T he Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN) exists to promote the entrepreneurial mindset among engineers – a mindset that Bob and Patricia Kern, founders of Generac Power Systems and The Kern Family Foundation, know is key to business success. Generac, a long-time industry leader, serves as a testimony to their vision and mindset. Bob Kern’s pioneering spirit has been a trait since his youth, leading him to move to Waukesha, Wis., where he began his career as a mechanical engineer at the Waukesha Motor Company. By cultivating a broad understanding of electronics, Kern soon recognized a business opportunity to expand into the development of small generators. When the company rejected his idea, Kern left to pursue it on his own. “Your idea doesn’t do any good if it doesn’t fit a need,” Kern emphasizes. But once you recognize a need, an entrepreneurial mindset will drive you to fill that market. By 1956, Kern was successfully running Electric Controls, producing the generators he had envisioned. When Kern’s business partner left, the fledging company faltered; yet Kern refused to let go of his conviction that there was a viable market for small generators. After attracting new investors and the partnership of Sears, Roebuck & Company, the business regained its feet under the name Generac and saw substantial growth, producing 500 generators within the first year. In 1962, Generac had grown to the extent that it was able to start constructing a permanent facility in Waukesha. Although the rural area was not a traditional location for a large, industrial company, Kern recognized that the unique setting would bring together a diverse group of workers. The company flourished until 1967 when disaster hit. Kern watched as the company’s facilities, at this point only two years old, burned to the ground. The same entrepreneurial and never-say-die spirit that spurred Kern from the beginning prevented him from considering this loss a defeat. While fire trucks were still at the scene, Kern was at a farmer’s house across the street, phoning contractors to start rebuilding as quickly as possible. Only a week later, with new product already headed out the door of a makeshift facility, Kern told his employees that Generac was composed of people – not a building – and that the A Lifetime of Entrepreneurial Engineering 20 The history of Generac – a story of Robert and Patricia Kern’s ingenuity, skill, and vision – is displayed in a multi-media presentation at Generac’s headquarters in Waukesha, Wis.