Executive Word -- Don't Be Passive On Public Policy

Arthur D. Wainwright, chairman and CEO of Wainwright Industries Inc., talks to IndustryWeek about the U.S. recovery from recession and capital formation.

Arthur D. Wainwright Chairman and CEO Wainwright Industries Inc. St. Peters, Mo. Born: Mar. 29, 1941 Education: Bachelor of Science and Master's degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Missouri. Honorary Ph.D. from the National Graduate School of Quality Management. Career Highlights: 1965: Joined Westvaco Corp., Covington, Va., as a technical engineer. 1969: Joined the family firm, Wainwright Industries Inc., as an executive-in-training. 1976: Became chairman and CEO of Wainwright Industries. Family: Wife, Mary Pillsbury Wainwright. Interests: His hobby and recreation are an 80-acre spread, complete with horses, in the western part of St. Louis County, Mo.

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Wainwright Industries Inc., located just across the Missouri River from St. Louis, is a 53-year-old firm that manufacturers stamped and machine products for the automotive, aerospace, information technology and home security industries. Wainwright Industries won an IndustryWeek Best Plant award in 1996. The company won a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1994. IndustryWeek Senior Editor John S. McClenahen interviewed "Don" Wainwright about the U.S. recovery from recession and capital formation. Both are public policy issues that Wainwright is focusing on during his current term as chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). IW: St. Peters, Mo., is half a continent from the nation's capital. Why are you spending a lot of time on public policy issues, namely the economic recovery and capital formation? Wainwright: When you really start to understand what goes on in legislative circles, you start to see how important our role is as an instructor, bringing knowledge and clarity on issues to people who have to make decisions on things that they aren't really experts in. Yet the decisions they make affect millions and millions of people's lives. As NAM chairman, I get another shot of energy every time I see a senator or representative who is trying to make a decision and who really appreciates your help-when we come in as an association with a lot of unity, are clear in our facts, and everybody is engaged. IW:What's the U.S. manufacturing economy look like? Wainwright: I think we are still on the bottom of the trough. I look at my own business, and there's just not a lot of backlog. It's just a month-to-month progression. There's no big boom. But there's also a feeling people are starting to do things. For productivity growth the country needed the recently enacted stimulus package. If we don't continue to run at a productivity growth rate of 4% to 5%, we're just not going to have the economic growth that we have had over the last decade. The only way to do that is through capital investment spending. And that's done when people have an encouragement for a return on their investment. They will invest in more productive machinery and more productive information technology-anything that will increase the flow of information or the flow of product in a more efficient manner. It's not a matter of whether there is too much capacity. It's more productive capacity that we need. And that comes about with things like accelerated depreciation, where the return on investment is increased. We have, I believe, come out of seven of the last nine recessions from a kick in capital investment. IW: What do you say to your manufacturing executive colleagues who are not engaged in the public-policy process, certainly not to the extent you are? Can they afford to sit on the sidelines? Wainwright: They can't afford to sit on the sidelines. Not any more. The world is changing, and if it is changing faster than you are, then you have real problems. If you don't stay engaged and stay involved, issues will get out of control. Over the years, I have seen the effects of government regulation-and everybody else has-in every part of our lives, whether it's personal or business. It changes the landscape. And if you're not involved, you won't be ready for change. You need to stay on top of it. Not only to help try to direct and guide that change, but also to be aware of that change. Take any of the major issues; they affect all major corporations every day. E-mail nominations for Executive Word to Editor-in-Chief Patricia Panchak at [email protected].
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