Linking the Industry

by Stormy Wylie
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Kendall McFall wants to be more than a caretaker. McFall, who was elected to a 1-year term as president of the Association of Operative Millers for 2000-2001 at its annual conference this past May in Kansas City, Missouri, U.S., said caretakers often do end up in leadership positions.

"And they have done for the perception of genuine leadership what the railroads have done for customer service," he said during the A.O.M. conference.

That bit of grain industry-insider humor drew a few smiles, but McFall is serious about his view of leadership and his goals for the A.O.M. "The charge of genuine leaders has always been to take an organization from where it is to the place that allows for continued life and growth," he said.

McFall has some ambitious plans for the A.O.M. during his tenure. In a recent interview with World Grain, McFall said his primary goal is to make the organization "more relevant" to its milling members.

"Milling is a fundamental industry —the product we make is important to our nation, its people and the world," he explained. "It's a high integrity industry, and because people are always willing to share information, it's a fun industry to be in, too.

"The A.O.M. is a great place for employees (of milling companies) to learn what is new in the industry, in terms of technology and equipment, and to find out how to deal with regulatory issues and workplace issues. It's become a great educational forum. But it's important to take what A.O.M. has been and push the association forward — to be more relevant, in an immediate sense, to members."

McFall has been a miller and A.O.M. member since 1984. The son of a wheat farmer in a rural community in southeast Kansas, McFall graduated that year from Kansas State University, Manhattan, with a degree in milling science and management. McFall, who had completed internships with The Pillsbury Company during college, then joined the company's Milling Division in Minneapolis.

In 1990, he went to work for Fisher Mills as plant manager at its Seattle mill. He was named vice-president of operations in 1992 and senior vice-president in 1995. He also was project manager for the company's new U.S. mill projects in Modesto, California; Portland, Oregon; and Black-foot, Idaho.

McFall said he feels a responsibility to preserve the tradition and the heritage of the A.O.M. But that doesn't mean he wants it to stand still.

"We are at a point where if we don't push ourselves to take the next step, we run the risk of becoming little more than a fraternity," McFall said. "We must fight the attitude to keep the association simply the way it's been. That's one of the roles of the leadership."

McFall's theme for his year at the helm of the A.O.M. is "Linking the Industry with Technological Advancements." He envisions the A.O.M.'s web site — — as becoming that link.

The A.O.M. web site was launched in December 1999. Currently, it is little more than an online description of the A.O.M. and its services. Information is available about the organization's short courses and seminars, correspondence courses and publications, including the monthly Technical Bulletins, but none can be ordered or downloaded over the Internet. A membership application form is available online, however, and members also can register online for the annual conference and trade show.

"I'd like to take the limited resources we do have and use our staff more wisely by designing the site to be more interactive," McFall said.

To begin with, he'd like to publish the Technical Bulletin, for which the association spends a large part of its budget on paper, printing costs and postage, on the web site; members would be given an access code in order to download papers. "This also would provide an archive of information to make it easier for members to research topics or issues," McFall said.

The web site also could be a tool to link members with those in the allied trades. "It (the web site) could be a clearinghouse for information," he said.

McFall said he'd also like to see the A.O.M. sponsor an online technical services group, made up of retired millers, who could give advice to millers all over the world on their specific milling problems. This would also be a way to connect retired members back to the association, McFall said. "We have lost some of our best resources when older millers retire," he said. "We shouldn't let the industry lose all that knowledge."

Because of the global reach of the Internet, the opportunity is there to expand the A.O.M. internationally, he added. The web site also could be used to allow members who cannot attend the annual conference to still be a part of the activities. "We need to ask ourselves how we can bring in members from East Africa, South America or the third-shift miller in the U.S. who can't attend the convention but still wants to be part of papers, the round-table discussions," McFall said. "I see this as enhancement to the annual convention, not a replacement."

Because he is president for only one year, McFall's immediate goals are to have the organization select an Internet service provider who could write the software and maintain the A.O.M. web site. He also wants to create an information services committee — similar to the education, food protection and technical committees — made up of A.O.M. members, to oversee the organization's Internet activities.

"We are all trying to learn what the Internet is and isn't," McFall said.

Fisher Mills, like many milling companies around the world, is increasingly using the Internet in its daily business. "Because we're in Seattle, where there's such a focus on software and the Internet, maybe we're exposed to this technology more than other companies," he said.

Currently, Fisher Mills is using the Internet to exchange information with customers on inventories or order changes. "It's a great help for off-shifts," McFall said.

Fisher Mills also has linked its quality control laboratories in one database and ultimately plans to link its labs with customers' labs. Future plans also include the ability to update plant food safety and safety procedures electronically instead of having to update manuals by hand at each facility.

McFall realizes that not everyone in the milling industry is at the same level of sophistication when it comes to information technology. Many are not even utilizing e-mail, much less the Internet, while other companies are already using the Internet to buy and sell grain, ingredients and equipment. The challenge now, McFall said, is to serve all those different levels of people while encouraging the industry to continue to utilize the possibilities of information technology.

"It's hard to look for and implement change when times are good, and times are good for this organization," McFall said.