Sunday, January 27, 2008

Briggs & Stratton CEO Urges "Positive" Tone, Then Has A Counter-Productive Meltown Himself

John Shiely, Briggs & Stratton's CEO, adds to the uproar over Milwaukee's business climate with an op-ed in Sunday's Journal Sentinel Crossroads section.

Some people just don't know when to quit.

A couple of weeks ago, there was an outbreak of debate over the business climate in these parts that began with a column by Steve Jagler, editor of The Small Business Times.

Jagler criticized Shiely and other business leaders for negativity about Milwaukee expressed at a Public Policy Forum discussion - - and then others weighed in, including this blog.

In Part, Jagler wrote:

"Shiely criticized the collective mindset of Milwaukee, saying the region is more likely to have a great-grandson of "one of Milwaukee's socialist mayors" denounce the gap in salaries between CEOs and front-line workers than it is to encourage the creation of wealth.

"That shouldn't be … You just don't hear the 'two Americas' rhetoric (down South)," Shiely said."

There are two strange thing about Shiely's Crossroads piece.

First, there is the repetition of that irrelevant, old-timey anti-socialist rhetoric.

The second is how much space is devoted to a personal and family attack on Michael Rosen, blogger and economics teacher at MATC.

Rosen had responded to the business leaders remarks at the Forum meeting with an op-ed that the Journal Sentinel ran in the Crossroads section January 18th.

It comes just a few sentences after Shiely bemoans the lack of "positive" attitudes towards corporate leaders and their roles in the economy.

Seems Shiely is out to settle some old scores, reprising decades-old company history in which Rosen's sister played a role as a union leader.

Shiely complains about how politicians and media behaved - - back when Henry Maier was Mayor.

It's information about which an entire generation of Crossroads readers probably knows nothing, and from which everyone else has moved on.

Or should move past, since harboring such resentments is unhealthy, and airing them doesn't do much for the community's spirit, either.

In his Crossroads piece, Shiely explains what it was that so upsets him about Milwaukee that led to his remarks at the Public Policy Forum event.

"I suggested that the most important thing Milwaukee community leaders could do to improve our prospects for economic development in this region was to bury the vestiges of the old Milwaukee socialist ethic by abandoning the local zero-sum culture that views all wealth creation as coming at someone's expense and embrace an integrative, pie-expanding view. "

Later, he labels the piece Rosen had written previously for the same Sunday section as a "neosocialist rant."

As the Milwaukee Journal Labor Reporter in the early 1980's, I covered the situation at Briggs & Stratton, and other businesses and unions which were going through difficult times.

There had been a severe downturn in the US, Wisconsin and Milwaukee-area economies in the late 70's and early 80's.

There were structural changes foisted on companies and workers alike. There were strikes, layoffs, concessions.

And at Briggs & Stratton, as I remember it, there was a hard line on both sides. The strike went on for several months, then was settled.

It was contentious, and there was fallout everywhere, but my goodness, it was 25 years ago.

And as the newspaper itself points out Sunday in an editorial not aimed at either Shiely, or Rosen, there are plenty of things that business leaders can do to help grow the area, like the push for commuter rail.

As the paper says, and the boldfaced type is just below the headline:

"Business leaders need to make their political counterparts understand that a transportation system including commuter rail is essential to the region's economic health."

Now there's something positive to do - - today.


Anonymous said...

Shiely is right. The business climate in Wisconsin is terrible. As a small business owner I an considering moving my business out of Wisconsin. I just see the tax climate and business regulations getting worse. There are many states who want me to move my company there.

Anonymous said...

Hats off to Briggs CEO John Shiely for telling it like it is. I've often asked myself why Wisconsin's unionized workers, voters, and politicians can not seem to get a grip on the reality of global competition. For decades the citizens southeastern Wisconsin have watched manufacturing companies founded in the Milwaukee area expand in other states and other countries. Of course we can all see the poverty created by the de-industrialization of Milwaukee. And yet here we are in 2008 with the chairman of the economics dept. at MATC still blaming CEOs. Will the people ever wake up and demand a positive business climate??

Anonymous said...


I would not take too much stock what someone in the "educational world" has to say about "real world" problems. From reading his blog, he thinks the best solution to every problem seems to be be tax and spend, which seems to be the mantra of every liberal in Wisconsin.

James Rowen said...

Anony#2: I believe you meant to leave your comment about an academic on this posting:
I would think twice about being dismissive of academics. Did you feel that way about Milton Freedman?

Michael Horne said...

Did you notice how the unnamed "great-grandson" of a Milwaukee Socialist mayor in Shiely's online screed morphed into the mayor's "grandson" in the Journal Sentinel version? The alteration aged Daniel Steininger considerably. Talk about a generational shift!

Michael Horne

P.S. Did you know that Mayor Daniel Webster Ho(r)an's daughter (Daniel Steininger's mother, then a child) dedicated the Holton Viaduct? I am prepared to stand behind my words.

Anonymous said...

To: James Rowen
I posted "Hats off to Briggs". I don't dismiss academics. The problem is Michael Rosen is no Milton Friedman. Dr. Friedman understood how the global free market works. Rosen does not. Of course Rosen is still employed at MATC making top Dollar and enjoying a Rolls Royce benefit package. If Rosen lost his job along with the thousands of unemployed manufacturing workers then his Hugo Chavez brand of economics might carry some weight.
I'll repeat my question: "When will the people wake up and demand a positice business climate".