Companies can make a difference in a person's life, and Fred Keller, founder of Cascade Engineering Inc., believes it is important that they do.
Keller, who recently stepped down as Cascade's CEO, talked to Plastics News about programs that can change people's lives and, at the same time, still provide a profitable return to a company.
He started Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Cascade in 1973 and it has grown to include 11 companies. Or, as Keller says, 11 platforms for growth. The largest part of company deals in making parts for trucks and garbage bins. Overall, the companies employ about 1,300 people.
From a humanitarian perspective, he said Triple Quest LLC, a joint venture with the Windquest Group that makes filters that provide safe drinking water, could be life-changing for some people.
“It's literally a drop in the bucket and we're trying to work with nonprofit organizations to help get them more rapidly deployed,” he said.
Keller said the objective is to make about 200,000 filters a year. One filter helps about 10 people.
Products matter, but for Keller, the workplace is also a place for change. During his tenure, he's developed programs to help those on welfare get work. He's also trying to help people who have served prison time.
“Basically when I started I was determined to have an organization where it was a great place for people to work and it was successful financially,” Keller said.
Since then, he established the company's core philosophy, which is simply “People, Planet, Profit.” It means that his companies need to maintain social, environmental and economic standards.
Keller's background is as a metallurgist. He worked for aerospace company Pratt & Whitney in Connecticut for seven years. Then he moved to Grand Rapids to set up his own company.
Keller started Cascade with a loan from his father — Fred M. Keller, who operated mold maker Paragon Tool & Die Co. — an introduction to the bank and six employees. Keller said the first customer was a company called Lean Chemical, and then he was contracted to make Chevy parts. He also did work for Herman Miller, the furniture maker.
Keller said the aim was always to help people. In 2008 he was invited to teach at his alma mater, Cornell University, about the sustainability of business. That's where he became more determined to develop programs to help the workforce.
He is now the Executive in Residence at the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan — Ross School of Business. and one of his first roles was to address 500 students in their first class.
Keller said in the early 1990s, he wanted to help those on welfare.