Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah
Working 50 hours a week as chairman of the board, CEO and president of a company with 575 employees might not be the lifestyle for most people in their mid-70s.
But that's exactly how Dolores Gossner Wheeler, of Gossner Foods Inc., lives — and she loves it.
"I just love working with the people I work with. I love to see the growth and the challenges," Wheeler said. "I truly do enjoy the fact that we are growing and we've just got some phenomenal people."
The Logan-based Gossner Foods has been around since 1966 and makes about 30 kinds of cheese in different shapes and sizes. But its staple has always been its Swiss cheese, which accounts for about 90 percent of the company's cheese sales and 49 percent of overall sales. The company makes approximately 60 million pounds of Swiss cheese per year.
Gossner Foods' Ultra High Temperature milk also has become a big revenue producer, accounting for about 28 percent of the company's revenue. The UHT milk has an indefinite shelf life in a variety of temperatures before being opened.
Wheeler's father invented UHT milk in 1982, and the company still has a contract to supply the product to the United States military.
"That's a thing of pride, to be able to know that you've sent something to your armed forces," Wheeler said. "Somebody talked to me the other day that said that their son is in Korea, and he gets them out there, too."
Wheeler said the UHT milk is becoming increasingly popular in the southeastern United States, and she thinks it has the best growth potential of any product in the company because it lasts so long in hot temperatures.
In order to attract more customers, Gossner Foods has developed multiple flavors for the milk, including root beer, orange creme, banana, strawberry and chocolate, among others.
During Wheeler's 28 years at the helm in Logan, the cheese- and milk-producing company has gone from distributing its products to a few states in the West to every state in the nation, and it is one of the biggest manufacturers of Swiss cheese in the country. The company now has products in Japan, the Philippines, Panama and, most recently, Afghanistan.
Wheeler became the CEO, president and chairman of the board of the company in 1984 when her father, Edwin Gossner Sr., got sick and moved to Arizona. For years, Wheeler had been moving bales of hay for the company. She never wanted to work in the office but succumbed to her mother's will and became the human resources director and worked there until her promotion.
To say she didn't want to take over the company would be a bit of an understatement.
With her knowledge of the company, its sales, customers and operations being very slim, Wheeler focused on what she knew best — her fellow employees.
"I told them right off the bat, 'I don't know what I'm talking about. I don't understand the business. We're either going to all sink together or swim,' " Wheeler said. "Everybody just pulled together, and to me it's been a great story."
Even during the depths of the recession in 2008 and 2009, Gossner Foods didn't have to lay off any of its workers. The company continued to give its employees bonuses. However, Gossner Foods did have a hiring freeze during that time.
"We didn't hire a lot because people stayed," Wheeler said. "Before, you might have a turnover. That ceased, almost completely."
But the company didn't stop expanding. Gossner Foods has two plants located by the headquarters in Logan, one in El Centro, Calif., and another in Heyburn, Idaho. Wheeler said she is planning on expanding the size of the plant in Heyburn in the near future, because the company has added more clients over the past few years.
In order to gain more clients, Gossner Foods has come out with cheeses to appeal to different consumers' needs. The company has come out with a variety of cheese spreads, flavors of milk and low fat cheeses to do so.
With the improved working conditions for factory employees, computers and the Internet-quickened pace for delivery, the company hasn't changed how it does business with its more than 300 farmers in Utah and Idaho.
"We've never signed a contract with a farmer; it's a handshake," Wheeler said. Her father always said, "A handshake with a farmer is as good as any written contract."
But running the company hasn't always been fun and easy. Wheeler said she inherited a pretty difficult situation. Machines needed to be fixed or replaced, but the company didn't have the money and it needed more customers.
The thing that got her and the company through it was prayer, and lots of it.
"It took a lot of prayers and a lot of learning to be able to run a business," Wheeler said with a somewhat somber tone in her voice. "I don't know what I would've done if I didn't have faith in God."
Wheeler also attributed the company's lasting success to the good people she works with.
"If there's one thing I've learned, you work as a team," Wheeler said.
She has no plans of retiring anytime soon because she enjoys her work so much.
"I would only step down if I felt like I couldn't do the job, either physically or mentally," she said.
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