April Fool

April 5, 2004
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The publication “Monday Morning Quarter Back,” sort of an insider’s view into the world of office furniture manufacturing, never has had much respect for Grand Rapids’ own Steelcase Inc.

At least not since the office furniture giant canceled all of its subscriptions to the (rather pricey) forum. In fact, Steelcase CEO JimHackett usually gets prominent play in just about every issue, and it’s not always flattering.

But that’s a battle best left between those two sides.

The suggestion here is to get the Thursday, April 1, issue of MMQB and prepare for a good laugh. It’s the April Fools Day edition.

In it, MMQB uses its insider knowledge of the industry as a whole and Steelcase in particular to lampoon the manufacturer, which already is reeling in red ink (see story page 7).

Here’s a just one of the suggestions for Steelcase’s reincarnation, as offered by MMQB.

“In an announcement Thursday morning, Steelcase officials said they are continuing to downsize the company in the face of ongoing losses. In doing so, the company said that it had signed a deal to sell the CRC (a.k.a. the pyramid) to Mandalay Resort Group, owners of the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. Mandalay officials said they plan to call the new property, which they will develop into a casino, hotel and retail destination, Luxor East. The company also said that they would install a light beacon atop the pyramid similar to the one currently in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas beacon is so bright it can be seen in outer space, and the Grand Rapids one, utilizing technology developed by Steelcase, will be, the company said, ‘visible in middle earth.’”

Other plans include using company aircraft to bring high rollers into the casino and developing an IMAX Motion simulator ride in which visitors can simulate the experience of selling Steelcase office furniture.

Funny stuff.

  • In light of all that happened last week in Holland with Johnson Controls, a news release issued by anther auto supplier caught our eye for the dateline it used.

Atop the release announcing that Magna Donnelly Corp. had won a quality award was the dateline “Troy,” a suburb of Detroit. Not Holland?

Do not forget how the business world is changing around us and that the former Donnelly Corp., acquired by Magna International in 2002, is not run in Holland anymore.  Hasn’t been since CarlosMazzorin became CEO in January 2003.

  • How much should be made of the reported “agreement” community leaders in East Lansing and Lansing reached with Michigan State University on what parts of the medical school may stay and what may come to Grand Rapids?

When asked that question, a Spectrum Health spokesman promptly offered this take: “Our position is that this is an issue between Michigan State University and members of their community. It would not be appropriate for us to comment other than to say that most of this plan is consistent with the discussions we’ve held with MSU.”

By the way, MSU communications staff, return your phone calls!!

  • Now, for the record, Grand Rapids has a neat, clean downtown. But the interest of business leaders here in emulating Chicago’s example of restoring downtown foliage seems lonnnnng overdue … like at least 130 years.

If you glance at one 1873 photo of Campau Square, the first thing that strikes you is the utter absence of any living plant. To be sure, there was lots of plant matter — wide boardwalks and wood in store facades. But, otherwise, it looked like a Hollywood set for a spaghetti western: dirt street, buggies and horse-drawn wagons — and not so much as a weed in sight.

Another photo, circa 1900, of the same geography shows boardwalks transformed to concrete, streets turned to brick with trolley car rails, and storefronts featuring stone facing. As for wood — it’s visible solely in T-shaped utility poles carrying them new-fangled electric wires and lines for telephones.

Yet another photo shot 40 years later has the viewer peering south along a prosperous-looking Monroe Avenue. Voila! It has greenery — a 20-by-20 patch of lawn with low shrubs at the base of the Civil War monument since moved to Division Avenue.

Otherwise, nothing.

In the downtown greenery department, at least, Muskegon had Grand Rapids beat for years. Its little downtown had a tree-lined boulevard. That disappeared, however, in the welter of highway widening which came with passage of the Interstate Highway Act of the Eisenhower years.

Today, of course, a handsome downtown Grand Rapids does have some greenery — trees and shrubs here and there giving some eye relief. But think how much more handsome it will become BobHerr and the Downtown Improvement District board turn downtown into the Chicago example.

  • The news about Johnson Controls’ decision to move the sun visor production and 885 jobs from Holland to Mexico has rattled a lot of people. But there also was some good manufacturing news last week on, at least, a macroeconomic scale.

The National Association of Credit Management released its March index — a compilation of credit and collections survey data — and reported it had increased 7.1 percent over the February figure. The increase is a composite of a manufacturing component, which rose 8.5 percent, and a service component, which climbed 6.1 percent.

In accompanying commentary concerning manufacturing, the report said: “The slowness in dollar collections has improved significantly, even though sales growth continues at a high level.

“Last month’s results begged the question: ‘Are factories increasing output (indicated by the sales improvements) at the expense of declining quality of accounts?’ The answer appears to be ‘no.’”

The association claims to support more than 25,000 business credit and financial professionals worldwide. That would be a pretty fair sampling.    

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