Championing America’s Most Underreported Story—Manufacturing

By J.F. McKenna

In terms of media coverage, America’s manufacturing story has gone begging of late.

With the notable exceptions of work coming from B2B journals and fellows such as Fox Network’s Lou Dobbs, the success story of “making it in America” gets too little print and not enough airtime. As a journalist myself, I just don’t understand that. It’s a remarkable story for a nation particularly hungry for heroes and good news.

“Contrary to public perception, the manufacturing industry is leading the economic recovery” Carlos Cardoso recently told the National Press Club. “The U.S. manufacturing sector has been steadily growing and right now, 600,000 manufacturing jobs are available. Most of these positions require specialized skills and education, and as manufacturers, we have a responsibility to educate people about these opportunities and build the manufacturing workforce of the future.”

Cardoso should know. He has observed first-hand American manufacturing from the shop floor to the C-suite. Today, he is chairman, president and CEO of the global manufacturer Kennametal Inc., headquartered in neighboring Latrobe, Pa., and involved in building everything from aircraft to the appliances we take for granted at home.

I first met Cardoso in 2006, not long after he took the helm at the tooling and advanced material giant. A soft-spoken but confident executive, Cardoso understands the American manufacturing model from the inside-out. After graduating from Fairfield University in Connecticut, he told me back then, “I went to one of those management-training programs. Then I said, ‘Let me go earn my MBA in a different way.’ So, actually, my second job out of school was having my own machine shop, doing contract manufacturing.”

Maybe more executives should engage in such an apprenticeship. “In the morning, you’re in a suit,’ he said. “In the afternoon, you’re in overalls, doing CNC [computer-control] programming for machine tools. That was a very good foundation.”

Building on that foundation, Cardoso earned a master’s degree in management from the Hartford Graduate Center and worked in engineering and management positions at International Nickel Corp., Colt Manufacturing Co. and Allied Signal. “Over time,” he said, “I’ve been in charge of everything from design engineering to manufacturing quality.”

By the time Cardoso arrived at Kennametal, he had also developed a strong admiration for CEO Lawrence Bossidy, author of Execution: The Discipline for Getting Things Done. For Cardoso, the job of getting things done in manufacturing belongs to everybody.

“An effective CEO is a generalist in many ways—one that can represent the company well to the customers, to the investors, to the community,” he explained to me that chilly day in Latrobe. “You also have to represent yourself well as a leader at all levels of the organization. One of the things I have learned since my younger days is that everyone in the organization counts.”

In 2007, on a sweltering August day on Wall Street, Cardoso gaveled closed the NYSE to celebrate Kennametal’s 40 years on the big board. Again, he made sure that everyone there knew his represented a group effort. “The reason that we’re here 40 years later is because of our employees,” he told me in New York. “I get the nice job of being out here. They do all the work.”

Now, metaphorically at least, Cardoso is rolling up his sleeves again, promoting manufacturing as a way to reinvigorate the American economy. He makes a perfect PR man.

“Contrary to public perception, the manufacturing industry is leading the economic recovery,” he told the Beltway journalists. “It is time for our industry to reintroduce itself to the American people in a manner that encourages them to understand the vitality and importance of U.S. manufacturing to the global economy.” Cardoso pointed to a Kennametal poll showing a disconnect between the public’s perception of manufacturing and the facts about “making things.”

As Youngstown’s Business Journal reported this week, “Cardoso also pointed to results from a November 2011 Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation forecast that predicted manufacturing production will outpace the overall economy and grow 3.4 percent in 2012, adding 170,000 jobs. And, he said, approximately 2.7 million manufacturing workers will be retiring within the next 10 years. As a result, the demand for skilled labor in manufacturing will increase, but many jobs could go unfilled because workers lack necessary skills for these positions.”

Carlos Cardoso knows a good business and a good story when he sees them. He plans to keep sharing American manufacturing’s comeback story with everyone he can, even reporters.

J.F. McKenna is a veteran business journalist and communications specialist. Reach him at jf_mckenna@yahoo.com .

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Comments

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