Hire Up: How Jeff Burns Is Moving 127-Year-Old Weinbrenner Into the Future

There’s lots of talk today about the shortage of skilled tradespeople, which could mean less workers for footwear brands to outfit. But, Jeff Burns, recently named president of Weinbrenner Shoe Co., is up to the challenge with a lengthy resume in the occupational and work shoe sectors.

Burns, who started his career at Weinbrenner in 2011, has held management positions with Rocky Brands, HH Brown and Novation North America Inc. Now, he’s taking the more than century-old Weinbrenner into the future with initiatives that include updating production capabilities at its domestic plants by collaborating with the University of Wisconsin. These should help increase the supply of goods made domestically, a growth opportunity for the company.

Here, Burns shares his tactics for meeting the upcoming challenges for the brand and tapping into future opportunities.

HOW I GOT HERE: “I started my footwear career in 1985 as an independent sales rep covering California, Arizona and Nevada for multiple lines that included uniform and outdoor footwear. After twelve years, I accepted a regional management position in Colorado Springs, Colo., with the footwear brand. In 2007, I became director of North American operations for an Italian-based footwear company. I joined Weinbrenner Shoe Co. in 2011 as VP of uniform and fire footwear. Most recently, I served as SVP sales and marketing. This year, our board of directors trusted me with the presidency. I’m looking forward to opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. “

KEY GOALS AND CHALLENGES: “Our biggest goals depend on overcoming our biggest challenges. During the last 10 years we’ve seen a huge increase in demand in Made in USA footwear, and making footwear here is not easy. It’s a challenge to find the skilled workers to make quality footwear. We’ve established a manufacturing task force that’s working with the University of Wisconsin on process improvements that will result in increased efficiency and productivity.  We anticipate this to increase output by at least 30% in our two Wisconsin factories. We’re also investing in an additional facility in Maine to try to meet the unprecedented demand for the Thorogood brand.“

TYPICAL DAY: “The most exciting part of this job is that no two days are ever alike. We’ve got an incredible team — the best I’ve ever worked with. Most of my time is spent supporting them team and planning for future growth. We’ve been in business for 127 years, and I feel a great responsibility to continue the legacy of Weinbrenner Shoe Co. and Thorogood.”

BEST DECISION: “Personally, proposing to my wife 36 years ago. She’s supported me through the years of endless business trips, late nights and our move to northern Wisconsin. Professionally, joining Weinbrenner in 2011. I’m humbled to be a part of this great team, and I’m excited to be driving the next wave of growth for Thorogood.“

CAREER MENTORS: “My dad. He taught me the values of hard work, humility, respect, and integrity. As an employee-owned company we practice a team approach and we hold each other accountable to these values. Another is Bob Hollenbaugh, retired footwear executive, who provided a blueprint of what a true business leader embodies. His mentorship prepared me for the challenges this position presents, and I’ll be forever grateful.”

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