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Local CEO Becomes Kellogg Trustee
"I'm highly honored. It's really a pretty neat deal to impact their policy and help shape their programs around the country, Latin America and (southern) Africa," said Keller. "I am definitely committed to doing this job well and spending the time that it takes."
Keller is chairman and CEO of Cascade Engineering, an injection-molding company that manufactures parts for the automotive, container, home and office markets. Keller started the firm nearly 30 years ago in a single-story building near the airport.
Today, Cascade and its subsidiaries employ more than 1,200 people on three continents and earned $215 million in revenue for 2001.
As busy as he has been in the business world, the 58-year-old Keller has always found time to be involved in the community. He serves as a director for the Grand Valley State University Foundation, Meijer Inc. and the Economic Club of Grand Rapids. He also chairs the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Cultural Diversity Council.
"Fred Keller is a highly accomplished business and civic leader, and it's an honor to have him join our board," said William C. Richardson, Kellogg Foundation president and CEO.
"His innovative leadership style, and commitment to corporate responsibility and sustainable business, makes him an excellent fit for the foundation," added Richardson.
Keller told the Business Journal that he has admired the Kellogg Foundation for a long time. The organization's goal of helping people help themselves improve their quality of life has been a conviction that he has practiced personally.
"That is all part of that systemic thinking that I have been working on for so long, trying to figure out how you get the best leverage," he said.
Earlier this year, Goodwill International named Cascade Engineering its Large Employer of the Year. Three years ago, the Clinton administration awarded Keller the esteemed Ron Brown Award for corporate leadership.
Keller will serve a three-year term on the board, a stint that starts immediately and one that is renewable. He replaces Chris T. Christ, a member of the foundation's board since 1984.
During his term, Keller hopes to get a closer look at the impact the foundation's gifts have on its recipients and then make a contribution to the effort based on what he finds.
"We can't possibly add enough resources for every problem to be solved, but we can figure out a more systemic, a more root-cause, high-leverage way, to inject capital into a system and see positive results," he said.
"That's what is really intriguing to me."
It's intriguing to Keller because leveraging a system to impact society has driven him for years. He said it fits his engineering background and is somewhat scientific.
"Part of sustainable business is building social capital and ecological capital, as well as building financial capital. And the social capital side is what we have really experimented with for so long: to be able to see the benefit of building social capital on the financial capital side, but doing it for the right reason," he said.
"Not doing it because you want to enhance your financial side, but because it's the right thing to do," he reiterated. "And when you do that, you actually have a good financial result as well."
The Kellogg Foundation awards grants for health, youth and education, food systems and rural development, and philanthropy and volunteerism. The awards are concentrated in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, and in countries that comprise southern Africa.
For Keller, his selection to the foundation came at a good time.
"Frankly, the work at Cascade is being done pretty well. I'm very proud of the team that is here," he said. "I'm able to spend a little less time within Cascade Engineering and spend it on this. That's my plan."