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Dan Donnelly '86

Dan Donnelly '86 (left) and member of IT corporate support team inspect outer race of a spherical roller bearing using root cause failure analysis.

By Matt Sinclair ’90

When Dan Donnelly ’86 was completing his mechanical engineering degree, he promised himself he wouldn’t go into sales. But, fast-forward 25 years, and that’s exactly where he has landed, and with great success.

He is vice president for sales at SKF USA’s Service Division, headquartered in Lansdale, Pa. SKF is a leading provider of bearing, sealing, lubrication, and linear motion technologies, as well as a broad range of specialized services. A global corporation, it has more than 80 manufacturing sites around the world.

Donnelly manages some 240 people from sales teams and engineering groups, including field engineers and specialists. “We combine the application and industry knowledge of the various groups, wrap it all around engineering knowledge, and bring it to a customer with the goal of helping them increase their productivity.”

But that’s not all. Donnelly is also a manufacturing innovator. He holds one patent himself, and his team has three more pending.

During his first role at SKF as an application engineer in the metals industry, Donnelly focused on trouble shooting and innovating products and applications. His patent is for a bearing that he designed exclusively for the steel industry. It is meant to be used on the segment rolls of a continuous caster. Bearings in these positions are exposed to high loads and low speeds.

“It’s something as an engineer you hope you can do–innovate something that hasn’t been done before,” he says. “We used a counter-intuitive approach. When you manufacture a bearing, you typically improve surfaces and profiles. But the idea was to go the opposite way. We made it rougher to trap lubrication and help enhance the elastohydrodynamic (EHD) film thickness. At low speeds, it works well, resulting in improved service life.”

EHD refers to the increase in viscosity that occurs under extremely high pressure, which prevents oil from being entirely squeezed out and thus maintains a thin film between the roller bearing and supporting surface.

His team also has three pending patents on business processes as well as other innovations and initial product installations that the company chose not to patent for business and strategic reasons. The one of which he is most proud is a sales training program: Distributor Needs Analysis (DNA). The program assesses a customer’s business objectives and trains the sales team to help match customer’s needs with the company’s strengths.

“It’s about culture change and managing people,” Donnelly says. “We listen to the customer and listen to the team for feedback. The numbers will come if you motivate your people. I don’t worry about product quality, because I know that’s being taken care of. I worry about the quality of my team. I spend a lot of time developing and enhancing the team’s skill set, helping them maximize their potential. I measure my success by the success of the team and each individual’s development, personally and professionally.”

Donnelly says his experience at Lafayette working in teams as a mechanical engineering major as well as being a defensive lineman laid the groundwork for his success as a sales leader.

Developing a sales team reminds him of his years playing nose guard for Lafayette. “I got pounded on, and the linebackers got the tackles, but we worked together. Everybody on a team has to do that,” he says. “I knew that when the linebackers got the tackles, we all did our job on the ‘D’ line. You’ve got to work hard, focus on the objective, and pull together as a team for sustained success.”

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