I just completed reading Beth Macy’s non-fiction book, Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local—and Helped Save an American Town. Recently reviewed by the New York Times, it chronicles the Bassett Family and the town of Bassett, Virginia. It tells of how globalization has adversely affected the working class of the Unites States.
The book is of personal significance for me. I grew up in Bassett and then later Galax, Virginia, both furniture manufacturing towns. There is much that Beth Macy has put into perspective that until now, I never completely understood. My father worked for Bassett and then later Vaughan Furniture and is quoted in Factory Man several times. We moved from Galax when I was 13, relocating to High Point, North Carolina as my he took on a new role working for a different furniture company, and I lost touch with the area. So although I knew much of the information and stories referenced in this book, it was absolutely fascinating to have someone able to provide broader perspective as completely as Beth Macy has done.
But much more significantly, Factory Man tells the story of the displaced American worker. It is a saga that could easily have been about any number of Southern towns. My wife and I currently reside in Greensboro, North Carolina. Our home is in the shadow of once booming textile factories. Many of our neighbors were displaced from these factories after having generations of their family members work there. Some of these people are having a very difficult time surviving.
It’s a great business story, but it’s also character-driven as it recounts the trials and tribulations of John Bassett III, grandson of the founders of Bassett Furniture. It tells of his taking on globalization, saving the factory and company of Vaughan-Bassett. It reaffirms that given the tools and equipment, the American worker can compete with anyone.
I find it ironic that in order to survive and make a living in the area where I live, I find myself working in the world of logistics. I got into this field mostly because it was an area of business that has fascinated me since college. But interestingly, one of my chief duties is helping people in the United States find better, faster, and less expensive ways of getting their imports in from Asia. The people most like my father and grandfather, who both made their living from being tied to the manufacturing industry, now live in an entirely different culture and speak a different language.
On another personal note, the story of John Bassett III has been inspirational for me. His work ethic, determination and drive have helped me to be a better leader in my work.