Retiring Vitro VP, Pat Kenny, Reflects on His 40 Year Career

Patrick Kenny has been a pioneer throughout his 40-year career in the glass industry. From his beginning in 1980 to his retirement in June, the Vitro vice president of marketing led new departments and took on roles that didn’t exist previously. He spent his entire career with PPG and, later, Vitro Architectural Glass after PPG sold its flat glass division.

Kenny first joined PPG in 1980 in its sales and marketing training program. There he was exposed to all parts of the glass business, from glass and metal fabrication to installation. In his early years he worked in estimating and project management roles, relocating several times. He took his first sales management job in 1986 before moving to Hong Kong in 1989 where he was in charge of Asian sales.

“I experienced different assignments and challenges throughout my career, primarily in the glass business. At the end of the day, I’m quite happy to end up in a position where I could marry my passions,” says Kenny, referring to construction and marketing. “I had a career helping architects design the coolest buildings in the world and I’ve led marketing at the highest levels. When I think back, there’s never a dull moment. I never felt bored, stale or not challenged.”

Q: So Pat, let’s start at the almost beginning. How did you get your
start at PPG?
A: It was 1980, a very tough year economically and the “misery index” was very challenging. So any job would have been a good job. I was finishing up at Indiana University in Bloomington and had signed up for a number of job interviews on campus.

I had an accidental career in glass. Here’s what happened; you had to sign up for on-campus interviews 30 days prior. So, I walked into the Business School for a 9:30 class one day knowing I had an interview with Indiana Bell for later that afternoon. I scanned the interview schedule sheets and to my surprise saw that I had a PPG interview at 10:30 a.m. that day (I had it in my schedule for the next day!). So I raced home, threw on a suit and got back to the interview room by 10:25. Now I had five minutes to get familiar with PPG; a company I knew nothing about. Well, the gentleman who interviewed me was actually from the Fiber Glass business, but he said they had something in Flat Glass that I might be suited for. They invited me up to Pittsburgh and it worked out. I am originally from New Jersey so I thought being in Pittsburgh would be relatively close by. Pittsburgh was close, but I wasn’t, as I was sent to Phoenix as a sales marketing trainee. I believe that was the last sales marketing training PPG ever had. It started a career in which I moved around a lot. Over the years, I have had 13 jobs and lived in seven locations, including Hong Kong.

Q: Of all those locations, which was the most challenging?
A: Hong Kong was the most challenging. We had built a glass factory in Shenzhen, China and we thought we could penetrate the Japanese market with a world-class plant. We never achieved more than a 1% market share there. I was in charge of Asian sales, except Japan, and there was a worldwide glut of glass. We worked hard, seven days a week, and tried to do the right thing. It was incredibly challenging. On the personal side, my wife, Eileen, and I had been married less than a year and our only child, Joanna, was born in Hong Kong during that time, as well.

Q: And the most challenging job?
A:Being vice president of corporate marketing for PPG was challenging in a different way. We were actually creating a corporate marketing department. I knew many of the individual PPG marketer leaders in the 12 business units. We had 385 marketers in 380 marketing job functions. We standardized all that and it helped us define marketing roles and accountabilities. It was fun, but challenging working with 12 business units including coatings, chemicals, OEM and optical. It was a broad, rich marketing environment that I enjoyed very much.

Another challenging new role was PPG’s Construction Market Team, which meant I worked with glass, architectural coatings and industrial coatings. It was PPG’s first market-facing initiative which I started. I gave quarterly updates to the CEO and got a lot of attention. My work in that role accelerated my career and ultimately led to me being named vice president of Corporate Marketing in 2009. I became director of marketing, Flat Glass in 1999 and helped lead and launch PPG’s Certified Fabricator program,
the first and still leading program in the glass industry. It completely changed glass fabrication and high performance glass lead times once our fabricators could temper low-E glass. I also was fortunate in my directors’ role to launch and scale up Starphire low-iron glass on conventional float lines and also launched multiple Solarban products.

Q: If you were speaking before a group of business students, what advice would you give them?

A: Always make sure you are aligned with what you love. If you are going to launch something, you need to do a lot of market and customer research. You need to really understand the customers’ needs and who the real customer is. To me it’s about value and how does your value proposition impact your customer. How can you make them more profitable? Also, invest ample time and confirm the value to the customer before a launch. One of my bigger career failures was SunClean self-cleaning glass. We did a lot research with SunClean and homeowners liked it conceptually, but when we installed it on 100 actual homes for six months, they just didn’t see the value there. In retrospect, it was too difficult for window customers to process for them and too expensive for homeowners … so the growth we expected never materialized.

Q:That is interesting to hear because one of the things most people think is that PPG never made mistakes, or at least never made ones anyone would know about …

A:If you never make mistakes, then you have missed opportunities, too. There was a hint of arrogance within my early PPG [days] as we thought we were invincible. When I started in Phoenix we were doing a project with the original Solarban reflective glass with lead times of 48 weeks—yes, 48 weeks! It was either PPG or LOF in those days. We ordered some of the glass wrong and needed dozens of replacements. So, I called the director of sales, Larry Beese, and pleaded with him for expedited lead times. I explained who I was and the problem I had and he said, “Sure, I’ll help you. I can get the new glass to you in 40 weeks.” And it arrived exactly 40 weeks later. Well, we glazed the missing glass with plywood panels we painted dark gray. It didn’t look too bad and I have a picture of the governor of Arizona at the grand opening. If you look closely you can see the painted plywood next to the real glass.

Q: What are the most significant industry changes you have seen during your career?

A: The changes I have seen are unbelievable … Flatness, quality, coatings, spacers, sizes, overnight delivery, four- to six-week production cycles, as well. I never would have imagined we would do what we are able to do now. It’s been very gratifying to see.

Q: What parts do you think you will miss the most?

A: I will miss the people, as I was blessed to work with a lot of great and talented people … talented and committed people at PPG and Vitro as well as legendary customers such as Arthur Berkowitz, David Barnes, Dan and Bob Kennedy, Ruby Singh, etc. I will miss them. I still get a kick out of watching a project come out of the ground today and for many existing jobs around the country, I can recall helping the architect make a better glass decision.

Q: What do you think the biggest challenges for the industry as a whole will be during the next five years? (Editor’s note: this interview was conducted just before the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic was declared.)

A:Globalization has changed everything. Is it an opportunity or a threat? For some it’s more of a threat so that’s a challenge. It forces Vitro and our customers to get better and smarter, so that’s an opportunity. It’s the world we are going to live in. Advances in innovation or technology leave a lot of room for differentiation in coatings, frits, bending, just to name a few. These challenges aren’t unique to the glass industry, although I admire that the glass industry offers an almost unlimited amount of products to architects.

Q: What made you decide now was the right time to retire?
A:Well, this is my 40th year in the corporate world and Vitro is in a good position almost four years since buying PPG’s glass business. Personally, I’m very healthy, though I know life can change with a phone call. And I want more time to do volunteer work, traveling with family, etc. I am also starting a B2B consulting company called VALUE INgineering (see box on page 73) so I will stay professionally active.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
A:Just how grateful and blessed I am to have been in such a vibrant industry. The glass industry is going to be even more crucial in the future. It’s a critical part of achieving sustainability in construction. There’s a lot more opportunity for glass to optimize light and energy and aesthetics. It’s still going to be a fun industry in the future.

What’s Next?

Pat Kenny recently founded and serves as president of VALUE INgineering Consulting (valueingineering.com), a new consulting company focused on helping business-to-business (B2B) companies achieve profitable revenue growth by developing and implementing improved customer-recognized value. The company is staffed by experienced B2B veterans using proven tools, processes and methodologies.

VALUE INgineering Consulting’s goal is to help companies improve the value in their customer value proposition. Kenny says the company does this by using a systematic process where value can be confirmed, created, communicated and captured in order to increase revenues and margins. The company calls this the four C’s of Value Management
(and fully credits Penn States’ ISBM Organization for the early framework). As noted on their website, “We’ve honed and deployed these tools and processes over the years with our former companies and know they work.”

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