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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Swarfcast Ep. 46 – Zak Pashak on Building Bikes in Detroit

By Lloyd and Noah Graff

Our guest on today’s podcast is Zak Pashak, founder of Detroit Bikes, the largest bike frame manufacturer in the United States. All bikes that the company sells are assembled in Detroit, and its high-end models have frames constructed of high quality American Chromoly steel. Zak lamented to us that he couldn’t find many companies in the U.S. to supply parts for wheels and other bike components. We told him we would take on the mission personally to find him some.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

Zak hales from Calgary, Canada, where he had success in the bar business and organizing one of Canada’s largest music festivals. He eventually developed an interest in politics and urban planning, which would inspire his next venture. In 2011, he sold all of his assets in Canada and moved to Detroit where he started Detroit Bikes in the building of an old sign company.

Zak said he chose Detroit because he saw the city as a place with rich history. He remarked that it was where cars were first mass produced, where great genres of music were invented, and a place with talent in the manufacturing field. He also said he wanted to go to a challenging place where he could be part of positive change.

Zak Pashak of Detroit Bikes

We could feel a real sense of purpose when Zak talked about his company. He takes pride in assembling bicycles in the U.S., a country where most of them are imported. He appreciates boosting the economy of a revitalizing city. But Zak said his primary mission is changing urban landscapes. He really wants to contribute to changing the paradigm of how people get around in cities, making them less congested and more environmentally friendly. He said this ultimately will be decided by governments who invest in new types of transportation infrastructure—including bike lanes.

Question: Does it make you want to buy a product more if it is made in the U.S.?

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A Killer Family Business Saga

By Lloyd Graff

I just listened twice to a podcast with Dave Dahl, creator of Dave’s Killer Bread.  It was the most recent “How I Built This” podcast, conducted by the finest interviewer I’ve heard, Guy Raz of NPR.

Dahl slowly recounted his story of almost forty years, much of it about misery, depression, and failure, culminating in enormous financial success and more disappointment.

From a journalistic viewpoint the podcast was a masterpiece of storytelling – a slow, meticulous, layered presentation of a man’s life of pain and, particularly, family resilience.  From a business standpoint it was fascinating and revealing.

Dave's killer family business

David Dahl’s parents had a small family bakery in Portland, Oregon.  They were Seventh-day Adventists.  His father slowly moved the business toward whole-grain products.  David started working in the bakery when he was tall enough to reach the dough table. He was nine years old, earning 25 cents an hour, some of which he was forced to use to pay for school and clothes.  He describes himself as almost always angry and rebellious, suffering from being bipolar and having ADD.  He dropped out of high school, experimented with drugs and alcohol, and joined the Marine Corps, ultimately dropping out.  He said he was always running away from something.  After the Marines he got hooked on cocaine and meth, which pushed him into car theft and armed robbery.

Dahl spent a total of 15 years in jail, despondent, angry, and frequently suicidal.  He shunned treatment but eventually consented to taking Paxil, an antidepressant which he says had an almost immediate positive effect on him.  He was offered an opportunity in 2002 to take a class in computerized drafting, and he loved it.  He finally left jail in 2003, and his brother Glenn, eight years older than him, who had taken over the family bakery, offered him a $12-an-hour job as a baker, which he accepted.

The Dahl family was not a happy, jolly one.  The relationship between Dave and Glenn was strained from the beginning and did not get easier when Glenn’s son Shobi, an Economics graduate of Brown, came into the business around the same time.

But Dave Dahl had finally changed from the drug-dependent, despondent criminal.  He had accepted himself and had a passion to do something with his life, and bread was his vehicle.

Glenn and Shobi gave him the time and oven space to develop breads of his own creation.  He used seeds and nuts and whole grains to develop unique breads.  He sold them at local farmers’ markets around Portland and quickly developed a following.  He created a bread made with bluish cornmeal, called Blues Bread, and then his trademark, “Dave’s Killer Bread,” which concisely told his personal story of jail, dependency, and resilience on the label, with a cartoon picture of Dave with enhanced biceps.

The business grew spectacularly, getting clients like Safeway and Costco.  Dave and his nephew developed the Dave’s brand independently, buying equity into the entire family baking business run by his brother Glenn.  It was an enormously successful, yet extremely unhappy and contentious, family business.

The family sold it to a private-equity firm in 2012 and became quite wealthy, but still unhappy, rarely speaking to one another other than nodding at family gatherings.

I was enthralled by Dave Dahl’s saga and his candor. Putting his story on the bread packaging was the brilliant, counterintuitive move that struck me.  His marketing consultant thought he was crazy.  But he did it anyway.

I get it. I want to know something about the life stories of people I do business with.  I like to check out their websites for at least a glimpse into who they are.  I very rarely get anything juicy or substantive to grasp.  If there is anything at all it’s usually a predictable, frothy story of happy success.

We all know enterprises are built from failure and conflict.  It may not be jail and drug addiction and family drama, but life is a struggle.  Nobody gets a pass.

Dave Dahl, the miserable, 15-year prison veteran reveals himself on his signature bread.  We eat it up.

Question: What is the story of your business? Has there been drama?

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Fruitsposé

By Lloyd Graff

I just bought the first fabulous cherries and peaches of the 2019 farmers’ market season.

The following blog is a past favorite of mine. I give you Fruitsposé!

Every day another prominent guy is forced to admit how his desire got the best of him. Today I must reveal my secret passion. I have had a lifelong affair with fruit.

I was reminded of this a couple days ago when I was in the produce department of Bizio’s, my local fruit seller of choice. He had THE BLUEBERRIES. I am very fussy about all my berries, and I usually shun blueberries in December in Chicago because they shlep them in from Argentina or Mexico and by the time I buy them they are flat and tasteless. But occasionally in December and January Driscoll Blueberries arrive and they are plump and taste like the best of Southwest Michigan berries in July. Really, they are even better, because they come so unexpectedly, and from Mexico no less.

When I find them I’m like a bear with a honeycomb. I want them all. So I buy almost every little carton on the shelf, price be damned, because these are my treasures of winter.

I love almost every berry at its peak. Frankly, I love almost every fruit in season.

This past summer I went absolutely bonkers over watermelon — Black Diamond seedless, to be specific. For almost eight weeks I was virtually delirious for those 15 pound bundles of dark pink joy. I sliced the melons into big sensuous chunks and pigged out for breakfast, lunch, and after dinner. Probably gained five pounds over two months on my Black Diamonds, but worth it.

Then there is my apple period. August, September, October, I infest the local farmers markets checking out the reddish treasure. Honeycrisps are my faves, but I’ll accept anything except the most vile apple on the planet, “Delicious.” Has there ever been a more inappropriate adjective for a fruit? If a farmers market seller even grows Red Delicious I will avoid them like Measles. Why even have a tree if it gives fruit as utterly cardboardy as that sickly variety that should only be exported to China for Pandas.

If there is an antidote for awful apples it is perfect pears. Bartlett’s are rather prosaic for me, but they are succulent and tasty, sliced any way you want. Wonderful with a soft cheese. Anjou are a little Franco, but just as marvelous, and a Bosc if peeled will duel the best of them. But for me the princess of pears is the Comice. The skin is a little rough like the Bosc, but if you hit the ripeness on the button, that pear has no peer. They sell for a premium, but the flavor of a Comice puts me in blissful state. Can you ask for more from any fruit?

I am a nut for fruit from trees. Oranges are back in season now and I am going bananas for Mandarins with the stems left on them and the spectacular Cara Cara orange, which is a cross between a grapefruit and a blood orange. Sweet and a little sour at the same time with a marvelous pink color.

I cannot leave out the often overlooked grapefruit. Texas Ruby Reds are back in season and I am an avid buyer. They take a little time to section, but nothing good comes without effort.

I’ll finish my fruity ode with my love of strawberries. I am suffering at the moment because I haven’t had any decent strawberries in months. Unlike the blessed blueberries that come out of nowhere for a week or two in December, winter strawberries are invariably crappy.

Our family is taking our annual pilgrimage to San Diego over President’s weekend this year. February is right at the beginning of strawberry season in southern California. I pray that the berries won’t be late because we devour a flat each day. We buy them at a local farm stand, and they are “to die for.”

My regrets to peaches which I adore over their oh so short season, but I had to leave out something.

And Pomegranates. Sorry, you are just too seedy.

Tell me about your fruit fetish. I am still exploring.

Questions:

What are your favorite fruits? Why?

What fruits do you hate?

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Swarfcast Ep. 45 – Patrice Zamor on Manufacturing in Israel

By Lloyd and Noah Graff

For most people manufacturing and Israel are two topics that are not normally spoken about together. Patrice Zamor, the guest on today’s podcast, lives in both of these worlds.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

Patrice emigrated to Israel from France in the 1970s and has spent much of his career working for Ditron Precision, a multi-national automotive component supplier headquartered there.

Takeaways from the interview:

  • Patrice discussed Israel’s strength in high-tech fields as well as its significance in producing machined components for international markets.
  • He gave his outlook on the current world automotive industry.
  • He talked about Israeli culture and what inspired him to emigrate from France.

Question: Is Israel a place you want to visit? Why?

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Single Source Gamble

By Lloyd Graff

This is just a guess, but I’m betting the following conversation took place recently between Warren Buffett, who owns $50 billion of Apple shares, and Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Corporation.

“Hi, Tim, it’s Warren.  I’ve been thinking about Apple’s China exposure, Tim.”

“Yeah, me too, Warren.”

“Tim, what if this Huawei stuff really gets out of hand, or Trump and Xi start to snarl at each other in Japan, or Hong Kong really blows up, do you think China might retaliate against Apple?”

“Yeah, Warren, that’s our biggest nightmare.  We have no backup plan in place, honestly.”

“Well, Tim, I think you better start putting one together, fast.  I don’t think you or I are Donald Trump’s favorite.”

I think all over corporate America some flavor of this discussion is taking place.  Dependency on China, and even NAFTA darling Mexico, is a troubling fact of life for companies dependent on a world supply network.  That reliability on China and Mexico that seemed so comfortable just a few years ago is now suspect.

People often ask me if the tariffs have had much effect on the people we do business with. The easy answer is “No” because China has absorbed most of the steel price increases or the market has just accepted them because of their ubiquity, but the nuanced answer is a big “Yes” because they have lifted the long-term competition with China from the theoretical to reality. Reliability of supply is even more important than price.  When the bedrock of reliability is eroded by political uncertainty and a doubtful “rule of law,” pricing attractiveness becomes secondary.

This is what we are seeing today with a clarity that was clouded by the rose-colored glasses business people wore from the Clinton through Obama presidencies.

Theft of intellectual property was the price companies like Apple figured into the profit margins that fueled the stock and provided vast reserves for research for new products.  It could be tolerated by Cook and Buffett.  But disruption of the supply chain, even just a whiff of a scare – that was a curse.

For Silicon Valley, China is key to supply, but for the machining world Mexico is our China.  In the automotive industry Mexico is the liver and kidneys of the supply organism.  GM, Ford, Daimler, Toyota, etc., cannot survive anymore without the plants in Querétaro and Metamoros.  In Mexico, like in China, price is important, but reliability is number one.  NAFTA has brought good prices, stable labor relationships, and proximity to American factories, but the new regime in Mexico City, a more aggressive worker attitude, and the recognition in Mexico that the United States and U.S. companies are terribly dependent on the Mexico supply chain have radically changed the dynamic.  Add in the Central American immigration pickle and Trump’s quixotic tariff gambit and suddenly companies have another supply chain nightmare.

In recent weeks labor disruptions at automotive suppliers, with big ransoms demanded and exacted to go back to work, have sent chills through the automotive world from Detroit to Stuttgart.  The realization that companies can be held hostage and that the rule of law is a hollow theory in Mexico City have challenged auto companies and Tier One suppliers to wake up to the need for dual suppliers with at least one in the U.S.  This cannot happen overnight with bidding and PPAPs, but the will is there, finally, to bring work back to America. The abject fear at a Ford truck plant or a Camry assembly facility that for want of an $8 part the whole joint can be stopped in place is moving the needle at last.

The trap of “just in time” is also becoming apparent.  It just does not work if Mexican workers are blocking the suppliers’ doors.

We are in the early stages of redundant sourcing.  It will change the outsourcing world that has been flowering almost unimpeded for 25 years in China and Mexico.

The countries are very different, but the supply issue they share affects our machining world in a profound way.  The “game” has finally changed.

Question: Has the move to dual sourcing affected your company yet?

 

 

 

 

 

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Swarfcast Ep. 44 – Bruno Schmitter on Hydromat vs. Swiss Machining

By Lloyd and Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is part two of an interview we did with Bruno Schmitter, CEO and COO of Hydromat USA.

When Bruno came to America in 1979, his competition was National Acme and New Britain Multi-Spindles. Today he says his competition is mainly CNC Swiss and 5-axis Turning Centers. Bruno argues that having one machine that can do many operations at a time is a better option than having multiple machines which require more space, more people and more tooling.

Scroll Down to Listen To The Podcast.

In the interview we also discussed Hydromat’s diversification into selling bar loaders and the company’s newest offering, the Eclipse 12-100, which offers machining up to 100mm.

Question: Would you rather have a Hydromat or six CNC Swiss machines?

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The Purchasing Bottleneck

What else doesn’t count anymore?  PURCHASING DEPARTMENTS.  The bottleneck of “purchasing” in big companies has become laughable to me as an outsider and to shop folks who make the money in manufacturing.  The big gripe used to be “management,” but I don’t hear that as much now.

Today, the outcry is with purchasing departments in larger companies that slow everything down with paperwork and “justifications.”  When you need 1,000 pounds of 12L15 round tomorrow, and Central Steel is happy to get it to you at a fair price so the company can make five grand on a hot job, and purchasing just can’t quite make it happen for a week, that is dumb, antiquated management.  We see it all the time.  It’s why small companies survive and often prosper, while bigger firms trip all over themselves.

It is also why private equity firms are eyeing even small shops with 20 or 30 employees if they have a “secret sauce,” few destructive fiefdoms, and a culture of cooperation.  Unions have failed in America today because they rely on a culture of conflict.  Enlightened management has reduced conflict in many cases, thus reducing the desire for institutionalizing conflict in a union setup.

American stock markets edged close to all-time highs yesterday.  The mavens of the market, who I think really know less than nothing, think it is the prospect of the Fed lowering interest rates today.  I doubt it.  The Fed is generally rather irrelevant during these days of low inflation and tiny unemployment.  The Fed is almost as irrelevant as the United Auto Workers who after 25 years still have not managed to unionize one auto plant in the South.  They lost last week at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga again.  This is at VW which has a Board thick with Union folks in Germany.  The UAW now has 30% of the workers it used to have.

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We are celebrating 10 years of growth in the economy according to the numbers.  I am a bit skeptical of that personally.  I have seen plenty of ups and downs in my work over the last 10 years, but the broad sweep has been upwards — unless you build single-family homes in places like Chicago.

The national press and Democrats running for President are up in arms about the “lack of affordable housing.”  If you live in Seattle, Portland, or Manhattan, yes, you cannot find a cheap place to live except for an alley, but to generalize it for the rest of the country is absurd.

You want affordable, move to Bismarck or Oklahoma City or my neighborhood of beautiful homes on big lots, 35 minutes from downtown Chicago.  You may have a neighbor with darker skin than you, but this is America, folks.  Or you might prefer 900 square feet of quite-functional, newer space in Chicago and forgo a car.  Affordable housing is in the eye of the beholder.  I just heard of a couple from Seattle who made a study of the entire country as they prepared to move.  They were both in jobs which required them to have access to a major airport.  They were hoping to have kids.  They wanted an area that was not homogeneous.  They bought a home under $200,000 near me where they can live on one earner’s pay.  Affordable housing is plentiful if you have flexibility and don’t accept the conventional wisdom of scarcity.

Where is the “economy” heading?  It depends on what economy you identify with.  My economy of people making stuff out of metal using creativity and grit looks quite promising, even as automotive companies deal with a young population increasingly bored with cars and trucks.  There are plenty of more promising areas to gravitate into than pickups and SUVs.

Interest rates, inflation, the Fed, tariffs, the deficit, barely move the needle except to stock market junkies.  U.S.-China competition will continue whether Donald Trump wins or loses in 2020.

Enjoy the opportunities. Ignore the noise.

Question: Does “Purchasing” get in your way?

 

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Swarfcast Ep. 43 – Bruno Schmitter on Bringing Hydromat to America

By Lloyd and Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is part one of a two part interview we did with Bruno Schmitter, CEO and COO of Hydromat USA.

In 1979 at the age of 25, Bruno came to St. Louis to sell and popularize the previously unknown transfer machine in North America. Bruno told us that at a young age growing up in Switzerland his father began encouraging him to go into the machine tool business. He also discussed his first years in the United States when he traveled the country convincing multi-spindle screw machine shops to use Hydromats.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast below.

Question: Did your father encourage you to go into the machining business?

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Trying To Be The Hero

We’ve all done it.  We’ve all done it and gotten away with it.  We’ve all done it and suffered the consequences.

Tuesday night in the potentially climactic game of the NBA Finals Kevin Durant, the seven-foot shooting star of the Golden State Warriors, played ball after sitting out 32 days with a calf injury.  After 10 minutes of playing beautiful and surprisingly fluid basketball his leg buckled on a seemingly inconsequential move, and Durant crashed, all 84”, to the floor in Toronto.

Some ignorant Raptors fans started cheering, but to their credit, Toronto players immediately shushed them to silence.  They knew what likely happened to Durant, and they took no joy from it.  Durant had done what they had probably all done at one time or another.  He wanted to show his greatness.  He desperately wanted to show the world his toughness.  He wanted to be a hero to the world, to his own teammates, and perhaps most of all to himself.  And he paid the price.

In a fascinating coincidence that sports is so great at highlighting, he was opposing the magnificent Kawhi Leonard who was playing the most incredible basketball of his very nice, but not LeBron James- or Michael Jordan-like, career.  Leonard had become a superstar in the playoffs, yet last year he languished at San Antonio, sitting out the season for physical and personal reasons.  He would be a free agent after the 2018-19 season, and he did not want to spend it with the Spurs.

Kevin Durant After Being Injured

Kevin Durant After Being Injured

Kevin Durant was also in his prelude to free-agency season at 30 years old.  He was on a five-time NBA championship team in the GoldenState Warriors.  Playing with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Drayman Green, Durant made Golden State seemingly unbeatable.  For his choosing to sign there in 2016 Durant was criticized for taking the pebble-free path to titles.

But in sports, like real life, stuff happens.  Earlier in the playoffs DeMarcus Cousins, a former All Star, had hurt his quad.  This had put him out of the playoffs until the middle of the Finals, and he was a poor imitation of the outstanding player he had once been.

Klay Thompson hurt his hamstring and sat out Game Three.  With Golden State down 3-1 in a seven-game series going into Game 5 in Toronto, Durant was under huge social pressure to play and seemingly faced a moment of personal self-examination leading up to game time.  The doctors had cleared him to play.  His teammates certainly let him know that they needed him.  But only Kevin Durant really knew how his leg felt.  Money was also an issue for him.  He would be a free agent after the season.  He was already rich, but soon he could be mega-rich.

He was a defending NBA champion, but the team would always be seen as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson’s Golden State Warriors.  Unless – somehow – Kevin Durant keyed the team to three straight wins to steal back the NBA Championship for the Bay Area.  Then Kevin Durant, incredible all-around, 7-foot player that he was, would finally also be heroic.

Durant played.  And he played really well for 10 minutes.  Then his personal disaster struck.  His Achilles apparently popped—and he seemed to know it.  A ruptured Achilles tendon injury doesn’t hurt as bad as it sounds.  (I’ve done it twice.)  But it messes up your walking, much less your jumping, immediately.  It wrecks your athletic career for 10 months and, at almost 32-years-old before Durant can fully compete, it will dramatically affect his athletic future.  The career of a basketball prodigy, #2 draft pick in 2007, phenomenal scorer, great teammate, could be all but over.  Poof.

By all accounts Durant was emotionally crushed.  The Warriors’ General Manager was literally in tears when he tried to conduct a press conference after the game that the Warriors won by one point.

Steve Kerr, Golden State’s coach, chose not to talk about it.

Before writing this piece I thought about Kerr’s life.  He knows heroism and its price.

Steve Kerr spent a lot of his formative years in Beirut, Lebanon, where his father, Malcom Kerr, was teaching at the American University of Beirut.  Americans were always endangered there.  Two hundred and eighty-two American soldiers had died in one attack in Beirut.  Steve left as a teenager, went home to comfortable Los Angeles, and played guard at the University of Arizona, going to the NCAA Final Four in 1988.  His father went back to Beirut to become University President in 1982.  He was trying to bridge the gap between Christians and Muslims — to be a hero in his own way.  But 18 months after arriving, at the age of 52, he was gunned down by terrorists in the hall of the University.

Question: Have you ever gone out there when you knew you shouldn’t have?  What happened?

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