Category Archives: Current Events

Under the Tarp

By Lloyd Graff

Homeless people spook me. I hate it when somebody wearing a sign proclaiming their homelessness, holding a cup and looking forlorn, shoves the cup toward me begging for coins. Yet their plight, if they really are homeless, is a terrible thing.

It struck me hard recently when Noah and I were driving to a business conference in the city concerning hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of unsold screw machines.  We drove by a tiny makeshift shelter covered by a couple of blue tarps next to an apartment building which appeared empty and possibly being prepared for demolition in an area in the process of “gentrification” in Chicago.

It was a raw day in November ahead of Thanksgiving.   I saw nobody around it.  The blowing tarps were a more hurtful reminder of the misery of life on the street without a roof to call your own.

It brought to mind a story my friend Jerry Levine had told me at one of our weekly Saturday breakfast idea fests recently.  Jerry had volunteered to help kids at a Chicago high school several years ago.  One of the kids who was a star student had a problem giving an address of his residence.  The reason was that he was sleeping in a dumpster.  We have a dumpster at Graff-Pinkert.  Occasionally I haul a plastic bag of office garbage out to the dumpster.  Every time I look inside I think of that poor kid climbing inside and probably covering up and trying to keep warm with a blue tarp he hid away.

By the way, Jerry said the kid ended up getting a full scholarship to a prestigious college, somehow.

Chicago homeless sleeping under tarps

For many years I volunteered at a local homeless shelter.  It rotated among various churches and synagogues in the neighborhood I lived in.  I came in at 5:15 a.m. and helped clean and put the mats away the shelter people slept on, gave out toothpaste and Band-Aids, and cleaned up after breakfast was served.  It was a good education for me, that homeless guys (there were only guys at this shelter) were mostly just human beings who were at a down part of their lives.  Some had jobs (fast food joints, car washes, guards), but usually the jobs didn’t last long enough to enable them to get an apartment that required deposits and credit checks.  Many had drug and drinking problems.  A lot of them hung around the local White Castle or McDonald’s till they were urged to move along.  A few had cars; some of the younger guys rode bikes. I once hired one of the friendlier men, but he did not last long because of a chronic drinking issue.

The rotating homeless shelter no longer exists at the local synagogue.  My friend Jerry Levine and other local people somehow managed a minor miracle.  They found a mayor in the area who, rather than avoid a permanent shelter in his town, embraced the idea.  He claimed his mother on her deathbed told him to do it.  There was an unloved piece of real estate that the mayor obtained for granting zoning privileges to a developer who wanted to build a shopping center in the village.  The three-acre piece was far enough away from neighbors that nobody yelled much.  Jerry and friends with government connections got every grant the government had on the books and built a $18-million multi-story building for homeless people with good credentials to get nice temporary apartments.

Someday I hope the poor people under the blue tarps in Chicago or kids like the one living in the dumpster find their way out to that beautiful haven in Country Club Hills, Illinois, within walking distance of my office.

Question: Do you prefer to give money to people on the street or to an organized charity?

 

 

 

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I’ll Take What I Can Get

By Lloyd Graff

Lisa Goldman is living with a Stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis. She writes a blog called Every Breath I Take, aimed at people like herself.

In her latest piece she talks about surpassing five years on her medication, which she says has a “median effective time of 18 months.” She says she knows of less then six people in the world with her diagnosis who have been on her medication that long or longer. She writes, “It is oddly isolating, way, way, out here on this ever-narrowing branch with this ever-dwindling number of fellow-travelers. My doctors keep telling me the branch will break at some point, and the longer I’m here, the closer I am to that breaking point, prompting the doctors to be more and more vigilant with me, rather than less.”

Lisa Goldman knows she’s not cured, yet she writes, “The truth is, it is hard not to get a little comfortable out on this narrow limb. As I drift ever closer to a likely recurrence, I also log more and more days, weeks and months and years without one, strengthening my ability to paradoxically feel positive and hopeful for a miracle. I’m not naive, but I have tracked myself into an unlikely optimism. I’m locked in a positivity paradox. And, frankly? Like my husband often says: I’ll take what I can get.”

Me too. I’ll take it.

Happy Thanksgiving. It’s a great gift to be able to feel good and celebrate in America.

Question: What is one thing that makes you happy to be alive?

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The Greenland Story

By Lloyd Graff

What do you do when you go for a brief vacation to the Bay Area to visit family?

Naturally, you study up on the history of Greenland.

Greenland is getting some interest these days.  Donald Trump, still a real estate developer at heart, recently tossed out the idea that the United States should buy it from Denmark.  Of course, the Danes put a kibosh on the deal, which may mean negotiations have begun.

A recent scholarly article published by Northwestern University geologists has proven that Erik the Red, the Viking who fled Iceland after a murder and conviction in 985, colonized a much more temperate Greenland than was previously thought.  It was in the 50° range many months of the year, making it a good place to raise animals, fish, and harvest ivory.  About 350 to 400 years later a “little ice age” seemed to discourage many Greenlanders, and they left.

In the last few years, old Norse settlements have been discovered as the climate appears to be becoming more temperate, and real estate developer types are finding renewed interest.

Why this is so interesting today and so disturbing to me in the heart of Silicon Valley, with one of the most benign climates in the world?

It seems like so many folks here are paranoid about “the existential threat of climate change.”  Living in the Midwest, climate change is generally a footnote to most political and economic discussions.  Even most of the Democratic politicians running for the Presidency in 2020 do not make it a major emphasis, probably because their polling data indicates it does not move the needle in the crucial early primary states.

But in California, among the intelligentsia of Silicon Valley and malleable young people who hear the voice of doom about the planet burning up in their lifetime which is expounded almost every day in school and their media, it is a real fear. They do not know that Greenland was mild 1,000 years ago, then got very cold, and now is getting more tolerable again.  They don’t know what they don’t know.

I do believe the climate on Earth is getting slightly warmer now, but it does not worry me.  People are very smart, and a capitalist economy will adapt very quickly and make it into a net positive.

What does worry me is that kids are being indoctrinated in school and by Facebook and TV on the huge danger they face, and, ultimately, bad public policy decisions will be made that seriously undermine our prosperity.

If one bought into conspiracy theories, the manipulative tentacles of Vladimir Putin and Russia could be seen all over “the existential threat of climate change.”

Putin did not invent “climate change,” but long ago he came to the conclusion that Russia’s economy was backward and almost totally dependent on oil and gas for hard currency.  Nobody wants a Russian dishwasher or car or machine tool.  If you are Putin, and his new buddies the Saudis, you desperately want American oil fracking to end and the 6 million barrels a day it produces to go away.  If he can shrewdly manipulate American public opinion to embrace the climate change disaster theory and boost the “kill dirty fracking” line he wins the game, and we have $80-$100 per barrel oil again.

Theories about the weather go hot and cold.  Check out the Greenland story.

Question: Do you believe climate change is mainly caused by people?

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Not About Money

By Lloyd Graff

Let’s start with a discussion of two labor strikes that affect my life.

The General Motors strike that may be in its final stages is less about money than it is about control. GM and the UAW seemingly agreed on the basic pay issues before the strike even started.  What GM President Mary Barra and the GM Board were really concerned about was the ability to make key decisions such as closing a factory or moving work to Mexico without the UAW having veto power.  Indication of that is workers at the Spring Hill, Tennessee, plant voting against the settlement because they see it as an opportunity for GM to continue to use a significant number of temporary workers to staff the factory. GM is offering $60,000 buyouts to older workers.  The strategy of GM is to hire younger, cheaper employees.  To younger factory workers it appears the union is selling them out.  There appears to be a power struggle between younger and older workers for control of the UAW.

GM employees and Chicago school teachers have something in common

Another factor involved in the GM approach is the comparative financial weakness of Ford and Fiat Chrysler.  The UAW has little power in most foreign builders’ plants but still has a strong grip on Ford and FAC workers.  The GM-UAW settlement will be very difficult for these companies to accept in a weakening vehicle market requiring potentially massive changeover costs to electric vehicles.

*   *    *    *    *

The Chicago Teachers Union strike is also about power and control, not so much about wages.

Chicago has a new mayor, Lori Lightfoot.  She is an unusual political newcomer to Chicago.  She is an African-American lawyer and Yale graduate from Massillon, Ohio, with no ties to the Democratic machine which has run Chicago for 60 years.  She trounced the machine candidate Toni Preckwinkle 3 to 1, winning every single ward in the city.  Preckwinkle was backed by the Teachers Union and other city unions, and the strike is their attempt at revenge.  If the union “wins” it will strangle the city, which is already in desperate financial shape, by forcing more borrowing at 10% or more and essentially bankrupting Chicago.  Preckwinkle and the Union apparently think they can pick up the pieces of a failed Lightfoot tenure.  Meanwhile, the kids are out of school, the schools are half empty when in session because many are in poor repute, and wages and benefits are already among the highest in the country.

*  *   *   *   *

The World Series and the NBA season both start tonight (when I’m writing this).

Houston and Washington in Major League Baseball are shockingly similar teams.  Both have two potential Hall of Fame starters and excellent third starters who played for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.  In Alex Bregman and Anthony Rendon at third base, respectively, they have likely MVPs at the hot corner.  Both have outstanding outfields, decent bullpens, and good defensive catchers.  The one clear edge goes to Houston where Jose Altuve plays for the Astros.  The 5’6” Altuve is the most charismatic player in baseball and perhaps the best all-around star in the game.

The NBA is hard to figure in October with 82 games and the playoffs lasting into June.  LeBron is with the Lakers, and Anthony Davis joins him.  Kawhi Leonard has moved to the LA Clippers to team with an overrated Paul George who is already injured.

The Golden State Warriors still possess Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, but Thompson is recovering from a torn ACL.  Kevin Durant is gone so Steph needs to score 46 points a game.

In the East the Boston Celtics will probably be better without the selfish Kyrie Irving.  Milwaukee has the unpronounceable “Greek Freak,” and Philly boasts the brute, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons who can’t shoot at all.

And finally, Houston still has James Harden and his step-back jumper that nobody else can do nearly as well as he can.

The NBA will be fun again in April.

Question: Is salary the first thing you look at when considering a job offer?

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Talking to Strangers

By Noah Graff

Not long ago our company made a deal to purchase a significant amount of machinery outside the United States. The deal seemed like a great opportunity, but we thought the sensible thing would be to visit the seller before making any purchase because he was someone who we had never met before.

I traveled a long way to meet him, and we spent several days together looking at machines. He brought his wife along with him for the whole trip. We had dinners together during which they told me about their children. His wife repeatedly acted like a concerned mother when she noticed my runny nose. They seemed like decent people, and they gave us a good price so we made a significant deposit on some machines. In the end, things did not go as planned. The company attempted to pocket the deposit and did not send any machines.

We felt dumb. We asked ourselves, how could we not have realized we were being conned?

I recently finished listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Talking to Strangers, which sheds some light on our experience. The thesis of Talking to Strangers is that the majority of people are incapable of judging the true character of others based solely on “getting to know” them. The book contains many powerful examples of people who seemed genuine but then turned out to be liars, along with other examples of people who seemed suspicious but turned out to be innocent.

Talking to Strangers - What We Should Know About The People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell.Early in the book, Gladwell tells a story about multiple double agents in the CIA who spied for Cuba for many years before being uncovered. The agents who were supposed to be spying on Cuba were in actuality spies for Cuba! U.S. Intelligence agents who were supposed to have been “experts” on judging the honesty of other people were made to look like complete fools.

Gladwell discusses another example of flawed human character assessment in a passage about judges in New York whose job is to choose which suspects should be released on bail and who is too risky to let out of custody. Several elite computer scientists, a Harvard economist and a bail expert from the University of Chicago created a computer program to research the ability of the judges for discerning which suspects should be released. From 2008 to 2013 550,000 defendants were brought for arraignment to the group of New York judges, and the judges released just over 400,000.

The researchers built an artificial intelligence system and fed it the same information that had been given the judges in the 550,000 arraignment cases, mainly the defendant’s age and criminal record. The artificial intelligence system chose its own 400,000 defendants to be released over that time period to see which 400,000 releasees committed the fewest crimes on bail and made their trial date. The 400,000 released by the computer were 25% less likely to commit a crime than those chosen by the judges. The computer program only had the defendant’s age and rap sheet to make its judgment, while the judges also got to hear the arguments from the lawyers and look the defendants in the eye.

Gladwell also writes about Neville Chamberlain misjudging Hitler after meeting him several times. He writes about the people who misjudged Bernie Madoff and sex offenders such as Jerry Sandusky and Larry Nassar.

Gladwell says that the usual inclination of people is to “default to truth.” People want to trust other people because that trust is what makes society function. If the default opinion of a youth sports team coach is that they are a pedophile nobody would let their child play on a team, and nobody would take a job as a coach.

If my default opinion of every person selling machines is they are trying to cheat me, I will never be able to make any deals. Business must go on, and life goes on because I know most people are relatively honest. Going forward I will try to keep my guard up, and I won’t put as much stock into looking people in the eye.

Questions:

Do you trust most people you do business with?

Have you ever been conned?

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Baseball Hug

By Lloyd Graff

By the end of the phone conversation, we were both in tears. My daughter, Sarah, and I were lamenting the collapse of the Chicago Cubs again this year, right after they had blown their fifth game in a row in the last inning. It wasn’t the pain of the loss that caused the tears 2,000 miles apart during our cell phone hug. It was the raw emotion of the moment shared that epitomized thousands of moments of exultation and despair over a team that we both love.

This is the time of year Sarah and I talk sermons and baseball. She is a rabbi in the Bay Area, and her congregants know that somehow she will make a Cubs reference in her most listened to sermon of the year on Yom Kippur. For me, it is a treasured opportunity to reconnect with my first-born child, who I love deeply and respect so much.

How many of those ineffable shared moments do you get in a lifetime, when you both realize that there is just a finite number of those precious times left and you’d better grab and squeeze it like it’s a long fly ball that you have to leap for at the ivy in Wrigley Field and hold on to as you hit the bricks?

Sarah doesn’t know every batting average or the meaning of all of Javy Baez’s tattoos, or the kinds of cancers Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo beat early in their Major League careers, like I do. But she has the love, the passion, and the hurting of a true fan.

Sarah’s husband, Scott, who I often text with during games, shares the whole Cubs thing with me, too. When Scott got back home last Sunday after attending a high school reunion in the suburbs of Chicago over the weekend, one of the first things he did was call me to commiserate over the implosion of our beloved Cubs to the hated Cardinals.

I love Scott as a person, as a husband for Sarah, and a wonderful father,  but as lifelong bleeding Cubbie blue fans, we have something very special that few in-laws have—that sharing of moments, the jumping for joy feeling that makes up for those terrible emotions of watching a walk-off homer for the opposition in the ninth inning.

When I read the morning sports page, I often wonder why I spend so much time on the Cubs. Why do I still feel like Ernie Banks is my first cousin? Why do I still think of the Chicago Cubs when I bring up the memory of my mother, Thais Graff?

It’s the moments. It’s the moments that turn memory into feeling tears. You don’t know when they will come, but when you experience them, picture them, place them in the frame of your life, they bring a special joy that punctuates the everyday hurly burly.

This season has been a disappointment for me and the Cubs. It has been a long, often sad journey, but it has given me so many marvelous moments to share with Sarah and Scott and my wife, Risa, who has become a fan in her 60s, and Noah, and my granddaughters.

When I experience one of those shared moments, when I feel welling tears of shared emotion that don’t require any words, I feel so grateful to have my Cubs.

Question: Do you bond with your family over sports?

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My Other Country

By Lloyd Graff

As I write this piece, Tuesday’s election in Israel is too close to call. Bibi Netanyahu and Benny Gantz are running neck-and-neck again. This is the second election because Netanyahu could not form a government after the first one in April, though he had a tiny majority of the seats in the 120-seat parliamentary free-for-all.

Why does this election mean a lot to me?

Israel is my country, almost as much as America is.

It was born when I was three, in 1948. Its wars were my wars. Much more than Vietnam, which was my war to fear and despise, Israel’s wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973 were the wars I felt in my bones. These wars were the wars where I prayed for victories. These were the wars that absolutely could not be lost, because that would have meant death to the heart and soul of the Jewish people.

I’m sure it is very hard for most people to understand how I feel about Israel – even for many younger Jews today

I am not a Holocaust survivor. I am not the child of a survivor, but I truly identify with their suffering. The passion of the survivors to build something great out of the ashes of their parents and relatives, as well as the passion of the children of the early settlers from Eastern Europe who did not come to America but lived the dream of making something wonderful out of the sand and dirt of the Holy Land, was a feeling I always connected with.

I have always been extremely emotional about Israel. I am sure I have mythologized it since I read Leon Uris’ book Exodus and watched Paul Newman in the movie. My wife and I named our first son Ari, the name of Newman’s character in the movie.

For most of my adult life my biggest charitable contributions have been to support Eretz Yisrael, the Hebrew name for Israel. I have only visited twice, but I think and dream about Israel often.

I am interested in the current election but not excited about it. From a practical standpoint, there is not that much to distinguish between the leaders, Netanyahu and Gantz, on the issues I care so deeply about, except that Gantz is allied with the secular parties.

They are both warriors who achieved their fame and importance through military service. Bibi Netanyahu spent part of his childhood in America and achieved a name partly from the valor of his brother who died on the Entebbe raid to free the Israelis whose plane was hijacked to Uganda.

Benny Gantz was a top general in the Israeli Defense Forces. They both stand for Israeli strength in the face of hundreds of millions of Arabs who hate the tiny Jewish Nation.

Netanyahu has the luster of presiding over the economic stardom of the country in recent years, as a cheerleader of “Startup Nation.” He has also been tarnished by pettiness, corruption, nasty politics, and unholy alliances with ultra-Orthodox religious parties.

Gantz and the opposition coalition have made the election about Bibi, just as the Democrats will make 2020 about Donald Trump, one of Netanyahu’s fans.

I have been listening lately to Steven Pressfield’s stunning book, The Lion’s Gate, about Israel and the 1967 six-day war against the Arabs led by Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Reading about the incredible valor and brilliance of 20-year-old Israel with 2.7 million people fighting alone for survival against the Russian-equipped armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq is inspiring. I know Israel is not pure and unblemished. No country is. But I love it to my core. It is an integral part of my life. I really don’t care who wins the election as long as Israel always wins.

Question:  Does Israel mean something to you?

 

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Trade War 7th Round

I keep trying to make sense out of the trade war with China. It isn’t easy. I use metaphors to describe the tariffs and the tit-for-tat jabbing of the two major powers. It is a bit like Ultimate Fighting Championship, but it is much more complicated. Donald Trump has an election battle coming up, and a booming economy is his biggest asset going into 2020. China’s Xi has no election, but he has Communist cronies who are not all fawning stooges.

Trump has immigration woes that he is trying to turn into a positive politically, but it isn’t working well.  Xi has Hong Kong mass demonstrations, which are now more than an annoyance to his regime. It is a problem that is a public relations horror and potentially could spark rebellion within China, despite its rigidly controlled press. Just like a million people leaving Central America desperately knocking on the door of a country built by immigrants is a problem without an easy solution here, the longing for freedom in Hong Kong ultimately overflowing into China is a problem that just won’t evaporate.

China under Xi wants to overwhelm the United States in every way other than a shooting war. Manipulating outdated trading norms developed by Kissinger and Clinton and maintained without a whimper by every administration since then out of convenience and laziness has served China beautifully as it has eviscerated American industry and workers in exchange for $5 t-shirts at Walmart and Target. The Obama Administration timidly objected to the Chinese trade bullying, but had no taste for a trade war which would have been rather uncomfortable and unpopular.

Pugnacious Donald Trump was looking for a fight. He seems to thrive on nonphysical, non-shooting warfare. Advisors convinced him that it was a winnable war if he played it right. Tariffs were his weapon of choice.

Tariffs probably hurt China a bit more than they hurt the United States because we buy a lot more from them than they buy from us, and if the farmers take a fist to the jaw, Trump and Congress can cushion the hurt with subsides. If t-shirts bump up $0.50, Walmart can eat a little bit and the richer American workers can absorb their annoyance with fatter paychecks. China can manipulate its currency to cheapen its goods and the Fed can manipulate interest rates to make mortgages cheaper.

This is why, after two years of trade war, the American economy is still quite good and China’s economy is still growing.

The mavens in the press here have exaggerated the impact of the tariffs, and some are trying to talk the country into a recession for political purposes. It is having an effect: capital spending is slowing, and big business bureaucrats are becoming fearful because they tend to be sheep. Machine tool sales are weakening. Japanese production of machine tools is soft.

Was Trump right in picking this fight with China? Short-term, politically, it was dumb. Since most politicians only think in terms of the next election, it was a stupid aberrant move in their eyes. He hurts his base in rural America. Any gain for American industry is far away and foggy.

Barack Obama saw the same things as Donald Trump, but was afraid of confrontation. Trump relishes confrontation, but appears to lack a coherent strategy. The Chinese want to outlast Trump and may succeed, but Xi may be in trouble at home amongst his enemies because Trump has not folded yet. Hong Kong is potentially very dangerous for the regime with the Chinese home economy softening, and China’s ambitious plans for a Belt and Road initiative to aid developing countries seeming to have faltered.

Trump’s Huawei gambit has given Xi a black eye, but the company evidently has some attractive 5G products at good prices, which will allow it to weather the storm.

Put it all together and the two fighters have fought a draw through six or seven rounds of a 15-round bout. China has not given in on intellectual property theft, and America keeps jabbing them with tariffs.

I do not see a knockout or surrender in the foreseeable future. The stock market will be a yo-yo. Big business will play defense. Growth in both countries will gasp a little, but keep on going.

Is the battle worth the trouble? The Chinese certainly think so. Do we?

Question: Where were you on September 11, 2001?

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Trade Wars

By Lloyd Graff

Today is the last day of the Major League Baseball trading season.  I am a nutty baseball fan, Chicago Cubs variety, who follows such folly with a fanatic’s intensity.

Maybe it’s the machinery dealer in me, but I love the trading.  Every team is looking for that player who with change of scenery turns into a butterfly from a caterpillar.  Other times non-contending teams will trade a star at the end of his contract for a potential star at the beginning of his career.  The classic case of this was in 2016 when the Cubs traded their best young minor league player, Gleyber Torres, for the services of Aroldis Chapman, the hardest throwing relief pitcher in the game who was at the tail end of his contract.  Chapman, who could throw 105 mph, helped the Cubs win the World Series in 2016.  Gleyber Torres was an All-Star this year for the Yankees.  Chapman left the Cubs after 2016 and re-signed with the Yankees.

These “deadline deals” can be transformative for a team.  The Cubs made a great deal with the Texas Rangers in 2012 trading Ryan Dempster, a once great relief pitcher, and a decent catcher, Geovany Soto, for pitcher Kyle Hendricks, then a minor league pitcher out of Dartmouth who had a fastball that could not break the proverbial “pane of glass.”  In a little less than a year Hendricks had become one of the best pitchers in the game, and Dempster had retired.

As I was preparing to write this piece I had a heretical thought for a baseball fan.  Does the act of trading a player make him a kind of high-priced slave?  The player usually has no say on where he might be sent.  He has to uproot himself and maybe his family on a moment’s notice.  He immediately has to acquaint himself with an entirely new group of teammates, some of whom may be hostile because he threatens their position.

The NBA players are pushing back on the notion of easily trading players.  Star players like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Anthony Davis can almost call their own landing places and influence whom they would like to play with.  In football the Le’Veon Bell holdout at Pittsburgh is a precedent for important players to command more leverage in their employment, though the NFL seems to be very hardline in resistance.

I don’t know exactly how things will play out, but the players are destined to get a say.

Question: What are the best or worst sports trades in history for you?

 

 

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At the Track Every Day

By Lloyd Graff

Trading in used machinery is sophisticated gambling. Some people find it strange that I am utterly indifferent about sports gambling.  It has no allure for me. I once lost $25 playing 21 at a casino in Vegas and felt stupid – not for losing, but just for walking into the smoke-filled room.  Yeah, it was a long time ago.

And now, after such a long, long time in the screw machine trading and refurbishing business, we have the exhilarating and scary opportunity to reinvent a new business by finding a new cohort of machines to gamble on.  I’m finding it exciting, even enthralling at times, and pretty damn scary, too.

A very smart guy once told me that “if you don’t feel ‘it’ in the pit of your stomach, you aren’t bidding enough to get a deal.”  He was right, but that doesn’t mean fear guarantees your success. It only guarantees doubt and restless sleep.

In our machinery business, we are confronted with the wrenching reality that our traditional customers are not very interested in buying what we’ve always sold.  It’s a bit like a car dealer specializing in sedans and convertibles in a pickup truck and SUV world. Not much action. The obvious path is to switch to pickups and SUVs, but the downside is that almost everybody else has done the same thing.  For a used machinery dealer, the analog is to jump into the used Haas lathe and vertical machining center market. But that is awfully boring and terribly competitive. There is an auction every Tuesday and Thursday with Haases in it. The only sleepers are in sofa beds.

Our strategy has been to go to Outer Mongolia searching for bargains and hauling them back to civilization.  My son Noah likes to travel to Outer and Inner Mongolia so he wants to try this approach.

I also want to search for the guavas and jackfruit in the produce department, the exotics that only the people with weird tastes dare to inhabit?  This is a long jaunt from the Acmes and New Britains of my youth that we once sold by the truckload.

Our real niche seems to be in the European descendants of the Acmes and New Britains, the CNC multi-spindles like Index and Schutte that are so darn complicated and daunting that they confuse even people who have grown up with their simpler, now often discarded, cousins.

When you place bets on machinery you don’t know like family, you are going to lose some of the time.  Try to tell your banker, “Well, I bought that washer, that robot, that Hydromat thing, to experiment.”  They may get the intellectual gambit, but they get rather annoyed about losses. They think you are always supposed to win in business.  This is when resilience and being part of a team that understands the value of defeat as an educational tool, one that realizes that business is a continuum, are so vital.  To succeed in the long game of business you have to build in defeat cushions. If you are going to gamble you are going to lose. If losing is “unacceptable,” which seems to be the position of football coaches like Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, you are going to end up desperately needing a shrink or a sabbatical.

I hate losing or being wrong, but I also love the action of being in business and trying really hard to win every day, knowing that setbacks are inevitable, and dealing with change is maddening.  

I think about the option of leaving the game.  Noah often asks me, “Dad, was it always this hard?”

Honestly, I can’t even remember, Noah.  Let’s just get it on.

Question: Do you view business as gambling?

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