Hard Lessons for the Old Boy Network: Nothing Wrong with US MFG More Women Wouldn’t Fix

Women in MFG 2Understand, my best friend in the world is a woman – and she’s been at my side through nearly five decades. What’s more, together we have a daughter, a beautiful and talented young lady who every day blows me away with the wise, witty and deeply insightful things she continues to say, do and believe.

So I clearly come at this issue with a unique and, perhaps, particular bias.

But it’s hard for me to read a newspaper or watch the news these days and not feel sickened by the number of disturbing items that have at their core the mistreatment and objectification of women.

Moore and TrumpEverything from a sitting president having been caught on tape bragging how his fame permits him get away with molesting women, to a former judge and major party candidate for the U.S. Senate who’s not only been accused multiple times of pedophilia with underage girls, but one whose supporters either blame the victims or cite biblical references as a defense of the man’s scurrilous (and illegal) behavior.

And that’s not to mention the most powerful man in Hollywood who’s recently been outed for almost singlehandedly exposing the term “casting couch” for what it is; a PG-rated euphemism for sexual blackmail and predation, an edgy comic who, come to find out, literally can’t keep it in his pants in front of a beautiful woman, and a couple of morning talk show hosts, a former SNL comic-turned-U.S. Senator, and so many, many others.

I bring this up because, as anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, I believe one of the easiest and most critical fixes we can make in the industrial sector is to start recruiting, hiring and training more women in key positions.

Women in MFG 1Not only are women capable of doing the highly skilled manufacturing jobs so many of us claim we’re finding impossible to fill, but as workers women are proving every day to be just as dedicated, loyal and goal-oriented as men; traits so many decision-makers would have us believe only the male of our species is capable of possessing.

I should know. I’ve recently hired two talented and motivated women to design and product engineer for me; the type of work that’s always been (and, frankly, will always be) the backbone of American manufacturing.

What’s more, these women are not merely good employees, they’re living, breathing repudiations of the annoying and increasingly popular belief held by so many in the world, male and female alike – that a woman has no place doing a technical job.

Women in MFG 8And it’s that attitude against which I will now and forevermore draw a lean, clean in the sand.

Because not only are my two new engineers women, and not only do they hail from rich and culturally diverse ethnic backgrounds, but both also happen to be first generation immigrants, one from India, the other the Ivory Coast.

Take that all you Neanderthal knuckle-draggers who believe there’s nothing wrong with the U.S. economy a little good old-fashioned 1950’s-style manufacturing, a few more belching smokestacks, and a touch more carbon-burning and resource-squandering wouldn’t cure.

Old School MFGAbilasha Nandakumar and Mouna Soumahoro are terrific employees, as I said. But more, they’re part of a diverse team at my company, one that has grown rife with women in key positions, up and down the org chart, both on the shop floor and in the office. And make no mistake, without these skilled and dedicated ladies I’d find myself swimming upstream daily to try to find new business and fill existing orders.

But beyond being model employees and gifted engineers, Abi and Mouna have also taken it upon themselves to start a blog, one that addresses the very issues women like they – women in manufacturing, women engineers, and women who’ve chosen to forge a career in a STEM field – face on a daily basis.

Now granted, the blog is still in its embryonic stage and still, so to speak, sporting its training wheels. But as their employer and a strong advocate for more (and more skilled) women in manufacturing, it heartens me to no end to see that kind of passion and commitment to the industry I’ve loved so dearly and for so long.

Women in MFG 3And having read what I’ve just read of their blog, and having achieved a greater understanding of their desire to support not just each other, but other female STEM pioneers, I promise you this; I will make it a priority to do whatever I can to support them and their endeavor.

I’ll probe. I’ll read. And, most of all, I’ll learn.

My friends, as we get ready to put 2017 to bed, and as we stand here on the precipice of a new and, likely, challenging year, I urge you to join me in helping to do the one thing I truly believe American manufacturing needs now more than ever.

Women in MFG 5Collectively, those of us who love this sector must turn the page, wake up and smell the coffee, or whatever metaphor you choose. We – especially we men – must promise to try to recruit, hire and support more women in our shops and foundries; more women engineers, more women product designers, and more women managers and executives.

Because we old-school veterans of American industry need what women have always brought to our table, and need what they, in turn, can still teach us about ourselves and the largely male-centric work environments we’ve allowed to develop under our watch.

And, unlike the abusive dinosaurs and privileged power-wielders I’m sick and tired of reading about in the newspaper, my pledge goes beyond the simple machinations of any one position or any single employer/employee dynamic.

It goes beyond recruiting, hiring and training, and touches something more basic and fundamental to our responsibilities as members of the human race.

It goes to honesty. It goes to decency. And it goes to equal opportunity.

Women in MFG 6But, above all, it goes to the respect we men must learn to develop for the power, sanctity and God-given rights of the remarkable women with whom we now share space in the great American industrial workplace.

Join me, won’t you?

(To read Abi and Mouna’s blog, or to subscribe, please go to www.manufem.com.)

Trump-Proofing American Manufacturing

Trump Hard HatFor the past six months it seems, one of my wife’s primary duties each evening was to talk me off the ledge whenever I happened to watch the nightly news and see yet another proud proclamation from Donald Trump about what he’s doing to “bring back manufacturing” to the U.S.

Our thin-skinned, tone-deaf, and often ham-fisted Chief Executive would invariably do something utterly unnerving like threaten China, pull America’s support of the Paris Accords on climate change, or offer some bold and painfully misdirected praise of coal as an energy source, so that – as a small manufacturer in the global arena, mind you, and one who trades on this country’s reputation as a beacon of advanced technology and thinking – all I could do was hang my head in disbelief.

Trump TweetTo me, President Trump’s woefully misguided and provincial rhetoric has not only been counterproductive to the cause of U.S. manufacturing for past six months, it has hurt us manufacturers in the one market we’ve spent decades cultivating; the still-growing and hyper-competitive international one.

But I’m happy to report (and I am writing this now because) I have finally seen the light. I have come down, so to speak, from that thin ledge I’ve crawled onto so many times this past half year.

I now realize U.S. manufacturers have created so much momentum in the global market, and we’ve invested so wisely and so incredibly well in cutting edge technology and new product development that, by doing so, we’ve created an industrial sector so powerful it transcends the politics of any one nation or world leader.

Trump Climate ChangeWe have, in other words, “Trump-proofed” American manufacturing.

Look, I was willing to give the Donald every benefit of the doubt when he first took office. And, while I continue to disagree with him on so many policy, personal and economic issues, I still hold he’s President and, as such, deserves the respect of every U.S. citizen – even when he’s at his most petulant, inept and non-presidential.

Siemens MfgBut any manufacturer worth his salt knows a trade war with China would be catastrophic, if not seismic. We know too that alienating foreign industrial superpowers like Toyota and Siemens, two of the largest employers of American workers in the world, would be suicidal. And we likewise realize every tariff that our country imposes on one of its international partners would be answered in kind, and then some.

For that reason, I am telling my fellow manufacturers we must look beyond this one loose cannon of a politician, beyond his curious, impulsive, bombastic, and often hollow words, and, above all, beyond any one party or ideology. Instead, we must continue to operate with the exact kind of passion, commitment to the future, and clear-headed thinking that three decades ago first triggered this glorious renaissance in American manufacturing we’re still enjoying.

ExportsManufacturers throughout America must continue to invest in new technology and new product R&D, even as our new president tries his ever-loving best to herd this economy we’ve helped catapult forward back to the days, the jobs, the working conditions, and even the energy sources of the 1950’s.

We must continue to train our best and brightest people in advanced engineering, computer, and technical skills, even as our president gives his chest-beating lip service about blue collar re-shoring and continues to crow about putting thousands of low-skilled American workers back to work in jobs that, we all know, no longer exist.

We must continue to hire the best trained and most qualified candidates, regardless of their place of birth. And we must continue to fight for their right to live and work in America after graduation, so they can continue to play key roles in helping their new homeland defend its hard-won place at the top of the global food chain.

Trump MfgAnd finally, we must continue to cultivate markets and build relationships across the globe, regardless of politics, even as Mr. Trump traffics in trade-war rhetoric, opts for veiled threats over insight, understanding and mutual respect, and keeps alienating many of our longest-standing and most loyal international customers.

Look, my friends, this essay may have sounded like a blistering attack on well-intentioned but otherwise bumbling world leader and the man’s ongoing attempt to, apparently, love American manufacturing to death. But I can assure you it was meant to be anything but.

To the contrary, it has simply been a heartfelt message to my friends and colleagues in the industrial sector that I’ve grown to love deeply over the years; a message I hope many will take to heart. And that message is this; since our darkest days the 1970’s, as a sector we American manufacturers have proven time and time again we have it in us to not only survive in the face of ravenous and lethal global competition, but to succeed in a way few others could have ever thought possible.

Smart FactoryNow, ladies and gentlemen, I implore you, let’s do that very same thing in the fickle and fleeting world of global politics.  And, to that end, the first thing we should all try to do is rise above it.

Four Ways President Trump Can Help U.S. Manufacturing

Trump CarrierI am not an economist.  I don’t even play one on TV.  I’m just a small business owner who’s spent his life in the most important sector in this economy.

I am, in other words, a manufacturer.

Yet when I hear President Trump dusting off the Laffer Curve, trafficking in 80’s-era supply-side rhetoric, and proposing tax reforms that recall the days of trickle-down prosperity and “voodoo” economics, it gives me real pause.  But, as I said, I’m not an economist and have no intention of debating the subject with you today.

Instead – and given that our president has made it clear he wants to do whatever possible to help U.S. manufacturing – let me offer four suggestions to Mr. Trump, all of which would help me greatly as both a businessman and a manufacturer.

 

Dr. Arthur Laffer, Economist and professor at University of Southern California, with "Laffer Curve" on blackboard, Feb. 23, 1981. (AP Photo)

1. Rebuild America
It’s not as sexy to call it fixing our infrastructure, but the idea’s the same. Let’s rebuild America.  There’s no sector of the economy more reliant on the strength and efficiency of our national supply chain than manufacturing (a chain, by the way, now solely reliant on miles of crumbling roads, bridges, tunnels, pipes, rail tracks and power lines).

And while Candidate Trump made some wild promises in pursuit of the presidency, one, in particular, that he made continues to have merit.  So much so, that President Trump would do well to not only hold onto Candidate Trump’s promise, but act on it.

Yes, it will cost trillions to reimagine and reconstruct the backbone of our economy.  But those dollars would prove to be money, not so much spent on construction, but invested in U.S. manufacturing’s future.

Tens of thousands of displaced and underemployed American workers would find jobs, along with a real sense of purpose. Hard dollars would start moving again among those ever-challenged workers who make up our ever-threatened middle class.

But more than anything, manufacturers like me would save billions in waste, downtime and inefficiency, allowing us to be more competitive abroad.

Infrastructure 12. Reduce Tariffs
The president, for as much as he’s travelled overseas, and for all his ties to the global community, seems strangely unaware of globalization.

Today’s world marketplace has grown radically smaller.  International borders, especially for multinational conglomerates (but even for small businesses like mine), represent not so much barriers to be overcome, as markets to enter and growth opportunities to be leveraged.

Imposing tariffs in an attempt to manipulate the trade balance, while noble in its intent, would be both short-sighted and dangerous.  Globalization is here.  And, if the wisdom of the marketplace has its say, it’s not going away anytime soon.

To deny that, or to try to breathe life into the inflammatory, populist rhetoric that got Mr. Trump swept into office, would constitute economic suicide of the highest order.

Large manufacturers would be hurt.  But small ones like me could be devastated.  New tariffs would invariably trigger return fire from countries across the globe, and put much of our new revenue at risk, while giving many of our current international customers the perfect excuse to start looking for a new supplier.

In fact, the best way to ensure even greater demand for American-made brands and products in the global arena would be for the president to do the opposite; reduce tariffs significantly, if not eliminate them altogether.

Green Mfg3. Increase Green Energy Tax Credits
If President Trump knows anything, he knows the power of a carefully crafted brand name.  Heck, his very presidency is living testament of the power of a strong brand name.

Yet, to embrace the carbon-intensive, 19th Century fuel sources he has – coal and oil, especially – is not only bad decision-making, it’s horrifically bad brand management.

The world marketplace is getting cleaner and greener all the time, fueled by a new generation of upwardly mobile consumers who are younger, more environmentally aware, and in pursuit of what might be called sustainable harmony with the planet.

And goods and services that play on that dynamic, while embracing clean fuel sources, are ones that will continue to steal market share from their archaic, carbon-intensive competitors.

And should U.S. goods suddenly begin to carry the global taint of environmental irresponsibility in developing markets like China and India, not to mention more mature ones like South America and the EU, we manufacturers will suffer – because the Made in America brand we’ve leveraged to expand our businesses will quickly start to stand for something rapidly growing out of favor in the global marketplace.

Like tariffs, the president should do the opposite of something on which he ran. His coal industry/campaign rhetoric notwithstanding, he should impose meaningful tax credits for manufacturers trading in (and reliant on) clean and renewable energy sources.

H-1B VisaBelieve me, that’s the kind of branding message that will resonate with the newest and most upwardly mobile consumers around the globe. And that will help U.S. manufacturing in the very way promoting dirty, unsustainable fuels like coal will help disembowel it.

4. Pursue Sensible Immigration Reform
One thing President Trump seems to have done is learn on the job.  That, as much as anything, is likely why he’s softened his stance on so many issues that not too long ago he wielded like a bloody sword.

Take immigration reform, and especially something called the H-1B visa, a specialty work permit designed to allow U.S. companies to engage and employ highly skilled foreign workers – such as technicians, engineers, and computer geeks.

And, yes, some companies indeed exploit the H-1B visa and use it to underpay workers.  The majority, however, including many manufacturers, use it to fill critical positions that may otherwise  go unfilled for lack of qualified candidates.

Trump Mfg JobsAnd until American workers get up to speed and rededicate themselves as a group to learning the skills necessary to get a good job in today’s manufacturing, the H-1B visa will remain a critical manufacturing tool. It will not only allow U.S. factories to seek and find the best and brightest workers, but it will help us recruit the most talented foreign students as they earn degrees from U.S. colleges.

What’s more, there is likely not a manufacturer in America who does not have at least one valued (and, perhaps, longtime) employee who wouldn’t be deeply impacted by a blanket, by-the-numbers deportation of undocumented immigrants.

I urge the president to think long and hard about that, and what it might mean to American manufacturers, large and small.

Yes, this country needs immigration reform.  And, yes, the sooner that reform happens, the quicker we can put the issue behind us and get on with the business of America – which, as we all know, is business.

ExportsBut, as a manufacturer, I urge President Trump to consider the possibility that, just like so many of the issues he embraced on the campaign trail – and just like the issues at the heart of these four suggestions – the cure he suggested could turn out to be deadlier than the disease.