Joe Gehrke has been hired as president at Germantown-based Kesslers Diamond Center Inc. Founder and current president Richard Kessler will become chief executive officer.
Gehrke worked for the past 17 years as a commercial banker at Associated Bank. In that role, he offered financial guidance and services to Kesslers. Gehrke most recently was senior vice president/team leader at Associated, and previously was assistant vice president at Comerica Bank.
“Joe has been a trusted advisor of Kesslers Diamonds for several years. His understanding of our business coupled with his appreciation for our culture make him uniquely qualified to take on this important role in our company,” Kessler said.
Since 2011, Kesslers has been at least partly owned by its employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, which became a 100 percent ESOP in 2016. Last year, the company formed a succession committee to discuss its future leadership. The committee included employee-owners and two outside advisors, one of which was Gehrke.
“We wanted to define the characteristics of the next president. Our final description fit Joe to a T,” Kessler recalled. “He has a wealth of financial knowledge, understands how businesses operate and appreciates the importance of providing value to customers, which is something I experienced first-hand working with Joe the past several years.”
Kessler will remain “very active” in the company, and continue to star in its radio ads. He eventually plans to transition out of the company, but has not set a timeline. It will take at least 18 months to bring Gehrke up to speed, the company said. Kessler’s daughter, Monica, will continue as Kesslers’ head jewelry buyer.
“The idea of retirement doesn’t have a lot of appeal to me. I’ll do something,” Kessler said.
Gehrke holds a bachelor’s in finance and economics from Western Michigan University. As president, he plans to open more diamond centers and increase revenue at Kesslers, while building its executive team.
“I’ve had the benefit of an aspired career at Associated Bank, which has a similar culture to Kesslers Diamonds. Both organizations are focused on growing their businesses in a manner that benefits their customers, employees and the communities they serve,” Gehrke said. “The commitment of Richard and his entire team of employee-owners have helped Kesslers earn its place as the largest seller of diamonds and diamond engagement rings in the state of Wisconsin.”
Founded in 1980, Kesslers currently has seven locations, in downtown Milwaukee, Germantown, Brookfield, Greenfield, Appleton, Madison and Grandville, Michigan. The company has about 130 employees.