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Kevin Yonce outlines his leadership strategies

Features, Management, Perspective | December 1, 2011 | By:

Kevin Yonce, IFAI’s new chair, identifies three goals to strengthen the specialty fabric industry’s leading association.

“I was taught early on in my experience with volunteer leadership that you should have between three and five goals in order to be effective,” says Kevin Yonce, MFC, IFM, CPP, newly elected chairman of the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) and CEO of TCT&A Industries in Urbana, Ill. “Right now the industry and association have some significant challenges to face and we [the board] have identified goals based on those challenges.”

Skill building

Yonce grew up in and around the family awning business that was founded by his great grandfather in 1929—shortly after the stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression. “That he could start a business and make it successful at the beginning of the Great Depression has always impressed me,” Yonce says. “If he could do that, we can certainly find ways to rise above the current challenges.”

Yonce says he has always been drawn to leadership roles. In 1991 he attended his first IFAI Expo—and hasn’t missed one since. In 1995 he began to serve on the IFAI Tarp Association board, and later became chair. Shortly after his term ended, he was elected to the IFAI board.

Pay it forward

Kevin Yonce never imagined that he would one day be chair of the IFAI board of directors, but now that he is, he’s ready for the challenge. “It’s been a process since I was 26 or 27, one which included observing and being mentored by leaders in the industry,” Yonce says. “They played an important part in seeing that I could do this, and encouraged me.”

Because of his experience, as a support strategy for his other goals Yonce plans to engage the Leadership Development Committee to further its focus on member mentorship to include more than just nominating candidates for board positions. “We need to identify new people in the industry who show some promise and reach out to them,” he says. “You may not think you’ve got anything to offer but someone else might see you differently than you see yourself. That was the case in my situation.”

Strong past, bright future

The experiences Yonce has had in IFAI leadership and at the Expos has built his relationships with others in the industry, as well as increased his understanding of the industry, its needs and his vision for its future. “This association is full of people with great ideas, who are willing to share their experience with you and help you grow your business,” Yonce says. “Already I’m drawing on the experiences and advice from past chairs as I prepare to work with the board on its initiatives.”

While drawing on the wisdom of those who’ve led before is important for Yonce, he’s equally committed to embracing new ways to help the association stay relevant. “We’re transitioning in many ways,” Yonce says. “Market segments are expanding to include more and more technical textiles. We’ve made good strides in geosynthetics and I think the Safety and Technical Products division is also going to be an important driver for us as we move forward. We have to keep expanding into those other areas in a way that makes a difference to our membership and is of value to them.”

Yonce is quick to point out that expanding market segments is not a transition from but an addition to existing market segments.“We’ve got to expand the way we make the most of these new products and opportunities,” he says, “while continuing to support traditional market segments.”

Sigrid Tornquist is a freelance author and editor based in St. Paul, Minn. She is also the associate editor of InTents magazine, a publication of the Industrial Fabrics Association International.

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