The Chief Encouragement Officer
Cheryl Rhein, chief executive officer of PennAir, knows what it’s like to find yourself in need of a little encouragement when faced with an unexpected challenge.
In 2010, when her father and founder of the company unexpectedly passed away, Rhein knew that “someone had to sit in that chair, and I was encouraged and expected to do so.”
She spent the next year learning all she could from the experienced and dedicated PennAir team already in place, and today, she is proud to have had a part in the very successful growth of the business.
“I still miss him,” she said. “I thank him each day for the opportunity he has given everyone at PennAir to live a life of significance by serving others in our roles at the company he created.”
Rhein grew up in York and graduated from Bucknell University, where she met her husband, Bob. Together, they have four children and four grandchildren with whom Rhein is “mildly obsessed,” she said.
Her parents started the PennAir Company in 1968 in a small garage in downtown York. As a teen, Rhein worked in the business, doing “basically the things no one else wanted to do,” she said.
Upon graduation from college with a degree in English and education, she began teaching high school, and her husband went to work for PennAir in the Philadelphia area.
When an opportunity came along for her father to expand the business, Rhein and her husband decided to become involved with the expansion, and so they moved to Maryland, starting a new division of PennAir called Pneu-Force.
“We had no customers, no building, no inventory — it was truly a daunting task,” she said. But today, the customers from their fledging efforts make up a significant percent of their overall business.
Her husband, Bob, having been groomed for some time by Rhein’s father, was ready and able to take on the task of becoming president of PennAir in the late 1990s.
As for Rhein herself, “I moved in and out of the company over the years, raising four children while still remaining connected to the business,” she said. “I had a desk in my father’s office and would often go in and do projects for him, all the while benefitting from listening to his conversations with salesmen, suppliers, and customers. Regardless of the industry, all business begins with a conversation.”
PennAir is an authorized stocking distributer of pneumatic, hydraulic, electromechanical, automation, and robotic components and systems.
“Our customers call us because they trust us,” Rhein said. “They know we will do whatever we can to help them, even if that means occasionally referring them elsewhere to best meet their needs.”
The sales team focuses on “being in front of our customers and prospects, listening to their needs, and then utilizing our highly skilled human assets to meet their expectations,” Rhein said.
In her position as CEO, Rhein spends much of her time working with PennAir associates and community partners, but she also emphasized that her company is committed to a successful working partnership with their suppliers, customers, and competitors as well.
They are also committed to being recognized by the community. This does not mean merely having their name listed in a donation program, but actively volunteering and advocating for organizations in the communities that have supported them over the year.
Some of those organizations include the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity.
The PennAir team also takes care of those in need within their own organization.
“We recently lost a longtime associate to an unexpected illness,” Rhein said. “Watching the way our company, customers, suppliers, and community rallied around his family … was amazing to see. PennAir people have huge hearts … It is my favorite part of being CEO.”
Rhein enjoys volunteering on a personal level as well and currently volunteers as a youth group mentor for teenage girls at her church. She also leads a weekly women’s Bible study.
“Our family and company feel strongly about giving back,” she said. “We have been blessed and so believe in paying it forward. There is a great satisfaction in knowing you are making a difference in the lives of others.”
As Rhein, her husband, and the rest of the PennAir team continue to work on building her father’s legacy, she is quick to point out that she cannot speak of her personal journey to success without including her parents, “the man and woman whose vision, work ethic, and character made it all possible.”
And even though she admits that she is sometimes impetuous, slow to learn, and has made “countless mistakes” along the way, she has also “learned that people just want to be heard and know they are valued,” Rhein said.
“I love my friends, I am an encourager, and I am deeply passionate and committed to my family, company, and God. And I know, no matter what, that my husband is my biggest fan and best friend.”