23 January 2019

Corporatist Wokeness

I've written on a few occasions about Chinese manufacturing as it applies to woodworking, not as an expert with all the insights, but as a woodworker giving some sense of an outsider's perspective. I've been unemployed and that in part explains my motivation for commenting on the news about Pony/Jorgensen clamp company's decision to relaunch its website and to honestly outsource all of its manufacturing to a Chinese location.
The right job for the right tool
If the Pony/Jorgensen product line relaunch were merely that simple, I could hardly offer anything more than as when I wrote about the Stanley planes revival through mainland Chinese manufacturing. Instead, I found an interview from a newly installed Vice President of marketing that prompted this essay. The full text is here

Gregg: Did Pony Jorgensen go out of business a while ago?

Bill: We closed up shop for a bit to reorganize the company. But we’re back in business and under new leadership. We are committed to sustaining and growing jobs, distribution, and the overall brand. We’re also dedicated to expanding retail distribution so our customers can start purchasing their beloved clamps in stores once more.

Gregg: Since the brand relaunch, a lot of customers have been asking: Is this the original Pony Jorgensen?

Bill: Yes, it is. This is the one and only Pony Jorgensen that customers love and remember from our Chicago days. We remain committed to upholding founder Adele Holman’s vision and manufacturing woodworking tools of an uncompromising quality.

Gregg: Is manufacturing taking place in Chicago again?

Bill: No, it’s not. Manufacturing and production have moved to China. This move was not about cost; we could have manufactured our clamps more affordably in a number of other countries. The decision to move manufacturing to China is very strategic. In recent times, China has emerged as a global market leader and a center of excellence for the manufacture of these particular products. So our move eastward was to ensure quality – not to compromise on it.

Gregg: How will the new products live up to the standard of quality that customers have grown to expect from Pony Jorgensen clamps?

Bill: We anticipated there would be some customers who would be skeptical of the quality of our new line of clamps. And this is understandable. Over the years, a plethora of companies have moved manufacturing to other countries. The purpose behind many of these moves was to cut costs. In the process, many have often compromised on quality.
However, our move serves an entirely different purpose. Our reason to move production to China was rooted in our commitment to quality. We wanted to capitalize on the level of quality, sophistication, and specialization the manufacturing industry in China brings to the production of these particular products. Additionally, we’re making today’s Pony Jorgensen clamps from the original tooling and equipment that was used in the original Chicago plant. We are fully dedicated to delivering the same trusted tools our loyal customers have come to expect. The quality of our clamps has not and will not suffer, and that is of paramount importance to us.

Thanks for the enlightenment, Bill!

Bill Sokol is now a Vice President in charge of reviving the brand name of a former Chicago area tool manufacturer.  He's certainly not one of the executives who introduced himself to me while I was still at Harvey. Sokol is new to me but he comes from a diverse corporate background, none of which might suggest skills adapted to rebuild a struggling woodworking tool company. Having started out his career in eyewear, he also did a stint with Gillette. (and no, I didn't just make that up.) Today his job is that of a corporate mouthpiece who evidently prefers to be interviewed by another executive who just happens to work at Arrow Fastener, which is also part of Hangzhou Great Star Co., Ltd., which outsourced manufacturing to Hangzhou, China.  Thanks for the enlightenment, Gregg!
GreatStar Industrial Co. Ltd., Hangzhou headquarters
And what is this wonder center of manufacturing, Bill and Gregg? GreatStar industries, of course. I have certainly met a number of Bills and Greggs in my lifetime. They ably move from desks in one front office to another unconcerned about the products or services because they are experts in the business of business, They are a pair of MBA shills who were hired by their respective corporate overlords because they can ably transcribe one another's businessese BS. Do Bill Sokol and Gregg Malanga truly believe that relocating manufacturing to China was about anything but reducing labor costs? Sokol plainly admits as much with a slight twist in his wording that requires context to understand clearly:
"This move was not about cost."

If we are to accept Sokol's claim at face value, then we must conclude that he is convinced that a Chinese workforce can produce at a higher quality standard than laborers in the USA. I suppose he makes the big bucks by persuading North American consumers that even though their local production standards are inferior to the workers in Zhejiang province, woodworkers, employed and unemployed, still ought to place their trust in the Pony / Jorgensen brand.  Because as every marketer knows when trust is lost, it can so hard to restore, here, here, here

If one thinks that praising the excellent quality of Chinese manufacturing doesn't play well given the legacy of, well, the recent history of low quality Chinese manufacturing, Lee Valley has formed a similar opinion.

I sent an email to learn which one was authentic
Furthermore one might think that recapturing so much squandered good will might be difficult for a former Gillette executive, but that just shows how unwoke you are.  Clearly you have not heard about the struggles of Adele V. Holman to raise a company up against the toxicity of patriarchy.

Gregg: When and how was Pony Jorgensen founded?

Bill: Pony Jorgensen was founded in 1903 by Adele Holman in Chicago, Illinois. A former professional opera singer, Adele envisioned a company that could grow through product innovation and woodworking tools with superior performance. But a woman running a manufacturing company was unheard of at the time, so Adele famously signed company documents and correspondences as “A. V. Holman” to hide her gender. She partnered with Hans Jorgensen, a Danish cabinetmaker, and Marcus Russ, a tool salesman. Adele’s pioneering spirit laid the groundwork for our company values.
Famously, she signed her name! I now have a theory that misgendering is the reason that the a infamous airplane hijacker has never been found. D.B. Cooper was a woman!

Androgynous hijacker or pre-op transwoman in need of cash
When it comes to spinning their own corporate history, one big advantage is that most of the insightful documents are proprietary. It's even more advantageous if the biographic subjects are long dead and cannot contradict press releases from the marketing department. Adele V. Holman cannot, therefore, feel angry when it is insisted that her signature was written so as to hide her gender decades before the term, gender, became synonymous with sex identity. The new website goes out of its way to proclaim that they are continuing work now in the same spirit of this feminist pioneer.  

Realizing the American dream.
Our story began in 1903 when a small company opened up shop in Chicago, Illinois. Founder Adele Holman, a former professional opera singer, envisioned a company that could grow through product innovation, excellent customer service, and woodworking tools with superior performance. She partnered with Hans Jorgensen, a Danish cabinetmaker, and Marcus Russ, a tool salesman. It was an unlikely combination at the time, but it laid the foundation for the Pony Jorgensen brands that woodworkers have come to rely on for high-quality clamps.

 Adele’s secret identity and success.
A woman running a manufacturing company was unheard of in 1903. But that’s exactly what Adele Holman did. She famously signed company documents and correspondences as “A. V. Holman” to hide her gender. Under her leadership, the product line was expanded beyond the original handscrews to include iron clamping products, such as C-clamps and bar clamps, as well as the now-famous Pony pipe clamp. There’s no doubt that Adele’s pioneering spirit set the groundwork for our company values.
So a former opera singer with a secret identity founded a manufacturing business that would a century later mythologize her contributions in a smarmy appeal to the zeitgeist, employing a reliable combination American business school ethics and Chinese state capitalism. Does any of this story sound fishy? What's that? You don't automatically believe the revisionist history run up the flagpole by marketing professionals from New Jersey? Fortunately a local Chicago historian, Andrew Clayman, put together a more objective version of the company's origin story.

From Opera houses to Shopfloors
While Clayman doesn't set out to debunk the corporate claim that 'a woman running a manufacturing company was unheard of in 1903.' He makes it clear that Adele Holman wasn't running a manufacturing company at that date either! He writes:
In any case, a little digging of my own revealed that the Adjustable Clamp Company's beginnings actually came a few years before Adele Holman's involvement, when Hans Jorgensen himself—inventor of our trusty hand screws—got the ball rolling in 1903. Jorgensen had his product and the skill to manufacture it, but he lacked the capital to start a business. This brought him into contact with an opportunistic Chicago lawyer named Marcus W. Russ, who agreed to fund the effort, serving as the first company president and sole salesman. In the early years, the whole operation ran out of one room, with a tiny staff of several workers hand-making each and every clamp. As demand increased, Russ purchased a separate manufacturing facility at 216 North Jefferson Street, with a half dozen employees making a still meager 300 clamps per week. It was around this time, in 1907, that a whirlwind of a woman named Adele Holman walked through Russ's door. It was literally music to the lawyer's ears.
and elsewhere:
With her initial purchase of Adjustable Clamp Co. shares in 1907, she replaced Walter Caddock as secretary, and while Marcus Russ was technically still the president, Adele Holman immediately took charge.
It might seem difficult to be a founder of a business four years after the business was founded, but as feminist scholars have pointed out: chronology is simply another tool of the patriarchy.  By 1914 as the principal stockholder, it was easy for her to bring her son into the business. So while the Holman family line owes their wealth to a female progenitor, it has more to do with her stock purchases and managerial efforts than being a founder of the Adjustable Clamp Company.

Closed in 2016
Pony Jorgensen executives are basically fabricating history with Chinese characteristics. But, honestly, even while using the Adele v. Holman biography in an attempt to remake a brand name with a contemporary feminist spin, how is it advantageous to restore customer loyalty by promoting such a flawed company narrative?  And is Sokol pretending to not understand how much damage was done when Lee Valley discontinued its product line due to poor quality from outsourced manufacturers in Asia? Or was he, in particular, brought in recently because he can claim with a straight face that he knows nothing about that nail in this as yet unburied coffin? Even if they would listen to me, I certainly don't want to tell business experts how to better do their jobs, but perhaps they can follow the example of an early businesswoman whose management style drove a century of profitability. Clayman pointedly relates:

With her initial purchase of Adjustable Clamp Co. shares in 1907, she replaced Walter Caddock as secretary, and while Marcus Russ was technically still the president, Adele Holman immediately took charge.

"Shortly after Mrs. Holman became secretary of the company," reported the Manufacturing and Wholesale Industries of Chicago, Vol. 3, "she decided that to insure the maximum success of the enterprise, the business office should no longer be segregated from the factory. [emphasis added] She accordingly set definitely to work to bring about an orderly and progressive administration of affairs, though she had virtually no previous business experience. She established her executive headquarters at the factory and by her careful and discriminating methods evolved order out of chaotic conditions."
From this insightful passage, I know that Ms. Adele Holman would deem managing a Chicago business from offices in New Jersey decidedly unproductive but as it is pointed out: "...she had virtually no previous business experience." I can only imagine what salty language she might use to describe management offices in Saddle Brook, New Jersey segregated from its factory floors in Hangzhou, China, P. R. 


Zhunian kuaile o! 豬年快樂喔 🐷🐷🐖🐖


Brian Eve said...

I love this. I really cherish my old Jorgenssen clamps, but I never bothered with them again once Lee Valley stopped selling them. And, the cheek of claiming that moving manufacturing to China had nothing to do with cost!

Potomacker said...

@Brian Eve
Is cheek just a business euphemism for lying? It's good to hear from you again.