As I was watching Hurricane Sandy coverage on Oct. 29, I flipped on CNBC only to find a reporter lamenting the fact that the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) might be forced to close for a second day due to inclement weather, marking the first time since the Blizzard of 1888 that weather had forced the Wall Street institution to be closed for two consecutive days. Additionally, this closure was coming at the end of the month when traders typically price financial portfolios. Oh, the horror!
Meanwhile, I was just thrilled that my 401(k) actually might not lose money for two consecutive days.
Beyond my self-centeredness, however, I couldn't shake the thought that so much attention was being placed on the NYSE while the area police officers, firefighters, public service crews, electrical workers, and storm recovery specialists were working around the clock to get New York up and running after Sandy blew through town. Certainly, financial trading is important to a modern economy, but life doesn't stop if financial traders can't make a phone call or send an e-mail. You can't say the same about the people who restore power and clear roads; if they don't show up, no one else can show up for their jobs._
Similarly, disrespect given to those who work behind a machine all day or operate a piece of heavy equipment has bugged me for a long time. Sometime over the last 50 years, the chase for the almighty dollar became more respectable than the desire to put in an honest day's work.
I recall a conversation I had with Don Begneaud, president and owner, BEGNEAUD Manufacturing Inc., a metal fabricator in Lafayette, La., several years ago. He told me that his company was in the "value-creation" business. BEGNEAUD employees take simple pieces of raw metal and turn them into valuable parts for customers that are willing to pay for the expertise.
"Our focus is not on how much money we can make; it is on how we can help solve problems for our customers and increase their value. We have always been dedicated to helping our customers, employees, and vendors to be more successful," Begneaud wrote in a column for his company newsletter back in 2008. He isn't in the metal fabricating business; he is in the problem-solving business, which just happens to involve metal parts.
Doesn't that sound much more honorable than "maximizing shareholder returns" and "beating quarterly financial expectations"? Sure, money is always a concern for a business of any size, but it probably shouldn't be the sole focus. As Begneaud reminded me years ago, when the value is created, the money is earned as a result of that effort.
That's what I admire about metal fabricators. At the end of the day, they have created something that more than likely will make life better for someone. It could be a refurbished bucket for an earthmover, a housing for a generator, or an extension arm for the cherry-picker on a truck used to work on power lines. You know, items that help financial traders get back to their Wall Street jobs.