This post is about a new book my wife, Chris Black and I wrote about my old boss Malcolm Baldrige called "Mac Baldrige: The Cowboy in Ronald Reagan's Cabinet" which is now out and available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It also will be featured, for our DC friends, at the National Press Club's Annual Book Fair on Nov. 17 at the Club in Washington, D.C. Information on the fair and the books whose authors will be there is here: https://www.press.org/bookfair. A great spot to find gifts -- books signed by the authors -- for that hard -to-buy for friend or relative.
For those in the Waterbury, Conn., area -- site of the world headquarters for Baldrige's old company, Scovill Inc., and my home town -- the local Chamber of Commerce and Post University, where the Baldrige School of Business is located, are co-hosting a lunch on Nov. 20. Info on that is here: http://web.waterburychamber.com/events/Book-Launch-Celebration-for-Mac-Baldrige-The-Cowboy-in-Ronald-Reagan's-Cabinet-2254/details
Chris and I will be at both events as will Mac's daughters, Molly and Megan, who commissioned the book which originally was intended to be self-published for their children, most of whom never knew Mac. The book, though, has been published by Lyons Press, which has published several of Chris books. It focuses on Mac's tenure as secretary of commerce, a time when "globalization" was just being understood in this country, and Mac was a primary architect of this country's economic and trade policy.
Below is a story that the Waterbury Republican carried yesterday on the book:
Baldrige subject of new book
BY TRACEY O'SHAUGHNESSY | REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
Early in his administration, Ronald Reagan was asked if he knew real visionaries.
Reagan named two: former U.S. Ambassador Jeannie Kirkpatrick and Commerce Secretary Malcolm "Mac" Baldrige.
Baldrige, the former CEO of Scovill Inc. in Waterbury, served as Reagan's commerce secretary from 1981 until his death in a rodeo accident in 1987. In their new book, "Mac Baldrige: The Cowboy in Ronald Reagan's Cabinet" (Lyons Press, $24.95) Chris Black and B. Jay Cooper tell the story of that bright, plain-speaking, direct man, an unlikely cabinet secretary who became one of the biggest engineers of the Reagan economic revolution.
"He was unlikely because he wasn't a nationally known figure per se," said Cooper. "He wasn't a huge fundraiser for the Republican party. He became commerce secretary because Vice President George H.W. Bush had one cabinet pick and he picked Mac for commerce."
"He wasn't a pol," said Black. "He was completely involved in the business world. The biggest thing was that he wasn't a Reagan guy. He was the only Bush guy in the Reagan cabinet.
The book, released this month, was initially a pet product of Baldrige's two daughters, Molly and Meagan, who had intended to self-publish it for their children. But once Black's publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, got wind of the project, he knew it could command a larger audience.
Reagan nominated Baldrige in December 1980, and he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Jan. 22, 1981. During his tenure, Baldrige played a major role in developing and carrying out Reagan's trade policy.
"Because the U.S. had been lucky in World War II, U.S. business had been lucky without having competition. So when competition started to come, they were completely unprepared," said Black, a former Boston Globe reporter.
"Globalization was not a term people used in 1980 but the impact of globalization was beginning to be felt," said Black, who has been married to Cooper for 11 years.
By 1980, a lot of jobs were beginning to be moved oversees. And Western Europe and Japan, which had been economically devastated after the war, were beginning to catch up. Japan began to surpass the U.S. in high tech, cars, computers, electronics. People were horrified, Black said, because the U.S. had emerged from World War II as the world's only economic superpower; but, because of that, U.S. industry, was "fat, dumb and happy."
That phrase was one Baldrige employed in his description of American manufacturing. When Baldrige, a Nebraska native who attended the Hotchkiss School and Yale, became CEO of Scovill in 1963, the company had sales of $169.3 million and profits of $4.4 million. Baldrige cut salary overhead by $3 million
"He wanted accountability, he wanted to hire the best people they could, give them their reins, but give you the opportunity to use the creativity you had. He gave you a brain to make mistakes," Cooper said. Under his management, he diversified the company. "Scovill had been the brass mill. He saw that brass was not going to be a forever thing." He bought Hamilton Beach, Yale Lock and Nutone ceiling fans.
When Reagan came to the White House, the Cold War was still at its height. When it came to policies, Reagan, said Black, instinctively sided on policies that put a priority on national security.
But Baldrige, concerned about a growing trade imbalance, repeatedly urged that American businesses sell their products overseas. At a time of widespread budget cutting in the administration, within the Commerce Department Baldrige reduced the budget by more than 30 percent and administrative personnel by 25 percent.
"He was one of the biggest advocates in the administration for being a little more liberal with exports," said Cooper. "There were examples, like computers, which were just beginning to come into the American psyche. Mac was saying, 'Look, they can buy them anyway, from the Germans and the French.' We were competing with other companies for these contracts and if they weren't getting them from us they we going to get them from someone else."
"The hard liners in the administration, they didn't want to sell toothpicks to the Russians," Cooper said. "And Mac fought that. And Reagan would choose the middle ground. They were both common sense guys. Reagan has this image of this hard-line, right-wing nut. And he wasn't. Reagan had a very practical approach to government. It's not like the politics of today. In those days, you had guys who would make deals. Mac was one of the best at that. And in those days, a Republican cabinet member could get along with the Democratic congressman and Mac did that."
Baldrige, a skilled team roper and card-carrying member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, was a stickler for clear, precise prose. In 1984, the U.S. Department of Commerce published "How Plain English Works for Business: Twelve Case Studies" with his introduction. In it were 12 chapters on how "translations" of complex legal wording or bureaucratic jargon could be simplified for any reader.
Cooper, a Waterbury native, started at the Republican and the American in 1969 as an intern. After graduating from Northeastern University, the newspaper hired him to cover the town of Woodbury. He met Baldrige there. In 1978, Cooper took a leave of absence to run a political campaign. Two years later, Baldrige asked him to run the communications operations in the Reagan-Bush campaign.
Black, who grew up in Woburn, Mass., worked for the Boston Globe for 20 years as a political reporter based in Boston and Washington, D.C. She later worked for CNN as a White House and congressional correspondent. She was laid off when AOL bought CNN. She has subsequently worked as a strategic communications consulting and now writes books.
As for the relationship between Reagan and Baldrige, Cooper said, "They bonded because Mac was a very practical guy and spoke plainly. And Reagan was that kind of guy, too. They bonded over horses and cowboy life. It was the matter-of-fact way Mac thought. He was as comfortable with cowboys as he was with major foreign officials."
Though often thought to be composed of hard-line purists, Black said, "In fact, the administration, day to day, was much, much more practical than I appreciated. What I was surprised by was how effective Mac Baldrige was and this practical approach to trade and economic policies became Reagan's way."
Baldrige was an advocate of quality management as a key to U.S. prosperity and sustainability. After he died, Congress named an award for him in recognition of his contributions. The goal of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Improvement Act of 1987 was to enhance the competitiveness of U.S. businesses. Its scope has since been expanded to health care and education organizations (in 1999) and to nonprofit/government organizations (in 2007).
Cooper was worried he could write the "honest and candid" portrayal of Baldrige. "I'm sure he had enemies, especially in the government. But nobody said a bad word about the guy," he said.
"Because he wasn't a petty guy, nobody ever took it personally. He didn't have that ego at all," he added
As they write, "Mac thoroughly earned his reputation as a man of quiet strength, impeccable integrity, solid judgment and practical action; an honorable and decent man in the best American cowboy tradition."
Contact Tracey O'Shaughnessy at email@example.com.