Events and News

Senior Leadership Team Brings Strong Commitment to AFS Members

February 25, 2017


Senior Staff Leaders: top row, Mike Lakas, Shelly Dutler, Cathy Potts and Rich Jefferson. Bottom row: Zayna Connor, Doug Kurkul and Kris Drager.


AFS Chief Executive Officer Doug Kurkul leads a capable senior leadership team that is deeply committed to the future of the metalcasting industry and the success of AFS members.

Kurkul, who reports to the AFS board of directors, provides strategic and operational leadership for the organization. He joined the society in January 2016 and immediately embarked on an aggressive travel schedule to meet AFS members across North America and beyond. Kurkul implemented a reorganization in the summer of 2016 that reduced the number of direct reports to the CEO from 11 to 7, streamlined management, and better aligned staffing with the organizational structure. He promoted three existing employees onto the senior management team, and hired one more from the outside.

Kurkul brings 30 years of business-advocacy and government-relations experience. After earning a bachelor’s degree in business management and political science from Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio, he earned a master’s degree in public administration (MPA) from American University in Washington, D.C. He launched his career as a Presidential Management Fellow at the Small Business Administration and a Reagan administration political appointee at the U.S. Department of Energy in the nation’s capital. He went on to become vice president of marketing & member communications at the 14,000-member National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and edit the award-winning Leadership for Manufacturers magazine. He later led prominent business advocacy and economic development groups in Nevada and Texas, achieving success in policy advocacy, business attraction, and membership growth.

Zayna Connor, PhD, serves as vice president of technical services. Connor earned her doctorate in materials science and engineering from Northwestern University and her bachelor’s of science degree in Metallurgical Engineering from the Missouri University of Science & Technology . Before joining AFS in March 2016, she enjoyed a distinguished career with Caterpillar, working in the U.S. as well as numerous countries worldwide. Earlier, she worked for Pechiney and Alcan, both of which are now Rio Tinto Alcan. Connor was also a NSF Research Fellow and an Amelia Earhart Fellow at Northwestern.
Since joining AFS, Connor has focused on maximizing the influence of association-directed research on the metalcasting industry. Zayna and her team are focused on superior service to members. They are actively involved in continuous improvement of the AFS technical committees.  

Kris Drager, the longest-serving member of the senior leadership team, joined AFS in 1979. She is director of finance & accounting, leads a three-person team, and oversees the financial well-being of AFS and the Institute with an eye for detail. She has also played a key role in past years in the success of AFS’s trade shows as exhibits director of CastExpo and the annual Metalcasting Congress.  

Shelly Dutler, who joined AFS in 2014, was promoted to director of education in September 2016. She combines a passion for metalcasting with a deep commitment to innovation, continuous improvement, and member service. She has a master’s degree in material science and engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and a bachelor’s of science degree from the University of Northern Iowa. Before joining AFS, she worked for Magma and John Deere. Dutler is overseeing the expansion of the AFS Institute programs in e-learning, in-plant training, and classroom experiences.

Richard Jefferson joined AFS as vice president for marketing & communications in January 2017. He brings extensive marketing and management experience with the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, CONEXPO-CON/AGG, and the Association of Equipment Management Professionals. He also was a Bush (43) Administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He has master’s degrees in public policy and communications and a bachelor’s in English literature. In his role, he staffs the AFS Marketing Committee and oversees editorial, website and social media content, as well as branding and marketing.

Mike Lakas joined AFS in 2014 and made immediate contributions by beginning to modernize the organization’s technology functions and instituting an internal Kaizen team. He was promoted to vice president of IT and operations last September. In his expanded role, he heads up not only the IT function, but also conference management, customer service, and building operations. Before joining AFS in 2014, Mike held IT roles at a medical society and at the University of Illinois (Chicago). He holds an MBA and a bachelor’s of science degree from that institution.

Cathy Potts joined AFS in 2015 and was promoted to director of human resources and administrative services last year. In addition to administering all HR functions, she provides administrative support to the CEO, staffs the Human Resources Committee, and is the staff co-liaison to the Future Leaders in Metalcasting group. Her extensive experience includes 16 years at Navistar in the human resources function and involvement in global recruiting and staffing, organizational development and training, employee relations and compensation.
A search is underway for one additional position, which will head up business development, to round out the senior leadership team.

“The metalcasting industry is changing at a rapid pace, and AFS is committed to helping lead the industry through those changes,” Kurkul said. “The board, senior staff leadership and the entire professional staff are committed to delivering a strong ROI to our members, and fostering a stronger metalcasting industry through advocacy, education and innovation.”