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Matthew Fronk: Engineer of Distinction

Matthew Fronk has lived a gearhead’s dream, turning a love of cars into a long and accomplished career in the automotive industry, included leading General Motors’ global charge into the world of fuel cell technology.

Now, in his post-GM life, Fronk is using his engineering and leadership skills in advanced energy storage technologies to help energize the local economy. 

“Find your passion and make it your career,” Fronk says. “Don’t ever settle and don’t let anyone ever tell you it cannot be done. It will make for a very fulfilling life.”

Fronk developed a passion for cars from going to stock car races with his father while growing up in Scotia, near Schenectady. In high school he bought a 1967 GTO, which he still has and is restoring. In college he worked for a race-car driver.

Fronk graduated from Union College in 1979 with a degree in mechanical engineering and hit the road to Rochester to work for GM. He was working in advanced development of fuel emission control systems in 1990 when he considered leaving the auto industry and moving to North Carolina to build houses with his brother, John.

GM had other plans for Fronk. The company approached him about leading an ambitious new project to develop zero-emission hydrogen fuel cells for cars. Fronk was torn and talked it over with his wife, Donna, who convinced him that if he did not take the fuel cell position, he would regret it in 20 years.

“My wife said, ‘You’d better think about this,’ and she was right,” Fronk says. “It was a good choice.”

Fronk began working closely with the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico in 1990 to start GM’s fuel cell program, which grew in 20 years from a research idea and a team of three to a global workforce of 600. That included 350 in Honeoye Falls and a full production development program with a fleet of more than 100 fuel cell Chevrolet Equinoxes.

“General Motors gave me free rein to make it happen,” Fronk says. “It doesn’t happen very often to, first, work for a car company because you really like cars; secondly, work on the highest technology program they have; and, thirdly, be trusted with the stewardship of it to make it happen and develop a whole program and organization (for) … what was the No. 1 program in the world. So, a pretty cool achievement, I think.”

Fronk left GM in 2009, several years before the company closed the Honeoye Falls facility and moved the fuel cell operation to Michigan. He set up a consulting firm, Matt Fronk & Associates, to work with companies in the fuel cell, battery and alternative energy fields. 

Fronk also has been at the forefront of developing the energy sector at Eastman Business Park. He helped start NY BEST, a battery and energy storage technology consortium, and led the development of the BEST Test & Commercialization Center at the business park.

“We’re trying to attract people to come to the area with these advanced technologies,” Fronk says. “I think we’re making some pretty good progress.”

4/8/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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