Posted on October 6, 2011I had a chance lunch with the founder of Crate and Barrel yesterday at the Washington Ideas Forum. Gordon Segal asked if the empty seat at my small table was open, and me, having no idea who Gordon Segal is, said sure.
He told me if he was from Chicago, and I immediately (in my usually obnoxious straightforward way) asked him if he was a Cub or White Sox fan.
I noticed that his name tag said Crate and Barrel, and asked him about it. Yep, he said, he founded the company with his wife in 1962 with one other employee. They were newlyweds who had travled through Europe in 1961, and they noticed all the neat furniture stores over there that would have looked cool in American living rooms. The Crate and Barrel name comes from the crates and barrels from which all of their products arrived, initially from European countries, and now from all over the world.
Mr. Segal said that close to 60 percent of the products he sells are made in America, which must be some sort of a record these days. I asked him what he thought of the economy and he told me that it would take close to two years for the housing bubble to play itself out. Too much capacity in the market and not enough buyers. It didn’t help, he said, that that the new regulations from Dodd-Frank make it harder for lenders to lend. In his view, there wasn’t much that Congress could do to fix the problem, although there were plenty of things they could do to make it worse. He pointed to the hyperbole surrounding the debt limit debate as a case in point. It freaked out consumers and made economic recovery that much more difficult.
The Washington Ideas Forum is put together by the Aspen Institute and David Bradley of the Atlantic Magazine. Mr. Segal and I were left to fend for our selves in our seating arrangements. The overflow crowd that mobbed the Newseum made it impossible for us to eat our lunch and listen to the presenters.
After lunch, the venue moved to a bigger space where I could hear such luminaries as Bill Daley, Marco Rubio and Tom Brokaw give their views of the world. Both Daley and Rubio made a bit of Washington news, Daley on his relationship with Rahm, and Rubio on his insistence that he won’t be Vice President. Brokaw, per usual, lamented the decline and fall of American civilization.
I couldn’t stay for the whole show, because well, I have a day job. And besides the little news bit, it is hard to learn much in the 20 minutes increments that they gave each speaker to talk. There weren’t many ideas coming out of the Washington Ideas Forum, just a lot of one-liners.
It actually amazed me how many high-powered people showed up, though, to this event. Work must be slow because there wasn’t much work being done there.
I would have preferred if Mr. Segal had been on stage and if he had given the crowd more than a 20 minute explanation as to how the economy really works, how businesses really grow, and how Washington really should stop with the stupid regulations and dumb laws.
That would have been a lecture worth listening to.