Nicholson consulted for companies that shed jobs

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson worked as a consultant for companies that laid off nearly 1,900 people since 2015, shutting down plants in Wisconsin and other states as they moved to save money and shift production overseas.

A spokeswoman for Nicholson, who is vying for the Wisconsin seat held by Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, said he had nothing to do with layoff decisions. The examples were provided to The Associated Press by American Bridge, a liberal advocacy group.

Nicholson spokeswoman Ronica Cleary 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,” 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 common for consultants to advise on how to shed jobs to save money.

“It’s not unusual at all for consultants to be involved in projects that result in fewer jobs,” 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.

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 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 has declined to speak in detail about his clients, citing confidentiality agreements.

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, a decorated former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, faces Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir, 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 included the private equity firm American Securities. American Securities, through subsidiary Metaldyne Performance Group, purchased the 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 people.

He also consulted New Mountain Capital which owns specialty chemical company Avantor Performance Materials. It 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.

Another Nicholson client, specialty parts manufacturer ITT Corporation, reported shutting down two production facilities and laying off 645 workers between 2015 and 2017 as it moved production to Mexico.