Thank You, Mr. President

Trump 1There may be no American presidency in my lifetime more polarizing than that of the Oval Office’s current resident, Donald J. Trump. Similarly, no sitting president has ever demanded so much of his people, or challenged or demeaned their most hallowed institutions, to the extent he has.

That’s why, like it or not, even for those who remain patently dumbstruck by some of the crude and hateful things our sitting president continues to say and do, we will likely all owe Mr. Trump a huge debt of thanks at some point in the not too distant future.

Let me explain that from a business perspective.

trump 3Look, I’m a manufacturer. Most of you know that. I make my living and have built my business on the backs of products I make here and sell the world over. I traffic in the global marketplace, in other words.

That’s why the whole notion that a global trade war can be a good thing, much less “winnable,” is clinically insane. Patently insane, in fact. I know it. You likely know it. Heck, anyone with any sense of history at all, or even trace-amounts of understanding of the laws of macro-economics knows it.

Yet Mr. Trump came out, thumbs a-blazing, a few weeks back and boldly tweeted that, in essence, history and economic theorists were full of so much hot air. After all, he was the Donald, was his implication; he was the great deal-maker and brilliant businessman who could easily “win” a trade war.

So what happened? Exactly what you’d expect.

trump 8The free-market capitalists – those raging Wall Street bulls upon whose Brooks Brothers suit-wearing shoulders the modern Republican Party was erected – were stunned, if not stupified. They publicly railed against the president, calling him out for the absurdity of his tweet, however out of the box it may have been.

A number of Republican senators and congressmen likewise began distancing themselves from the president — a president from their own party, mind you — much like one might distance himself from a friend or family member charged with some creepy, sordid sex crime.

Even the president’s own chief economic advisor, former Goldman Sachs honcho, Gary Cohn, jumped ship 48 hours after the mind-numbing tweet. It’s one thing, after all, to swallow a bitter pill here-and-there in the pursuit of a bigger fish you’re trying to fry. It’s something else entirely to betray everything you’ve ever worked for, or everything for which you will ever stand.

trump 7But that’s not all. Once the president called for tariffs that would negatively impact our biggest allies, countries like Canada and the U.K., who was it that came out in support of them? Who was it that rallied behind the tariff-loving president and his duty-licious ideas? A number of Democrats, that’s who – including two members of Congress from Ohio, both of whom stated publicly and proudly that the president should be applauded and that Mr. Trump was absolutely right in proposing duties on all foreign steel and aluminum.

You see, my friends, that’s the way it’s supposed to work in America. That’s how the cards are supposed to fall on the American political landscape; the Republicans on the side of a deregulated, open market, and the Democrats all-in for government intervention as a shield to protect blue collar jobs from the realities of the market.

Republicans for global capitalism and Democrats for internal social relief.

trump 5But that’s not the world we’ve grown to see unfolding these past two years; what with Republican Wall Street gazillionaires spewing frothy rhetoric about supporting noble coal miners and down-on-their-luck steelworkers, and Democrats extolling the deep and bountiful wisdom of the open marketplace.

But thanks to Mr. Trump, things are, at long last, getting back to some semblance of normal. Thanks to his one simple, tone-deaf and horrifically anti-business tweet, Republican wolves far and wide found themselves freed to finally shed their sheep’s clothing and lash out, fangs bared, while just as many Democrats were able to, at long last, return to their labor union/blue collar roots and speak a language they grew up speaking.

No, the culture war at the heart of our national divide is not over. And no, this country’s rank-and-file will not be lining up behind Nancy Pelosi any time soon. But this is a step in the right direction. And we owe Donald Trump a tip of the cap for that.

trump 6In the last presidential election, the man brought millions of completely disengaged Americans on the far right back to the political process. His rhetoric – even if it was merely that; rhetoric – spoke to them in a way no politician had in years.

Similarly, it’s a virtual certainty that as many Americans (and, likely, significantly more) who are long-disenchanted voters at the political center (not to mention left of it) will likewise be re-engaged by Mr. Trump – even if it is to try to humiliate him in the midterm elections.

America lives and dies by its electoral process. That’s an absolute certainty. And in time, my sense is, we will thank him for all he did to bring tens of millions of American voters back to that process.

trump 2Similarly, the business of America is business. And, unless I miss my guess, for all Donald Trump did just to expose our business and political leaders – left and right – for who and what they are, we will likewise owe him a deep debt of thanks. Because someday Mr. Trump just may be remembered as the politician who, through his lies, lack of understanding, and aversion to facts, made all the other politicians finally stand up and speak the truth.

On Energy, Policy and the Wisdom of the Marketplace

ExportsThere are any number of things that decades in manufacturing have taught me, not the least of which is the inherent wisdom of the marketplace. In fact, for a guy whose political bent, sense of environmental responsibility, and pro-social conscience can tilt proudly left at times, my belief in the absolute wisdom of the marketplace is as far right as right can be.

That is especially true in matters of energy. Consider these few recent examples of how the market proved more sage and powerful than any one policy, any one ideology, or any one man – even when that man turned out to be President of the United States.

When manufacturing came roaring back over the final few years of the Obama administration, it wasn’t because of any specific policy, regulation, or executive order. It was because the price of natural gas cratered to the point that natural gas-generated energy suddenly became more affordable and accessible for us manufacturers, and we and countless capital investors responded in kind.

FrackingWhen fracking came to a screeching halt around that time, it wasn’t because environmentalists said or did something that made a light bulb go on over the heads of fracking’s proponents. It was because, again, natural gas proved to be cheaper than shale oil and the market (and investors looking at fracking start-ups) simply reacted accordingly.

And now, a company called Xcel, Colorado’s largest and most powerful utility, and a company with millions of customers from Texas to Michigan, has embraced wind and solar power as a way of augmenting its massive portfolio of energy sources.

XcelWas doing so a matter of environmental responsibility? Or maybe a philosophical desire for a cleaner and more renewable relationship with the planet? Maybe to a degree, but the far more compelling reason was purely financial.

Xcel looked at the future, assessed the present, and made a cold, hard business decision – one based on this simple fact; renewable power is now cheaper to produce than traditional fossil-burning power.

Wind and solar capture technology has developed to such an extent, and the cost for wind and solar power has reduced so dramatically that Xcel’s CEO, a dyed-in-the-wool finance guy, has said his company can now build all-new a renewable power facility for cheaper than it can maintain and operate a fossil-burning one – including coal plants, which for decades had been the standard bearers for cheap production.

Trump CoalAs a born-again conservative, one would think President Trump would embrace such a market-driven phenomenon. After all, a free and open marketplace – a global one, that was unfettered by such things as tribalism, regulation and government-based sanctions, price supports and import/export duties – should be the be-all and end-all for any card-carrying market conservative.

Yet, at least to this point, that’s not been the case.

We’ve seen instead, our president go all-in in his support of coal – including trying (unsuccessfully) to federally subsidize coal companies, while pulling similar support from firms focused on the further development of wind and solar power.

Trump SolarMario Cuomo once said we campaign in poetry but govern in prose. To that end, it was understandable – especially given the fact that at the time he was courting disenfranchised coal mining voters who’d been displaced by a toxic combination of globalism, shifts in consumer demand and advances in technology – for candidate Trump to promise to bring coal back to a place of prominence in the economy. After all, to paraphrase Cuomo, it was West Virginia; a state (and, frankly, situation) that was just begging for some juicy political poetry.

Similarly, when President Trump imposed duties on all Chinese solar panel imports, it made for a great pro-worker sound byte – especially for those who voted for him and who continue to view him as a champion of the American working man.

But in doing so, Mr. Trump not only attempted to put a chill in one of the most exciting and fastest-growing segments of the energy sector, but he threatened the livelihoods of thousands of men and women who earn a paycheck working for companies tasked with the installation of those Chinese solar panels.

SolarSimilarly, by embracing coal so unabashedly – a group hug that flew in the face of current market demand, growth potential, and virtually every new technology – he created a void in global clean-technology leadership, a void that was immediately seized upon by our most dangerous and ravenous competitor, China.

Now that he’s president, Mr. Trump owes it to free-market capitalists everywhere – people like me and the hundreds, if not thousands of U.S. manufacturers who think as I do – to cease his penchant for campaign poetry and to start governing in real-life, real-world, bare-knuckled prose.

The U.S. needs a national energy policy that is purely and quintessentially market-driven. It needs a policy that does not discriminate on the basis of politics, ideology, campaign contributions or nostalgia for dying industries. And our economy, Trump Perry Energy Policyespecially the industrial sector, needs such a policy desperately – one devoid of any personal biases and cheap, campaign rhetoric.

Let’s hope, 13 months into his administration – at least when it comes to American manufacturing’s relationship with the global energy marketplace – our president does the right thing. Let’s hope finally shuts up and he lets those two wise, dynamic and powerful forces – one named supply and the other demand – do his talking for him.

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.)