Category Archives: Current Events

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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Better With Age?

By Lloyd Graff

I watched one of the greatest tennis matches ever played on Sunday.  I suppose you are thinking, who cares about tennis on the TMW site, but give me a chance on this.

Roger Federer, perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time with 20 Grand Slam titles, dueled Novak Djokovic, perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time with 15 Grand Slam titles (at the time).  It was Wimbledon, in London, England, the biggest tournament of the year, perfect weather, playing on a grass court.  Both players had their parents attending.  Federer’s wife and their four kids were in the family box seats, and Djokovic’s parents were with his son.

It had all the ingredients of a classic.  These guys have played each other almost fifty times.  They respect each other, but they don’t really like each other.  They are lions in the tennis jungle.  The biggest of rivals, these matches are what they live for.  They are wars.  The winners have the most endurance, focus, and luck.

Sunday they played 5 sets and were tied 12 games each in the 5th when a newly installed tiebreaker rule went into effect.  Federer and Djokovic are old men as singles tennis players go.  They are 70 years old between the two men.  Federer has been playing major tournaments for 20 years, Djokovic 15 years.

The point is that age is overrated today.  In business, the arts, politics, sports, talent is what counts.  If you can do it, you do it.  If you can’t, get out, but don’t let “them” tell you when you are finished.

The crowd Sunday was almost entirely for “Rah Jah, Rah Jah,” as they indicated by chanting between many of the points.  Novak said after the match that he attempted to hear the crowd chants as “No Vak, No Vak.”  He said it worked most of the time.  Djokovic is used to being the hated favorite and has learned how to use it for himself rather than an excuse to lose.  There is a lesson for us all in his toughmindedness in the biggest matches with everybody against him.  He would glance at his family box to see his parents, sometimes holding his young son, cheering avidly for him.

These men are “all in” regarding training, fitness, nutrition, and the mental game.  They know their bodies.   Between matches they use intravenous hyperalimentation to get the extra nutrients to recover from the previous match and be in top shape for the next one.  Sunday, after five hours of the most grueling exertion, they were both hitting 120 mph serves on the lines, playing long rallies, and going to the net and racing back for lobs.  Their concentration was immaculate—and astounding.

A match like Federer-Djokovic is an inspiration.  It says to me that just because other folks are retiring or cutting back it does not mean I have to.  Just because I had a heart attack 11 years ago it doesn’t mean I can’t be active now, at 74.  It also tells me that if I am serious about business or fitness I have to be committed to it.

Will Roger and Novak eventually be supplanted by great new players?  Yes, but nobody appears to be ready to beat them now.

They aren’t going to make it easy, either.

Question: Have you gotten better with age?

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The Journal Deserves a Medal

If you are interested in women’s soccer, obscure foods, and the tortured lives of Congressional Medal of Honor winners, last weekend’s Wall Street Journal provided hours of Gatorade for your thirst for quality content.

As a writer I appreciate a well-researched and written piece.  As a former magazine editor, I know what it takes to put together a readable monthly publication.  I can only applaud the editors of the Journal who produce a superb publication five days a week and an absolutely brilliant one on the weekend.

As the supposed competition, The New York Times and Washington Post, have deteriorated into political rags and the TV competition from the networks plus NPR are now biased jokes, the Journal shines like a ruby. On the financial side, Bloomberg is a legitimate challenger, but only on the business news.

I decided to read the WSJ weekend issue cover to cover over the recent holiday and was blown away by the quality and variety of articles.  Let me give you a brief review of just a fraction of this one issue.

On Page One was a photo of Dakota Meyer, a recent Congressional Medal of Honor winner, under the caption “Medal of Honor’s Heavy Burden.”  It directed you to the “C” section for the piece by Michael Phillips, so appropriate for Memorial Day weekend.  Phillips’ article was a 2000-word series of interviews with CMH recipients beginning with 71-year-old Gary Beikirch who received the Medal in 1973 for his actions in Vietnam.  Beikirch’s captioned quote was, “it is harder to live with the Medal that it was to earn it.”  He was a Green Beret medic whose unit was attacked by North Vietnamese at a Special Forces outpost on the Laotian border.  He was badly wounded but continued to treat his comrades while he was carried on the shoulders of two Vietnamese aides.

When Gary arrived home, “filled with rage and racked by guilt,” he decided to head for New Hampshire and live in a cave in the White Mountains, looking for “the peace and contentment he had lost in the jungle.” He took classes at a local seminary, and a few weeks after moving he found a note in the local post office instructing him to call the Pentagon. He called and found out about the CMH award and that he had an appointment to visit President Nixon. He met Nixon, who fitted the star-spangled blue choker and wreathed medal around his neck. A couple days later he returned to the cave with the Medal in his duffle bag.  He did not take it out for seven years.

Phillips’ soulful article continued with interviews with Ron Shurer, Flo Groberg, and Dakota Meyer, all of whom were wounded heroes who saw their comrades die. They are all living with the hell of the day that won them the CMH. They all wish that day, that brought them personal fame and honor, had never occurred. Dakota Meyer says “it represents the worst day of my life.”

*    *     *     *

I read at least a dozen more memorable articles in this one newspaper. There was a long, thoroughly researched piece on Huawei Technologies, the Chinese electronics firm which epitomizes the America-China discord regarding intellectual property theft, and competition between the two countries. Five Journal writers had the byline on this article, detailing how Huawei plays the game of business. It was a damning article, but one written without an obvious editorial edge. It chronicled numerous lawsuits filed by electronics firms, large and small, illuminating Huawei’s ruthless pursuit of technical knowledge by any means available, including copying competitor Cisco’s products so closely that bugs deliberately left by Cisco and typos in the manuals were in Huawei products. A comprehensive, beautifully researched Journal piece.

Next to the Huawei article was one on Novartis attaining approval for a gene therapy cure that treats an inherited disease called spinal muscular atrophy which kills most babies it afflicts by the time they are two years old.

There was also a fascinating feature about the hunt for the next “superfood,” mostly in obscure locations in West Africa.  Entrepreneurs like Phillip Teverow are looking for the next quinoa and kale.  He was pushing “fonio,” which looks a lot like golden sand, at Whole Foods in Brooklyn trying to get adventurous eaters to give it a try.  The writer, Jessica Donati, also discussed moringa, a chewy green “energy plant” and baobab fruit from the biblical “tree of life.”

Also on the front page of the weekend Journal was the beginning of an in-depth article on Tesla and what its falling stock price was all about. Written by Charley Grant, it was a thorough piece about Elon Musk’s challenge to establish Tesla before the rush of electric car competitors start to really challenge the company and before their cash runs out. Elon Musk is probably the most interesting and gutsy entrepreneur in the world.  This article told us how close to the edge he continues to run.

Another piece tucked in the back of the “Off Duty” section by their auto writer, Don Neil, reviewed the new Audi e-tron and compared it to Tesla Model X. According to Neil it fell short of the Tesla in several significant ways.

I could keep going about the two hundred different unique articles in this one issue. But one that will stay with me is an op-ed piece by Burgess Owens, a former NFL player for the Oakland Raiders and today a writer and entrepreneur.

His great, great, great grandfather came to America shackled in a slave ship.  He was sold at an auction in Charleston, South Carolina, but eventually escaped with others via the Underground Railroad to Texas and ultimately became the owner of 102 acres of farmland and an entrepreneur.

In the article, Owens decried the notion of reparations for African Americans as divisive and demeaning for whites and blacks. “The idea of reparations demeans America’s founding ideals. A culturally Marxist idea promoted by socialists, reparations denies the promise granted by God that we are truly equal.”  He called it a cynical ideology promoted by an elitist class to divide us.

The Wall Street Journal is a consistent masterpiece of variegated content.  Last weekend’s issue was truly remarkable.

Question: What are you reading these days? What have you given up?

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Machining the Fair Way

Francesco Molinari, the Italian professional golfer who has entered the top tier of pros who are factors in every major tournament, led by two strokes going into the final round of the Masters Sunday.

I have followed Molinari with more than a casual interest of late because he has used a putter made by a 90-person job shop just down the road from Graff-Pinkert in Tinley Park, Illinois. I met the owner, Bob Bettinardi, at IMTS. We were both resting our bones for a few minutes next to the Universal Robots exhibit, and we talked a bit about CNC mills and his putters business, which has evolved from the job shop that was its origin.

Bettinardi had a golf shirt on with Bettindari Golf’s logo. He has built a product with worldwide reach out of a small Haas mill shop.  This is the dream of so many independent entrepreneurs in our machining world who long for the margins and stature that come from a world-renowned product.

Bettinardi’s branded putters sell for $300-$400 for a club similar to the stick Molinari used to win the British Open at Carnoustie last year.  He also makes an $800 putter with a copper insert.

For a shop running VF-3 Haases with less than 100 employees, Bettinardi is playing in the big leagues with Callaway Golf and Mizuno dominant in the golf club world. It appears Callaway lured Francesco Molinari away from Bettinardi this year though Matt Kuchar, still a prominent pro, and many other up-and-comers are still using the Tinley Park shop’s putter.

Francesco Molinari's former Bettinardi Putter

Francesco Molinari’s former Bettinardi Putter

A Bettinardi faces a daunting challenge going up against the Callaways of the golf world. They have enormous marketing budgets, and a putter’s design can be easily copied. I do not believe Bettinardi has a patented putter. He has to make a product that pro golfers adore, convince them to stay with it for years, and hope his devotees win big tournaments to popularize his sticks. A company doing maybe $20 million a year in sales can do the golf shows and hit the big retailers, but it is always an uphill battle against the Callaways who have constant exposure in the equipment market and have their name on half the golf bags on the pro tour.

This is why small, closely held family businesses like Bettinardi Golf sell out to the behemoths. I do not know if Bob will sell out or if Callaway, with a market cap of $1.6 billion, will eventually crush him by stealing away all the Molinaris of the golf world when they get hot.

As an independent observer and former mediocre golfer, I hope he keeps milling fantastic, elegant putters in Tinley Park, Illinois, and selling them direct on Amazon for $399 a pop.  I’d like to see him buy a dozen more Haas mills and put “Made in USA” on every lovely club he makes.

Maybe today Francesco Molinari will wonder if he could have beaten Tiger Woods at the 2019 Masters if he had had the Bettinardi in his bag.

Questions: 

Is there an even playing field in the machining business?
Has Haas helped even the playing field?

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Hoops Heaven

I have just completed an indolent weekend of imbibing sports on TV: NCAA basketball winnowing 16 terrific college teams down to the Final Four and the Chicago Cubs opening the season with the Texas Rangers. Just for the added whipped cream I watched the Miami Pro Tennis Tournament that Roger Federer won, the 101st significant tournament victory of his career.

I thought about business a bit, responded to emails, ruminated about blog topics, changed my travel plans to the Precision Machining Technology Show in Cleveland this week, and did a rigorous work out, but mostly I relished some superb basketball and suffered through deplorable relief pitching by the Cubs. At least I could share my pain with my son-in-law,  Scott, via text to ameliorate some of the
agony. And it’s only April. Six months more of baseball trauma.

I have not followed college basketball much this year, and I don’t bet on sporting events, but I studied up a bit before the Tournament and listened to Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith enough to quickly pick up the 2019 narrative.

Duke did finally lose by one point to Michigan State on Sunday, 69-68. Tom Izzo of MSU has a group of solid college players, none of whom may make it in the NBA. They are led by Cassius Winston, a shrewd, savvy guard who makes big plays but does not stun you with any single facet of his game.

NCAA Basketballs await this year's Final FourThe Final Four this year will be made up of Michigan State, Auburn, Texas Tech, and Virginia. None of these four teams have a Top Ten prospect, except possibly Jarrett Culver of Texas Tech, who is probably a 15-20 pick if he forgoes his final two years of eligibility.

Auburn’s top player, Chuma Okeke, tore his ACL in the Elite Eight game victory over number one seed, North Carolina, yet Auburn, a five seed, still beat a Kentucky team of High School All Americans to reach the Final Four.

The only top seed to reach the Final Four is Virginia, who should have lost, but with two seconds left on the clock and losing by three points made a one-in-a- hundred play against Purdue. Purdue had deliberately fouled so Virginia would not get a chance at a three-point field goal to tie the game. The free throw shooter got only two shots. Everybody knew that if he made the first free throw he would attempt to miss the second, hoping for a rebound off the rim that a Virginia player could catch and then shoot successfully to tie the game. I have seen this attempted many times, but I have never seen it work. But on Saturday a blond African kid, yes, from Guinea, Mamadi Diakite, plucked the rebound and hit the tying shot with the ball in the air when the buzzer went off. Virginia then went on to win in overtime over the Boilermakers.

I have been watching the NCAA college tournament since 1965 when I went to Portland, Oregon, with the Michigan team and saw Bill Bradley score 56 points in a runner-up game and then Gail Goodrich score 43 to propel UCLA over the Wolverines for the title.

I know the bad stuff about college basketball. The players are exploited by the coaches and the NCAA who make billions of dollars off the TV contract. Some players rarely go to class like Derrick Rose at Memphis, but Rose and his coach, John Calipari, knew what they were doing. Memphis won the NCAA that year, but scandal took it away from them. Rose got his $50 million NBA contract
despite hobbling knee injuries, and Calipari nailed perhaps the second-best coaching job in college basketball, after Duke, with Kentucky.

I know college basketball and football are a mockery of amateurism. Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour give under-the-table money to coaches and players. I still love to watch it.

It is such a different game than when I watched it in the 1960s, when Adolph Rupp of Kentucky put only white
boys on the court. African American players dominate the sport, but there are players from all over the world in the NCAA tournament. Gonzaga, a little Jesuit school in Spokane, was a top seed this year, and their best player, Rui Hachimura, was from Japan.

The Finals will be played this coming weekend. If you were a betting person you could have gotten 70-1 odds on Auburn two weeks ago. None of the Final Four are clear favorites. And that is a wonderful thing. I’ll be watching. Will you?

Question: Do you care whether college basketball mocks the amateur ideal?

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