My impressions after being in the business for nine months. How do I think I’ve done?
My friend Michi, a machinery dealer in Italy, once told me that it would take at least five years for a person to understand the machinery business. I felt that time frame was similar to my previous gig writing/editing at Today’s Machining World. It wasn’t until the fifth year working at the magazine that I felt like I sort of knew what I was doing, or least knew what I didn’t know. So of course what did I do then …? I decided to switch jobs.
Since I joined Graff-Pinkert everyone has been preaching patience when it comes to learning the technical side of the machines. Ironically, although I’m a third generation machinery dealer, as far as I know, all of the Graff’s have had a mediocre technical aptitude at best. Problems to fix in our house while growing up? At least 90 percent of the time we called the repair guy. And if we didn’t get someone to come there was a higher likelihood my Mom would step in with the wrench than my Dad.
Rex Magagnotti is by far our most technically inclined salesperson at Graff-Pinkert, so he’s been entrusted with getting my “screw machinology” (as my boss likes to say) up to a level where I can follow a conversation about the machines, or at least fake it. He’s of a different gene pool than my Dad, Lloyd, and Uncle Jim, and before he came to Graff-Pinkert he worked for an Acme rebuilder. I like to think of him as a kind of Jedi Master of screw machines. He’s Obi-Wan Kenobe and I aspire to be Luke Skywalker. Wishful thinking, I know. I ask a ton of questions, and I like to think that while he’s teaching me what he’s learned over the last 20 some years, they give him perspective and maybe raises his own game some.
We go on road trips together, mostly throughout the Midwest, looking for treasure, often multi-spindles scrunched together in dank warehouses, covered in grease with wires hanging out everywhere. I’ve learned that often the machines that look pretty on the surface can be fools gold. A common culprit is too much play on the end tool slide of an Acme. Sometimes the ugliest looking machines are the most valuable. Rex has also taught me to keep my ADD mouth shut about various other deals and machines we know about when we are in customers’ plants. He and my other bosses have preached to me the virtue of constantly having my eyes and ears open for other equipment or bits of information that pop up when we go visit customers. They always say that when you go somewhere looking to sell something you end up buying something, and when you go somewhere to buy something you end up selling something. That’s one of my favorite things about the business – the unpredictability – the treasure hunting – finding value in what other people don’t – using creativity to figure out how to make a deal happen.
So how do I feel about my own progress? I’m not going to give myself a letter grade. The business is complicated and I can’t see what benefit would come from that. But I digress … I think most working people in this world want to feel like they’ve accomplished something at the end of the day, or at least by the end of the week. In many jobs that accomplishment is more apparent and easier to quantify than others. A doctor can say at the end of the day that he saved someone’s life or made someone feel better. A janitor can see the room they just cleaned, a hair dresser can make someone look better in a matter of minutes, a writer can produce an article, a mechanic makes a machine that wasn’t working run again. These people know if they’ve done a good job in a few hours, and it’s clear to them that the end result stemmed from their individual efforts or not.
Sometimes I get those feelings as a machinery dealer, but almost all the deals we make at Graff-Pinkert are a collaborative effort, so individual accomplishments are hard to decipher. I sold a 1″ Wickman last week and I felt good about that. But the customer came to us from an Internet ad my Uncle put up. I didn’t find or buy this machine, I’m not going to make this machine look pretty or work perfectly before we send it to the customer. Graff-Pinkert plays a team game. We’re like a baseball team, but one in which you need several good players who can play a few positions at the same time. One person alone can’t do what our company does together.
I’m still a rookie, but if I can help it, Graff-Pinkert will have a better season than the Chicago Cubs.
Question: At your house, who does the handiwork? You, your spouse, or do you call somebody in?