It isn't easy to get Frank McKone ’56, ’00 to talk about himself. When you bring up his successes as a student at Lowell Tech, he deflects you with an account of his professors’ dedication. And when you question him on the remarkable worldwide growth of the company he ran for 20 years, he prefers to talk about those who ran it before him.
Born in Lowell at the peak of the Depression and raised in Dracut, he attended school locally at LTI, where he earned his degree in engineering.
He went on to serve as a Navy officer onboard a destroyer out of Newport, R.I.
Then came graduate school at Rensselaer Polytech, where he earned a master’s in management engineering.
In 1964, McKone went to work for a relatively small company, Albany Felt, a manufacturer of fabrics for the papermaking industry. He started as an engineer in the company’s Press Fabrics Group, though he wouldn’t stay put for long.
His move up was almost meteoric. In 1972 — “after a series of technical and marketing assignments”— he was made vice president in charge of Canadian operations; four years later he was promoted to group vice president of U.S. operations. In 1981, he took over responsibility for the company’s papermaking products worldwide. Three years later he was president. By 1993 he would be CEO, then board chairman five years after that.
He may have had an edge. The man from whom he took over the presidency, Robert Sloan, was also an LTI graduate (1950), as were two earlier presidents, John Standish and Everett Reed. “There were several other graduates at the company as well,” McKone says (including Al Drinkwater, plant manager for 40 years). “The University was very well-regarded there. Standish, Everett and Sloan were the top ones. The company grew enormously under their watch.”
It would continue to grow under his. The McKone years were among the most dynamic in the company’s history. Having gone public in 1974 with a listing on the New York Exchange, then going private again nine years later in a leveraged buy-out, Albany International consolidated its operations and, under the leadership of McKone as president, went public for a second time in 1987.
Today Albany is a global company with manufacturing facilities in 11 countries and annual sales of more than $800 million. McKone retired in 2001, though only recently from the board of Albany International.
As hard as it is to get him to talk about himself, it is nearly as hard to induce him to discuss his generosity to UMass Lowell. But, it has been extraordinary. Over the last 15 years, McKone has created three endowed funds at the University, each of which tops $250,000 in assets. The Francis McKone Endowed Scholarship Fund supports deserving engineering students with high financial need, the Francis College of Engineering Endowed Fund supports academic programs within the college and the McKone Chancellor’s Endowed Fund provides funds directly to the Chancellor to develop programs of excellence.
Recently he became a leadership donor for the University’s new Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center, funding construction of the Francis McKone Executive Administration Center. He explains, “States no longer have the ability to be the primary source of education funds. More and more today, it has to come from private sources.”
It all goes back, McKone will tell you, to his own LTI education, which was, he says, “as fine as they come. I had a good time there, and a first-rate education. The professors were competent and dedicated.”
Of the University today, he says, “Times are always changing—in the sciences especially. [UMass Lowell] has continued to do a really good job of recognizing changes and adjusting to meet them, staying on top of things with their curriculum and the range of studies they offer. That’s an impressive asset.”