BizInsights This content is part of BizConnect and is made possible by our sponsors. Click here to learn more.

M.E. Dey and Co. – Serving Wisconsin for 110 years

This year, M.E. Dey & Co. celebrates a big milestone – 110 years of serving the local Wisconsin community.

In 1907, Mae Elizabeth Dey started her business as the customhouse broker serving the Port of Milwaukee, making her just the fifth woman in the United States to do so. Now over a century later, M.E. Dey & Co. has grown into one of the largest family-owned brokers and forwarders in the country, offering complete international and domestic freight forwarding, compliance and consulting, and customs brokerage services.

And while a lot has changed since Ms. Dey opened her doors a century ago, she built her company on the same business practices that remain imperative for success today.

Local connections

Like today, networking was important for running a business in the early 1900s, and as an inland broker, it was essential for the company’s survival. Luckily, Ms. Dey was a natural at developing strong professional relationships and new networks, creating a base of customs brokers at the major seaports who could re-forward cargo to Milwaukee.

Outside of her work, Ms. Dey continued to immerse herself in the Wisconsin community, forming an orchestra known as “Dey’s Orchestra.” The ensemble performed at a number of restaurants in Milwaukee, Toy’s Restaurant on 3rd and Wisconsin being one of her favorites. Today, M.E. Dey continues to maintain a strong local network by being active within the community through partnerships and sponsorships with local organizations, both professional and charitable.


Ms. Dey passed away in 1929, leaving the business with employee and nephew, Rolland Gardenier. Rolland carried the business through the greatest and longest economic crisis of the 20th century – the Great Depression – by making adjustments, downsizing and pushing the business forward for 10 difficult years. World trade recovered quickly in the aftermath of World War II, and business prospects for M.E.  Dey & Co. accelerated as ships from Europe and Asia initiated direct service to Milwaukee. Today, M.E Dey prides itself on the ability to adapt to customer and employee needs while keeping abreast as new compliance laws and regulations are introduced to the industry.


In the 50s, despite the new innovation of air freight, which began to eat into cargo volumes, our port was ushering in a golden age, thanks to the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. General cargo poured in from all points on the globe. M.E. Dey expanded their operations to meet new industry demands, including export forwarding. Richard Gardenier, Rolland’s son, stepped in as the third generation leader of M.E. Dey, where an even greater emphasis on customer service became part of the “Dey Way.” As technology advances and communication becomes more automated, integrity and exceptional customer service remain two of the top values that define M.E. Dey.


Richard’s son, Robert, joined the company in the 70s. Now M.E. Dey’s president, Robert brings a focus on integrating technology advancements. He pushed for the installation of their first computer system and shipment tracking, making M.E. Dey the first Milwaukee customs broker to automate office operations and directly interface the entire import entry process with U.S. Customs.

To learn more about M.E. Dey, go to or visit them at the Wisconsin International Trade Conference on May 11th, where they will be speaking on international trade.

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

Rob Gardenier is president of M.E. Dey and a fourth-generation leader who focuses primarily on strategic planning and fiscal responsibilities for the company. Rob is a Licensed Customs Broker and Certified Customs Specialist with over 37 years’ experience in the industry.

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin