Robert Kern to Win Bravo! Lifetime Achievement Award

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Robert Kern, founder of Generac Power Systems Inc., leads a panel of business award winners to be saluted at the Wisconsin Business & Technology Expo, which will be presented by Small Business Times May 3-4 at Wisconsin State Fair Park.

Kern founded Generac Power Systems Inc. in a rented garage in Wales, Wis., in 1959. Today, the company is the largest manufacturer of residential power generators in the world.

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For his achievements as an entrepreneur, an employer and a philanthropist, Kern has been named the recipient of the 2006 Small Business Times Bravo! Entrepreneur Lifetime Achievement Award.

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Generac operates plants in Waukesha, Eagle and Whitewater, Wisconsin, and in Maquoketa, Iowa.

As a privately-held company owned by the Kern family and others, the firm’s sales and profit figures are not disclosed. However, the company’s sales have increased at an average annual rate of more than 20 percent for almost two decades.

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Generac employees have received profitability bonuses for the last 14 quarters, and the company remains debt-free.

Under several brand names, the company produces generators and automatic transfer switches for residential, commercial, industrial, telecommunication and recreational vehicle applications. Generac is a single source supplier of fully integrated solutions ranging in output from 6 to 6000 kilowatts.

Generac introduced the automatic home standby generator in 1989 and today sells more residential generators than all other companies combined. The systems operate on natural gas or liquid propane (LP) vapor and come in both air- and liquid-cooled versions. Air-cooled models feature Generac’s own four-cycle OHVI (overhead valve industrial) engine, built at its facility in Whitewater.

Generac also has launched a new QT Series of generators designed specifically for commercial applications. QT models range in output from 20 to 150 kilowatts and operate on natural gas, so there are no concerns regarding diesel fuel storage, spillage, spoilage or odor.

Kern, 80, remains involved in the day-to-day operations of Generac 46 years after he started the company.

Kern and Generac also play a vital role in the community. The company launched the 21-month Second Chance program, which offers an alternative to high school students who lack sufficient credits to graduate. Through a combination of classroom and on-the-job experience, Second Chance students earn a high school diploma and the opportunity to graduate with their original class.

After five successful years, this program is expanding to encompass additional manufacturing companies and school districts, with the endorsement of the Wisconsin Departments of Public Instruction and Workforce Development.

Kern and his wife, Patricia, have long been supporters of the Baptist church, and Patricia has served as chairwoman of the board of trustees at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Ill. In addition, she has served on the board of directors of the American Baptist Conference in Green Lake, Wis.

The generosity of the Kerns also is prominently felt at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), where Kern is on the school’s board of regents. The Kerns donated the funds needed to build the Kern Health Center, a state-of-the-art, 60,000-square-foot gymnasium and classroom building designed by internationally renowned architect Santiago Calatrava. Since opening in 2004, the facility has become a nexus of campus activity as home for both the MSOE hockey and basketball teams.

Kern will headline the awards to be bestowed at the Wisconsin Business & Technology Expo at the Exposition Center at Wisconsin State Fair Park.

The Bravo! Entrepreneur Awards honor business leaders who are finding innovative and effective ways to grow their companies.

The complete list of the Bravo! Entrepreneurs winners follows:

Lifetime Achievement Award

Robert Kern, founder and CEO of Generac Power Systems Inc., Waukesha.

Regional Spirit Award

 Aldo Madrigrano, president of WOW Distributing Company Inc., Sussex.

  • Timothy Keane, founding director of the Marquette University Golden Angels Network, Milwaukee.
  • Nathaniel Zelazo, founder of Astronautics Corp. of America, Milwaukee.
  • Andy Nunemaker, CEO of EMSystem LLC, West Allis.
  • Patricia Jerominski, president and CEO of Independent Health Care Health Plan (iCare), Milwaukee.
  • Thomas Precia, founder, president and CEO of Integrated Risk Solutions Inc., Delafield.
  • Tom Brunner, president of Molded Rubber & Plastic Corp., Butler.
  • Frank Cannella, founder and CEO of Canella Response Television Inc., Burlington.
  • Duke Long, founder, owner and president of Interstate Sawing Inc., West Bend.
  • John "B.J." Meyer, president of Jackson Concrete Inc., Jackson.

The May 3 Bravo! Entrepreneur Awards luncheon at the Expo will feature a keynote presentation by author and consultant Jack Lannom, who will share insights about how Wisconsin employers will need to adjust to the looming labor shortage. With the mass retirements of baby boomers, the labor shortage will be the worst in American history.

The May 4 luncheon at the Expo will feature the winners of the Innovation Quotient (IQ) Awards. The IQ awards salute businesses that are creating innovative products and services.

The winners of the IQ Awards are:


Cascio Interstate Music and Archer Guitars & Basses, New Berlin, led by CEO Michael Houser.

Construction & Commercial Real Estate

Keybridge Development Group, Waukesha, led by CEO Scott Fergus.


Johnson Outdoors Inc., Racine, led by CEO Helen Johnson-Leipold.

Insurance & Financial

Acuity Insurance, Sheboygan, led by CEO Ben Salzmann.


Pflow Industries Inc., Milwaukee, led by president Ted Ruehl.

Medical & Health

Solaris Inc., West Allis, led by founder and president Kathy Weatherly.


Social Development Commission, Milwaukee, led by CEO Deborah Blanks.


Broadlook Technologies Inc., Pewaukee, led by founder and CEO Donato Diorio.


Jade International Inc., Brookfield, led by president Daniel Fifield.


Abrazo Multicultural Marketing & Communications, Milwaukee, led by founder and president Nancy Hernandez.

The keynote speaker of the IQ Awards luncheon on May 4 will be Dave Spurlock, partner and executive of the IBM Center for e-Business Innovation in Chicago, who will discuss "New Strategies for e-Commerce" and share insights from his work as a corporate consultant for small businesses.

IBM operates North American Centers for e-Business Innovation in Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Washington, D.C., Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver. The company’s other centers are located in Europe in Hamburg, Milan and Rome.

Spurlock leads the Chicago center and helps Midwestern companies generate more revenue from their Web sites and the Internet. His services include: visualization workshops; multi-channel business and branding strategies; customer experience design; and custom applications and system integration.

The winners of both the Bravo! Entrepreneur and the IQ Awards will be profiled in an upcoming special supplement in Small Business Times. The complete itinerary of the Wisconsin Business & Technology Expo is available at

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