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Meet the CEO: A few minutes with Keith Fraleigh

on January 16, 2019

Keith Fraleigh is the new President and CEO of ESE. We recently sat down with him and asked him a few questions.

You’re only a few months into your new position as president & CEO of ESE. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in Omro, Wisconsin (just west of Oshkosh) and have one brother and one sister who are twins. I earned my BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 1984, and my MBA from Marquette University in 1996. I spent the first 10 years of my career in sales at IBM; then worked in business consulting at Arthur Andersen until 1997. Since then I’ve started up service lines-of-business within two different IT remarketers and ran both a marketing services company and a manufacturer of emergency communications solutions. I met my wife Julie in college. We married in 1985 and have four children, who I am happy to report are now all off the family payroll.

In your time on the job, what’s the most surprising thing you have learned?

I was a little worried as I came onboard about our ability to find and retain talent in Central Wisconsin; particularly the engineers that are the lifeblood of our business. I didn’t realize how great the local tech college programs are here. A lot of our engineers earned their degrees at either Mid-State Technical College in Wisconsin Rapids or Northcentral Technical College in Wausau, and all of them speak very highly of the education they received.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I would start off by saying I am a servant-leader. I constantly remind my team that I work for them, that it is my job to provide them the support and tools that they need in order for them to take care of our customers. I also see myself as collaborative. I’ve had about five good ideas of my own in my life; the rest of them came from people around me. My job as a leader is to take a real interest in the team’s challenges, ask questions, and partner with them to find solutions that work within the constraints of our business and the customers we serve.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the industry in 2019?

Product safety is a big one. Many people feel that the world is a dangerous place right now, and some see the food supply as a target. Our customers want the ability to trace individual food and beverage portions back to the original raw materials, so damage can be contained. The other challenge is one we all face: dealing with the loss of an experienced and knowledgeable workforce as the baby-boomers retire. For many companies, automation is a great answer.

What’s one thing about yourself that others might not know?

I’d like to finish learning to fly an airplane and get my pilot’s license.  Back in the mid-90s, I took some flying lessons but had to quit. However, the desire to learn never left me. A friend of mine is a highly experienced pilot and a flight instructor, and I’ve done quite a bit of informal training with him. One day he asked me if I wanted to try some landings. Much to my surprise, both the first and second landing went pretty well. The third time however was NOT the charm. We hit hard, and his first comment after grabbing control of the airplane from me was, “Well, it’s good to know that these trainers can take that much punishment and still fly.”

What is your favorite thing about the Marshfield area?

I enjoy being back in a smaller, more rural (compared to Milwaukee) community. Life moves a little less hectically, and it only takes me seven minutes to get to the office. The best part, though, is the people. I’ve spent a number of nights at the Hotel Marshfield and was quickly on a first-name basis with over half the staff and most of the regular restaurant patrons. If you’re familiar with the term “Wisconsin-nice”, you know what I’m talking about. In Marshfield, the people really live up to that standard.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

I really enjoy my gym time and try to hit the weights, cardio and core five days a week. I’m also a musician. I do a lot of singing at my church, and over the past few years have been active in musical theater as a bassist. My kids have recently been hauling me to a climbing gym and it’s a lot of fun. Now I just need to be brave enough to try it outside on real rocks. Julie and I also like to travel. Our two most recent trips were Rome and Hawaii.

What book is on your nightstand?

Depends on the night! I’m a voracious reader and enjoy all genres. I just started working on the Game of Thrones series and am trying to wrap my head around all of the characters. A list of my favorite fiction authors would have to include J.R.R. Tolkien, Tom Clancy and Frederick Forsyth. Favorite classics would include Robinson Crusoe, Moby-Dick, Pride and Prejudice, and Dracula. On the non-fiction side, I love European history, philosophy, physics, and technology.

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