By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. – Another high-ranking Trek Bicycle Corp. executive on Thursday bolstered claims that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke was fired by the global bicycle firm launched by her father nearly 40 years ago.
Until this week, Burke claimed her success at Trek was evidence she ought to unseat Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker in next week’s election.
Wisconsin Reporter revealed Tuesday that Burke’s family terminated her in 1993, following her disastrous performance in the company’s European business unit, according to multiple former Trek executives and employees.
Burke responded Wednesday to the allegations by clarifying that her position was “eliminated” because of her success in Europe.
Asked about her departure, Burke told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “The truth is that after getting five additional offices up and running and managing seven operations, we decided to restructure and there was no need for my position and two of the people reporting to me could directly report to people in the United States,” she said. “I was part of that decision to restructure and did that and then decided to leave.”
BUSTED BURKE? Another former Trek executive tells Wisconsin Reporter that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke isn’t being truthful about her departure from her family-owned Trek Bicycle Corp.
However, another former Trek executive, who worked at the Waterloo-based company for six years during the early 1990s, says now that Burke’s contention that her position as director of European Operations was eliminated following a company “reorganization” isn’t true.
“It’s a bald-faced lie,” said the former Trek official, who, like other former employees, spoke to Wisconsin Reporter on condition of anonymity. “She was tossed out.”
The executive on Thursday confirmed the accounts of multiple Trek employees, including the company’s past president, Tom Albers, who told the Associated Press and other news outlets that Burke was fired because she “just didn’t work out. We were losing money.”
The former executive who spoke with Wisconsin Reporter Thursday confirmed those accounts. He recalled a dinner with Burke in Amsterdam, where Burke had decided to move Trek’s European headquarters from Frankfurt. At the time, he told Wisconsin Reporter, he didn’t know that Albers was sent over to take a closer look at the operation, which included a comprehensive, detailed review Burke’s management and performance.
“When the bill came, she says, ‘I have a lot of people looking at my financials right now. Could you pick up the bill?’ And I picked up the bill. That was a little strange,” he said.
The source said it was “common knowledge” among executives and employees that John Burke had fired his sister because “she lost money for us, and she had to make apologies for it.”
Describing himself as non-political, the source said he was driven to speak out following the Burkes’ attacks on Mary Burke’s former colleagues. He described Albers as “as a good guy … as honest as the day is long,” and said Albers isn’t out for any political vendetta.
“But what (Mary Burke) said is a bold-faced lie,” the source concluded. “If that’s the type of politician we want today, then we will have to accept that and say they are going to lie to us.”
Sources earlier this week told Wisconsin Reporter that Burke’s brother, John Burke, now Trek CEO, had to fire his sister in 1993 following steep overseas financial losses and plummeting morale among Burke’s European sales staff.
The sales team threatened to quit if Burke was not removed from her position as director of European Operations, Gary Ellerman, who served as Trek’s human resources director for 12 years, first told Wisconsin Reporter.
The newest source, the former executive who spoke with Wisconsin Reporter Thursday, said Ellerman’s account is “dead on, on target,” despite Burke family criticism of Ellerman as a partisan because of his role as chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party.
The former executive said he was privy to the “horror stories” from Trek’s financial chiefs at the time.
“There was no accounting for anything,” he said of Burke and her division. “Her sales were excessively below forecast.”
Burke and her campaign have a different take.
“It’s ridiculous,” Burke told the AP of the claims she was fired. “It’s completely false.”
The Burke campaign, as well as Trek, has not returned several phone calls from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment. A privately held company, Trek does not release detailed financial information.
John Burke, who was Trek’s vice president of sales and marketing when his sister led European operations from 1990 to 1993, told other media outlets that his sister did a bang-up job in Europe, increasing sales dramatically, from $3 million to $50 million. He told the AP that he did not have detailed financial records from that far back, but there was one year where the company had a loss.
Another former manager said it was unlikely that Trek does not still have such critical financial data.
“They keep all that stuff. Their accountants are very anal about that,” another former Trek manager during Burke’s tenure told Wisconsin Reporter. That same source said the sales figures were nowhere near what the Burke family has claimed and that Trek’s operation in Germany “was gushing blood and it would take profitability from everywhere else” under Mary Burke’s supervision.
The manager said Burke was made to return to Wisconsin and apologize to a group of about 35 Trek executives and salespeople for her treatment of employees and for the plummeting European bottom line.