The Metals Service Center Institute bestowed its Lifetime Achievement Award on John Palesny, president of Petersen Aluminum Corp., in late November during its Aluminum Products Division Conference in Florida. The honor recognizes Palesny’s contribution to the metals industry during his 47-year career at Petersen, headquartered in Elk Grove Village, Ill.
The Metals Service Center Institute is a trade association in Mt. Prospect, Ill., representing metals producers, distributors and processors. MSCI provides its members with knowledge, thought leadership, data, education, industry advocacy, and a forum for debate, discussion and learning.
“I am honored to accept this award on behalf of all my colleagues at Petersen,” Palesny said. “Together we have built a great company that is recognized as an industry leader. So it’s not really about me, it’s about the people who have made this company such a remarkable success and a joy to work with.”
Palesny said his approach to management has been to be hands-on while allowing people to do their work with the least amount of supervision. “I learned early in my career that it was critical to build a great team, set the goals and then let them have the necessary freedom to deliver.”
Palesny’s successes have not been achieved without challenges. “The biggest challenge in my career is keeping an eye on the competition and how we stack up against them on quality, service and product development. I think about that all the time.”
The list of people who previously won this award is filled with influential figures in the metals industry, said Robert Weidner III, CAE, president and CEO of MSCI. “These winners are iconic leaders. Their contributions within their respective companies, our industry and the communities within which they live are marked by their integrity, passion for metals and manufacturing, and empathy for others.”
The Roman god Janus was chosen as the symbol for the award for his ability to both reflect on the past and look toward the future, Weidner said. “John embodies the principles of Janus through his ability to look over the horizon to see what is coming and determine how the metals industry should respond. John is also able to reflect of the past and build on success.”
John Palesny is a true believer in the mission of the MSCI, said Mike Palesny, vice president of Petersen, and John’s brother. “John recognizes the value that MSCI brings to our industry, and has always been a cheerleader for the missions it champions. In more specific terms, John has supported the MSCI and its predecessor the National Association of Aluminum Distributors for a number of years with his time, expertise and wisdom.”
Volunteer leadership positions John Palesny has held includes president of the Chicago chapter of the former National Association of Aluminum Distributors, chair of MSCI’s aluminum division, and a term on the MSCI executive board. He also served on multiple committees and supporting groups in his career.
While John Palesny was a volunteer leader at MSCI, he embraced the concept of making MSCI greater than it was when he began, Weidner recalled. “He has a calling for giving back to the metals community. Right now the MSCI delegate level at our recently held conference was the highest it has been since 2004. I maintain that this is mostly because of the foundation for success John laid when he was in a leadership position during the recession. John’s approach to helping MSCI see itself through some of the most challenging issues has been collaborative and strategic for the good of the metals community.”
John was chair of the aluminum council when the recession began in 2008, Weidner recalled. “As it was ending, I remember John saying, ‘OK, this recession was bad and it took its toll on all of us, but the MSCI aluminum group members are not going to allow a recession to set this organization back.’ John worked in an unrelenting manner to be sure that companies in the aluminum industry had that same attitude. He said, ‘This group has been important and I’m going to put more sweat equity into helping MSCI and the industry get back to the level it was at before the recession hit.’”
John Palesny began his career at Petersen in 1970. “Over a 47-year span he rose from a warehouse position to become president of the firm. Over that time he was able to build annual sales from $3 million to its present day level of $170 million,” said Mike Petersen, CEO.
During his career, John Palesny has been a critically important counselor regarding every major decision that Petersen has faced, Mike Palesny said. “I believe the entire management group of the company would agree that John’s counsel and advice was invariably ‘spot on’ and helped PAC grow into the successful company and industry leader that it is today.
“John possesses the rare combination of ‘book smarts’ and common sense. In my opinion, he’s the smartest businessman I have ever known,” Mike Palesny continued. “Furthermore, he’s an exceptionally good person with a true moral compass of what is right and what it wrong. He has used that internal compass to guide him in his dealings with customers, vendors and his fellow employees. I am proud of my brother John and sincerely thank him for his hard work both on behalf of PAC and MSCI. He has taught me many things through the years, and it’s my honor to work beside him.”
Mike Petersen feels similarly. “I am most fortunate to have had John as a co-worker and mentor for more than 40 years, and am proud to see his accomplishments recognized by the industry with this Lifetime Achievement Award.”