30 T he Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN) was established to instill the entrepreneurial mindset in undergraduate 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 approach. Bob Kern’s pioneer 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, portable 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. Once you recognize a need, he adds, an entrepreneurial mindset will drive you to fill that market. By 1956, Kern was successfully running Electric Controls, producing generators out of a rented garage. When his business partner left, the fledgling company faltered; yet Kern refused to let go of his conviction that there was a viable market for his products. After attracting new investors and the partnership of Sears, Roebuck & Company, the business – renamed Generac – saw substantial growth, producing 500 generators within the first year. The company graduated from the garage to a dairy barn. Eventually, Generac grew to the extent that it was able to construct a permanent facility in Waukesha. The company flourished until 1967 when disaster struck. Kern watched as the facility burned to the ground. But his entrepreneurial, never- say-die spirit prevented him from considering this a defeat. While fire trucks were still at the scene, Kern was at a nearby farmhouse, phoning contractors to start rebuilding as quickly as possible. “Our version of entrepreneurial activity is not what most people think of – starting your own business – but it is preparing students so that they can think entrepreneurially whatever environment they’re in.” 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 company would be greater than before. Within seven weeks, Generac had returned to normal operations. No one lost a job, and no paychecks were missed. The next dozen years saw the company grow rapidly in retail, opening several new facilities and hiring thousands of employees. While the United States struggled through the sluggish economy of A Lifetime of Entrepreneurial Engineering