The Year To Go For It?

R.A. Dickey pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Toronto Blue Jays, also-rans for more than a decade, are now the most interesting team in Major League Baseball. They clearly made the decision to go all out to win the pennant this year while competing in the same division as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, teams which have been in the elite for many years.

With the acquisition of R.A. Dickey, the National League Cy Young winner of 2012, Toronto has six proven starters, which makes them an immediate contender.

But this is not really a baseball blog today. The intriguing question for me is, why now for Toronto? Why, after settling for mediocrity for a decade, do they decide to finally go “all-in”? This is really a business question that I grapple with all the time. When do you play it safe, stay satisfied with “okay,” try for singles, and when do you swing for the fences, knowing you are more likely to strike out?

Today, in Major League Baseball it is convenient and lucrative to be mediocre. Miami has clearly chosen to be wealthy and crummy for the moment by trading away its expensive stars. Because of national TV and the MLB branded merchandise they have $100 million coming in while fielding an awful team. Sounds like the great Mel Brooks film, The Producers, where Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder try to gather up the money from “little old lady” investors and then produce a terrible Broadway flop.

In the machining business today, you can struggle along, make your salary, fund your 401K and hang around. It isn’t easy, but if you survived 2009, you are probably doing okay today.

The question most business people face going into 2013, with automotive continuing to improve in North America, the oil and gas business in a long term gigantic expansion, China declining as a business stealer, construction waking up, and Silicon Valley driving innovation in the world, is whether to just be happy for surviving the “decade of despair” or to be like the Toronto Blue Jays.

I readily admit that this is a very hard decision. Looking back to 2001, I see a lot of disappointment and carnage. Business has been so damn hard. We have the rise of China, two wars taxing the country, the housing bubble, pathetic partisan politics, an aging workforce not easily replaced, shell shocked lenders–all strong headwinds.

But as I head into 2013, I ask myself why I shouldn’t be like the sassy Blue Jays who are tired of being just slightly better than the Orioles. Tired of being a .500 team, win some, lose some. If not now – when?

As you look at your own situation I think it is the appropriate time to ask yourself the question. Is this the best you can do? Do you want to start your own business? Do you want a better job and are you willing to risk giving up the one you have? Are you ready to bet on yourself and your team? Are you ready to test your dream?

For the first time in six years, I am hearing my peers in the machining world start placing bigger bets. Not a lot of them, but I am seeing it, and it seems to be older guys taking their shots, contrary to popular wisdom about baby boomers retiring.

The news of Washington and Wall Street is mostly negative right now. The National media is still in recession mode. But the Toronto Blue Jays, perennial also-rans of the American League, are saying, “This is our time.” If not now, when? How about you?

Question: Is 2013 the year to play it safe?

Lloyd Graff is Owner and Chief Space-Filler for Today’s Machining World, and Owner and Chief Space-Filler of used machine tool firm Graff-Pinkert & Co.

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6 thoughts on “The Year To Go For It?

  1. Val Zanchuk

    Playing it safe is a cash cow mentality. I don’t think most of us who go into business are expecting to run a cash cow business (unless you’re a private equity group) . Therefore, every year should be a year you go for it. However, given the internal and external economic conditions of your business, “it” may have a different value each year.

  2. Jim Goerges

    NO! Not in my industry. Not to say you don’t have a year or so of good business going forward, but, nothing has been resolved with respect to government spending or health insurance or the biggest travesty yet that people don’t understand retirement and pensions. How do you know your costs of this going forward in your business. The gun business, is seeing pressures that appear for several gun lines are going to decrease and maybe substantially. If future costs aren’t determinable now, they certainly will be worse with only 51-53% paying in taxes. Global demand is dropping! We see an artificial insemination in the USA because we are bringing work back into the US, and our recessions have cleaned out some competition, however, inventory’s are almost back to a overbought situation, other than gun sales, so where is the demand going to be? OK, some medical, question, who’s going to pay for it? I wonder if it will be as much as before, um, not likely. I am either selling or waiting for the next hiccup(recession/depression) and by slightly new equipment for pennies on the dollar only if the equipment is highly automated.

    Call me crazy but, just wait till the effects of getting something for nothing wears on a few more folks on the borderline, they will crossover, then a new and lower borderline will be set, more disgruntled people will demand and deserve better, and now the pool is larger and the work force will become smaller. So Obamanomics will destroy our economy from the inside out as we know it, there is no doubt about it…wanna bet? Everyone will have rights except the taxpayer, it is happening as we speak/type…

  3. Hank

    Depends upon what your growth constraints have been. If you have been marketing or sales constrained, this may not be the best time. However, if you have been resource constrained, there are some excellent people, subcontractors, and equipment out there at very competitive prices. Probably not the time to bet the farm on long term capital investments though.

  4. Joe Landry

    Sports teams might be able to be successful “playing it safe”, but you cannot have a successful manufacturing operation “playing it safe”.

    It takes hard work and risk to make it in the manufacturing world today. Technology and skilled workers are not cheap. You have to take risk to have both of these commodities available when the customers call.

    The good part is, that when you have these commodities, in the correct proportions, customers do call.

    I am not sure who first said this, but I have lived it for 40 years. If you don’t have a competitive edge, then don’t compete.


  5. John "Jack" Frost

    One of the responders talks of a competitive edge. When I saw the amount of money dumped into new energy production, I thought, one of these people will give us the competitive edge and manufacturing will return to the U.S. Electricity is a major cost in production. Think what reduced costs in this area would do for manufacturing. Energy costs worldwide are approximately the same. Labor costs are too volatile. We need to address an area we can control. Alas….for the money Obama has spent, we have gotten garbage. It isn’t far away. New materials in the wind generators could double the energy production which would funnel down down to the user at an advantage. It is likely we will see these new improvements, but not in the U.S. no, more likely in Switzerland or Germany. 2013 might be the time to jump in, but in this knife edge economy, you would only be taking a bath.


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