Consider this: the protagonist is the scion of a wealthy and privileged family. He is full of bluster, prone to using profanity in his regular conversation, and tends to be ornery. The denouement to his quest comes not from any climactic event but rather through a set of legal maneuvers. How do you combine all of these into a 464-page thriller, where very quickly you empathize with the protagonistís fight and root for the underdog, even if the underdogs happen to be wealthy businesspeople? You do it as Beth Macy does in this book. Through painstaking research, you present the strange and wonderful story of John Bassett III (called JBIII), he of the Bassett furniture family, as he mounted a spirited fight to ward off lower-cost competitors from China and keep furniture jobs in America.
Muscled out of his familyís business by his brother-in-law, JBIII took over the failing Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Company. Before he could complete its turnaround, his industry began to lose sales to lower-cost Chinese competitors. While many of his American competitors chose the logical option of simply outsourcing their production to China, JBIII declined. His decision was partly patriotic but largely because he grew up in a furniture business where most factories were set up in small towns in the American South and where, over time, these towns became company towns. A strong sense of responsibility drove JBIII to fight. When changing his companyís strategy did not bear results, JBIII fought back with the legal process. Convinced that the Chinese were dumping products in America, JBIII gathered many of his fellow American competitors and got them to spend money in legally proving these charges.
Beth Macy provides a compelling profile of both a business leader and the effects of business decisions on the shop floor. While outsourcing may be a vague abstraction for many, Macy succeeds in humanizing it.