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McKernan strives for integrity, quality and excellence

Features, Management, Perspective | November 1, 2009 | By:

Pete McKernan makes a commitment to action for
the specialty fabrics industry.

“Be trustworthy. Be proactive. Do right. Respect others. Conduct yourself in such a way that when those you do business with think of integrity, quality and excellence—they think of you,” says Pete McKernan, IFM, newly elected chair of the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) board of directors, and president and CEO of Herculite Products Inc. in Emigsville, Pa.

Every two years, the IFAI leadership shifts, and at IFAI Expo 2009 in San Diego, Pete McKernan became IFAI’s 47th chairman of the board. What shaped McKernan’s leadership character? What inspired him to take over as chair? What is his vision for IFAI and the specialty fabrics industry? It all began with five frogs, a log, a decision—and a jump.

The jump

“I love the story of five frogs on a log,” McKernan says. “Five frogs were sitting on a log. Four decided to jump. How many were left on the log? Five. There is a big difference between deciding to do something and actually doing it.” McKernan’s tenet of acting on his convictions has been a driving force in his life, beginning with his experience as a child and continuing throughout his career.

McKernan’s father died in 1956, leaving his mother with three young boys to raise, Pete being the youngest. Among the lessons she imparted to her children were the courage to pursue dreams, perseverance and hard work. “She taught us never to be too impressed with ourselves and to remember to laugh—a lot,” McKernan says.

Though McKernan places great value on a sense of humor, he does not take the issues facing the specialty fabrics industry lightly—far from it. His decision to run for the board of directors stems from his desire to contribute to the continued growth and success of IFAI’s membership and the specialty fabrics industry. You could say that he decided to jump off the log—with conviction and a sense of humor.

McKernan graduated from Union College in New York with a B.A. and an M.B.A. He began his career working for Procter and Gamble. “While at Procter and Gamble I learned about the voice of the customer,” McKernan says. “I learned about how valuable strong brands are and how important the total cost of ownership experience is for end users.” Now, as chairman of IFAI’s board of directors, McKernan is facing the challenge of leading an international association as it struggles to emerge from an economic crisis.

Why did you join IFAI’s board of directors, and decide to pursue the chairmanship?

”Throughout my career, I have chosen to get involved and try to make a difference. I have been on the IFAI board since 2002, and wanted to run for chair to contribute to the continued growth and success of our membership. This was true with my time on the Industrial Fabrics Foundation (IFF), the United States Industrial Fabrics Institute (USIFI), and now as board chairman of IFAI—all of which are a natural progression of my interests in and commitment to our industry.”

How has IFAI membership furthered your career?

“While there is a certain time commitment, fortunately the IFAI Policy Governance structure enables board members to optimize their volunteer time. There is no doubt that belonging to IFAI and serving on the association’s board has provided a broader understanding of the dynamics of the influence of our business.”

What are your plans for IFAI?

“We are a member-owned organization. I believe we need to focus on accomplishing objectives that benefit our members. To that end, we need to focus on and execute a few objectives exceptionally well:

  • We need to strengthen our value proposition with our members and end users. The implementation of our updated strategic plan for the association will help achieve this outcome.
  • As a trade association, we need to expand and accelerate the ways in which we articulate our value proposition. We need to increase recognition and awareness of our association in order to create growth opportunities for our members.
  • As a group, we need to engage in the larger issues of our time, such as sustainability, taxation and trade issues to become a larger voice in advocating public policies.”

What are the biggest challenges facing the industry?

“The global economic downturn and the emerging recovery is the biggest challenge our members are facing. This re-set will have lasting implications up and down the value chain. It is a time of great stress and great opportunity.”

What kinds of changes do you see coming in our industry?

“As the economic environment continues to reshape itself, new innovative products and services are becoming an essential point of differentiation. To take advantage of this opportunity, individuals and companies are collaborating in ways and with partners that a few years ago would have been unlikely, if not impossible.”

How can IFAI best help members address these challenges?

“The networking opportunities provided by the association are a tremendous hidden value. And the activities at the division level continue to be an essential pathway for our members. Additionally, our publications and Web presence are valuable sources of knowledge and exposure for members, end users and consumers.”

The challenges facing manufacturers at large are great—and so are the opportunities. McKernan takes the helm of IFAI with optimism, experience and faith.

He’s jumping.

Sigrid Tornquist is a freelance author and editor based in St. Paul, Minn. She is also the editor of InTents magazine, another IFAI publication.

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