Chicago is famed for its fierce local politics, but Barack Obama's election puts it on the national level as well, and Lee Lumber is hip-deep in both worlds. The company was born and remains a fixture in the Bridgeport neighborhood, center of the Daley mayoral machine, and now finds itself a short drive from Obama's home in the Hyde Park section. Rick Baumgarten grew up at Lee and, at 62, presides over a four-branch, six-showroom operation. Here's how he counts the dollars–and votes.
- What's Easy, What's Tough To Count. Every day I look at our numbers. I know what our break-even point is at any given time. I keep track of any extraordinary expenses, our payables, and receivables. Those are balanced daily. Of course, those numbers don't tell the whole story. The numbers I look at are the orders that closed and that got invoiced. I don't know what orders we've taken today because more than 50% of our business is special orders. They take two to four weeks to process, while kitchens take six to 14 weeks. It's a pain to draw a report that shows the open orders.
- Hard Choices. I have been faced with laying off people who have done nothing wrong other than getting caught in this miserable economy. It's like putting a knife in my heart and turning it. ...[But] we had to work to get our costs down to a point where we could break even. I'm happy to say we did quite decently in October.
- The Political Game. If I saw [incoming White House Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel walking down the street, he'd say "Hi, Rick." He's been to the lumberyard. Luis Gutierrez is the congressman for this area, and he's visited. [In Washington], my job is always to call on the Chicago Democrats. There's certainly an amount of feeling that I'm beating my head against the wall, but if I do some good, it's like getting two votes.