Johnsonville tabs Oscar Mayer exec to be first non-Stayer CEO

Johnsonville Sausage will have its first chief executive officer who is not a Stayer family member April 1.

The town of Sheboygan Falls-based company announced over the weekend that CEO Ralph C. Stayer will retire as of April 1.

Named to take his place was Nick Meriggioli. Meriggioli has spent more than 20 years working at Kraft Foods in increasingly senior marketing positions. For the last 10 years, he led the Madison-based Oscar Mayer business for Kraft. Meriggioli holds an MBA in marketing and finance from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.

Stayer will remain as chairman of the board of Johnsonville, which he served as CEO since 1968, taking over for his father Ralph F. Stayer.

The elder Stayer and his wife, Alice, started the business in 1945 when, together with Carl and Anna Hirsch, they purchased a small butcher shop in the hamlet of Johnsonville.

They soon added retail stores in Plymouth, Sheboygan and Port Washington.

The Stayers purchased the Hirsch interest in the business in 1957.

Under the Stayers, the company has grown over the last half century to become a major manufacturer of bratwurst, breakfast and other specialty sausages and food items. The company describes itself as the number one national brand of sausage, available in all 50 states and 40 countries.

The company remains privately-owned.

In a press release announcing the management changes, Johnsonville officials said much of the company’s success has been attributed to Stayer’s unique leadership style, which empowers members to take ownership of Johnsonville’s business results. Stayer shared his management philosophy in the best-selling book “Flight of the Buffalo” and in the influential article “How I Learned to Let My Workers Lead” for the Harvard Business Review.

“Over the last 70 years, we have worked hard to build a distinctive culture and make exceptional products for our customers,”

Stayer said in the press release. “I am pleased to welcome Nick and confident that his track record of building and empowering people is the perfect fit for the company and our members.”

“During my time at Oscar Mayer, I have admired Ralph Stayer and the success of the Johnsonville business,” Meriggioli said in the press release. “I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to lead this great company and look forward to continuing their impressive growth and business performance.

William Morgan will continue to serve as president of Johnsonville.

The company employs approximately 1,500 people.


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