfizer also had loads of cash and manufacturing plants, including a vaccine facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which was underutilized. Many of Pfizer’s major research efforts had failed to produce a breakthrough drug in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Also its enormous acquisition of Wyeth in 2009 was considered unsuccessful. 

Pfizer’s board was desperate for fresh leadership, with its huge money making drugs having only a few years left before they went generic.

Dr. Bourla, though he had worked at many different divisions in several countries, was something of an outsider. With a background in veterinary medicine, he was brought in to shake up the behemoth Pfizer in 2018. One of his early moves was to establish a relationship with the young startup in Germany, BioNTech, run by the two Turkish doctors.

Albert Bourla grew up in Thessaloniki, Greece. He is the same age as doctors Şahin and Türeci. His ancestors were Sephardic Jews who had emigrated to Greece after being thrown out of Spain 600 years earlier. In World War II 45,000 Jews living there were rounded up and killed by the Nazis from 1941 to 1943.

Dr. Bourla’s family fled to the mountains, joined the partisans, and survived the war. They decided to return home after WWII. Albert Bourla grew up in Thessaloniki and studied veterinary medicine at the city’s university. After college, he joined Pfizer in the field of veterinary medicine and held several positions throughout Europe and in the US, culminating in becoming the head of vaccines for Pfizer.

Bourla still has a summer home near Thessaloniki, where goes back each year to be with the family and friends he left behind. But he did not go back this summer because he was all in with the two Turkish doctors from Germany, with whom he had become close friends. Dr. Şahin says some of his contractual arrangements with Pfizer are still unsigned because he has complete faith in Dr. Bourla to live up to them.

The two Turkish doctors and the Jewish Greek animal doctor had just one abiding goal this year–kill COVID-19 and save millions of lives. The first shots were given in New York City on Monday, where Albert Bourla lives today. We all rejoiced, including Greeks and Turks together.

Question: Will you take the COVID-19 vaccine?

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Ep. 105 – Selling Cow Bone to Medical Manufacturers with Mary and Jim Rickert

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is the first episode of our new season about companies related to medical manufacturing.

Our guests are Jim and Mary Rickert, owners of Prather Ranch in Fall River Mills, California. Prather’s closed herd, in which no female cattle have been introduced since 1975, enables it to sell cow bone and other organic matter to medical manufacturing companies that require material from disease free animals.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

 

 

Main Points

Jim and Mary Rickert talk about the history of Prather Ranch, which has been operated as an agribusiness since the 1860s. They bought the ranch in the ’80s. (3:30) 

Mary and Jim explain that Prather Ranch has a closed herd, which means that no new female cattle have been introduced for a significant period of time. It is a quite large ranch, with 2,600-2,800 cattle. The primary ranch hasn’t had any females introduced since 1975, and Prather’s backup closed herd has not had any female animals introduced since 1992. The animals are constantly tested for illnesses, and if they are infected they are removed from the herd. Also Prather Ranch only uses its own trucks to transport animals between ranges to further prevent infection coming in from the outside. They say their ranch is the truest example of “herd immunity.”   (4:10)

Jim and Mary talk about the Prather Ranch’s primary business, selling organic beef. The ranch even has its own slaughter house, which no other ranches have, to insure the meat undergoes the strictest health standards. (8:40)

Jim and Mary talk about their secondary business. In addition to selling beef to consumers, Prather Ranch supplies companies in the biomedical sector with raw biomaterials that come from its cattle. Biomedical companies want to buy organic materials from Prather Ranch because they can feel secure that the livestock don’t have diseases, such as Mad Cow Disease. (10:00) 

Prather Ranch first started selling organic material from its livestock in 1990 to the Collagen Corporation, which was manufacturing collagen for cosmetic procedures. (11:00)  

Jim and Mary talk about customers that took bone from cow femurs and machined into bone screws, pins, or plates. Then those parts were supposed to dissolve inside the recipient body. People at the time also were using bones from humans, but it was hard to get enough quality bones from dead people. Mary and Jim think that bovine raw materials are generally superior than that of humans because people can know about the animals it is coming from—the animals are in a controlled environment, unlike people. (13:00) 

Jim and Mary say that the bone screws and similar products made from cow bone unfortunately sometimes are rejected by recipients because their bodies recognize they are foreign materials. Human bone can also be rejected. These types of bone transplants are less popular now and have been supplanted by synthetic bones made in a lab. (15:15)

Jim and Mary talk about a startup company currently working on a new technology that overcomes the body rejection, which is in Stage 3 of testing. 

The following is a summary of the technology:

When a person’s bone is crushed, the company machines a slightly smaller replica out of cow bone using a 3-D scanner. Then undifferentiated T-cells are extracted from the patient’s body fat. Then they 3-D print new cells based on the extracted T-cells around the reconstructed bone. Through a series of other complex processes they join the new cells to the reconstructed bones. Afterward, the patient’s body hopefully will accept the new reconstructed bones. (16:50-21:30) 

Jim and Mary talk about other biomedical technology that companies are trying to develop using bovine products to improve the people’s quality of life. Jim and Mary say that it gives them purpose to be able to give animals a healthy comfortable life, produce healthy meat, and contribute to manufacturing products that can help people’s quality of life. They say they have been officially certified since 2003 that their animals are raised in a humane manner. (21:30)

Noah asks a few beef questions. Jim and Mary say that in their opinion male and female beef tastes the same. They say the taste of beef is dependent on how gently the animals are treated—less stress means better flavor. Mary’s favorite cut of beef is Filet Mignon, Jim likes New York Strip, Rib Steak, and some hamburger if it is dry aged with the proper type of added fat. (24:00)

Jim and Mary say they have recently learned about how to handle employees who have contracted Covid-19, as two of theirs just got the virus. (26:30) 

Mary says at restaurants she is hesitant to order beef because she knows too much about the typical beef producing process. Jim says he is a lot less picky. (27:00) 

Question: Carnivorous readers—What is your favorite type of meat or favorite cut of beef?

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Is It Free?

By Noah Graff

I was recently listening to a podcast interview with Robert Cialdini, a professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State and author of best selling books about marketing, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

One of Cialdini’s principles of persuasion is reciprocity, which he says is both hardwired in people and instilled in us by societal norms. He says that when people give to us we have the urge to give back. He quoted a study on the podcast that reported if an owner of a candy shop greets guests with a piece of chocolate they buy 42% more candy than if he gave them a friendly greeting without the free candy.

In Graff-Pinkert’s used machinery business, it’s hard to give customers free samples of machine tools—though it’s not unheard of. It’s more likely to have reciprocity in our business when we work with other dealers. There is an understanding that when one dealer brings you an opportunity to partner on you should try to return the favor down the line.

A few months ago I was talking on the phone to a fellow machinery dealer who in the past I had always enjoyed talking to, but had never done a deal with before. We got on the subject of a book we had both heard about called Dead Wake, which tells the story of the Lusitania sinking. A week later, I received a package from Amazon with the book. He hadn’t told me he was going to send it, he just did. Now I feel like he and I have an interesting bond.

In the case of the book gift, I see it as more than just a gesture to get a reciprocal response. Just because someone sends you a book it’s not a reason to come to them with a machinery deal. But Cialdini has another principle of persuasion—liking. Getting the book made me feel like the guy liked me. Cialdini says that when you feel like someone likes you, you feel comfortable with them and you are more likely to want to do business with them.

I know the guy who gave me the book was not trying to manipulate me. I think he’s just a thoughtful person who probably wants to grow a relationship. What I take from this experience is that if I have even a slight urge to do something nice for someone, no matter who it is, I should stop hesitating and do it.

Question: When have free samples gotten you to buy more stuff?

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