Don’t Talk Politics in Switzerland

Syndicat Attendees from Heinrich Müller GmbH Dipping Fondue

At the beginning of September, I attended the Syndicat International Du Décolletage in Bern, Switzerland. The Syndicat, or S.I.D. Congress, is a conference that brings together precision parts manufacturing organizations from the U.S., Switzerland, France, Spain, Germany, Sweden, and Ireland. It was a week of mingling, fondue-dipping, and touring impressive Swiss shops and prominent machine tool builders like Pfiffner and Tornos.

As a technical member of the Precision Machined Parts Association (PMPA), I was grateful to receive an invitation. I often feel like a little bit of an oddball at PMPA events because I’m not a manufacturer and I’m not a new equipment distributor, yet I still feel like I belong to that community from years of writing for TMW and selling used equipment for Graff-Pinkert. I don’t feel like I’m a true member of the PMPA fraternity, but that’s perfectly fine because I feel respected by the members, and it seems like they enjoy having me around — usually, at least.

My goals for the week in Switzerland were to get to know my international machining industry peers and soak up as much knowledge from them as possible. Of course, I wouldn’t have minded selling them a machine or two as well. The amount I learned and the people I met that week far exceeded my expectations, easily justifying the time and money for the trip. And as I often find at these type of gatherings, the best moments occurred during the unofficial itinerary — the nauseating bus rides through the Alps, sharing a fondue pot, or wandering off from the guided tours to pursue personal discussions.

Syndicat attendees touring Bern. Noah on far left.

The first night at dinner was rather memorable. We first mingled over hors d’oeuvres, primarily chicken on sticks for some reason. I talked mainly to German and Swiss shop owners. They queried me about the upcoming Presidential election, about which I told them I was undecided. I asked them what they thought of our current President, and they were generally pretty positive about him. Wow, I thought — wouldn’t find too many perspectives like these among typical TMW readers.

After the chicken skewers, I sat down for dinner at a table comprised entirely of Americans, most of whom I knew from past PMPA events. Soon after sitting down, whad’ya know — someone popped the question, “So Noah, what do you think of the upcoming election?” I gave my honest opinion, that I was undecided.

There was a different reaction than that of the Germans. I may just as well have been a 22-year-old OSHA inspector with the amount of anger this statement triggered. Basically, I was told that I was dishonoring my country and my family to even fathom voting for Obama. This wasn’t what I came to Bern for, I thought. I came to the conference to bond with my peers, not fight, and I liked these people, as long as they weren’t blasting me. Somehow I managed to chill things out and have some good discussions about Abraham Lincoln and then about the superiority of Index Multi-Spindles.

It seemed like almost everybody at the conference owned Indexes and loved them. This turned out to be a quite a useful thing for me personally, because the second-to-last day of the conference, my coworker Rex was in Australia bidding on several MS Indexes. I ran recon all over the conference asking folks how the machines worked, what models were most popular, how difficult it was to tool them, and most importantly, how much the machines cost new. Eventually I found out Rex had bought an MS32. One of my fellow PMPAers was especially helpful and told me he paid $1,300,000 for his. I then consulted an Index sales rep for Sweden at the conference who quoted me a price in Swedish Krona, which converted to around the same price as the first one I was quoted.

Everyone at the conference was fantastic about sharing their knowledge of the machinery and the industry with me. They answered my questions about the merits of CNC Hydromats verses traditional ones — they like both. They told me why they preferred one equipment brand over another, and what methods they used to give them pricing power with their customers. They answered my rudimentary questions about how to count the number of axes on a machine. Sometimes we just talked about their children or how fast they get to drive their Porches on the autobahn.

I guess people are generally open and welcoming when they get to talk about the topics they know best and love. Their enthusiasm fueled my own. I felt a stronger bond with my machining industry peers than ever before.

Question: Do you usually find conferences in your industry worthwhile or a waste of time and money?

Share this post

15 thoughts on “Don’t Talk Politics in Switzerland

  1. Jim Goerges

    I feel conferences and tradeshows are worthwhile, they are what you put into them it seems. The past few years the shows have been improving. There was a huge void in our industry from 2006 to 2010 in tradeshows, where nothing was worthwhile except the conversations with others.

    Our industry shows are international in nature and there is a concensus with our business acquaintences over seas as it turns out with your experience with your German friends. It appears to me that most people who have worked in and around socialist countries and governments, seem to be concerned about the direction our country is going over the past four years. While socialism is new to many in the USA, those who have been there, done that, are very concerned for our future.

    I think talking politics and religion is fine with people from around the world, who knows, maybe we will learn something!

  2. Josh Weaver

    Jim, I like what you say about learning from each other, I’d just like to point out that most European countries labeled as “Socialist” are actually social-democracies and the cries of “Socialism” that we here in the media are honestly quite contrived.

  3. John Griner

    My visit with PMPA members to China was one of the most rewarding industry experiences I have had. I will have to try the Syndicat International Du Décolletage sometime. Religion or politics are both difficult to discuss if you or your fellow conversationalists have their ego’s too tightly tied to the discussion. Some times it’s safer to just ask the other person how they feel about X and let them talk about their values and beliefs. A moto I’m coming to believe in is you can’t change other people, you can only change yourself. I’m starting to practice it more often. And yes I’m undecided about the election as I see good and bad about both parties and both candidates. So whenever I ask someone who they are going to vote for I am generally learning something useful. Same goes for religion.

  4. Jeff Scott

    You know Noah I talk with many of my friends in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Austria who we deal with in the Machine Tool Industry and I have yet to find one of them who has anything good to say about our current White House occupant. In fact the following quotes are from the German press since the middle east has blown up in the face of President Obama’s limp wristed policy which led to the death of 4 Americans so far.
    These come from Der Spiegel.
    “Obama’s middle east policy in ruins”
    “Obama’s policies are weak, naive, distracted and America is in decline”
    “Obama’s weakness before the Muslim/Islamic block is endangering ALL WESTERN interests including ours”
    Now….you may think that equates with some of them liking the job he is doing but I’d say they’re rather disillusioned by this time after what has been happening for the last week and a half via his pathetic middle east policies.
    By the way Noah if you and your father haven’t visited Israel recently I would suggest you do it NOW because at the rate Obama is going it may not be there much longer!

  5. Eric Anderberg

    Wow! If you are undecided in this industry about who to vote for in the upcoming election or to even be undecided with the threat of another Obama term, I suggest you need to move to another industry or job outside manufacturing!

  6. Don Bentley

    I find it interesting that you would feel attacked because you tell people that you are undecided on the election. You indicated how pleased you were that the diplomatic Europeans expressed mostly positive views of the President, but felt that the Americans who weren’t as polite were trying to fight with you. Many of us who have felt the distress caused by the current policies and watched our business flee our shores don’t have the luxury of neutrality or enjoy the economic strife that follows. And perhaps it’s not just the damage that has been done or the pain of the years it will take to pay for it all and to undo all the wrong-headed spending mandates, but the real fear is that it’s even possible that our society would actually even consider re-electing him. That we would say “thank you sir, may I have another”.

  7. clayton smith

    Undecided…..hummm……undecided…….Noah does that mean you’ll just stay home and drink a beer with dad on election day? Sharing a beer is a great way to bond with family.

  8. Lucy Glib

    As a financial writer of online content, I wish there WERE conferences for my industry. It would be beneficial — I think — to brainstorm with other writers and editors, bounce ideas off one another, discuss successes and failures, content ideas that were brilliant and stupid, theorize on audiences, etc. Unfortunately, there is too much competition between publishers and everything is proprietary.

    Having been on the exhibiting side of a trade show, however? A waste of time and money, though I did learn a lot. Busted away from behind my computer and out of my comfort zone. Among my lessons was how to politely tell elderly men that despite being such a “little girl” (about 32 at the time) I was, in fact, actually in the employ of the exhibiting company.

    I’m happy you had a more worthwhile experience in your recent travels!

  9. DRB

    Well said Don. And not only no but HELL NO! I don’t want any more and neither do the generations to come that are still going to be trying to pay back this debit.

  10. Val Zanchuk

    I find industry related conferences of little value. They are too one dimensional. I do attend conferences, but they are broader and more global in content. I find intereaction with business people from many different industries and countries to be more enrcihing and valuable than the singe focus conferences.

  11. Kelly

    Noah I too once was young and voted for Carter back in the day and watched my Dad struggle with interest rates at 16% starting the family business. I put away my child like ideas and voted for Mr. Reagan in the next election. Need I say more.

    Generally speaking I find industry conferences interesting but of no real value other than a chance to unwind with my peers.


    Noah ; Any place is a good time to discuss both religion and politics. For Americans, it is essential that we attend conferences, conventions and focus meetings, especially the foreign hosted ones. We Americans are too provincial, too concerned with ourselves. Listen and mybe you will hear something you may treasure. If I were asked a question on my preferences for the coming Presidential elections I would have to reply, I really don’t know who is running. We have Romney who hasn’t come to grips with his ideas of perfection and President Obama, who parrots the ideas of Axelrod and Valerie and Clinton who is running for a third term and is the most likely winner. In the next three months Romney may morph into a real Republican and Obama has an uncertain fate if Clinton pulls the rug. The images of Charley McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd ruling the U,S. is not very reassuring. If a poll were taken today of the two plus one candidates, Clinton would be elected by a landslide. As a shadow president, I dare not prophesy.

  13. Josh Weaver

    Not that you’ll read this but here goes.

    Eric. If you think Obama has had a negative impact on the manufacturing sector you’ve got your head up your you know what. My company was barely covering overhead in 2009 and we’re now having one of our best years. Look at the auto industry. Look at the manufacturing employment gains over the past four years. You’re being willfully ignorant.

    Don, go look at an analysis of where our current national debt comes from. The majority of our national debt is a result of Bush era policies, not Obama policies. The majority of our debt comes from reckless tax cuts, military spending and medicare part D.

    You anti-Obama people are really getting ridiculous and I’m not even an Obama supporter, I’m a libertarian. If you think Romney is going to be any better for this country I’d like you to put policy where your mouth is and back it up with some statements of fact instead of all this worthless rhetoric. Do some research into the topics I’ve listed, look at CBO documents and turn off the television.

  14. Don Bentley

    Josh: Surprise! I did come back & read it! and I’m pleased that you’re enjoying what is surely the rarest successes in our industry, but at least recognize that very few of us are sharing in that.

    Where to start? Spending money we don’t have. Unfunded mandates like Obamacare, with absolutely NO provisions to pay for it. Taking a 4 trillion dollar deficit to nearly 16 trillion dollars in the span of 3 years. More people enrolling on disability than in new jobs for the past year. Extending welfare & unemployment benefits past the foreseeable future, again unfunded. Has never signed a budget in his entire Presidency, but has played more golf than any 2 of his predecessors combined.

    Keep blaming Bush, that’s working, right? It’s hysterical to me how many people that claim to be libertarian espouse extremely liberal viewpoints. A real libertarian believes that our government has no business to be so involved in our lives, and certainly wouldn’t condone borrowing money to send it to our enemies in the form of foreign aide. Honestly, no one believes we can afford four more years.


Comments are closed.