Who’s who at The NAM…Doug Kenna

April 20, 2020

In the 1970s, the NAM went through many changes, including moving its headquarters and a structural reorganization. The man at the helm leading those changes was Doug Kenna. Kenna worked as NAM president from 1973 to 1977, succeeding NAM’s first full-time president, Werner P. Gullander. Even before Doug Kenna arrived at the NAM, he was known by many across the country not as a businessman, but as an All-American athlete.

 Edgar Douglas Kenna Jr. was born on June 11, 1924 in Jackson, Mississippi. After one year at Ole Miss, Kenna transferred to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. While there, he played quarterback and halfback for Colonel Earl “Red” Blaik. Despite a knee injury, Kenna helped lead the Black Knights to an undefeated season and championship in 1944. Additionally, he was the captain of the tennis team and named All-American in basketball (as well as football), and during his senior year, the three teams had a combined 34-1 record. He was later inducted to the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame and the Army Sports Hall of Fame. 

After graduating from West Point as valedictorian in 1945, Kenna served a postwar tour of duty in Germany where he coached Army football teams (recruited by General George Patton!). He returned to West Pont to serve as one of Blaik’s assistant coaches before resigning his commission in December 1949. In 1952, he joined Avco Corporation and rose through the corporate ranks over the next 14 years, with a five-year gap working as a sales manager for Mississippi Power and Light. He also worked for Fuqua Industries, increasing sales eight-fold in two years, and for Robert B. Anderson, Ltd. 

In 1973, Kenna was hired to replace the retiring Gullander at the helm of the NAM. Gullander initiated a series of changes that created a more moderate organization. Kenna continued these changes, with particular attention on the ever-evolving dynamics of business-government relations, expanding the NAM’s legislative focus and policy recommendations. In order to better suit their changing needs, the NAM moved its headquarters from New York City to Washington, DC in 1973 to be closer to the action. Additionally, Kenna created the Government Affairs Division to keep staff abreast of the rapidly changing happenings on Capitol Hill. This move also allowed staff easier access to testify before Congressional committees and other government agencies. In 1978, Kenna declared this was a “new NAM” that would support the business viewpoint in the governmental process. 

Among his other accomplishments while with the NAM, Kenna helped found the United States-USSR Trade and Economic Council following an unprecedented trade conference. This trade conference opened a dialogue that other organizations and government agencies had attempted but failed to realize. To read more about the conference, please read the previously written “NAM and the U.S.-Soviet Trade and Economic Council.” 

Following his tenure as NAM president, Kenna became president of the Carrier Corporation, and later, becoming a partner and director of G.L. Ohrstrom & Company. He served as a trustee, member, and chairman of several foundations and was awarded the Freedom Foundation Medal and the Gold Knight Award from the National Management Association. He also chaired investigative committees under two different U.S. Presidents.

Kenna passed away on January 28, 2013 in North Palm Beach, Florida. 

Doug Kenna’s presence can be found throughout the NAM records. From files he maintained (particularly regarding a potential merger between NAM and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) to departmental files that include his correspondence and memos . Kenna was an important figure in NAM’s history who helped shape the organization into what it has become today.

Ashley Williams is the project archivist for the NAM Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.