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‘I See The Future’

Gadget guru has a dream to reboot Detroit.

He is arguably one of the most “plugged-in” men in America — with the inside track on all things high-tech. When you flip on your high-definition television, fire up your wireless personal computer, use a smartphone “app,” or do a late-night Google search on the Internet, remember the name Gary Shapiro.

As president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), Shapiro is one of the key, behind-the-scenes players helping pave the way for the major technological advances that are changing the way we work, play, shop, communicate and learn.

“Every day, we’re taking technology with us — in our cars, our pockets, wherever we go,” Shapiro says. “Innovation is our destiny.”

When he refers to “our destiny,” the 54-year-old technophile is not talking like some New Age soothsayer peering into a liquid-crystal ball. He’s speaking as a Jewish husband and father with ties to Metro Detroit who just wants to make the world, and in particular, the U.S. economy, a better place for his 3-year-old son.

Shapiro is so concerned about our economic future, he wrote a new book, The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. It’s billed as a “blueprint for America’s success in the new century,” and he chuckles when he points out it was initially listed as a “how-to” book on the New York Times bestseller list.

“We’ve become arrogant; we’ve started to assume that it’s divine destiny that we are just No. 1,” Shapiro said during a recent national TV appearance. “The deficit is an innovation killer. We need to drastically cut government spending. We are the first generation of Americans in history to just take, take, take and not sacrifice for our children, and that is immoral and it’s unacceptable. That’s why we’re going down.”

Shapiro was only 34 when he took the helm of the CEA; the U.S. trade association represents the interests of 2,000 consumer electronics companies (names you’ve no doubt heard, like Apple, Sony, Panasonic, Nintendo, LG, Motorola and the list goes on) that comprise a $165-billion industry.

The CEA also owns the International Consumer Electronics Show, the world’s largest consumer technology tradeshow, held each year in Las Vegas. More than 140,000 tech-geeks the world over flock there to see the newest, hottest, coolest, gotta-have-it, can’t-live-without-it gadgets — created by some of the world’s most brilliant minds.
“Innovation creates jobs, markets and new industries where none existed before,” Shapiro writes in his book. “Innovation requires good K-12 schools; science and math education, attracting the best and the brightest from around the world and having them stay here after they get their graduate degrees. It also requires free trade. Our nation is in economic trouble, and our ‘secret sauce’ is innovation.”

Shapiro, who grew up on Long Island in Wantagh, N.Y., is widely known on the national and international stage. He’s testified before Congress 25 times on technology and business-related issues; he helped lead the consumer electronics industry in its successful transition to high definition TV.

People like Steve Forbes, president and CEO of Forbes magazine, and Alan Mullally, CEO of Ford Motor Company, are quoted on his book jacket praising him for his forward thinking. This Phi Beta Kappa graduate of SUNY’s Binghamton University (with a double major in economics and psychology) and graduate of Georgetown Law School, is also a regular blogger for the Huffington Post website.

He makes so many national TV appearances he’s looking into having a studio installed in his Arlington, Va., office building. But, what many people may not know is that we can claim Gary Shapiro as a Metro Detroiter.

Every weekend, he is on a plane headed here to see his wife, Dr. Susan Malinowski of Birmingham (an ophthalmologist and retina specialist with Southfield-based Retina Consultants of Michigan) and their young son, Mark. He spends the rest of the week living and working in Virginia (or traveling), but his heart and soul are right here in our community.

“We haven’t missed a weekend together in more than seven years,” says Shapiro. “Is it hard? Yeah. It’s definitely hard. But, we just get through it each day.”

Shapiro and his wife met and fell in love on the ski slopes of Aspen, Colo., in 2003. His organization was hosting a meeting; she was attending a medical conference. They both got there a day early and ended up together in a random group ski lesson. About a year later, they got engaged on the same mountain (Snowmass) amid breathtaking scenery, and the rest is history.

“We decided we were in love and we wanted to get married, but we didn’t want to give up our great jobs,” Shapiro says. “It would have been the traditional thing of the woman following the man. My wife has a well-established career.”

So, for now, their solution is a commuter marriage and they’re quite a match. She’s changing lives by improving people’s vision; he’s laying out a vision for change.

“[Innovation] is the American way,” says Shapiro. “We are genetically coming from people who came here for a better life. We’re in trouble financially so we’ve got three choices: raise taxes, cut spending or grow. I like to focus on growth.”

The city of Detroit is living proof that making a comeback can be a tall order. Recently released census figures show Detroit lost 25 percent of its population over the last decade (713,777 in 2010 compared with 951,270 in 2000).

Back in 1950, Detroit had 1.8 million residents and was the fourth-largest city in America. Now, more than one in every five homes in Detroit is vacant. The suburbs of this once grand city have also felt the effects of higher-than-average unemployment, population abandonment and implosion of the region’s industrial backbone; upscale Birmingham and its affluent neighbor, Bloomfield Hills, also saw their home vacancy rates rise (9.4 percent for Birmingham and 10.2 percent for Bloomfield Hills).

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is disputing the new population data and plans to appeal. But no one can dispute the fact that statewide, Michigan has lost nearly 860,000 jobs since 2000; we have one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates. In stark contrast, Washington, D.C.’s 6.4 percent unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation. It’s a startling juxtaposition which Shapiro illuminates in a blog post titled, “Tale of Two Cities.” Here are some excerpts:

“Almost every week I experience a tale of two cities as I travel from Washington, D.C., to Detroit to see my wife and toddler son. … The Washington area is among the wealthiest in the country. It has thousands of million-dollar-plus homes and is awash in imported luxury cars and high-end stores. … The average family makes six figures in a few Washington-area counties. It’s the best of times for many in the Washington area. For Detroit, and virtually every other major U.S. metropolitan area, it is the worst of times. The unprecedented number of “for sale” signs, high unemployment and flaccid business environment tell a tale of decline. The relative opulence of Washington compared with the distress of the rest of the country epitomizes a challenged nation.”

When asked what he believes Detroit and the economically battered state of Michigan have to do to find their own way forward, Shapiro, who says he is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, has a clear-cut solution.

He says we need to turn some of the things people may perceive as “negatives” (like Michigan’s high unemployment rate, underemployed workforce and rock-bottom real estate prices) into a strategic advantage.

“Michigan’s challenge is to seduce business to invest in its future. It has a well-trained, industrious, skilled workforce and shockingly low commercial and residential real estate prices,” he says.

“It has to overcome a sense of governmental incompetence and union tyranny to provide comfort to business and people deciding on where they wish to live. If Michigan could become a pro-business right-to-work safe haven (meaning you don’t have to join a union — common in many competing states like Virginia), it could change the dynamic, attract business and spur economic growth.”

Whether you agree or disagree, you’ll surely be hearing more from Gary Shapiro in the future as the consumer electronics industry continues to grow (a projected 3.5 percent increase in value this year to $186 billion).

Now that you know who he, you may even spot him chilling in the “D” and enjoying the family time he so cherishes. For the record, he says he can’t live without his Blackberry, navigation system, HDTV and various personal computers.

As an industry insider, Shapiro says we can expect to see unmanned automobiles, improved 3D technology and more Internet-connected TVs in the future. In fact, by 2014, tech experts predict more than 70 percent of all consumer electronics products will be hooked up to the Web.

“I can’t wait to see what the future holds,” Shapiro says eagerly. “I know it will involve major advances in technology.” RT



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