Volume 44, Issue 12 - December 2009



Put A Fork In It … Please
by Lyle R. Hill

This is it. The last one of the year. Article number twelve of twelve … the December issue. And the question is: what should be done with it? What should be said?

In years past I’ve sometimes tried to come up with a holiday theme and I’ve taken a fair amount of liberty with Christmas poems and carols in doing so. Other times I’ve tried to do some kind of a recap of the year just closing out or a prediction for the new year ahead. But this time around, no one thing seems to come to the forefront. It seems more difficult than ever to write the year’s final column.

Compounding my little dilemma is the fact that the reader will be going through this in late December but in order to make deadlines for layout and printing and such, I’m actually writing this in late November … the 27th to be exact … the day after Thanksgiving 2009.

By the way, am I the only one who thought it a little odd that the American Movie Channel ran a Godfather Movie Marathon on Thanksgiving Day? I guess to the people that run the programming there, nothing says Thanksgiving in America quite like a Godfather movie. Am I missing something here? Sorry … back to the article.

The Friday after Thanksgiving has been popularly referred to as “black Friday” for the past several years. This is in reference to the retail segment of our country’s economy which historically sees a majority of its sales and profits generated between the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas. The thought here is that they start to get out of the red and into the black beginning on the day after Thanksgiving, which is apparently the largest single shopping day of the year. While there are some seasonal trends, there is no such day or period of time for our industry such as the one that the country’s retailers live and die by. We do, however, have what I have historically referred to as “black and blue” days, but these are not limited to occurring only on Fridays, although, now that I think of it, a lot of them do.

Just a few days ago I read a report that stated that almost 1.5 million construction industry workers have lost their jobs in the past 12 months—a staggering figure to be sure! And here in beautiful Chicago I received a letter earlier this week from one of the strongest trade unions in the Midwest announcing (for what I believe is a first time ever) a holiday food drive … for its own out-of-work members. Times are tough my friends.

We work in a very demanding and yet very unforgiving industry. Typically, from estimate to installation you only get one chance to get it right. The smallest mistake can take a job from black to red on any day of the week. And as demand for our goods and services has declined, profit margins have become razor thin. In some cases, there was no margin to begin with. I am regularly asked if the condition we find ourselves in is the worst I have ever seen. The answer, without having to consider the merits of the question for even a second, is YES!

While I’m sure there are a handful of exceptions, I think it is reasonably safe to say that most of us are suffering, some much worse than others. The hardest part of all is that a great number of our problems are simply beyond our control. From suicidal competition, failing banks, suppliers that shut down before finishing an important order, to customers going out of business owing us too much money, there are any number of situations that we may not have caused but which create the conditions in which we find ourselves trapped. As I have said to a number of people of late, I feel like every bad decision I’ve made in the last five years is now coming back to haunt me. But the real question on everyone’s mind is how much longer will it last? Or perhaps how much longer can they last?

So here I sit on the Friday after Thanksgiving trying to come up with something that will be of interest, that may be encouraging and that will be read just as the year 2009 comes to end. It’s difficult to interpret the past, hard to understand the present and impossible to predict the future. In spite of the fact that we might not fully understand where we’re at today, or where we might be going tomorrow, its time to put a fork in 2009 and hope to never see anything like it again. Here’s to a better 2010 for us all!

Lyle R. Hill is president of MTH Industries of Chicago. Mr. Hill’s opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.

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