Katherine Gehl

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Katherine Gehl
Chief Executive Officer
Gehl Foods
Employees: 300
Revenue: $249 million

Katherine Gehl always knew she would remain involved in the operations of the family business, but she didn’t know she would return to southeast Wisconsin to eventually run the company.

Gehl returned to the company in 2006 after spending several years in positions with Chicago firms including Oracle Corp., Bernstein Investment Research and Management and Mayor Daley’s office. She was named CEO of Germantown-based Gehl Foods in 2011.

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Since her return, the company has experienced an enormous amount of growth, adding $100 million in revenue and 100 jobs in the Germantown area.

Gehl has transformed the management structure of the company to support a world-class operation and has enabled continued growth.

“I have a real focus on people,” Gehl said. “(Through past experience) I learned how to bring people together on decision making and how to move forward as a team. That is a vision I have that is still a work in progress, but one that is going to significantly make a difference in our success moving forward.”

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John Slawny, vice president of sales and marketing, has been with the company for 17 years.

“Katherine is really good at identifying the right person for the right position at the right time,” he said. “She sees situations and challenges and approaches them from an organizational perspective. She finds the opportunity and decides what she needs in place in order to seize that opportunity.”

In addition to her team, Gehl credits innovation for the company’s growth.

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“We’ve adopted more high-tech manufacturing processes to create new markets and bring new business to Wisconsin,” she said.

Through technology, the company is able to package dairy beverages, sauces, puddings and yogurts in ways that keep their fresh taste without refrigeration, Slawny said.

The process allows Gehl to not only ship its products to restaurants and retailers across North America, but across the globe.

“We have the opportunity to significantly grow our revenues by at least 50 percent in the next five years,” Gehl said. “The foundation is here and we’re prepared to grow our company pretty substantially in the existing footprint.”

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