Former Trek Employees Say Mary Burke Was Fired by Her Own Family for Poor Performance


October 29, 2014

UPDATE 5:27 P.M.: The Wisconsin Reporter is now reporting Burke says she was not fired but, rather, the company "reorganized and eliminated the position that I had."

"It was here, in an old red barn, that a great American bicycle company was born. The one Mary Burke helped turn into a global powerhouse," an October ad for the Democratic nominee for Wisconsin governor said.

"She led strategic planning at Trek, helped grow European sales from $3 million to $50 million a year."

A new report from M.D. Kittle of the Wisconsin Reporter reveals a number of former Trek employees disagreed with that claim. They said Mary Burke was fired by her own family for poor performance.

"Burke apparently was fired by her own family following steep overseas financial losses and plummeting morale among Burke’s European sales staff," the publication said.

"She was not performing. She was (in) so far over her head. She didn't understand the bike business," longtime Trek Human Resources Director Gary Ellerman told Kittle. "I was there. This is what went down."

Ellerman, who is currently the Chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party, paints a picture of declining sales and moral under Burke's leadership. He isn't alone in his assessment.

Another former employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said, "Mary Burke was made to return to Wisconsin and apologize to a group of about 35 Trek executives for her treatment of employees and for the plummeting European bottom line."

The source said employees had developed several unfavorable nicknames for Burke.

"She never made money in Europe when she was there … Germany was gushing blood and it would take profitability from everywhere else," the source told Kittle.

The employees Kittle spoke with said Burke's claims to have increased European sales while at Trek are "lies." Instead, they said sales were "at least $10 million lower" under her leadership.

Since Trek is a privately held company that does not disclose detailed sales records, there is no way to verify Burke's claims. However, Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported earlier this month that Burke used to claim sales reached $60 million under her tenure and a recently revealed sales overview for the company makes her story unlikely.

The gubernatorial candidate says she left Trek in 1993 because she needed a break after handling a stressful job.

"This had been a very demanding job and as a result, I decided I needed some time off," Burke wrote in a note to a Doyle administration official in 2005, the Journal Sentinel reported. "I joined some Spanish friends of mine and moved to Argentina to snowboard for three months."

The extended snowboarding trip has become a controversy of its own during the campaign. However, the Wisconsin Reporter's sources say Mary Burke's work break was not as voluntary as she said.

"She made the statement that she was burned out," a former Trek executive who remained anonymous because they feared retaliation told the publication. "She wasn't burned out. She was fired. (The firing) was definitely over performance issues and there were major people problems over there."