A Conversation with Mike Kelly, Asko Group

Mike Kelly is vice president of Asko Group, a metal finishing company in Seattle, Washington, but he has devoted nearly all his life to volunteer work as well.

Mike Kelly is vice president of Asko Group, a metal finishing company in Seattle, Washington, but he has devoted nearly all his life to volunteer work as well. He is active in the National Association of Surface Finishers, the Washington State Association of Metal Finishers, the Seattle Manufacturing Industrial Council and the Boy Scouts of America. He has worked 39 years at Asko, which is celebrating its 50th year, and this summer he was given the NASF Presidential Award.

PF: Your thoughts on receiving the NASF Presidential Award?
MK: When current chair Tony Revier called me, I said, “No, not me; this is for others in our association.” I have served all these years because it was the right thing to do, and I certainly was not doing so to earn accolades. After I was convinced otherwise, I was honored to be recognized by my peers, whom I respect deeply.

PF: Why is it important for electroplaters to become involved in their local and national associations?
MK: My father told me there is value in fellow metal finishers coming together; there is strength in numbers, especially when we can speak out in one unified voice to present our position. When you tag on the ultimate value-add of our government advocacy program, one has to wonder why every metal finisher is not a member.

PF: How did your company’s fire in 2014 affect you personally?
MK: I knew immediately that the only way we would successfully navigate through this would be to lead with the confidence that we could get through it. This went on for a few months, but we picked ourselves up and approached everything with a “can-do spirit.”

PF: What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
MK: My father, who was our company CEO, told me early on to learn all I could about every aspect of our business and this industry, and then lead by example.

PF: What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?
MK: I worked on a Boy Scout camp staff for the summer. I learned how much others depended on me to do my job. Serving others at the end of the day feels good.

PF: Which charity would you give $100,000 if you could?
MK: As a lifelong Scouter and part of our local BSA Council, there are always so many things that we want or need to do to strengthen the program we offer our youth.

PF: What was your first car, and what is your dream car?
MK: Cars for me are a piece of equipment that get you where you need to go or to carry the load from point A to point B. Thus, I do not have a dream car.

PF: What leadership traits have helped you along the way?
MK: My job is to ensure everyone has what they need to do their job successfully: training, guidance, tools/equipment or resources. Personal integrity is of the utmost importance, and I have made this a key part of our company culture.

PF: What did you want to be when you grew up?
MK: A forest ranger. Having grown up hiking the majestic mountains of the Pacific Northwest, I felt I should help maintain them like others were doing.

PF: Where would we find you on a typical Saturday?
MK: My wife and I love our beach house out on the Hood Canal, and we go there almost every weekend. It is like our retreat, where I can work on my sailboat.

PF: Favorite place you’ve ever lived?
MK: I am a lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest After traveling in the Navy around the world a bit, home is where I want to be.

PF: What advice would you have given yourself 10 years ago?
MK: I would have spent more time on ensuring our insurance coverage better reflected everything we have built here at Asko. I would have done an even better job of crisis management planning; even though our plans worked after the fire, we could have been even more prepared. Additionally, I would have been working more on pursuing our company vision and clearly defining goals for us all to achieve. 

PF: What organization or company, aside from your own, do you most admire?
MK: Many years ago, six metal finishing companies that we know fairly well agreed to start up a networking group. We would plan to meet annually at one of our plants and, along with tours, we would discuss noncompetitive business challenges and what actions we had taken to tackle them. Over the course of these visits, I really learned to appreciate the successes of these companies and developed relationships that are so valuable to this day.

PF: Best way to keep a competitive edge?
MK: Keep focused on the things we do for our customers and continuously look for ways to improve so we exceed their expectations. We are always looking at new technologies that will meet emerging needs. We always make it clear we are a service company, and that is what drives us.

PF: How do you motivate people?
MK: I believe motivating people, especially those in our company, is done by ensuring everyone has our company vision/mission clear and how they play an important part in us accomplishing this every day. We need to make sure they know what the expectations are and then work to help them achieve them. And whenever possible acknowledge their accomplishment. Most of all, respect everyone for who they are and what they bring to our company.

PF: How do you motivate yourself?
MK: After working at Asko for some 39 years, I still find it very exciting to get up every day and go to work for a company that has so much going for it. As we celebrate our 50th anniversary this year, we are reflective of our past, where we are today and, most important, where we are headed. Our future is bright, and this truly motivates me to help lead our company into the future.

PF: Three greatest passions?
MK: Love of my wife and family, duty to God and our country, and of course, leading our company to be even more successful. And if I could add fourth: serving others as I do in the BSA.

PF: Words that best describes you?
MK: To my fellow NASF peers, perhaps statesmen. To my employees, caring or sincere. To my family, deeply committed.