Global Exec Knows His Business and His Celebrations

By J.F. McKenna

The U.S. Commerce Department recently tapped Kennametal chairman and CEO Carlos Cardoso for its U.S. Manufacturing Council. That is a particularly smart move by the feds, since the Latrobe, Pa., manufacturing executive understands 21st century industrial success. His counsel will prove invaluable over time.

Cardoso, in my humble opinion, also knows how to throw an unforgettable “street party”—about which I will relate presently.

When we first met in 2006, Cardoso was settling into the top job at Kennametal, a leader in the cutting-tool business, the absolute front line of manufacturing here and abroad. I myself was resettling into the editorship of Tooling & Production, a national magazine about as old as the Pennsylvania company and likewise on a constant hunt for the best and brightest ideas in manufacturing. (For the record, I’m no relation to Kennametal founder Phillip McKenna; my only connection to Kennametal is the fact that for years I passed one of its plants on the far West Side.)

Even before our first meeting, I had heard some positive industry chatter about the new boss in Latrobe. I was even more impressed when we sat down to talk at his headquarters.

“Our people,” Cardoso said, “have such a strong performance culture that they want to get better every day.”

That’s how the 47-year-old boss opened the interview. He talked about how “our customers are making money because we are their partner.” And he talked about “how ‘global’ is the word of the day, but there is a difference between using the word and actually living it.”

Of course, he continued, just being in today’s global market doesn’t ensure success. That was the lesson he had brought with him from his machine shop days. Cardoso had worked as a machinist long before his arrival on Corporate Row.

A graduate of Fairfield University in Connecticut, Cardoso had enrolled in a management-training program. “Then I said, ‘Let me go earn my MBA in a different way.’” he told me. “So, actually, my second job out of school was having my own machine shop. In the morning you’re in a suit, and in the afternoon you’re in overalls.”

The management gods, however, are not to be denied. Cardoso, who also holds a master’s degree from the Hartford Graduate Center, moved through a series of managerial posts at a handful of corporations, including then Allied Signal. It was at Allied Signal that Cardoso embraced the thinking of executive Lawrence Bossidy, author of Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.

“The company that distinguishes itself from others has a clear vision and strategy, the right process to fulfill that vision and strategy, and the right people to drive those processes,” Cardoso explained to me. “When I had a machine shop, technology made a difference. Today, technology is available to a lot of people. The way we translate technology into a solution for the customer is 100 percent dependent on the quality of the people we have.”

Like other people-first executives, Carlos Cardoso has plenty to share with the rest of the folks on the manufacturing council, including a deft sense of public relations.

About six months after our first meeting, Kennametal celebrated its 40th year on the New York Stock Exchange. Had it been up to the boss, he would have invited all 14.000 employees to the ringing of the exchange’s closing bell. “The reason we’re here,” he said, “is our employees.” Cardoso couldn’t bring them all, but he vigorously rang that bell on their behalf.

Cardoso did invite one magazine editor to the ceremonies, at which the frenetic trading floor and the boardroom’s stately Tiffany ceiling adequately substituted for traditional party decorations.

As far as workday parties are concerned, it was singular.


CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, communications consultant, and former editor at Industry WeekTooling & Production, and Northern Ohio Live magazines. Reach him at or through his LinkedIn profileJos. F. McKenna.




  1. Joe McKenna says:

    St. Vincent College establishes an engineering scholarship in honor of retired Kennametal CEO Carlos Cardoso, our era’s very model of manufacturing’s tireless champion. Congrats, Carlos!

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