Dale Buss

Dale Buss
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Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other business publications. He lives in Michigan.

Airstream Enjoys Return to U.S. Space Program in Partnership with Boeing

Airstream has become known as the makers of the pinnacle of recreational vehicles signified by their “silver bullet” profiles. But a half-century ago, Airstream also was recognized as a supplier of transportation services to the American space program. Now the company is getting a chance to reprise its role in rocketry as the U.S. space program begins experiencing a bit of a renaissance. The Jackson Center, Ohio-based manufacturer has initiated a partnership with Boeing as the aircraft giant competes with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to launch next year what would be the first contingent of Americans taking off for space from U.S. soil since the last Space Shuttle launch in 2011. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is slated to carry three humans to the International Space Station in 2020. No, the Starliner isn’t shaped like an Airstream travel trailer. But Airstream is supplying a vehicle known as Astrovan II to transport the astronauts to the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The vehicle is a modified Airstream Atlas Touring Coach named after the original Airstream trailer, nicknamed “Astrovan,” that, beginning in 1983, carried astronauts the last few miles to their space-shuttle launches at the Cape. “More than just a promotion, this represents the latest chapter in Airstream’s involvement in manned space flight,” Airstream CEO Bob Wheeler told Chief Executive. “We love this part of our history.” And actually, Airstream’s history with the space program goes back way before the space-shuttle program. Airstream first became associated with the space program in the public consciousness in 1969, the year Apollo 11 landed on the moon. It was tasked with supplying a vehicle that many Americans of baby boomer vintage and older will remember: the trailer that quarantined astronauts from other earthlings after they returned home from the moon. NASA scientists wanted to protect against the possibility that the astronauts might carry back some alien pathogen from humanity’s first physical contact with the lunar environment. And so Airstream outfitted a modified version of its Excella RV to house Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins after they splashed down on Earth from their triumphal return from the moon. “We were seen as a capable technology company building mobile environments, where we developed special air filtering and handling equipment,” Wheeler explained. “They wanted to keep the astronauts isolated for a time in that kind of environment. It seems quaint at this point, but put yourself back then.” Airstream built a total of four of the mobile quarantine labs for NASA’s use in the last years of the Apollo program. Now it is being re-enlisted as America begins re-engaging space travel in a number of ways. Some key fans of the brand inside Boeing, Wheeler said, helped get Airstream consideration for the role that became Astrovan II, including Warren Brown, Boeing’s executive director of marketing, brand and advertising, and Chris Ferguson, who led the final space-shuttle mission as an astronaut and is scheduled, at the age of 59, to command the first Starliner flight. “He was a three-time original shuttle astronaut,” Wheeler said. “He told me he loved the original Astrovan. So we had [Brown] pushing on one side and the guy who’s leading the [next] mission say he’d love to have Airstream be part of this story.” Wheeler said the company, a unit of Thor Industries, is “just thrilled” with its partnership with Boeing. “It’s an interesting sidelight to the [Airstream] brand overall, but it also demonstrates that very high-level technology organizations respect what we do in a way that compels them to involve us in their efforts.”

UAW President Jones Risks Upending Union’s Long Tradition of Leadership Integrity

Surely Walter Reuther and Doug Fraser are rolling over in their graves. For all the bad situations that business leaders can find themselves in these days, United Auto Workers President Gary Jones is in about one of the worst: as a target of a fast-expanding federal probe into corruption. And it’s even worse because Jones is the besmirched chief of a proud union whose founders, such as Reuther, and later leaders of demonstrated integrity, including Fraser, made sure that, whatever else the critics of the UAW could say about one of America’s most powerful organized-labor groups, they couldn’t say it was corrupt. Jones’s situation leaves the union and its rank-and-file with flaccid leadership, rattled and unable to enjoy fully what it might consider a “victory” for gains made during the just-concluded six-week strike against General Motors. Even worse, in the wake of the demonstration of its remaining power against the marquee member of the Detroit Three automakers, the UAW is still dwindling and is more uncertain of its future now than ever. Rory Gamble, vice president in charge of the UAW Ford department that just reached a deal with America’s No. 2 automaker without a strike, has become acting president and vowed in a letter to union members that he is “angry” with the stains caused by the investigation but “not here to pre-judge anyone. I am here to take this union forward.” He may follow in the tradition of other UAW presidents, such as Owen Bieber and Steven Yokich who, even while not possessing quite the leadership or rhetorical skills of Reuther or Fraser, also demonstrated integrity. Jones is taking a leave of absence as federal prosecutors in the widening corruption investigation appear to be closing in on possible charges against him and, even worse, are investigating his predecessor, Dennis Williams. According to the Detroit News, Jones has been implicated in the probe that so far has resulted in 12 charges and 10 guilty pleas among UAW leaders and some low-level auto-company executives. He hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing. But Jones’ weekend request to the union for a leave of absence came two days after prosecutors accused a former top aide to Jones and six other UAW officials of embezzling $1.5 million in union funds and filing false expense reports to conceal the wrongdoing. The admitted and alleged wrongdoing uncovered by the investigation is ugly stuff involving not only embezzlement but also gross abuse of expense accounts—which ultimately stem from UAW member dues—by union officials renting villas in California, scoring rounds of golf at prominent West Coast courses, and buying some very expensive liquor. The News also reported that “UAW Official A,” which is the moniker for Jones in the investigation, was in possession of more than $32,000 in cash at his personal residence on August 28. That’s the day Jones’ home was raided, along with those of other UAW officials, and when media reports quoted witnesses as saying that investigators were counting cash, according to the newspaper. With all of this going on in the background, it’s not a stretch to believe—as many have posited—that Jones helped lead the union’s strike against GM as a sort of Wag the Dog gambit to distract attention from the probe and to seem like a tough-guy leader to unionists who were demanding more gains from the automaker than it initially wanted to give. Still, Jones lost two key things at the table. First, GM CEO Mary Barra publicly disclosed the basic outlines of the automaker’s last offer to the UAW before the strike, and now union members can see that the walkout led by Jones didn’t gain them substantially more than the company was prepared to offer two months ago. Second, Barra actually won her key “demand” even after the strike and $3 billion in lost profits: to maintain the labor flexibility the company needs for the future, including no reversals of its closure of three big assembly plants. Even more important, the union leadership discreditation and paralysis comes at a time when UAW membership overall continues to dwindle and the future of blue-collar work in America’s auto plants is under intensifying assault from the growing capabilities of industrial automation and from the lower labor requirements for the all-electric vehicles that are becoming commonplace in the market. What’s more, with leadership that they can’t trust, there’s the prospect that more rank-and-file members of the UAW may begin to opt out of the union under provisions of the right-to-work laws that have been put on the books over the last several years in significant membership states including Michigan and Indiana. Jones may have helped lead an epic UAW strike against GM that squeezed more gains for expectant union members out of a company that has enjoyed a decade of strong profits after the Great Recession and U.S.-government bailout. But he may not be around to enjoy the afterglow.

The World Changed, So Why Didn’t McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook?

[caption id="attachment_65169" align="aligncenter" width="696"] Former McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook.[/caption] When Steve Easterbrook was fired as CEO of McDonald’s on Sunday over a personal relationship with an employee, it was yet another reminder that even though rules for corporate leadership have changed in the era of #metoo, some business chiefs are having a hard time getting the message, despite the enormous potential consequences. The board of the fast-food giant terminated Easterbrook, and he resigned from McDonald’s board, after an investigation of a consensual relationship with an unnamed employee. “This was a mistake,” Easterbrook wrote in an e-mail to McDonald’s employees on Sunday conceding that he had violated company policy on personal conduct. “Given the values of the company, I agree with the board that it is time to move on.” McDonald’s forbids managers from having romantic relationships with direct or indirect subordinates. Easterbrook is divorced, but Sunday’s developments were a remarkable admission that he hadn’t heeded the company’s clear policy on personal relationships in the office or society’s intensified focus on CEO behavior and the possibilities for abusing their power. He's hardly alone. Intel’s Brian Krzanich, Boeing’s Harry Stonecipher, Best Buy’s Brian Dunn are just a few of the CEOs who have been forced to resign because of improper relationships with employees. “We do see a trend here,” Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, CEO of the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute, and Chief Executive columnist told CNBC. “Of these roughly 90 CEOs who left office last year, 40 percent of them were for misconduct.” Easterbrook was replaced by Chris Kempczinkski, who was president of McDonald’s USA and an Easterbrook protégé. On Sunday, Kempczinski told the Wall Street Journal that McDonald’s has a responsibility to address workplace well-being. The company had strengthened workplace training and protocol for reporting potential employee misconduct earlier this year, the newspaper said. The “great news,” said Sonnenfeld, is that “this is a board that has been prepared for unexpected crises” and was ready with a seasoned executive to take over the top job. The bad news? This is the company’s seventh CEO in 13 years. “The transitions have been pretty smooth,” said Sonnenfeld, “even though they’ve been way too frequent for this amount of time.” Sunday’s termination brought to an end a long career at McDonald’s in which Easterbroook eventually headed the company’s U.K business and returned it to growth. His four-year stint atop the entire company began when he replaced the largely ineffectual Don Thompson in 2015. McDonald’s was mired in slowing sales and greater competition at that time, and Easterbrook took several steps that re-energized the chain for a while. But while building on success for McDonald’s used to be as simple as introducing a new sandwich or a new product line — such as the establishment of the McCafe coffee brand on U.S. national menus a decade ago — Easterbrook took over at a time when that was never going to be enough anymore. He faced issues including greater criticism of the health of McDonald’s food, the incursion of online ordering, increased consumer demands for delivery service, labor protests over its wage rates, and franchisee disenchantment over operational demands for fulfilling the changing palates and technological demands of the American and global consumer. Easterbrook got some initial juice with moves such as making many breakfast items available at McDonald’s restaurants 24 hours a day and de-complicating some operational initiatives. He committed the chain to switch to cage-free eggs, antibiotic-free chicken and hormone-free milk and raised workers’ pay above minimum wage. More recently, Easterbrook pulled the trigger on the acquisition of Dynamic Yield Ltd., an Israeli digital startup that is supposed to improve in-store ordering and online marketing, in McDonald’s biggest acquisition in two decades. But at the same time Easterbrook wasn’t able to elevate McDonald’s clearly above the vast secular changes that are challenging not only the world’s leading fast feeder but also every part of the global restaurant business. Now it will be up to Kempczinski—who told the Journal that “there isn’t going to be some radical, strategic shift” under his command—to pick up where Easterbrook involuntarily left off.

Schnatter Launches PR Blitz To Put Papa John Departure in Better...

John Schnatter is not going quietly in his ongoing battle with the company that he founded and that booted him out as chief last year. Now the former CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, who remains its largest shareholder, has mounted a big publicity campaign in which he offers observations about the continued travails of the Louisville-based company and criticizes the way he was dumped for his use of a racist slur. Over the last several days, Schnatter has provided an op-ed piece to the New York Post, been interviewed on Fox News, and provided comments to CNBC, among other moves, in an effort to put a friendlier spin on the circumstances of his departure from Papa John’s last year. The company and Papa John’s franchisees “have struggled without my leadership and brand expertise,” Schnatter wrote in the Post. He criticized Papa John’s board, which recently added former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, as having “no one … [with] any experience in the pizza industry. They couldn’t possibly understand the steps necessary to correct this very complicated, struggling business as I had on a number of occasions in the past.” Papa John’s circumstances are giving Schnatter plenty of grounds to criticize. Several weeks ago the chain fired Steve Ritchie, who had been Schnatter’s choice as CEO when Schnatter moved to the chairman’s job in late 2018 in the wake of criticism about his comments concerning the National Anthem controversy in the National Football League, of which Papa John’s was a major sponsor. Papa John’s named Rob Lynch, the former president of Arby’s, as Ritchie’s replacement. Meanwhile, same-store sales growth for Papa John’s has remained negative as the company participates in a dog fight with industry leader Domino’s and No. 2 Pizza Hut. Among the issues they’re all dealing with is the increasing role of home delivery for fast-food and even fast-casual chains that are competing for customers with a pizza industry that traditionally dominated in home delivery. In his PR campaign, Schnatter endorsed the dispatch of Ritchie—who ended up executing the break between Schnatter and Papa John’s last year—and praised Lynch. He “has proven to be an effective marketing leader in previous roles,” Schnatter wrote. “As the company’s largest shareholder,” with a 16.7-percent stake, “I’m hopeful that he can be successful at Papa John’s.” But Schnatter is saying that one of Papa John’s biggest problems is product quality, a major concern for a brand whose slogan has been “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.” “Papa John’s management may be emphasizing cost-cutting over product quality,” he wrote. “Even the pizzas don’t appear to be made the way that I made them just a few years ago.” Schnatter also said he’s been hearing from store managers, franchisees and employees that “morale is at an all-time low.” Schnatter also has been using his visibility blitz to plead his case that his use of the “n-word” in a diversity-training exercise in the summer of 2018, when he was still chairman, “in fact” came in the context of remarks that expressed his “disdain for racism.” (In fact, it came in the context of his complaining that Col. Sanders used the slur and never faced public backslash.) He has also compared his scenario with that of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who used the n-word during a radio interview in October while discussing historical discrimination toward darker-skinned Italian immigrants. Response to Cuomo’s remark, Schnatter complained, “is in stark contrast to the irrational overreaction and internal exploitation of my comments.”

Peugeot CEO Tavares Will Assume Top Job in Fiat Chrysler-PSA Merger

Updated 10/31 The tie-up between Fiat Chrysler Automotive and PSA, announced Thursday, will create a Eurocentric company with a better chance of long-term survival than either enterprise separately; spell the end of the "Detroit Three" automakers, as they’ve been known for a half-century; and represent the ultimate triumph of Carlos Tavares, a legend of the global auto industry who’s little known in the United States. Fiat Chrysler and PSA Group of France, parent of Peugeot, have announced a deal that would create a $48-billion transatlantic giant, according to the Wall Street Journal, and vault the new entity into third place among global automakers in total sales behind only Volkswagen and Toyota. Partnerships and even consolidation among automakers across the world are picking up momentum as sales slow nearly everywhere, overcapacity remains in many places, and ensuring future relevance becomes more problematic with the demands for huge new investments in electric and autonomous vehicles. A tie-up between PSA and Fiat Chrysler will allow the companies to share such burdens, and an all-share merger of equals has emerged as one strong possibility in their discussions, the Journal said. Fiat Chrysler earlier this year explored a potential deal with PSA and subsequently offered to merge with Peugeot rival Renault, but then dropped the idea after facing resistance from the French government, a big Renault shareholder, and from Nissan. Such a merged entity likely will focus geographically in Europe and be run by a brain trust based there, for the first time leaving General Motors and Ford as the only true American major auto companies. Since Fiat accepted the carcass of Chrysler in 2009 after the Great Recession and a U.S.-taxpayer bailout of the company, the American entity has been the tail that wagged the dog because Fiat Chrysler Automotive has relied on the robust profitability of Ram pickup trucks and Jeep SUVs while Fiat’s sedans sold in Europe have struggled over that time. Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne ran the company from, and in between, both continents until he died last year and the company internally promoted Michael Manley as his successor. Tavares is Peugeot’s CEO now and, according to the Journal, will run the combined entity while Fiat Chrysler’s John Elkann serves as chairman. Such a role represents an ultimate triumph for Tavares, who splashed onto the international scene as chief of Nissan’s presence in North and South America a decade ago and, by 2011, as chief operating officer for Renault. Tavares famously left Renault in 2013, two weeks after publicly saying that he wanted to become CEO of an automaker. At the time, Carlos Ghosn was the firmly ensconced and highly lauded CEO of the Nissan-Renault alliance, and so Tavares soon skipped to PSA. In his time there, he has cut costs, boosted the company’s market share in China, and led the company’s acquisition of GM’s money-losing Opel division in Europe then restored it to profitability. But there haven’t been Peugeot dealers in the United States in almost 30 years, and a tie-up with Fiat Chrysler would change that quickly.

Masters of Manufacturing: Crafty Counter CEO Manufactures ‘Flexitarian’ Alternative to Chicken...

This is the latest in our “Masters of Manufacturing” series, presented in partnership with The Indiana Economic Development Corporation. Each month we share insights and ideas from innovative, growth-minded manufacturing CEOs from across the nation as they navigate this tricky time in history. The chicken nugget has been an icon of American food  manufacturing—and a staple of mainstream menus—for decades, but Hema Reddy has come along with a new way to make nuggets. The founder of startup Crafty Counter has put a “flexitarian” twist on the product in a pitch to the sensibilities of mindful moms but with an appeal to the picky palates of their children. Under the brand Wundernuggets, the former IBM executive-turned-healthy-food entrepreneur has managed to come up with a manufacturing approach and market proposition that have landed her products in an important test in Walmart stores after just two years on the market. Popularized by McDonald’s decades ago and since adopted and adapted by many better-for-you startups as well as by fast-food rivals, the nugget holds an enduring fascination for today’s children as it did for their millennial parents. Reddy launched Crafty Counter only a couple of years ago in Austin, Texas, with a unique approach stemming in part from the India native’s appreciation of her home country’s cuisine and ingredients. Wundernuggets are about half chicken and about half plant-based ingredients, such as protein-rich lentils. "I think I speak for the majority of the population who find it intimidating to completely give up eating meat,” Reddy told Chief Executive. “That’s the reason only three percent of the U.S. population actually is vegan. Most people who are driving the demand for plant-based foods aren’t 100-percent vegan. We’re providing a [path] for this population. Why not start with a flexitarian lifestyle that allows you to eat that occasional piece of animal protein? “If you can go vegan 100 percent, it’s great for the planet,” she said, “but I relate things to my family: They want to eat more vegetables, but they’re not ready to give up on eating animal protein, at least not yet. So let’s make it less intimidating for everyone.” Reddy began having children nine years ago. “Growing up in India, we ate meat only once a week, on Sundays; on the other days we had a veggie diet, or poultry,” she said. “When I started my own family, I realized we were eating too much meat. So for me it was having a mixture of good proteins that was inclusive. We didn’t need to give up eating poultry – just supplement it with plant-based sources.” So Reddy took to her own kitchen, first coming up with the predecessor to Wundernuggets, combining chicken with plant-based protein sources including chickpeas, vegetables and whole grains. She worked only with 100-percent-muscle chicken, not anything like the “junk parts” and fillers that account for much of the ingredients in mainstream fast-food or commercial-CPG nuggets which are rendered into a slurry that isn’t an appealing sight in video glimpses online. About 100 formulations later, Reddy test-sold Wundernuggets in late 2017 at a farmer’s market and a handful of stores in Austin as well as on her own web site. After a positive consumer response, she invested in better packaging and a production scheme and began to broaden distribution. She finally quit her position at IBM about four years ago. But commercialization and scaling, she discovered, presented challenges. For one thing, it was difficult to find a manufacturer that could produce both chicken and vegetable-based nuggets on the same line, especially early on. “Every manufacturer wants you to commit to doing 50,000 pounds per SKU on a single run, and we wanted to start with 5,000 to 10,000 at most,” Reddy said. Also, it took her about a year to settle on a coating for Wundernuggets that could be contract-produced, eventually settling on chickpea flakes despite challenges such as the production bottlenecks of dealing with fresh chickpeas instead of canned ones. As a result of starting with low-volume production runs, Reddy priced Wundernuggets admittedly high, around $8 to $10 for an 8-ounce bag of about 15 nuggets at many stores, and sometimes higher. “That was a cost-prohibitive level for many consumers, we knew,” Reddy said. “The formulation was very high quality, but nuggets aren’t exactly like gourmet food. They’re comfort food.” Scaling has gotten easier now that Crafty Counter has a deal with Walmart to sell Wundernuggets at more than 200 stores, many in Texas. Retail pricing is just under $7 a bag at these Walmarts. Along with the hope for an expansion of the footprint in Walmarts, Reddy is “talking with a few other retailers” to get into their stores over the next year.” Crafty Counter also is raising new funds from angel investors. Reddy also is eager to roll out new products. “Flexitarian is a real trend, not a fad, and it’s a better way to live your life,” she said. “But it’s incredibly hard. I thought I could do this easy-peasy because I’ve done such complex marketing campaigns [in the computer business], globally and in 28 countries at a time. But this is a different beast.”

With GM Strike Over, UAW Test Moves To CEOs of Ford...

General Motors CEO Mary Barra paid a steep price for her company to retain flexibility in plant closings in GM’s new deal with the United Auto Workers, which ended the union’s 40-day strike against the automaker over the weekend. Now it’s up to Ford CEO Jim Hackett and Fiat Chrysler CEO Michael Manley to see if they can live with a GM-style deal in their own negotiations with UAW leaders who weren’t afraid to take on the biggest of the Detroit Three in a walkout, the length and tenacity of which stunned the industry. GM’s 46,000 UAW-represented employees finally are returning to factories and parts depots around the country today after 57 percent of union members voted to accept the deal in elections at their locals last week. They held out for a new four-year accord that will give them alternating base-wage increases and lump-sum bonuses in each year, protection of their comfortable health-care benefits, better pay for new hires, a faster ramp-up to full compensation for temporary workers, and a lush “ratification bonus” of $11,000 per individual for approving the new contract. Most also will have opportunities for making up much of their wages lost to the strike because GM will be asking them to work a lot of overtime in coming weeks. The strike likely cost about $3 billion in profits for GM, as estimated by Bank of America, and baked in about $400 million a year in future labor-cost increases, according to others’ estimates. GM can make up much of its lost production with overtime in the coming weeks, however, and there’s little indication that the company lost sales momentum over the last 40 days. For Barra and GM, what emerged clearly in the company’s willingness to suffer such a long walkout was that they valued labor flexibility above everything else. While GM committed to invest $7.7 billion in its U.S. manufacturing operations over the next few years, securing 9,000 jobs, Barra didn’t agree to reverse GM’s plan to close a handful of big manufacturing plants—a plan that, when she announced it in 2018, prompted a very unpleasant phone conversation with President Donald Trump, who champions U.S. manufacturing. Her stubbornness on this point stems from Barra’s conviction that GM will need maximum freedom to deploy its labor resources in a future that could include a further decline in U.S. new-car sales and most certainly will involve more redistribution of resources as GM invests massively in an ongoing industry evolution favoring electric vehicles and rolling out autonomous-vehicle technologies. In fact, some reports are that the final deal reached by GM and the UAW isn’t significantly more expensive for the company than the proposal it fielded in mid-September that was aimed at getting a deal with the union without a strike. For Hackett and Manley, the challenge on their plates is to see whether a GM-style national pact suits the needs of their own companies. Traditionally, the UAW has used the first new deal in a bargaining cycle as a basic template for “pattern bargaining” with the other two members of the Detroit Three and insisted on a new contract with each of them that fits the basic template. UAW President Gary Jones is heading to Ford next. But pattern bargaining could prove problematic for Fiat Chrysler and Ford. For instance, Fiat Chrysler has a relatively newer workforce than GM, meaning that Manley may have more difficulty accepting big cost increases associated with increases in new-hire pay and acceleration of regular status for temporary workers. At the same time, while Barra and GM had incensed the union and its members with its plant closings, the basic disposition of UAW membership toward the other employers could prove to be different than that of the GM rank-and-file. Fiat Chrysler, for instance, is adding capacity, most notably with a multi-billion-dollar plan to refurbish an old engine plant in Detroit into a modern assembly plant to build a new Jeep that will be the brand’s largest model. “This pattern is pretty costly because one of the big things GM won is closing plants that will save billions,” Kristin Dziczek, an economist and labor expert at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, told the Wall Street Journal. “The other two don’t want to close plants. If you don’t want to close plants, what is the win for the company?”

Milwaukee CEOs Count On Legacy-Industry Challenges To Lure Tech Workers

A handful of powerful business leaders in Milwaukee have coalesced around the goal of advancing a digital-tech-oriented transformation of one of America’s most industrially oriented cities. They’ll be closely watched by business and government leaders in other heartland outposts who all covet pieces of the software-based economy that has been mostly developed on the East and West coasts. Led by Northwestern Mutual CEO John Schlifske, these leaders have formally launched the MKE Tech Hub Coalition with the goal of doubling the number of tech workers in the area by 2025. The other huge Milwaukee-based companies helping to establish the coalition are Rockwell Automation, Johnson Controls and Kohl’s, while participants Accenture and Advocate Aurora Health are other significant employers in the area. They’ve collectively committed more than $5 million to begin gaining traction for boosting Milwaukee’s tech-worker population to 150,000 from about 75,000 now by 2025. “That goal isn’t just sort of blue-sky and double some [random] number,” Schlifske told Chief Executive. “Demand for these tech workers is real on behalf of each company that is a part of [the MKE Tech Hub Coalition]." Key to the coalition’s strategy is to position and promote one of the buckles of the old Rust Belt as a new-era opportunity for tech workers to apply their digital expertise to legacy-industry challenges and problems, rather than just writing another app for teenagers. “We’re a diverse group, in fintech, e-commerce, automation and health care and financial services,” Schlifske noted. “So all of the work going on at our companies isn’t just classic Silicon Valley kind of stuff—it’s more prominent, innovative stuff. These really are a series of companies that are building out our own tech platforms, and I do think we have things to offer that are different from Silicon Valley.” One insight that the builders of the MKE Tech Hub Coalition have gleaned is that “many tech people are classic engineers who just want to solve problems, and we have interesting challenges in Milwaukee companies for where things are going. They may not be creating the latest app for the iPhone, but think about our tech challenges: These are big, challenging, fun problems to solve for engineering types." Yet the tech-hub initiative “isn’t some sort of hail mary for us to survive,” Schlifske stressed, noting the number of Fortune 500 companies and other major corporate entities headquartered in Wisconsin’s major metro area. “For Northwestern Mutual, for instance, it’s about staying relevant for the next generation of employees and [insurance] policy owners.” The formal launch of the tech hub follows another Schlifske-led effort last year which involved the establishment of venture funds to promote the startup community in Milwaukee. Schlifske conceded that, like other industrial cities in the middle of the country, Milwaukee does have “some image issues that we need to overcome a bit. But when we bring people here, Milwaukee is getting a nice reputation as a livable city, not some backwater place.” He noted, for example, that the Democratic Party plans to hold its 2020 presidential convention in Milwaukee next year. “I think the city is way past its Rust Belt image.” Also, in an advantage that Milwaukee shares with other cities in flyover country, the cost of living is significantly lower than on either coast. “It’s cheaper and easier for people to live here than in Boston or Silicon Valley,” Schlifske said. “One of our CEOs told me they recently hired a digital vice president from Microsoft who told him, ‘I can either own my own home or send my kids to a private school [in Milwaukee] or both,’ though not in California. And in Milwaukee we even have great public schools.”

Barra’s Involvement Helps Yield New UAW Deal that GM Can Handle

CEO Mary Barra steps in and helps GM craft a new four-year deal with the UAW to end strike.

Barra Steps into Higher-Profile Role as GM Strike Reaches 1-Month Mark

The stakes for both GM and the UAW have increased markedly in a walkout that is the union’s longest against America’s largest automaker since 1970.
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