Making It in America: A 12-Point Plan for Growing Your Business and Keeping Jobs at Home
May 10, 2016
John D. Bassett reveals the "private thinking and our fresh leadership approach" that allowed Vaughan-Bassett Furniture to keep production in America as the rest of the industry moved it overseas, and not only survive, but thrive in that environment.
The jacket copy on Making It in America tells an inspiring tale:
"Everyone knows you can't build things in America anymore. Everyone, that is, except John D. Bassett III. While one corporation after another exported their manufacturing to high-volume factories in low-wage locations overseas, Bassett's traditional wood bedroom furniture manufacturing company has not only survived, but thrived, making premium products right here in America. When everyone else was rushing for the exits, Bassett bet on the talent, dedication, and uncompromising quality of American workmanship.
And he won.
In Making It in America, Bassett tells you the secrets that have made Vaughan-Bassett Furniture so successful doing what everyone said couldn't be done. Drawing on rich life experience, including the everyday challenges running a traditional manufacturing company, Bassett constructs a 12-point plan to achieve successful leadership in any business. These steps include: Have a winning attitude, respect your employees, don't panic, reinvest constantly, and make the best of the worst.
Bassett's story is about how those values underpinned his personal success and how they can revitalize America itself. In the face of feckless leadership, crumbling infrastructure, and global competition, Bassett's story is a blueprint for how America can revitalize its role as leader of the free world and how your success can be part of it."
The publisher recently shared an excerpt from the introduction of the book with us, and gave us permission to share it with you. So, rather than just getting your dander up about the state of American manufacturing, here are 1,259 words from factory man and author John D. Bassett about...
DOING BUSINESS OUR WAY
My name is John D. Bassett III. Some call me JB3. I’m a third-generation Virginia furniture man. With my sons Doug and Wyatt, I run the largest wood bedroom furniture manufacturing plant in the United States. Which is kind of like running the busiest Chick-fil-A on Mars—there aren’t too many others. But one, I keep discovering, can be a very powerful number. I’ve been described as driven, demanding, dedicated, profane, charming, iconoclastic, generous, and stubborn. Especially stubborn. Over the past three decades, our little company has been at the center of one of the epic battles of modern capitalism. We have weathered globalism, ever-changing technology, a crippling fiscal crisis, and profound industrial change. We stayed in America as virtually all our competitors rushed for the exits, shifting their production to high-volume factories in low-wage locations overseas. We were under enormous pressure to join the panicking stampede. But we refused to budge. We stuck with our people instead—their talent, their dedication, our history together, and the uncompromising quality of American workmanship. It’s never been easy, but I am extremely glad we did.
It’s the awesome power of one.
Our big bet on America has caused quite a stir in our industry and beyond. Some people are still shaking their heads at us. They can’t imagine why we didn’t just roll with the tide. But to many, our company has come to symbolize the strong fighting spirit that still burns inside the American worker, despite all the forces busily trying to snuff that spirit out. People say we’re a much-needed antidote to all the defeatist talk they keep hearing. The way I see it, we are living, breathing proof that dedicated management and loyal employees, working together as a team in this great country of ours, can hold their own against anyone anywhere and achieve just about anything!
That’s the story of our company, our furniture, and our dreams. Born in America. Made in America. Stayed in America. I don’t think we should ever have to leave.
If I sound patriotic, it’s because I am. America has been hugely generous to me and my family. American workers and American consumers made “Bassett” one of the most famous names in furniture and turned many of my relatives into multimillionaires. I wasn’t about to walk away from that legacy and that long-standing debt. Growing up in the time and place that I did, I was taught values that have always stuck with me: The worth of a dollar. The joy of quality workmanship. The need to look out for those less fortunate. The importance of treating people fairly and decently. Those lessons were reinforced by my experience in the United States Army serving on the German border. The call of duty and honor. The need to apply myself. The fact that America is still worth defending. The knowledge that our freedoms and beliefs stand for something special all around the world. I had never been inclined to turn away from struggle before, and I wasn’t about to turn away now.
How we are pulling this off—finding the right strategy, getting the best out of our employees, building a product that people find desirable—is an important story and an inspiring one. It features some wonderful characters and some unexpected twists. It couldn’t be more timely than it is right now, as America is readjusting to an increasingly dicey international terrain and a rapidly changing world economy.
To get to where we are, we had to ignore the constant prodding of respected experts. We stood up to sweeping business trends no one thought we had a chance against. We beat a fresh path through a thicket of obstacles and obfuscation while others gave up.
The results have been immensely gratifying. We rescued an American factory. We saved an American town. We preserved hundreds of jobs in a proud American community—jobs people really depended on. We doubled down on America just as others were boarding Air China flights to Beijing. We kept building well-crafted American furniture at a time when fewer and fewer people even tried.
We had something all the top experts and their holy spreadsheets could never quantify. We had people on our side. Decent, hardworking, dedicated people who simply refused to fail. The most underused asset in America today is not technology. It’s not political power. It’s not the Internet. It’s people working together as a team. We’ve all got to learn to energize our people and get the most from everyone.
With the right kind of leadership, one company really can change the world.
THE RIGHT STRATEGY FOR CHALLENGING TIMES
In her bestselling book, Factory Man, author Beth Macy told the story of the rise and near-collapse of American furniture manufacturing and the bold path followed by our feisty firm. (She did call me an “asshole”—twice on the first page of chapter 1! I’ve chosen to overlook that because, on the very same page, she also described me as a “larger-than-life rule breaker who for more than a decade has stood almost single-handed against the outflow of furniture from America.” I guess that’s what writers call “a balanced portrayal.”)
Making It in America is the story of how we managed to accomplish all this—in all its step-by-step, practical detail. In the pages that follow, I will reveal exactly what it took. Relying on my decades of business experience, I will take you inside our private thinking and our fresh leadership approach. I will describe the heartfelt values and modern business tactics that helped us surprise everyone. Most important of all, I will explain how you can apply our people-first leadership to any competitive challenge you might confront. For the first time ever, I will lay out my Twelve-Point Plan for Growing Your Business and Keeping Jobs at Home. These are principles that have guided us from beginning to end. I don’t know where we’d be without them, and I’m certain you’ll find them valuable, whatever business you are in. They are battle-tested and clearly understandable. They are flexible, scalable, and ready to go. They are effective whether you’re managing a smoothie stand in a strip mall or a far-flung conglomerate.
- Learning on the job
- Assessing the competition
- The power of a winning attitude
- The importance of treating people like something more than numbers
- Transparent leadership
- Facing the tough decisions
- The willingness to change (again and again and again)
- The refusal to panic
- Communication, teamwork, and why they fuel each other
- The need to keep investing in the future
- Making the best of the worst situations
- The huge impact of buying American
If you can get your head around these concepts and follow the steps I describe, they will change your business life forever, as they have fundamentally changed mine. It’s not just Vaughan-Bassett. It’s not just the furniture industry. It’s any business, anywhere. We’re making it in America, and so can you!
If taken to heart, our approach will save jobs, lift profits, enrich communities, boost the economy, and expand opportunities for everyone—from the shop floor to the tech lab to the office cubicle to the service center to the executive suite. If we can do it in our company, you can do it in yours. Whatever challenges your business is facing, whatever resources you have at your command, you just need the right people and the right approach with them. If we can all just pull together, there is no limit to what we can achieve.
Excerpted from Making It in America: A 12-Point Plan for Growing Your Business and Keeping Jobs at Home by John D. Bassett and Ellis Henican.
Published by Center Street, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Copyright © 2016 by John D. Bassett III.
All rights reserved.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
John D. Bassett III is a third-generation factory man who went up against the global market to save his family furniture business. He now employs hundreds of people at Vaughan-Bassett furniture.
Ellis Henican is a journalist, a television commentator, and the co-author of five New York Times bestsellers.