Chet Giermak, who served as Eriez president and CEO from 1971 to 2003, died on March 16.
“Chet was a great man who has left an indelible mark on Eriez’ business, people and culture,” says Eriez president and CEO Tim Shuttleworth. “His legacy lives on at Eriez every day.”
Giermak blended lessons from his days as a two-time All-American college basketball player at William and Mary together with his business acumen, and applied them successfully during his 33-year tenure as Eriez president and CEO. In a 2012 article, Giermak stated that the greatest legacy he left to Eriez is the team he left behind to succeed him — a commitment he made to Eriez’ board of directors.
“Chet’s active, hands-on managerial style led him to walk through the offices and plant on a daily basis talking with as many employees as possible,” says Charlie Ingram, Eriez vice president of sales and marketing. “Able to address every employee by name, he maintained an ‘open door’ policy that encouraged any company employee to come in and discuss any issue with him at any time.”
Along with the respect he accorded every employee, Giermak also treated everyone with an uncommon degree of trust. He ordered time clocks removed “as a way of saying to our people that we trust them to arrive and leave at designated times.” He then removed all bells and buzzers that signaled start and quit times and coffee breaks “in Pavlovian fashion.” He also eliminated the mandatory vacation during summer shut-down, opting to trust each individual to determine his or her own vacation schedule.
Giermak also introduced a variety of improvement programs - from first-aid instruction to blueprint reading classes and from financial planning sessions to pre-retirement seminars. A free counseling program was put in place to help employees and their family members deal with estate and personal problems. He initiated a 10-year program to first limit and then eliminate smoking at Eriez. In 1986 the company began a policy of hiring only non-smokers, and later announced there would be a completely smoke-free environment at the company by July 1, 1992.
Giermak was active in both industry organizations and community affairs. A past president of the Processing Equipment Manufacturers Association (PEMA), he also served as a director of the National Association of Manufacturers. Locally, he was active in ACES (Americans for the Competitive Enterprise System) and the Sales and Marketing Executives Club of Erie. He was a board member and past president of both the Erie Conference on Community Development and the Manufacturers Association of Northwest Pennsylvania. He also served on the board of directors of Erie Press Systems and Parker White, both in Erie.
A member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, he was also a corporator of Hamot Medical Center and trustee and past president of the Saint Vincent Foundation for Health and Human Services. Today, Eriez management continues to be active in many of the same community and industry organizations.
Giermak’s contributions extend far past company culture. During his time with Eriez, the company developed problem-solving products for more than 80 industries. Eriez’ offerings grew to hundreds of types of permanent magnetic, electromagnetic, vibratory, conveying, and metal detecting equipment, ranging from simple plates, grates, and traps to highly sophisticated devices such as rare earth roll separators, eddy current separators and superconducting high gradient magnetic separator systems.
When Giermak joined Eriez in 1960, sales were $.8 million. Sales were about $8 million when he accepted the reins as president in 1971, and rose to $80 million in 2003.
Today, Eriez is recognized as a world authority in separation technologies. The company’s magnetic lift and separation, metal detection, materials feeding, screening, conveying, and controlling equipment is used in numerous industries. Eriez manufactures and markets these products through 12 international facilities located on six continents. Chet Giermak’s legacy lives on in the 1000 Eriez employees around the world, and the thousands of lives he touched during his exceptional life.
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