In 1970, Dan MacDonald, Sr. went to his first Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association conference in Washington D.C. Thirty-one years later, his son, Ken will be addressing the Association in that same city as MHEDA?s 47th President, becoming the first president to follow in his father?s footsteps.
MHEDA’s leadership realized early on the importance of mentoring the next generation and established the Young Executive?s Forum in 1976. One of those Young Executives was Ken MacDonald, MHEDA’s 2001 President and President of M & G Materials Handling Company in East Providence, Rhode Island. History has now come full circle: the generation that benefited from mentoring by our Association’s founders is now committed to mentoring the leadership of tomorrow.
MHEDA’s mentoring of the next generation began in 1975 when that year’s president, Walt Geizenheimer, invited MacDonald, then a college student, to a MHEDA Board of Directors meeting. Geizenheimer, together with other board members, enthusiastically described the industry and encouraged the young MacDonald to consider material handling as a future career. MacDonald wasted no time. One year later, he graduated from college on a Sunday and went to work at the dealership on Monday.
A conversation with Ken MacDonald is peppered with references to past industry leaders. Highly committed to our industry’s future, he often repeats a quote attributed to President Theodore Roosevelt, almost a century ago: “Every man owes part of his time and money to the industry in which he is engaged. No man has a moral right to withhold his support from an organization that is striving to improve conditions within his sphere.”
The roots of Ken MacDonald’s philosophy can be traced back to his father, Daniel MacDonald, Sr., MHEDA’s 1984 President. MacDonald, Sr. believed that if he was going to work in the material handling industry, he had to become involved in the association that worked for the betterment of the overall industry. As a new member of MHEDA in 1967, he volunteered to serve on various committees and over a period of time, began taking on more of a leadership role in the association. In 1984 Daniel MacDonald, Sr. was appointed President of MHEDA. During this time, he was also leading Yale’s Dealer Advisory Board.
M & G Materials Handling Company was founded in 1967 by MacDonald’s mother and father. Prior to starting the company, Daniel MacDonald, Sr. was employed as general manager for Taylor Brothers, a Towmotor franchise in Providence. His mother, Pauline, worked at her father’s automobile dealership throughout high school and after graduating from business college. When the opportunity came to open a distributorship, they jumped on it. Ken describes those days: “Our beginnings were very humble. My father and John Alsentzer from Yale Materials Handling Corp. met at home and struck a deal.”
“My parents were my first mentors,” says Ken, “and in hindsight, I could not have had better teachers. My father taught me the skills I needed in order to manage a business. He taught me the ‘people skills,’ how to understand the financial side of the business, and how to think through a problem in order to reach the right decision. In the process, my father and I have become the closest of friends.” Ken acknowledges that he still reflects on those conversations when faced with various business issues. At 73 years of age, he still provides great counsel.
During the early years of the business, Ken’s mother, Pauline, handled the administrative tasks and established many of the business controls that are still in place today. Says Ken, “To this day, I owe my organizational skills to my mom.”
The Second Generation
A typical family business, both Ken and his younger brother Dan steamed and washed trucks as young boys. When they finished washing trucks, they cleaned the shop. After graduating from college, Ken spent time in each department: parts, service and the front office. In 1978, he was tapped to fill a void in the sales department, where he started to develop the sales skills that he relies on today.
Daniel MacDonald, Jr., joined the company in 1982 and is now M & G’s Service and Operations Manager. He, too, chose to build a career at M & G and reported for work the Monday following graduation. Dan Jr. attributes his early understanding of the business to his father’s practice of making sure that each of his sons performed various menial tasks as a youngster. “We learned how dirty a particular job could be. We also learned that the business could be a lot of fun. We had a true sense of what the business was.”
Dan, Sr. says, “I remember having conversations with both of my sons and I reminded them that just because the company was a family business did not mean they were required to come on board. Of course, I welcomed them into the company, but it was clear that they were not required to stay.”
In 1991, the two brothers purchased the business from their father. The brothers recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and complement each other very well. Ken says, “Our partnership affords us the ability to maintain a high level of proficiency. There is a level of trust that is present, because we are family. If not for my brother’s participation in the day-to-day management of the company, I would not be able to devote the attention that I do to MHEDA.”
It’s All about the Customer
Ken illustrates the benefits of working for a small, family business. “With 21 employees, there is a sense of closeness,” he says, “and each employee is empowered to make decisions. We live by a standard of quality that gives the impression of a very large organization. We’re a quiet company that strives to do more for our customers whenever we see an opportunity. Our success can be attributed to each employee’s drive and his or her ability to stay focused on the job at hand.” Today, the job at hand takes M & G to customers around the world, including India, China, Ireland, Mexico and Brazil.
M & G’s philosophy of customer service dictates that each employee must do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer. A strong work ethic, good communication skills, and the ability to empathize with a customer are fundamental requirements for every M & G employee. Ken believes, “Each employee is on the front line. If something needs to be fixed, it is their responsibility to fix it.”
The recruitment battle for quality employees is a never ending one. Ken has found success in locating potential employees through the military and has built alliances with Operation Transition, The National Guard, and the U.S. Army Reserve. He is also in constant touch with local trade schools.
Dan, Jr. says proudly, “We instill the importance of what we do in each prospective employee. Each employee realizes the depth of our industry, and that most everything we see, touch or feel has been touched by a piece of material handling equipment. Each of us pulls together as a unit to accomplish a particular task, and sometimes the pace gets quite frantic in order to satisfy the customer’s needs.”
Most of the company’s 10 technicians were new to the material handling industry when first hired. Dan, Jr. says, “Historically, we have found that if we recruit an individual from another material handling company, his motivation is largely financial, and he is likely to leave as soon as a competitor offers him compensation that is not necessarily in line with his experience.” Every M & G employee is given training from the ground up. A buddy-system set in place by Dan allows for a senior employee to mentor an entry-level technician until he is able to function on his own.
“I have orange blood,” states Ken. “If it weren’t for my parents and Yale, I wouldn’t have what I have today.” When asked about a company Mission Statement, he laughs and says, “An old mentor of mine, Newcombe Baker, of Yale Materials Handling Corp., gave us a banner years ago that reads, “For God, for country, and for Yale.” It came from Yale University, but it is very appropriate for us. The banner hangs in our front office and everyone who enters sees it. Baker was a proud old Marine who spoke often about what it was like to land on Iwo Jima, and those stories showed his character. Whenever I needed information or support, he was available.”
M & G’s company philosophy puts the customer first. Says Ken, “We insist on satisfying every customer’s need.” That motto has helped M & G Materials Handling achieve Dealer of Excellence status for four years in a row. Several years ago, the company broke the record for Yale’s highest annual marketshare. M & G employees are on track to achieving Dealer of Excellence for the fifth consecutive year, something that has been achieved only by two other dealerships.
“Sometimes our customers are our greatest salespeople,” Ken says giving an example: One of M & G’s largest customers was hosting a local engineering society’s 22 visiting industrial engineers. The engineers noted the number of Yale trucks and asked why the customer was such a proponent of Yale equipment. The customer responded, “We purchase most of our products from M & G Materials Handling. When we ask them to jump, their response is always, “How high?” They respond quickly, and they do it right the first time.” Ken shared the customer’s unsolicited testimonial with M & G employees, recognizing that all their efforts pay off. “When those engineers returned to their companies, they had a positive image of M & G.”
Passion for MHEDA
For the MacDonalds, MHEDA is a family passion. According to Dan, Sr., “My wife and I started in this industry together. The name M & G comes from MacDonald and my wife’s maiden name, Gagnier. We both love the industry, the association and its people.
There is no doubt that the senior MacDonalds will beam with pride as their son accepts the role of MHEDA’s President. Dan, Sr. says, “This is quite an accomplishment as it is the first time that the offspring of a past president has ever attained the chair. I had no doubt that Ken was a leader, but I never thought I’d live long enough to see this day.”
MHEDA’s newest president gives evidence to the adage that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Ken says, “I’m committed to this industry,” says Ken. “I, too, have an obligation to mentor others as I have been mentored. MHEDA’s Board of Directors has created a framework from which to mentor the next generation, and MHEDA’s educational programs are second to none. Networking programs facilitate the growth of individual entrepreneurs. MHEDA’s leadership is striving to assist each of us as we take advantage of cutting edge technology. No one individual businessperson has access to the knowledge that we are able to share collectively as an association, and we are all still learning from our industry peers.”
The Year Ahead
Ken is enthusiastic about MHEDA’s Roundtable Meetings, held in various regions of the country. These meetings offer an opportunity for networking and connecting with both industry peers and the next generation of leadership. New members can look forward to the ability to meet with successful, experienced industry professionals. “Our ability to network with each other is invaluable. When I first came into this business, I had a group of friends I could call when I needed help, and their advice saved me tens of thousands of dollars.”
“Our industry is experiencing major change,” says Ken, “and we must learn to be flexible. We must rethink how we do business. We must become more efficient in our operations, and we must make technology work for us as we move through this period of transition.”
Ken believes that the Internet is a business tool. It’s not going away, and it will continue to impact our industry and how we do business. “But,” says Ken, “service and our ability to put our customers first will continue to drive our success. Technology can be a great equalizer. On the Internet, size does not matter. As e-business grows in popularity, it will be easier for the customer to do business with our competitors. The only way to retain those customers is to offer superior service and to realize that the benchmarks of service will continue to rise with time. “
Strong Winds for Sailing
As President of MHEDA, Ken hopes that members perceive real value from the programs that MHEDA makes available. “I hope to help new members become more profitable in their business as a result of sharing my experiences with them.”
He also wants to leave his mark on M & G. He says, “My parents both left their mark on the business. My father built it. My mother was his partner, shoulder to shoulder. In the beginning, they had to put everything on the line, and as a youngster, I had no idea of what they put at risk. Managing a successful, growing company is very different from starting it. I’m fortunate. We have solid employees, we?re financially sound, and we have stability.”
M & G Materials Handling is positioned for future success. In a highly competitive era, Ken and Dan, Jr. continue to build on the successful foundation laid by their parents, one that is based on quality products, quality performance and commitment to their employees and customers. They’re efficient. They’re lean, and they’re capable of surviving the changes facing a mature industry.
When Dan MacDonald, Sr. returns to Washington in April for another MHEDA convention, he will undoubtedly be thinking about the first convention he and Pauline attended in this magnificent city. He will be thinking about his own commitment to the material handling industry. He will be thinking about his sons, Ken and Dan, who have followed in his footsteps and are continuing to grow the business he and his wife first built. He will be thinking about all the M & G employees back home who have helped in the company’s success. He will be thinking about the responsibilities and intense commitment required to lead an industry and an association. And he will be thinking about his son, Ken, who shares with him the honor and distinction of being called “Mr. President.” He says that he and his wife will be bursting with pride, and maybe even filled with a couple of tears.
Dan MacDonald, Sr. has some advice for his son, as he becomes MHEDA’s next leader. The advice was born in Dan’s passion for the sea. He says, “Continue to surround yourself with good people and listen to them. The winds are strong, and they will change. That’s the rule of the sea. But keep your hand on the tiller and sail the course.”