Factory Man: The rise and fall of the American furniture industry

If they gave awards for the most comprehensive business books of the last ten years Factory Man by Beth Macy would be an unlikely–but worthy contender. It isn’t a TED ready think piece about the flattening of the world. Nor is it a feel-good call to revitalize American industry through disruptive innovation. Instead, it is a deeply reported narrative on the rise and fall of the American furniture industry. Told through the viewpoint of the Bassett Furniture Company, Macy explains how a manufacturing empire was created and systematically eroded. At first glance, the culprits of the decline are predictable: globalization and technology. Globalization because cheap Asian imports flooded the market at a fraction of the cost. Technology because advances in communications allowed businesses to build a supply chain that exported lumber from North Carolina to China, and the finished product back to American store shelves.

A lesser author would have ended the analysis there, but Macy peppers Factory Man with background and context allowing the real culprits emerge: systematically narrow management driven by orthodoxy and bad economic policy. The decline didn’t have to happen.

Continue reading