“A leader who did it quietly….”

Don Frazier’s impact on industry education will be felt for years

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I received an email from John Hill the other day, after Modern published the news that Don Frazier, the founder of Frazier Industrial, had passed away in December. I’m hoping that John doesn’t mind that I’m publishing it here:

“Don was not only an industry veteran, he was an industry legend who graced us with his inimitable presence, insights and heart-driven contributions to our community and the marketplace. I’m honored to have been one of his mentees and will continue to miss him.”

I did not know Don Frazier, although I may have interviewed him a few times over the years. But I was aware of his presence. I remember seeing him at the first ProMat I attended. He was quite up there in years, and was wearing his trademark cowboy hat and pocket protector stuffed with pens and markers. I might be wrong, but my memory is of suspenders over a colorful shirt festooned with buttons. I turned to Gary Forger, who was then the editorial director of Modern, and asked: “Who let that guy in?” Gary’s response was something along the lines of: “That’s Don Frazier. He’s done more for this industry than you can imagine.” As I learned more about Don Frazier, that became my response whenever I took a new editor to ProMat, who asked me the same question.

I won’t recount Don’s career, other than to say that we’re proud of the fact that he got his start in the industry as an office boy working for Norman Cahners, the founder of Cahners Publishing and Modern Materials Handling. You can read Don’s personal story in the press release from Frazier Industrial about his passing.

Instead, I reached out to John Nofsinger, the retired CEO of MHI, and George Prest, who was in the rack business for many years before becoming the current MHI CEO.

Nofsinger described him as a member of that post World War II generation, like Cahners, who began to apply the concepts of load unitization, palletization and materials movement into the commercial realm. That was step one. Don’s vision, according to Nofsinger, “was now that you have a stabilized unit load, there are some clever ways to organize, store and move those loads.”

That lead Frazier into the world of rack. There were, of course, other rack manufacturers at that time, who produced all of their own components. Frazier’s genius was to create an engineering company that designed the racks and outsourced the manufacturing of the components to others. “He was an innovator in that context and had a different understanding of how manufacturing could work,” Nofsinger said. Within MHI, Frazier was one of the primary drivers behind the broadening of the definition of who was a potential MHI member. “He was never troubled by trade, commerce or competition,” Nofsinger said. “His kind of thinking ultimately allowed the industry to become more inclusive and global over the years.”

Prest recalled meeting Frazier at his first MHI meeting in the early 80’s. At the time, Prest was in his late 20’s and joined RMI – the rack manufacturer’s institute – to learn about industry standards. “Don introduced himself and asked: ‘So, young man, what do you do?’ I didn’t know who he was, or that he was a competitor, and told him I was getting into the rack business. He said, ‘that’s interesting,’ and introduced me to the other people in RMI and took me under his wing. I was a competitor and he could not have been more welcoming and gracious.” 

As much as he contributed to the rack industry, Prest and Nofsinger agreed that Frazier’s greatest contribution was to the education efforts at MHI. When Prest became president of the education foundation in 2004, Frazier, who was on the board, pulled him aside to say that there was a workforce storm on the horizon. “We need engineers to design our systems and we need technicians who can take care of automation,” Frazier said. “There’s not going to be enough people to do it.”

That conversation led to the creation of the Don Frazier Supply Chain Training Center at the Applied Technology Center, a technical high school in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Those initiatives were the foundation of the technical education programs at MHI today. Despite having written two of the four text books used in those programs, I did not realize that the initial funding for that project came from Frazier. When it came to his personal contributions, that wasn’t unusual. “Don was an innovative leader who did it quietly,” Prest said. “He never looked for the spotlight.”


About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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