Saturday, August 24th, 2019

Burke and the family business


A little more than kin, and less than kind.

Hamlet Act I, ii

A little more of Mary Burke’s biography was filled in by the Wisconsin Reporter. According to four different sources including Gary Ellerman, a former human resources director for Trek, it turns out Burke’s snow board sabbatical may have been the result of being fired from the family business.

The sales team threatened to quit if Burke was not removed from her position as director of European Operations, according to Gary Ellerman, who served as Trek’s human resources director for more than 21 years. His account was confirmed by three other former employees.

“She was not performing. She was (in) so far over her head. She didn’t understand the bike business,” said Ellerman, who started with Trek in 1992, at the tail end of Burke’s first stint as a manager at Trek.

Ellerman said Richard Burke, Mary Burke’s father and founder of the family business, asked Tom Albers, Trek president and chief financial officer at the time, to fly to Amsterdam to evaluate Mary’s performance.

It wasn’t a pretty picture. The European operations were in disarray, Ellerman said.

Full disclosure: Ellerman is chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party. As to the possibility that his accounts are politically colored, Ellerman said, “I was there. This is what went down.”

A former employee with the company told Wisconsin Reporter that John Burke, Mary’s brother and current Trek president, had to let his sister go.

If the story is true, and I have to admit I’m uncomfortable with the timing of the story, it would be a serious failure by Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate to fully vet the candidate that he pushed above everybody else merely because she could self-finance her campaign somewhat.

(This story follows another similar story: the failure of the Democrats to fully investigate Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ’s background before the Democratic Primary.)

I suspect that the story comes too late in the campaign. Almost nobody on the Democratic side really cares about Burke (they just want Scott Walker defeated) so I don’t see this causing the Democrats any second thoughts until after the election.

Given the number of sources in this story, I’m surprised that it didn’t come out before. Now watch the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel spend more time trying to find the other sources in the story than in verifying whether the story is true or not.

Update! 5:51 PM Mary Burke denies the story, noting the timing of it. But then she had this to say, “We reorganized and eliminated the position that I had, and I left that organization in charge of two other people who reported directly to the U.S.”

That’s a long way from the previous story Burke told about being burned out from the job and deciding to be a snow bunny for two years.

Update! 6:31 PM It may be hard to keep up. Now the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has another former Trek executive who is willing to go on the record to say Burke was fired.

Albers said in an interview Wednesday that he was sent to Europe by Richard Burke, the company founder and Mary Burke’s father, to look into problems with the European sales expansion that Mary Burke had been entrusted to head up in the early 1990s.

Albers said John Burke had concerns that his sister was not working out as the point person on the difficult job of switching from outside distributors of Trek bikes in Europe to a company sales force that spanned different countries, cultures and languages.

“I came back and pretty much reinforced what John Burke had told (Richard Burke) that this wasn’t working, and a change had to be made and a change was made,” Albers said. “I felt she was under water and it was going to be very difficult to turn it around.”

On top of that, Mary Burke’s brother John confirmed to the newspaper she has a difficult management style.

John Burke agreed that his sister has a very direct management style.

“I would agree with blunt and to the point,” he said of her. “I would add in there that Mary gets stuff done.”

Funny how the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was able to track Albers down so quickly after the Wisconsin Reporter broke the story of Burke’s firing from Trek.

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