Category Archives: Today’s Machining World

Sleepless in Chicago

By Lloyd Graff

Sleep and lack of it has long been one of life’s biggest mysteries to me. Some days it feels so easy and comfortable, an effortless, pleasant activity, and the next night it is an elusive phantom that I mentally grab for and continually miss.

I used to find it much easier. Wash up. Light stretch. Hug my wife. Casually discuss the next day’s plans. Turn over, and sleep would easily take me. Not so anymore.

For years, after being told I had sleep apnea disorder, I struggled with an annoying breathing apparatus that was supposed to provide me with a healthy, peaceful night’s rest. Over time, I doubted that analysis, and finally decided that at least for me, sleep apnea was a sleep industry fraud. I slept better without the infernal breathing apparatus that I used to schlep everywhere when I traveled around the country.

I gave up the machine after my heart surgery 12 years ago. I do not miss it at all.

Like many men, I suffered from prostate enlargement for decades, which impaired my sleep. Surgery solved that issue, though one interruption for urination is normal for me after four hours sleep. That is the tough one for me. It usually happens between 2:30 and 4 a.m. These days, slumber all too frequently eludes me.

I get back in bed and nothing feels quite perfect. The quilt is in disarray. Risa may be snoring. Light sneaking past the window is annoying.

And the thoughts, the challenges, the fears, the things I should have done better the day before, the Cubs bullpen collapse. It could be anything. Lately it has been a troubling dream, or the inability to remember the number sequence of the burglar alarm disarming code. Other nights I struggle to remember whether the name of the high school English teacher I hated was Rosenstein or Rosensweig. A lot of dumb stuff, but they are stealthy and persistent intruders.

I use my tried-and-true tricks, counting 1 2 3 4 5 while breathing in, 6 7 8 9 10 breathing out. I put tape over my mouth these days to eliminate mouth breathing. Other nights I envision shooting free throws and enjoying the imagined feel of the leather basketball releasing from my fingertips.

I usually swallow a melatonin pill before going to bed, but now I add a few sprays of melatonin if sleep feels distant. Unfortunately, a couple times per week, I stay up for two hours and occasionally never reenter the sleep state.

I pay the price during the daylight hours to come, and often the following day. It also tends to increase migraine symptoms like scintillating scotoma, the half moon shaped floaters that interrupt vision for around 25 minutes.

Hopefully your sleep is always peaceful, me and the other sleep deprived world would like to know your secret.

Question: Are you a successful sleeper and do you have any advice for the rest of the world?

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The Manufacturing Rebound

By Lloyd Graff

I talk to a lot of folks in the machining trade every day, and the clear sense I am getting is that business is improving. The automotive segment is definitely firming. Auto related work has bounced back from the April, May, June, July doldrums. Demand has picked up, and car showrooms are extremely short of hot inventory. 

European and Japanese companies were also shut down, and the supply chains are strained. Guns and the medical sector are strengthening. 

We are seeing an uptick in the used machinery business. The auctioneers are surprised at how strong their sale prices are holding up. Inventory of late model Swiss-type and multi-axis CNC machines appears to be light.

On the macroeconomic front, the recent perverse behavior of stocks is being attributed by pundits to the surprising decrease in unemployment after PPP money ran out and extra layoff checks ended. Evidently some people did choose to return to work.

Small businesses, especially those travel-related and restaurants, have been severely hurt, but the wounded giant called the American Economy appears to be healing. The prospect of multiple viable vaccines being approved soon, while good for most people in business, is viewed by some speculators as negative for tech stocks like Apple and Amazon, which have continued to thrive despite the swooning economy. It appears that improving conditions are sell signs for the option trader gamblers. 

From my observation, the impending election does not seem like it will be a significant issue for the stock market, but it could be an issue small business people.

They should ask LeBron for advice. He seems to know all.

****

Do politics and NBA basketball mix well? 

Maybe the better question is does China own the NBA? Or perhaps the real question is does LeBron James play for the Los Angeles Lakers or Nike?

The three questions are tied together. LeBron signed a contract in 2019 easily worth a billion dollars with Nike, becoming its most valued endorser, though Michael Jordan trails him very closely.

The NBA also signed a $1.5 billion dollar contract last year with Tencent, the Chinese mega company, granting it the exclusive rights to broadcast all of the NBA games it chooses to air in China. The games are mainly watched by young people on their cell phones as they ride public transportation to work in the morning. 

The NBA has built academies in China to teach and promote the basketball. When Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, had the audacity to tweet critically about communist China crushing the human rights demonstrations in Hong Kong, the Beijing Party leaders bristled. Then the NBA bosses cowered and tried to make nice.

LeBron, who probably sees himself as a potential president of the United States, and heir to Oprah and Martin Luther King Jr. in America, had a real dilemma. It was magnified when COVID-19 hit midway through the 2020 NBA season. The players were undecided about continuing to play, but LeBron had the NBA, Nike, China, and Black Lives Matter all looking at him to thread the needle. It was a time to prove himself to be politically skillful before he even stepped on the court again with Anthony Davis and the rest of the Lakers.

I watched LeBron play brilliantly Monday in the playoff series, ironically against Daryl Morey’s Houston Rockets. Black Lives Matter signage was everywhere in the Orlando bubble, where all of the games are being played and broadcast on TNT and Disney’s ESPN. Player uniforms displayed social and political messages, and a huge VOTE sign was prominently displayed during all broadcasts. 

It is a fascinating mishmash of sports, business, politics, and LeBron, who is proving himself to be the Confucius of America in 2020.

Question: Is your business rebounding?

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“Fulfillment” Centers

By Lloyd Graff

Like desert marigolds flowering out of nowhere, 4 million square feet of new buildings are going up simultaneously this week in the primarily African American South Suburbs of Chicago where I live and work.

Twenty miles north of here in Englewood, where my dad grew up and attended High School, people are shooting at each other every night and connecting with disturbing accuracy. The daily carnage is staggering and overflowing into the expensive Magnificent Mile of North Michigan Avenue, leaving it looking like Beirut’s downtown.

Amazon loves the South Suburbs. They already have built half a dozen fulfillment centers in the area and are building two more. One of them is within walking distance of Graff-Pinkert, and the other is near my favorite corn stand. The Logistics Center of 2 million square feet, consisting of four expandable buildings, is also in walking distance. It is located on a 102-acre site, which was supposed to be an outlet mall until Amazon growth killed that idea. Its closest neighbor is a multi-story apartment building, built just a few years ago, which accepts people who have lost their jobs and have nowhere to go. The developers jumped on the site when they could put together $29 million dollars in tax subsidies from the village and county, plus the tax advantage of being in a designated Opportunity Zone with the recent tax law changes.

Add in cheap mortgage money and a great location between two interstates, plus an abundance of inexpensive workers with lousy job prospects in the neighborhood—and bring in the excavators. 

The broker for the logistics project says there is an industrial real estate boom taking place, with Amazon picking up half of the new space in Chicagoland.

What is it like for the $15 per hour people who are drawn to the thousands of Amazon jobs, before the robots make them obsolete?

A woman who used to clean our friend’s house went to work for Amazon in Joliet a half hour west of the new fulfillment centers. Her work consisted of opening boxes 10 hours a day, four days per week. She wanted the job because it was her first opportunity for full-time work that offered health insurance. It was also an opportunity to get free tuition at a local community college if she worked for Amazon for 18 months.

It was demanding physical work and took its toll. Both of her hands absorbed enough punishment to require surgery. Her dream of training to become a nurse’s assistant sterilizing instruments was postponed by these injuries.

2-Million-Square-Foot Logistics Center

I am a capitalist, an investor, and a happy customer of Amazon. I think Jeff Bezos is a genius who has enriched me and my family because I invested in Amazon stock over 10 years ago and have held on to it. Bezos himself was born to a 17-year-old mother. His father, who he barely knew, owned a small bike shop in Albuquerque. His mom got an education, moved to Florida, and married into an upper-middle-class world. Jeff went to Princeton but he started Amazon on a prayer, and it is now worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Our former cleaning person will not be taking another job at Amazon with her damaged hands. The two new 865,000-square-foot fulfillment centers will each hire a thousand workers for bigger packages, but Amazon has proudly announced that the buildings are built for robots when they become more capable.

The South Suburbs, the stepchild of Chicago real estate, is finally bustling. It has the cheap land on the interstate highways, and, above all, it has cheap people, the folks who will line up for the grueling jobs that more efficient, stronger robots will eventually take.

Capitalism drives America, and I love it. But it does come with a cost. My Amazon stock is up 2,218%. The gulf of income between people with securities and those who dream of sterilizing instruments keeps growing, but with Opportunity Zones and other tax breaks, we’ve got 4 million feet of new buildings blooming in my backyard.

Question: Have you lost workers to Amazon?

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Does Anybody Care?

By Lloyd Graff

Chicago is appalled by the disgusting and brazen looting of stores like Gucci and Nordstrom’s on its Magnificent Mile. Our Mayor, Lori Lightfoot, is furious and humiliated that her city’s elite shopping area has now been ransacked several times by bands of young thugs that communicate by cell phone, coordinating when to strike and who to hit first. They come by car and train and overwhelm the police so they can grab clothes, electronics, and booze.

There is good camera surveillance, so the authorities can pick up many of the looters later if they are inclined, but the State’s Attorney, Kim Foxx, seems disinclined to prosecute them and put them in jail. She is a political foe of Lightfoot, allied with Toni Preckwinkle, the Mayor’s archenemy who was trounced by the newcomer in the last election.

Chicago is broke, the state of Illinois is broken with its longtime Svengali, Mike Madigan, possibly on the verge of being prosecuted in a utility bribery scheme, for which Commonwealth Edison was fined $200 million dollars. People are fleeing the state for Indiana and Florida and Idaho, while I see my state and local taxes balloon.

It all stinks and everybody knows it.

While the city is being looted by politicians and thugs in different ways, I find it very ugly to follow the unfolding saga of the once-great Eastman Kodak, king of film that nobody uses anymore. Kodak was recently awarded a $765 million dollar federal government loan to start making the drug components that are no longer made in this country but are vital in the manufacturing of antibiotics and many key pharmaceutical products.

Target that was looted near Noah Graff’s condo in Chicago

When the loan was announced a couple of weeks ago, the $2 stock, still listed on the New York Stock Exchange, went nuts. It rose to $60 a share in a couple of days. This was when a member of its board of directors, George Karfunkel, gifted 3 million of his 6.3 million shares to a small religious institution that he happened to be the president of, enabling him to book a $116 million dollar donation. The charity received its charitable designation a year ago.

The whole deal may well be found legal if the loan to Kodak is not tainted by illegal bribery but rather a shrewd political contribution. Karfunkel was on the Kodak board for several years while the company was limping along, looking for a new blockbuster product in Rochester, New York.

The profit was neatly packaged as a contribution to a Jewish Orthodox synagogue in Brooklyn. The donation will hopefully do good in the world, but for Karfunkel and his wife, Renee, the write off will be worth at least $40 million dollars, usable for several more years. The suckers who made it possible were naive stock market gamblers whose shares are now worth a fraction of what they threw into the pot to buy them.

Can you draw a straight line from the brazen thugs who came from Chicago’s West and Southside slums to smash the windows at Gucci for the third time, to the sophisticated financial gamer, who sold his Kodak shares and gifted them to his favorite personal charity? I am curious what you think.

Question: Who is more disgusting, looters in Chicago, or Wall Street thieves?

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Ep. 90 – Running a CNC Swiss Shop in the UK with Tom Pearce of CIRC Manufacturing

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is the second episode of a season in which we’re talking to folks in the machining world outside of the United States.

We’re making a second stop in the UK to talk to Tom Pearce, founder of CIRC Manufacturing in Westbury, England, a small CNC shop specializing in producing flow control products using a Citizen Swiss lathe and Hitachi 4-axis mills. Tom talked about entrepreneurship in the UK and his company’s first consumer product, a luxury pen machined from exotic super alloys.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Main Points

(2:10) Tom gives his background. He says he started as an apprentice electrician working with his father. Later he did maintenance engineering and installations in a big rubber factory that made strips and slabs of custom rubber compounds. Then he decided to start his own company. 

(7:10) Tom talks about starting CIRC Manufacturing. He says that while working at the rubber factory he taught himself to TIG weld on the weekends and started a welding side business. In 2014 one of his welding customers in the oil refining industry told Tom he had a job that was going to go big time and said this could give him enough work to start his own business. Tom says his dream was to start his own business so this opportunity gave him the impetus to quit his job and do it. Unfortunately, the big job he was promised never came. Tom had just signed a five month lease on shop space, so he took some small welding jobs. Then he got a lot of work welding cabinets for electronics, which enabled him to grow a business.  

(10:30) Tom says he thinks British people have an entrepreneurial spirit because he sees more and more people wanting to be self-employed.

CIRC Manufacturing’s New Luxury Pen Made of Exotic Super Alloys on a Citizen

(11:30) Tom talks about a luxury pen (see photo) he designed made from exotic super alloys such as Inconel and Nitronic 16. CIRC Manufacturing is now producing the pens on a 1993 Citizen L320. Tom says he thought it was a good product to sell because it is a product that people already want. He says the pen is important for showcasing his company’s capabilities as well has creating a new revenue stream. It is priced at 200 GBP. Tom says he spent months resurrecting the Citizen, but it now is a very reliable machine. He jokes that the tooling on the machine likely costs more than the machine itself.

(17:50) Noah asks if most English people are happy living in England. Tom says he thinks they are, but he admits he is speaking as someone who lives in the country side, so he can’t speak for everyone around the country.

(19:00) Tom says that his biggest challenge is to find the right people to work in his shop. He says the challenge is not necessarily because of a lack of talent available. He says he is most concerned with finding people he can work well with. Currently Tom has one full time employee, one independent contractor, and his mother does the office work.

(21:00) Noah asks Tom how he thinks British people view machining. Tom says living in the country he sees enthusiasm for machining, but he says that people in bigger cities may be less interested. But, he says he thinks that recently machining seems to be being portrayed as a little more hip on the Internet and on social media.

(23:25) Tom says that 2020 would be a good year if his company could finish as well it started. He says it started off well but when COVID-19 hit, he couldn’t get material he needed from Germany for several weeks. He says business fell off for a short time but has picked up.

(24:00) Tom says that CIRC Manufacturing’s specialty is flow control products—parts for metering, instrumentation, shafts, pins, and bushes. He says on the Citizen he makes pins and shafts, and for parts 20mm and larger he uses two Hitachi Seiki 4-axis mill turn machines. 

(25:00) Noah asks Tom to tell him something interesting he has learned in the last week. Tom says he learned how much work two men and a couple of old CNC machines can put out in a week. 

(26:30) Tom says that people can find out more about his company, CIRC Manufacturing, by going to his website, www.circmfg.co.uk. 

Question: What was the first machine tool you ran?

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Staying Too Long

By Lloyd Graff

Maria Konnikova, doctor of psychology, journalist and professional poker player, said that the hardest but probably most rewarding lesson she has learned is that to win consistently you have to fold when you see you are likely to lose, even after making a sizable bet on your hand.

This is a life lesson I see playing out vividly in the days of COVID-19 for people in business. In the machining industry, smart leaders shut down plants early in April, cut people or furloughed them, even if some were great workers they would have recruited with bonuses in 2019. Many also saw it as an opportunity to trim the marginal troublesome people who they will figure out how to do without even when business is strong again.

We also see the wrestling match between staying the course and cutting your losses in pro sports. 

The Chicago Bears drafted Mitch Trubisky, a quarterback who played only 13 games in college but was considered by some to be the next coming of Tom Brady out of high school in Mentor, Ohio. Ryan Pace, the Bears general manager, traded up one spot with the San Francisco 49ers to draft Mitch #2 in 2017, ahead of Patrick Mahomes II and Deshaun Watson. In his three pro seasons, Trubisky has been mediocre at best, ranking last among starting quarterbacks in the NFL last season. 

Yet Pace is bringing him back this year, though he signed journeyman QB Nick Foles to compete with him. Pace has refused to cut his losses. He has apparently not been willing to fold his losing hand after making a high stakes bet.

In baseball, the Cubs threw in their cards in 2011, hired new management, and cleaned house on the field. After three miserable seasons but several great draft picks and trades, the Cubs made the playoffs in 2015 and won the World Series in 2016. GM Theo Epstein is at the crossroads again this year with a fading team. He still has young players like former MVP Kris Bryant, who appears already to be in decline, and he has a pitching staff with no young stars. The question Cubs fans are asking is whether Epstein is waiting a year or two too long to throw in his cards for another tough rebuild.

Personally, I have found that changing course in business is the single hardest thing for me to do. Admitting an investment is a mistake, firing a nice person who is a mediocre employee, or worse, changing a direction that proved successful for many years but seems like it has lost momentum now, is extremely difficult for me.

I have also seen bad marriages linger for decades in some cases because of the sunken costs of children, familiarity, and financial security, which hold people together when the love is long gone.

Maria Konnikova said that she gave up more than one long-term relationship after internalizing the lesson of walking away from a losing hand in poker. Teaching this kind of resiliency and flexibility to children, and hopefully making it a part of your own DNA is much harder than tossing in a pair of aces. 

Question: When have you stayed too long?

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Ep. 89 – Machining in the United Kingdom with Joe Reynolds of MTD

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is the first episode in a multi-part series in which we’re interviewing people in the machining world outside the United States. Our first stop was England, where we interviewed Joe Reynolds.

Joe is Director of MTD, a company with several popular websites based in the UK that market prominent machine tool builders and inform people in the machining business on the latest news and technology. He also refers to himself as a “Swarf Guru,” so of course we had to interview him!

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Main Points

(3:20) Joe shares his background. Originally, he was an engineer and did a 6-year apprenticeship. He worked in sales with a few American companies before starting his own tooling company. Then at the EMO trade show 10 years ago he met Paul Jones, founder of Machine Tool Direct (MTD), which would be later known as MTD. Together they have grown the business to a staff of around 25 people. 

(4:35) Joe explains that MTD is a marketing company for machine tool companies as well as other industrial products firms. Joe says they work with Europe’s largest and most familiar CNC machine tool companies. 

(5:05) Joe describes how MTD works. Its websites focus on talking to people about CNC machines and other machine shop products. The sites feature tons of videos showing the products in action. MTDCNC.com is the most popular.

(7:40) Joe talks about the MTD Podcast. He says that anything that happens in the four walls of a machine shop is a good topic for discussion on the show, from the technology and tooling, to the people behind the scenes. 

(9:20) Joe debunks Noah’s preconceived notions about the UK machining industry. Noah says he has heard that the UK is no longer a major manufacturing center these days. Joe says that UK mainstream media would agree with Noah’s assessment. However, he says a deeper knowledge of the business reveals that manufacturing is massive in the UK. He says it represents 20% of the country’s GDP and nearly 80% of its total exports. He says the average annual salary in the machining field is about 32,000 Sterling, which is above the national average across all industries. He says the country has fewer factories, but they are more efficient. He says the UK is still lagging behind some other countries in Europe as far as adopting automation. 

(12:00) Joe claims that “approximately 80,000 businesses are doing something with a piece of metal in the UK.” He also mentions that the UK is working at improving certain disparities in the industry, including the fact that just 1 in 8 women are employed in manufacturing. He says the country is also struggling with an aging workforce. He says before the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation was 20,000 people short of the skilled labor needed to support the industry.

(14:00) Noah talks about his preconception that there is an occupational “caste” system in the UK. Joe says that this may have been true in the past, but things are changing for the better in England. Joe says that 20 years ago his peers questioned him going into engineering. He also reports that the perception of machinists is improving in the UK. He says there are more apprenticeships and more people are realizing that factories are cleaner and the money is good. 

(18:15) Joe talks about how the country is coping with COVID-19 and how that has impacted the machining industry. He says the government intervened with what it calls a furlough scheme. He says things aren’t as bad as you read in the papers, and that much like in the US, machining companies in the UK range from really hurting to doing well. 

(19:30) Joe describes the Ventilator Challenge, implemented by the UK government in response to the shortage of ventilators. He says the country’s manufacturing sector quickly produced 14,000 ventilators. The initiative helped some companies through a difficult time.

(20:20) Noah and Joe discuss Brexit. Joe claims 50% of people think it’s a good thing while 50% do not. He says the consensus is that it would be best if the country leaves with a deal. He says a good outcome would be the loosening of restrictions on relationships with countries outside of the EU and on exporting to those countries. He says some people believe that the UK doesn’t get enough out of the EU to justify the money it contributes to it. He says fewer companies are leaving then expected because of Brexit. 

(23:30) Joe talks about major companies with factories in UK, including: Boeing, Nissan, Ford, Toyota, Lotus, Jaguar, and Rover. He also lists aerospace companies such as Boeing, Airbus, and Spirit Airways. He says that Boeing chose to build a factory there, even when it knew that Brexit was coming.

(25:20) Joe says the UK is a good place to start a business. (see video) He compares machining company startups in the US to those in the UK. He says he sees a lot of US machining companies starting out in home garages, which is very rare in the UK. He says in England around 60% of machine shops are SME (small to medium enterprises) and have less than 10 people on staff. He says there has never been a better time to start a machining company in the UK, even with the COVID-19 pandemic. He says it is easy to borrow money and find grants, and machine tool dealers will sell machines with deferred payments and zero deposit up front. Joe asks Noah if the American Dream is real. Noah says that many Swarfcast listeners would say that it is. Noah says Americans have a tendency to lump all foreign countries together, which doesn’t provide an accurate picture of businesses overseas.

(30:00) Joe says that a lot of reshoring of manufacturing is occurring in the UK. He says it was already happening due to automation and robotics, as well as rising labor costs in China, and COVID-19 has accelerated the trend. 

(31:00) Joe says that revenues at his company are up and his websites are doing well despite COVID-19. 

(32:00) To view Joe’s various websites, visit MTDCNC.com (machine tools), MTDMFG.com, swarfandchips.com, and MTD.network (supply network). The MTD podcast is available on all the podcast platforms.

Question: Is America still a good place to start a business?

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Unforgettable

By Lloyd Graff

Some things in life are unforgettable. 

By chance last night I started watching a Netflix documentary on David Foster, one of the foremost music producers in the last half-century. Unbeknownst to me, Foster has produced artists like Barbra Streisand, and groups like Chicago and Earth, Wind, and Fire. He also produced Natalie Cole’s album on which she sang the great song, Unforgettable, in a duet with her late father, Nat King Cole, singing from a tape.

Nat King Cole with daughter, Natalie Cole

This song has always been a favorite of mine, not just because it is a wonderful piece of music, but because the duet performance that Foster put together connects me in a profound way with my own father, Leonard Graff.

One of my happiest memories of my childhood was standing around the family’s piano while my sister Susan played, and I sang along with my dad and Sue. Nat King Cole was an extremely popular artist when I was growing up, and we probably sang Unforgettable together.

In later times, I would often listen to Cole’s records, tapes, and CDs. Unforgettable, and his other huge hit, Mona Lisa, were my favorites. To this day I have those two songs playing frequently on my car stereo.

Over time, Unforgettable took on more meaning for me as I joined the family business and my father and I worked so intimately together. After he died in 1997, I longed for the closeness of that father-son relationship that was reinforced almost every day in the give-and-take of making the business successful, working alongside my brother Jim.

When I hear Natalie Cole make absolutely amazing music with her dead father, who comes alive in her beautiful voice, it brings back that relationship I had with my own dad. Sure, it had its rocky moments, but we had so many beautiful, unforgettable moments of joy and magic that stream back yet today as I get the amazing opportunity to work with my own son Noah.

Natalie Cole also went into the family business, but her father died when she was young. Somehow Foster, the producer, brought the two of them together in that incredible single. Their synchrony is stunning, especially when you see an image of Nat King Cole singing the song seated at a keyboard, while Natalie is doing it live.

When a family, and even a family business, somehow finds that elusive synchrony, it provides real joy. I still feel it with my dad even though he has been gone 23 years now. And when that lyric comes through the Acura radio, “when someone so unforgettable thinks that I am unforgettable, too,” hits my ear, even today my father comes alive in my heart.

Question: Do you have any unforgettable moments with a parent that you’d like to share?

 

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A Gap in My Perception

By Lloyd Graff

We just recorded the biggest gain in stock prices for any quarter since 1998 with American unemployment at unprecedented levels. You don’t need to read the obvious in this blog, so let’s talk Yeezy, Kanye West, and Gap.

Gap stock rose 42% in one day last week when Kanye West announced he was designing a clothing line with his Yeezy brand on it, exclusively for Gap for 10 years. Gap’s value jumped $2 billion dollars with the news.

Being no fan of hip hop music, but mildly interested in West because he grew up near where I did on Chicago’s South Side, and because he met cordially with Donald Trump at the White House, I checked out Yeezy. The brand has turned Adidas from the German blahs to Jordan-esque cool with outrageously priced sneakers. A Yeezy pair of gym shoes may sell for $500 a pair if you can get them.

I really don’t feel the allure of celebrity apparel, but undoubtedly West is hot today and Gap, where Kanye worked as a kid, is capitalizing on his caché. Will Kanye West become a fading yesterday in a year? Not likely, with the magic of his wife, Kim Kardashian, continually polishing his image?

***

Another brand that fascinates me with its phenomenal stock performance is Peloton. The company sells an exercise bike and will lose more than $100 million this year. Yet it is worth more than Ford and Chrysler, and its stock has more than doubled since it went public a few months ago.

You don’t buy a Peloton at Dick’s Sporting Goods or Target. For $2,000 you can buy the hardware, but the secret sauce is the $40 a month subscription fee, which brings you a huge array of virtual programs. It also buys you status, because the Peloton bike is the Tesla of exercycles. Like Kanye’s $500 Kicks, it is the brand of the cool rich folk on the 40th floor of Manhattan high rises. And you can use it without having to schlep to the gym and put on a mask with the other infectious plebeians.

The branding is working brilliantly. The company is worth $16 billion.

***

Another fascinating story is Nikola, headed by Elon Musk wannabe, Trevor Milton. The company went public a couple weeks ago and has a market cap approaching $30 billion. They plan to build hydrogen powered semi-trucks at a yet-to-be-built plant near Phoenix. They might get a vehicle on the road in a couple of years. They are also taking reservations for a battery powered pickup truck called the Badger, which will eventually compete with Tesla’s Cybertruck, which Musk is already testing.

Nikola’s branding is clever, right down to the name, which is a play on the first name of the famous Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla.

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One other stock I like to follow is DraftKings, which is an online sports betting company. The stock goes up and down with the likelihood of playing the baseball, basketball, and football seasons. When COVID flares up and players fall ill, the stock price falls. The company is valued around $10 billion dollars now. It is a play on the likelihood of a viable vaccine in a short period of time.

An assessment of Gap, Peloton, Nikola, and DraftKings, paints a colorful picture of America around the 4th of July 2020. The promoter and the entrepreneur are definitely alive. Should we be joyful or sad? Not a Yeezy question.

Question: Did Gap make a good deal?

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The Jackie Robinson Connection

By Lloyd Graff

Ed Howard was a star player for the Jackie Robinson Little League team that went to the Little League World Series in 2014. Last week, the Chicago Cubs picked him in the first round of the major league baseball draft. He was the number 16 pick overall, and it was the first time the Cubs have ever picked a Chicago player high in the draft.

The symbolism of an African-American from that Jackie Robinson team becoming a future Cub is powerful for me. As a boy, I went to Wrigley Field with my mother, an avid Cubs fan, to see the Cubs play the Brooklyn Dodgers when their best player was Jackie Robinson. 

Jackie came up to the Dodgers in 1947 to break the color barrier of Major League Baseball.  When I was 11 years old, I did not understand segregation in sports, but I do remember my excitement over the Cubs bringing in Ernie Banks and Gene Baker in 1954.

Drafting Ed Howard during this period of racial unrest in America is a reminder of the change I have seen in this country in my lifetime. Howard was considered the best shortstop prospect in the 2020 draft, but I believe the reason Theo Epstein and the Cubs picked him is because of the symbolism of getting a hometown black player from that Jackie Robinson Little League team which had captured the imagination of the city of Chicago. 

If Howard has just a hair of the charisma Jackie Robinson had, he will be a huge star for the Cubs.

Jacky Robinson Sliding into Home vs. New York Giants

I keep a giant photo of Jackie hanging in my garage, so every day that I leave the house I see Robinson stealing home against the hated New York Giants with the umpire calling him safe. Although I love baseball, it is the only baseball picture I have hanging in the house. I still have a bat signed by Ernie Banks, but that photo is the most significant sports memorabilia I own.

Race and sports and their interaction have been threads that have helped define me during my lifetime. 

I watched the greatest football player who ever lived, Jim Brown, from his days at Syracuse University to his incredible career with the Cleveland Browns. I was shocked when he retired from the game while still at his peak, also a huge sports memory.

In basketball, probably my greatest memory is rooting for the unknown Texas Western team as they defeated University of Kentucky for the NCAA Championship in 1966. Adolph Rupp coached the Kentucky Wildcats, who wouldn’t have a black player on the team until 1969. Texas Western was the first college team with five black players in the starting lineup, led by Hall of Fame coach Don Haskins. 

I have lived a lifelong struggle with my own gut-level feelings of racism, fighting with my feelings of kinship with black people as a Jew and an American, trying to live up to the ideals of my religion and country.

Jackie Robinson always will be my greatest sports hero. Here’s hoping 18-year-old Ed Howard, who went to high school a few blocks away from my childhood home, will become worthy of my walls and my cheers.

Question: Is baseball dead to you?

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