Companies that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson worked for as a consultant laid off about 1,900 people since 2015, shutting down plants in Wisconsin and across the country as they moved to save money and shift production overseas.
The examples were provided to The Associated Press by American Bridge, a liberal advocacy group, as Nicholson hopes to challenge Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, of Madison, in November.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the layoffs by these companies compare to those by other companies for which Nicholson has not consulted; Wisconsin has lost tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs in the past 10 years, although they are rebounding since the Great Recession.
Nicholson’s spokeswoman called any assertion that Nicholson or his employer, ghSMART, was involved in consulting on questions about shedding jobs or shutting down factories was a “lie.”
“Kevin and ghSMART help companies to interview, hire and evaluate their senior leadership,” Nicholson’s spokeswoman Ronica Cleary said. “Basically, they help companies hire better key leaders. In no instance has Kevin’s firm been involved in the type of layoff decisions you’re asking about — they don’t advise business leaders on these matters. It’s a lie to say they do.”
An expert in the field said while it would be nearly impossible to know what specific role Nicholson played in the company decisions, it’s not unusual for consultants to advise on how to shed jobs to save money.
According to the ghSMART website, Nicholson works with companies and investors on “management assessment and organizational change initiatives.” Nicholson, who is running as a political outsider, has said in interviews that his job involves helping companies design strategies for growth, assisting with mergers and acquisitions and problem-solving.
“Strategy, operations, you name it,” Nicholson said in an April interview on WKOW-TV in Madison. “Basically, we come in and we have to solve problems.”
Nicholson highlights his experience in the business world as one of his key credentials. He’s cited confidentiality agreements when declining to speak in detail about his clients.
Management consultants are frequently hired to determine what changes can be made after an acquisition to make the business more profitable, and that often involves laying people off, said Paul Friga, a University of North Carolina professor who has written two books on the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., where he, and Nicholson, previously worked.
“It’s not unusual at all for consultants to be involved in projects that result in fewer jobs,” Friga said.
Nicholson, as a candidate for Senate, was required to report the names of sources of income of at least $5,000 since 2016. He initially delayed reporting the names, but eventually did in January. Nicholson reported being paid $362,417 in salary and $808,180 in fees from 27 clients between January 2016 and November 2017.
Nicholson, of Delafield, a decorated former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, faces Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir, of Brookfield, a retired nurse, in the Aug. 14 primary.
Businesses and other entities that Nicholson reported earning at least $5,000 working for as a consultant include:
- Private equity firm American Securities. American Securities, through subsidiary Metaldyne Performance Group, purchased Brillion Iron Works near Green Bay in September 2016 and two weeks later announced it was shutting down the plant, resulting in a loss of 345 jobs, a big blow for Brillion, a city of about 3,100.
- Wire and cable manufacturer Generable Cable Corp. In December 2014, the company announced it was laying off up to 180 workers at a Pennsylvania plant and moving the jobs to Mexico, which happened in 2015.
- Private equity firm New Mountain Capital and chemical manufacturer Zep Inc. In April 2015, New Mountain Chemical bought Zep and over the next two years Zep closed three plants in Georgia resulting in 232 layoffs.
- Specialty chemical company Avantor Performance Materials. Nicholson client New Mountain Capital owns Avantor, which laid off 150 people at its Kentucky plant in 2015 and moved the work overseas. In 2017, Avantor laid off between 37 and 57 workers at a New Jersey plant as it shifted production work overseas.
- ITT Corp. The specialty parts manufacturer reported shutting down two production facilities and laying off 645 workers between 2015 and 2017 as it moved production to Mexico.
- Automatic seating and electrical supplier Lear Corp. Lear’s subsidiary Integrated Manufacturing and Assembly laid off 50 Michigan workers as it moved production to Mexico. Earlier this year, Integrated laid off an additional 252 workers in Michigan.
The Wisconsin State Journal contributed to this report.