Author Archives: Noah Graff

My Germany – Salsa and Screw Machines

By Noah Graff.

German Messerschmitt Me 262: First Ever Jet-powered Fighter Plane (Missing Swastika)

I recently spent two weeks traveling through Germany, visiting various screw machine shops and dealers. Before I began visiting customers, I took the opportunity to spend my first weekend in the country as a tourist in Munich. I chose to start the trip in Munich because the first annual Munich Salsa Congress was taking place. (I try to go salsa dancing in every place I travel for work.) I also had read that the city was beautiful and ranked as one of the best places to live in the world. And I planned to visit Dachau, the concentration camp only a half hour out of town. I had never been to a concentration camp, so as a Jew, I felt going there was the right thing to do.

Before I left, I asked my dad what he knew about Munich, as I regard him as well traveled and generally quite culturally literate. My father’s answer was that Munich made him think of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, and the dreadfully tragic 1972 Olympics held there, during which Palestinian terrorists murdered nine Israelis. But I went in with an open mind, maybe because those things had happened before I was born. I was excited about the salsa dancing, seeing the famous beer garden in the city’s English Garden, and anticipating the rush I get from traveling internationally. It’s so refreshing to me to walk around in a place where people don’t speak English, don’t use dollars, and think and act differently than Americans.

Despite that I was running on fumes after two hours of sleep over the last 36 hours, I hit Munich’s sights right away. I visited the Deutsches Museum, a museum dedicated to German engineering with a lot of emphasis on aircraft history. I thought it was only fitting that I should go to an engineering museum in Germany, on a trip dedicated to visiting German manufacturers.

One display that caught my eye was an Me 262 jet fighter plane from WWII (the first jet fighter ever used) , which curiously was missing the swastika decal on its tail. People told me prior to the trip, that in Germany–as well as some other European countries–you can be jailed for wearing a swastika. Although that first seemed strange to me, coming from the Land of the Free, I get it. The law may stem from the fear that the icon could somehow fuel a renaissance of Naziism–the government doesn’t want to take any chances, even if it infringes on freedom of expression. Later that day, in a store window, I noticed some old coins from WWII that had little white stickers on them, which I realized were covering small swastikas. Seeing the stickers after just seeing the altered airplane decal was slightly unsettling to me. It made me ponder if the people in Munich were trying to forget their horrific past. But the swastika represents the darkest period of the country, which German people are repeatedly taught to feel ashamed of. Can I blame them for not wanting to look it on a daily basis?

The Road to Dachau Concentration Camp

Sunday, my final day in Munich, I visited Dachau. I felt a little strange asking people at the train station how to get there. Were they thinking, “that tourist must be going to the concentration camp”? I learned that Dachau is actually the name of a small village, with its own train stop a half hour from Munich. When I arrived at the stop, I had to walk about 30 minutes to reach the camp. There was a bus from the train station, but I didn’t know when it would come, and I decided it would be more fitting to walk from the station, like the prisoners had to 70 years ago. Before I arrived at the camp, I was taken aback by all the normal homes throughout the town. There were nice modern condos a mere 200 feet from the camp gates. Does it bother people to look at the rusty barbed wire fence outside the camp every day? I’m not sure. Would it bother me to see a plantation in Georgia where Americans were enslaved for centuries? I must admit, I think I might get used to it.

Exploring the camp was moving, as I expected, but I didn’t break down in tears as I walked in the crematorium where the bodies were disposed of, saw the “showers” and the cramped barracks. It was a surreal experience. It was hard to believe I was actually there, standing in the place where all of the horrific atrocities occurred against my ancestors. It made all of the Holocaust stories I had read about and seen in movies more real–that was important. But I must confess, I cried more watching Schindler’s List.

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Aside from the hotel desk clerks in Munich, who were somewhat cold and disinterested in my tourist questions, I really liked the people I met throughout Germany. The machine shop owners I visited were generous with their time, took me out to lunch, and gave me a thorough education on how running a business in Germany works. (It’s tough. We forget how good we have it here.) Unfortunately, most of the guys I visited usually don’t buy used machines, but they treated me with respect and maybe they will give me the time of day if I can find them an INDEX MS 32. (There is another blog coming soon specifically about my visits with customers.)

I drove all over the country, traveling around Stuttgart, then up to Cologne. On the way to Cologne, I spent the night in Karlsruhe, a medium-sized university city. The place was dead by the time I sought out food around 10:30 p.m. Every restaurant was closed aside from a little kebab shop, likely owned by Turkish folk. Germany is full of wonderful kebab shops run by its considerable Middle Eastern population.

In the restaurant, I met a German college student named Christoph who helped me order my kebab, because I wanted to tell the guys at the counter not to add yogurt, but they didn’t speak English. For the next half hour we ate our delicious kebabs, talking about German culture and politics. He told me about the Germans’ shame from the Holocaust, saying that until Germany’s 2006 World Cup victory, the people were even bashful about waving German flags. He also talked about the generational differences among Germans, and the country’s complex views of Israel.

Salsa Dancing in Berlin

One of the highlights of the trip was that I got to go salsa dancing in Munich, Cologne and Berlin. I was quite impressed with the dancers. The women were able to follow my L.A. salsa style, even though they generally only knew the very different Cuban style. I am blatantly stereotyping now, but when I think of German people, I think of people with a high technical aptitude and people who are willing to follow rules. Perhaps those characteristics made the German women such good salsa dancers. In any case, they know what they’re doing. I’ll be happy to go back there soon.

Question: What do you think of when you think of Germany?
Noah Graff is a machine tools dealer at Graff-Pinkert & Co. and an editor at Today’s Machining World.

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Going Once, Going Twice … Human Interaction

Tecomet Auction. Bidding on machine with with pizza crust sitting atop

I attended the Auction of Tecomet Wednesday this week in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. It was just the fourth auction I’ve gone to since I started working at Graff-Pinkert almost two years ago. Auctions generally turn out to be a pretty interesting experience for one reason or another. They’re usually pretty grueling, standing on a cement floor all day, subsisting on a few granola bars or the swill they serve in the classic auction “roach coach.” This sale’s auctioneer had been kind enough to cater with Dunkin Donuts in the morning and order pizza for lunch, some crust of which sat on a precision jeweler-type lathe as it was bid upon.

I didn’t plan to buy anything when I went to the sale, although there were a few pretty pieces on the block — a bunch of Citizens from the late 90s to early 2,000s and two Tornos Deco 2000/20 machines. I attended the auction mainly as a reconnaissance mission to watch prices of the CNCs. I also came to network, as it was a good opportunity to mingle with competitors and prospective customers. I wanted to learn from them, and I also just wanted to be seen there.

I roamed the auction for a while with a former auctioneer who was bidding on a few small items that he planned to sell on eBay if he won them. He told me that 10 years ago, before today’s ubiquitous online auction bidding, a sale like Tecomet’s would have attracted 500 live people to the auction site — I estimate Wednesday’s auction drew around 50. He said that auctions used to be grand events, with intense bidding fueled by energy and enthusiasm that can only be created by people bidding in person.

After enduring five boring hours of mostly small-dollar items, the interesting stuff finally got going. The two Deco 2000s were the most expensive items at the sale, and one man onsite bought them both for $105,000 each. I’m pretty sure I remember one other person on the floor who bid $80,000, but the rest of the opposing bids emanated from somewhere in cyberspace. I have to wonder, if Internet bidding had not been available and the sale had 500 people like in the bad ol’ days, would the price of the machines have gone higher?

Today, we consumers live in what I would call an “Auction Age.” It started in the late 90s, when eBay brought auctions to the fingertips of the masses with a user-friendly, un-intimidating platform that was unprecedented in commerce. In the last decade, eBay and Amazon have conditioned consumers to believe that paying retail is for suckers. What’s more, leaving the house to buy stuff is stupid as well.

Online auction bidding has enabled auctioneers to sell capital equipment to people who sit in their offices 2,000 miles from the sale, who can get work done rather than standing all day waiting for other people to bid 40 dollars on shelving. But this convenience comes at a cost, especially for an auction mingler like myself. The atmosphere and energy that comes from community on the auction floor has been eroded. Today, the masses have replaced that venue of community by using virtual connections through email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and eBay. Every day I communicate with hundreds of people who I never would have had regular contact with 20 years ago. The communication available using the Web is mind boggling, but how powerful are those virtual connections? Even talking on the phone has been widely supplanted by texting, chatting, and emailing. What benefits have these convenient connection mediums robbed me of as they remove my desire for genuine physical contact with other people?

Question:  Has Facebook improved your life?

 

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Reflections from the 2013 PMPA Management Update

Tim Shuell of Metric Machining, at PMPA Management Update

Two weeks ago, I attended the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA) Management Update, a three day annual conference where around 200 representatives from manufacturing companies in the association gathered in Arizona to network and go to lectures on the economy and business management. It was a great place to bond with my machining industry peers, find some leads and get a scoop for a blog.

I almost always come away from PMPA events with a warm feeling from seeing how much the members genuinely care about their industry and each other. As usual, one of the main issues on the minds of attendees was the challenge of finding young people to sustain the U.S. manufacturing industry, both on the factory floor and on a management level as well.

At dinner on the first night of the conference, Jerry Eighmy, owner of American Turned Products and a former PMPA president in his 60s, told me I should write about the need for more young people in the manufacturing industry. People tell me this all the time, Today’s Machining World has discussed the topic for years. But it’s a huge issue and very worth discussing again, so I will.

The vast majority of people at the Management Update were were mid-40s and up. That seems logical as the conference is for managers and owners, who naturally have had to pay their dues over time. But still, I’m willing to bet that the same 50- or 60-year-olds on the 2013 PMPA board were attending PMPA meetings 20 years ago.

Walking to the hotel bar the first evening of the conference, I ran into Tim Shuell of Metric Machining (Ontario, California), a very sharp outspoken 39-year-old manager/engineer. He almost immediately began our conversation by confronting me about a feature article I had written for Today’s Machining World in 2011, in which I had interviewed him at the Management Update of that year. He complained that article contained some quotes from him taken out of context. I apologized about the article, and then he told me that I should start blogging more, rather than my father Lloyd writing so much, because we needed to relate better to the younger generation in the machining industry. Although he’s a fan of my father’s writing, Tim said my dad’s blogs were sometimes “too 1950s for him.” Whether I agreed with that or not, I appreciated his confidence in me and his passion for the machining industry. I quickly whipped out my iPhone to record him as he continued to speak his mind. “We (manufacturers) do [stuff] that people can’t do,” he proclaimed. “We make stuff people can’t make. This is the core of everything people hold in their pockets, that they drive on the road, that they put in their house. We make this stuff … there’s something visceral about making these parts. You can’t deny that.”

On the plane home from the conference I got to know David Knuepfer Jr. and his younger brother Bill from Dupage Machine Products, a large shop near Chicago with New Britains, INDEX multi-spindles and Euroturns, among other equipment. Dave Jr. and Bill, ages 30 and 24 respectively, are fourth generation at the company and came to the update without their father, the company owner, David Sr., a past PMPA president. I’m pretty sure they were the only two people at the conference younger than me, which was refreshing — I think. Dave Jr. told me about his experiences working at INDEX in Germany for two months, giving me some interesting insight into the way the Germans approach engineering and business. I had a particular interest in the topic because Graff-Pinkert sold two INDEX MS machines in the past two months. The INDEX MS machines seem to have emerged as the crème de la crème of CNC Multi-spindles worldwide. Dave Jr.’s younger brother Bill talked with me about Dupage’s experiences looking for new employees. He told me about the company’s use of careerbuilder.com and lamented that a great number of applicants “juiced” their resumés. The company’s longest tenured employee brought in from careerbuilder.com lasted nine months.

I was impressed with both brothers’ grasp of their company’s business. It sounds to me like they will successfully carry on their company’s legacy. They represent the future generation of leaders in the U.S. manufacturing business. But what about the children of the other 100 or so owners who came to the conference? Who will succeed them?

Questions: Would you be able to work well with a sibling in a business?

Would you able to work well with your spouse?

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My Favorite Shoes (Not Made In China)

Lamar Hawkins, Owner/CEO of NAO do Brazil — Zurich

When I was traveling through Switzerland last fall, I stumbled upon a new Brazilian shoe store in Zurich called NAO do Brazil. I felt a refreshing energy as I walked through the door of the shop that reminded me why I love traveling so much. I was an American in Zurich, shopping at a store selling shoes made in Brazil, from a company owned by a Frenchman. I was given a tour of the shop by the location’s owner, Lamar Hawkins, an African American man from Austin Texas, and the store manager who hailed from England.

Every pair of shoes NAO sells is handmade, each size with its own one-of-a-kind exotic design. If you buy a pair of NAO shoes in the shoe size 44 (U.S. size 11) there will not be another pair with that exact same design in a size 43, and likely there are only a few pairs of the exact same design/size in one shop. NAO shoes are made of 75 percent recycled material, with the soles composed of recycled bottle tops and rubber, making them so flexible they feel like socks. They cost from around $65 to $85, depending on the materials used, to me not an outrageous price for comfortable hand-sewn shoes that are this flamboyant and cool. Lamar also made a point of assuring me that the Brazilian shoe makers receive a fair wage for their labor.

NAO currently has 20 stores spread throughout Europe (one in Dubai) but no stores actually in Brazil. Lamar said the company was going to open its first U.S. store in Miami soon.

Check out the video below in which Lamar explains the process of making one pair of NAO shoes.

Question: Is the current minimum wage fair?

 

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Don’t Talk Politics in Switzerland

Syndicat Attendees from Heinrich Müller GmbH Dipping Fondue

At the beginning of September, I attended the Syndicat International Du Décolletage in Bern, Switzerland. The Syndicat, or S.I.D. Congress, is a conference that brings together precision parts manufacturing organizations from the U.S., Switzerland, France, Spain, Germany, Sweden, and Ireland. It was a week of mingling, fondue-dipping, and touring impressive Swiss shops and prominent machine tool builders like Pfiffner and Tornos.

As a technical member of the Precision Machined Parts Association (PMPA), I was grateful to receive an invitation. I often feel like a little bit of an oddball at PMPA events because I’m not a manufacturer and I’m not a new equipment distributor, yet I still feel like I belong to that community from years of writing for TMW and selling used equipment for Graff-Pinkert. I don’t feel like I’m a true member of the PMPA fraternity, but that’s perfectly fine because I feel respected by the members, and it seems like they enjoy having me around — usually, at least.

My goals for the week in Switzerland were to get to know my international machining industry peers and soak up as much knowledge from them as possible. Of course, I wouldn’t have minded selling them a machine or two as well. The amount I learned and the people I met that week far exceeded my expectations, easily justifying the time and money for the trip. And as I often find at these type of gatherings, the best moments occurred during the unofficial itinerary — the nauseating bus rides through the Alps, sharing a fondue pot, or wandering off from the guided tours to pursue personal discussions.

Syndicat attendees touring Bern. Noah on far left.

The first night at dinner was rather memorable. We first mingled over hors d’oeuvres, primarily chicken on sticks for some reason. I talked mainly to German and Swiss shop owners. They queried me about the upcoming Presidential election, about which I told them I was undecided. I asked them what they thought of our current President, and they were generally pretty positive about him. Wow, I thought — wouldn’t find too many perspectives like these among typical TMW readers.

After the chicken skewers, I sat down for dinner at a table comprised entirely of Americans, most of whom I knew from past PMPA events. Soon after sitting down, whad’ya know — someone popped the question, “So Noah, what do you think of the upcoming election?” I gave my honest opinion, that I was undecided.

There was a different reaction than that of the Germans. I may just as well have been a 22-year-old OSHA inspector with the amount of anger this statement triggered. Basically, I was told that I was dishonoring my country and my family to even fathom voting for Obama. This wasn’t what I came to Bern for, I thought. I came to the conference to bond with my peers, not fight, and I liked these people, as long as they weren’t blasting me. Somehow I managed to chill things out and have some good discussions about Abraham Lincoln and then about the superiority of Index Multi-Spindles.

It seemed like almost everybody at the conference owned Indexes and loved them. This turned out to be a quite a useful thing for me personally, because the second-to-last day of the conference, my coworker Rex was in Australia bidding on several MS Indexes. I ran recon all over the conference asking folks how the machines worked, what models were most popular, how difficult it was to tool them, and most importantly, how much the machines cost new. Eventually I found out Rex had bought an MS32. One of my fellow PMPAers was especially helpful and told me he paid $1,300,000 for his. I then consulted an Index sales rep for Sweden at the conference who quoted me a price in Swedish Krona, which converted to around the same price as the first one I was quoted.

Everyone at the conference was fantastic about sharing their knowledge of the machinery and the industry with me. They answered my questions about the merits of CNC Hydromats verses traditional ones — they like both. They told me why they preferred one equipment brand over another, and what methods they used to give them pricing power with their customers. They answered my rudimentary questions about how to count the number of axes on a machine. Sometimes we just talked about their children or how fast they get to drive their Porches on the autobahn.

I guess people are generally open and welcoming when they get to talk about the topics they know best and love. Their enthusiasm fueled my own. I felt a stronger bond with my machining industry peers than ever before.

Question: Do you usually find conferences in your industry worthwhile or a waste of time and money?

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Why We Do Jobs We Hate

Recently I finished Andre Agassi’s autobiography, “Open,” the most interesting and entertaining non-fiction book I’ve read since the Steve Jobs biography.

From the first chapter on, Agassi states that he “hates tennis.” As soon as he could hold a racket, his domineering father began grooming Andre with the goal of him becoming the number 1 player in the world. Every day from grade school until he left home for Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, Andre was forced to hit for hours with a ball machine his dad had souped up, which he named “The Dragon.” His dad would stand behind him constantly yelling, “Hit Harder!”

Agassi played as a child because his father gave him no choice. His father was determined to spawn a tennis champion, and he had fallen short with all of Agassi’s older siblings.

Agassi lost a match for the first time at age 10 to the future pro, Jeff Tarango, when Tarango blatantly cheated on a line call in the final point of a tiebreaker. Agassi cried afterward. He was devastated. He hated the feeling of losing so much that from that day on, he devoted himself to perfectionism in his tennis despite his stated hatred of the sport.

He still hated the solitude of playing singles. He hated being forced to practice every day when normal kids got to play with friends. He resented tennis because it represented not having a choice for his life’s path.

As he got older, Agassi came to believe that playing tennis was his only option for an occupation. He had manipulated Nick Bollettieri to let him drop out of school in eighth grade, which further limited his career options. As a teenager he had no money, so with his older brother Philly coaching him, he traveled the U.S. playing the on the Satellite Tour in an old beater, trying to win enough to pay for gas and food.

Many times in the book, Agassi justifies playing the sport he hates by comparing himself to the countless other people in the world who strive for excellence in their jobs despite hating what they do. How many people in this world choose a job because they have been ordered to do it since birth? How many people have a certain occupation because they just happen to be great at it and they believe it’s the only job they can succeed in? How many people stay in a job they hate because they equate quitting with losing and failure?

I often watch professional athletes and think to myself, what they do would be my dream job. Wouldn’t it be nice to play a game as your job, get paid millions, and have unconditional love from fans? I have always taken it for granted that people who make a living playing a sport, devoting their lives to a sport, playing with the passion to be the best in the world must love playing it.

But think about all of the Olympic champions the last few weeks from countries like China and Russia, who are forced to devote their lives to winning a contest they never chose to participate in on their own. I’m sure some of the champions do love their sport, but I wonder … how many of them just hate losing?

Question: Do you have to love what you do to be great at it?

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Please, No Screws?

Graff-Pinkert’s new logo designed by the winner of a contest on LogoSnap.com.

Lloyd Graff recently purchased Jim Graff’s interest in Graff Pinkert & Co., and he felt it was time for a redo of the company’s Website and logo. Today’s Machining World also changed its logo five years ago and redesigned its Website last year.  Its important to stay current in business, and periodically refreshing marketing and advertising is a way to do it. I was in charge of coming up with the logo and it was a tough gig because we really had no idea what we wanted. I did a Google search for logo creation and found a site called LogoSnap.com. LogoSnap facilitates contests among designers from around the world to create original logos, business cards and letterhead for companies around the globe. Clients get to name their price on what they award the winner of the contest. The minimum prize is $200 so we offered $250. There is also a small service charge that goes to LogoSnap, so the total bill was about $300.

We were instructed to give a brief description of our company, which I’m sure was quite esoteric to the designers, just like it often feels when I try to explain my job to a typical person at a bar. The site suggested we give feedback on logos and Websites we like and don’t like. Lloyd (my boss) specified that the logo was not to have any images of screws or objects that resembled screws, as he thought that would inspire trite and generic designs. It was the same philosophy we always emphasized for the Today’s Machining World magazine covers—our cardinal rule was no photos of just machines.

Several designers from Pakistan and India participated, and one from Italy took part. The Italian, who gave himself the code name “Logoon,” lived up to his country’s reputation for superior design and blew us away with his style and creativity. He decided to ignore Lloyd’s prohibition of screws and created an abstract “GP” shape, framing a subtle silhouette of a dome head screw. We didn’t even notice the screw shape until my Website designer pointed it out to us.

I suppose it would have been nice if an American designer had won the contest. There are a few American designers who do participate in the LogoSnap contests. But perhaps most American designers don’t think a prize of $250 is enough incentive to enter a contest in which they are likely competing against teams of multiple people in India and Pakistan. Using the LogoSnap contest model was a great way for us to get more and better ideas. And in the end, we didn’t care if the logo came from Milan or Miami, we just wanted brilliant design for a fair price.

Question: What’s your favorite logo? Apple? Nike? Google? Starbucks?

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A Love Letter to the Haters

We at Today’s Machining World have been thrilled with the activity on our Web site lately. We received 98 comments on a recent blog because Lloyd admitted he voted for Obama partly because of his skin color. While it pads our egos to get so many comments, we find the ugly negativity that flows out of many of our readers when buttons are pushed about politics in this country depressing. So for all the haters out there whose anger may cause them to lose perspective on what really matters, we are running the following poem by Mother Teresa, “Do It Anyway.”

Do It Anyway

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

These verses were reportedly written on the wall of Mother Teresa's home for children in Calcutta, India, and are widely attributed to her.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Question: If Mother Teresa ran for President would you vote for her?

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Do you think you’re better than everybody else?

Muhammad Ali: "The Greatest of All Time"

A recent article in Wired Magazine featured a list of principal forces which spur new innovations. One of the forces the piece discusses is the audacity of individuals. The people who change the world have to have a strong belief that they can do things better than anybody else before them and not be afraid to fail. Creating a device that fit in your pocket that could hold thousands of songs, mass producing all-electric cars, building a lathe that can do 16 operations at a time unmanned 24-7–it takes balls and arrogance to try that stuff.

Audacity is vital and ubiquitous in the machining industry. Machinists constantly brag to me that their latest setup has never been done in a particular way before. I walk into shops and engineers beam as they show off the homemade machines they’ve concocted.

Audacious personalities are often found among the most successful entrepreneurs as well. Groupon believed that retailers would be willing to offer their products at over 50 percent off to the masses and that millions of consumers would bite. Paypal believed it could make people pay for items in a way that had never done before and pay a fee for the privilege. Online brokerage firms turned the trading institution upside down by allowing traders to pay $10 per trade without calling a broker. Screw Machine World (Today’s Machining World) believed it could produce a revolutionary trade magazine for the machining industry, something interesting and readable versus the tried-and-true traditional stale trade rag. We were naive to think that advertisers would instantly flock to us for our high quality, despite our refusal to run their advertorial submissions. Had we known how hard it would be to make money in publishing, we probably wouldn’t have tried it and I wouldn’t be posting this blog.

Naiveté is an enabler of audacious ideas. Often it’s easier to try new things when you haven’t ever seen “the way it’s always been done,” or at least haven’t seen the way things have always been done for very long. That may be one reason younger people often have the fresh revolutionary ideas, while the so-called seasoned experts get stuck just doing what’s worked in the past. Historically most societies have preached conformity. Schools, religious institutions, corporations and assembly lines usually like to discourage audaciousness. Kind of sad, but the world can only take so many audacious SOBs, right? Are you one?

Question: Are schools in the United States inferior?

Post Fight Interview Muhammed Ali after the Rumble in the Jungle

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Education of a Used Machinery Dealer, Part II

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?

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