Retiring Goodwill CEO sees first-rate future in second-hand goods

Q & A

August 02, 1994|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Sun Staff Writer

It's not the past but the future that mostly concerns Harvey E. Kettering II as he retires later this year. The chairman and chief executive officer of Baltimore Goodwill Industries for 30 years wants to see the 75-year-old nonprofit organization increase donations, open more stores and train more people.

Mr. Kettering, who is known as the "dean of Goodwill CEOs," has the longest tenure among executives in the 190 Goodwill Industries Operations in North America.

At 63, he has received the United Way Management of Distinction Award, Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow and Maryland Rehabilitation Association Administrative Award.

Q: Goodwill Industries in the '90s is one of the best-known "names" in making something out of second-hand goods that some people have discarded. What has changed in your years of dealing in this nonprofit field.

A: There have been many changes. At one time, there was a sort of stigma about shopping at a nonprofit store. People didn't want anyone else to see them shopping there, and they would never admit to wearing "used" clothes.

Now, people brag about how little they paid for an outfit.

Q: There are a lot of second-hand stores. How do you attract shoppers and donations?

A: Shoppers are not loyal to stores. They feel no allegiance to a store, if it's a for-profit or nonprofit.

What we have is instant name recognition and a reputation for quality and good prices -- that is probably our biggest asset.

In many ways, we're not competing with second-hand stores anymore. Our competitors are Kmart and other large discount stores. The inside of our stores are designed to look as closely like them as possible.

We've opened four stores in the last four years and now have a chain of 14 [around the metropolitan area] -- that's being competitive.

What else is important is that these new stores were opened in shopping centers, which gives us more visibility and plenty of parking.

In the future, I hope Goodwill will open more stores in the Baltimore metropolitan area. But I also want to see us expand along the Eastern Shore. We don't have any stores there.

What we need is contributors' allegiance.

If we could persuade people to donate only to us, we'd have a lot more money to invest in training or other programs. We've tried TC to make donations as simple as possible, by making collection bins larger, adding more collection sites [19] and also pickup of large items. And we have an employee attending some donation centers [to load items as they are dropped off].

Q: Have Goodwill's jobs and training programs changed?

A: Absolutely. We have always provided training and jobs for people with disabilities or other problems.

About five years ago, in Baltimore, we began training people sent to us from the Mayor's Office of Employment Development. These are usually people who are on public assistance and want to get off and stay off.

We have designed programs to teach them financial skills, so they can find a job as a teller, and also retail clerk skills. These are two of the best kinds of entry jobs because the basic skills are not hard to learn.

Later this year, we also will have a contract with Baltimore County's Employment Office to do the same things.

The other change we have made over the years is to contract with about 35 companies, including Black & Decker, McCormick and Westinghouse, where our employees do some of the assembly-line steps on power tools, for example.

We are also considering starting a "temp" agency, with typists and other trained employees available on a short-term basis for local business.

Q: How closely is Goodwill a part of American life?

A: There are all the obvious things, such as there would be more people on welfare if we weren't here.

But we are also the original recyclers. For 75 years, we have taken other people's discards, junk, and turned most of it back into usable goods and sold them to raise money for our programs.

Q: Have donations changed?

A: Goodwill is not a cyclical business. Donations come in all the time. Also, the amount of donations we receive continually rises, but the quality is not as good as we once got.

Now, some Goodwills around the country will accept junk cars as donations and then auction them off.

We have never done that because I don't like it. I think junk cars in front of the building would look awful and would not be the image we would like to have.

But I suppose the first thing my successor will do is start selling junk cars.

Q: What difference do you think you've made to Goodwill?

A: I believe it's my background. My father was a preacher in North Philadelphia, and we lived close to Goodwill. There was always a strong emphasis on community involvement. But I was able to combine that with a bachelor's degree and master's degree in accounting.

There is not a day of the past 40 years which could have gone by when I didn't use my financial background. We have tight budgets, quarterly, annually and a five-year plan. We have to meet our goals on time.

Q: You've operated Goodwill in Baltimore like a corporation. Why?

A: Professionalism is essential. We depend on public donations to get our "raw inventory," and if we don't reach those goals, then maybe we have to cut back.

Over the last 25 years or so, revenues have grown from $650,000 to $8.5 million. And we employ 510 people, compared with 165 [about 25 years ago].

Q: You've stayed with Goodwill for a long time. Given the nature of dealing in things most people don't want anymore, it must be a trying way to make a living at times. What's kept you going?

A: There is nothing wrong or frightening about change. Every day there are new challenges to meet. I wouldn't have had it any other way.

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