Celebrating the ‘Golden Age’ in Brown County Business
Creative solutions. Innovative ideas. Cutting edge technology. These phrases are typically associated with east and west coast entrepreneurs. But in the late 80s and 90s, this was Midwest business-as-usual, right here in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Tiny Krueger International (KI) developed high-end design business furniture to capture the eye of giant Microsoft, and even today serves Google and Facebook. American Medical Security (AMS), the second small business health insurer started by “Ron and Wally,” pioneered both medical cards and co-pays in their segment of the industry. Schneider took on the mammoth Teamsters Union to insure its survival during deregulation. Fort Howard persevered as the lowest-cost tissue producer in the world, and pioneered use of recycled paper FIFTY years before it became popular. Schreiber Foods became the “go-to” processed cheese provider for, first, McDonalds, and subsequently almost every other major fast-food chain, and today is also the second-largest yogurt producer in the world.
The latest book by author, Phil Hauck, chair of The Executive Committee, now VISTAGE III, XXXII, The Golden Age of Brown County Enterprise, highlights the incredible success of businesses whose names are part of the bedrock of the community. These businesses were on the cutting edge in their respective fields. “…they were learning and talking about and doing things that others around the country would not do for another two years,” says Hauck. It was truly a ‘golden age’ for greater Green Bay corporations.
Direct access to successful leadership
Through his book, Hauck hopes to not only share an important piece of local business history, but highlight the internal workings of prosperous companies. He hopes his book can be used to show readers examples of what it takes to be successful. “Besides people who are generally intrigued and may have lived through that time,” said Hauck, “this book is a great primer for companies and professors to use with (employees and) students. To let them know what goes on inside a really successful organization and how you make it happen.”
His book includes concrete takeaways that are relevant to businesses in the 2020s; right now, innovation that is occurring on the nation’s coasts is not happening in the Midwest. “Buy the book, give it to your senior leadership, read and discuss it,” says Hauck. “And then share what you learn with others.”
Hauck is no stranger to big ideas and groundbreaking work. As a former writer for the Wall Street Journal, he spent thirty years facilitating CEO Groups for The Executive Committee and its successor, Vistage, as well as a Senior Marketing/Sales Executive group. He also edited and published for twelve years Wisconsin Small Business Counselor, a twelve-page monthly newsletter on business techniques.
In the early 90s, Hauck began leading three groups, ultimately involving more than 75 CEOs through idea sharing, networking and discussing what the best and brightest were doing throughout the country. He gathered insight on company best practices and learned how local “heavy hitters” were helping the job market and the economy through innovative ideas and business strategy. Through the group’s unique collaborative format, Hauck found himself working in partnership with some of the most innovative minds in the nation.
Fast-forward. In late 2020, Hauck was concerned that these stories, these incredible moments in greater Green Bay business history, were being forgotten. As a natural interviewer and writer, he felt the need to accurately record this ‘moment in time’ for the Green Bay community. “I didn’t want these stories to be lost,” says Hauck. “I wanted to share the stories and business strategies, and provide insight into the minds of the (business’) CEOs.” His goal was to not only highlight very innovative business strategies, but also describe the CEO leaders … people who were “real,” imperfect and driven. Hauck contacted the leaders who worked for them. “Many were at first apprehensive, but as they got into their stories, were very animated. Each interviewee reflected well back on both the highs and lows of their experiences in coping with the challenges of their times.” The Golden Age of Brown County Enterprise was born.
In all of these companies, their cultures were critical facilitators of their success. “AMS had a culture that was incredible,” says Hauck. Naturally playful, AMS CEO Ron Weyers would deliver beer to his employees on Friday afternoons. “One of their values was fun,” says Hauck, “it was just in Ron’s nature.”
Friday afternoon beverage deliveries and industry awards weren’t the only things driving these businesses. Hauck’s in-person interviews with the business’ CEOs, additional research and interviews with former employees uncovered the incredibly driven and laser-focused mindset that drove each business. “During this time, leaders would not ‘let up,’” said Hauck. Leadership was never comfortable. “Each one of these businesses was doing innovative things to grow their industry and (in turn) hire thousands of people.” The achievement of businesses like Schreiber Foods and KI didn’t happen by chance; leaders were determined to ensure the continued success of their business and communities.
Utilizing a local publishing and printing press
As the book was nearing completion, Hauck considered his options for publishing and printing. Enter the UW-Green Bay Teaching Press. After speaking with his friend and UW-Green Bay Teaching Press published author, Tim Weyenberg, Hauck knew the Teaching Press would the best choice for his publishing next steps. Hauck contacted their founder and director, Professor Rebecca Meacham.
Meacham loved the idea. As their first “official” client referral, this meant a lot to Meacham and the program overall. “It shows that there is community investment in our success and in student learning,” says Meacham. The team of interns at the time were also perfect for the project. The project leader, Sabrina Sodermark, was a history and writing double major, and became completely invested in the project. “Watching her assume the mantle of leadership,” said Meacham, “and to be part of the publishing team that was printing a historical piece – something that was within her interest – was really cool.”
Sodermark’s team included design arts major Kori Koehler, who previously designed the Peter Kraker’s book The Green Bay Way, as well as chief copyeditor Shianne Dragonowski and press manager Danielle Lemke.
Founded in 2018, the Teaching Press program was designed to give students a real-life, hands-on experience including every aspect of book-making; from writing, editing, marketing, design and layout to the actual printing onto paper. Each semester, a group of interns is selected to participate in the organization and actual printing of a book or books. These students take over the whole process, learning and growing as they work directly with authors from the community to design, develop and then print a book.
Hauck thoroughly enjoyed working with the students on publishing and printing his book. Based on this experience, Hauck went back to the book’s interviewees and asked for contributions to further the development of the Teaching Press, which raised $6,000 to buy improved software and printing equipment. In addition, all cash flow after expenses from additional sales of the book will support two local non-profits, the Farmory in downtown Green Bay and a scholarship fund for leadership development opportunities for non-profit leaders at St. Norbert College.
Interested in learning more about The Golden Age of Brown County Enterprise? Visit goldenagebce.com to reserve your copy.
Story by freelance writer and UW-Green Bay alumna, Kristin Bouchard ’93