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New Presidentís Focus On Defining NWPCA, Accreditation Initiative
Enterprise Interview: The Enterprise interviews Joe McKinney, newly elected chairman of the governing board of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association

By Staff Writer
Date Posted: 6/1/1999

(Editorís Note: Joe McKinney, president of McKinney Lumber in Muscle Shoals, Ala., recently was elected chairman of the board of directors of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association. After his election, he agreed to be interviewed by Pallet Enterprise. Our questions and his responses follow.)

Enterprise: In speaking to members at the NWPCAís annual leadership meeting, you outlined a number of objectives for this year. Can you tell us what you consider the top three, in order of priority?

McKinney: The board approved a list of about 18 objectives. Most are on-going objectives. They cover the full gamut of the associationís programs. I donít know that you can (consider) one area more important than another. However, if I had to name the areas that are most important, I would say it would be the process of defining the association and the process whereby committees and task force(s) and councils present their yearly goals to their chairman-elect. As for the other goals, I donít think any of them are more important than the rest.

Enterprise: Why do you believe these issues deserve such attention?

McKinney: It is important because if you can get the goals in writing so that everybody understands them, then there is no question whether the association is working on the proper goals or subjects at any given time. It defines the work of the staff and committees for the year.

Enterprise: What will the associationís staff be doing in 1999 to achieve these goals?

McKinney: Each staff member will be responsible for particular goals that fall.

Enterprise: Do you know exactly what their strategies will include?

McKinney: I donít know if I can explain it all, but here is a good example. One of the goals was to complete the trade promotion plan, as written, on time and on budget. That trade promotion goal is a list of five strategies that include everything from publishing a buyers guide to developing a new video for pallet users, to a number of things like that. So, they (the objectives) are very concise, very defined and very measurable.

Enterprise: What do you view as your role with regard to these objectives?

McKinney: I think the chairmanís role is always the same in the organization. The idea is that 550 members canít run a staff of nine and a half, so the membership elects the representatives in a board. The board elects someone to oversee and work day-to-day with the president, and the president then operates the staff. I am just the liaison between the boardís wishes (the membershipís wishes) and the staffís actions. Now, you didnít expect me to answer that one that way, did you?

Enterprise: Is there more you want to say in that regard?

McKinney: The only thing I am trying to do is get a process in place whereby members can see specific goals every year which we are trying to accomplish. At the same time, staff (will know) what those goals are so that they will stay focused, and then we will be better able to achieve what we are trying to achieve. Alignment with what we are wanting to do is my overall goal.

Enterprise: What strengths or weaknesses will you bring to this role?

McKinney: Weíve worked through this process before within our own company. The experience of being involved will be a benefit. Weaknesses we could list forever.

Enterprise: Are there other objectives for 1999? If so, how will the staff be implementing them?

McKinney: (All of the goals for 1999) are straight out of the strategic plan that was developed five years ago. Itís not something new that we are doing. The only part that is really new is developing the process so that we do this every year, and that we better define what it is that the association stands for.

Enterprise: How is accomplishing these objectives going to impact or benefit the association membership?

McKinney: I believe if you know where you are going and can come up with measurements of how you are doing toward getting there, you will get there quicker, with less off-course time.

Enterprise: What do you feel the affect will be on the pallet industry as a whole?

McKinney: I think the entire industry will see what a group of individual business people can do when 550 of them get together with the production and recycling capacity that the members have. I donít think anyone has seen the potential that the members have in affecting the total pallet marketplace, whether we are talking (about) alternative products, or new designs to a wooden product, or stopping in-roads of alternative products (coming) into our marketplace. It should increase market share of the wooden pallet and container industry versus the entire industry.

Enterprise: What do you think the pallet industry will look like in 10 years?

McKinney: Thatís an interesting question! I donít know that I can tell you what it will look like, but I do believe it will not look like anything that we know today. I think the pallets will look different, but as much as anything else, the way in which pallets move from manufacturers to consumers will change, and I think the time (between) when the pallet is manufactured and when it is on the consumerís shelf will be less in the future.

Enterprise: When do you believe these changes will take place, and what will be the outcome?

McKinney: I think we have already seen the trend start. I believe inventory is nothing more than inefficiency in a system. As we learn more about the consumer and use technology more to find out what is happening, I think the cycle times will increase dramatically.

Enterprise: Do you see computers as a vital part of these dramatic changes?

McKinney: Computers ó but not just keyboards and screens ó and microchips throughout the entire system. (This) may even mean microchips in the pallets themselves, keeping up with the products (that they carry,) where they are, working with global positioning systems to notify people of where the pallet is (at any given time) and on and on. I think it is going to be very different.

Enterprise: Why?

McKinney: It is my belief that until now, computer development has (primarily) taken what used to be manual systems and tried to automate them. I believe now we are starting to ask the question, ĎWhat were we trying to get done in the first place?í Now we are working backwards through technology to get better systems.

Enterprise: At the annual leadership meeting, you also told members that this year the NWPCA will be trying to define itself ó who it is and why it exists. What are the possible answers to those questions? How would you like the association to answer those questions?

McKinney: As chairman, it is not my job to have opinions of what the membership believes. Therefore, I donít want to express my personal opinions as a view of the association. Part of (the process we will be dealing with this year) will be defining what the overall view is, or what they want it to be. However, my personal opinion is that the reason for the existence of the organization (is this:) Any industry that gets together to handle common problems can handle those problems better in a group than it can individually. Therefore, the focus of the association has to be on common problems among the entire industry, or at least among the entire membership base. I donít know that I truly have an opinion of what the outcome of this (process) will be. I donít know if the association will say that it is a wooden pallet manufacturers association. If it does, then we have a bunch of recyclers that donít fit under that definition. If we are a wooden pallet recycling association, then weíve got a bunch of new manufacturers that donít fit. Then again, we have members that sell plastic and alternative material. So, the question is, are they only members of our association for the benefit of their wooden business or do they look at it (more broadly?) I donít know the answer to those things. I think that is where the process is.

Enterprise: You also said that in the process of defining itself, some members could be rubbed the wrong way. Would you elaborate on that? Were you implying that the name change issue may be revisited?

McKinney: No! No, no, no. Iím not implying anything on name change. The name is in the by-laws, and it will take a change in the by-laws to change the name. We just went through a three-year process to change the by-laws. I donít think that will happen again any time within the next decade.

Enterprise: So what did you mean when you said some people might be rubbed the wrong way?

McKinney: The mere fact that you define who you are means you define who you are not. If the group defines the association as the (promoters) of new pallet manufacturers only, then I could see where our recyclers would be very upset about that, and vice-versa.

Enterprise: The pallet industry is predominantly a business of working with wood. What do you consider the biggest obstacles or threats to people who make a living with wood ó and specifically wooden pallet manufacturers?

McKinney: Differences of opinions and approaches to the promotion of wooden pallets is what I believe our biggest problem is. The biggest obstacle is in-fighting between the different factions, whether it is manufacturers or recyclers or brokers. Today the wooden pallet is the most cost efficient and environmentally friendly unit load shipping platform on the face of the earth, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future. (We must all) work together to promote the wooden pallet because (in order for) the wooden pallet to be the most cost effective, it must have multiple trips (and be a) high quality pallet. In todayís market, in order to make those multiple trips, more people are going to have to work together as partners to retrieve, repair and return the pool. Once again, (in order to overcome the obstacles of different opinions) it comes back to defining the goals. (We must ask:) What does success look like in 5 years? This will allow us to work toward a successful outcome.

Enterprise: You have a strong interest in developing the Pallet Professional accreditation program. How do you envision that program working and why do you think it is important?

McKinney: In surveys we find that pallet users contend that the wooden pallet people are Ďlower life beingsí almost. Trying to change that image would be very good. The idea of (accreditation) is to require education in a number of areas. Some of these areas would be marketing, product knowledge, and pallet design systems. It would be a testing procedure that would say, ĎYes, this person has this body of knowledge and therefore should be somebody you should work with.í

Enterprise: Pallets are something everybody needs anyway, so why does it matter to the consumer whether or not pallet professionals are accredited?

McKinney: Well, health care is something that everybody needs also, but why does it matter to the person needing health care that the care giver has a body of knowledge? When you put 2,800 pounds (of merchandise) in a warehouse, 30 feet in the air, and hang it from two inches of each end of a pallet, and then let grandmas and young kids walk around under that pallet, I donít think you want that up there without somebody knowing how to build a pallet that will hold that kind of stress.

Enterprise: The NWPCA is handling licencing of Europallet manufacturing in the U.S. What do you see as the future of Europallet production in the U.S. for exporting products? Will the Europallet begin to be accepted in the U.S.? Does it have the potential to become an accepted world-wide standard?

McKinney: Well, I donít think there is any question that the world is getting a lot smaller. Global interchange of products will increase. I think there will probably be a few systems that will be more standardized world-wide.

Enterprise: Is there anything else you would like to say about the future of the industry?

McKinney: It is my belief that if you are doing business in the pallet industry today like we did 10 years ago, you wonít be here in five years to continue to do business. The change that weíve seen is only going to increase. We have got to get to the door of change before our customers do, or we will be left out.


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