Transcending industries

by Joel Crews
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Charlean Gmunder won’t deny that thick skin is a beneficial attribute for a woman working in the male-dominated meat industry. She’s grown accustomed to working with and for the opposite gender. Gmunder attended Rutgers Univ. and earned a degree in chemical engineering, one of just four females enrolled in the program at that time.

After college, she went to work for Pepsi Cola in Philadelphia, where she worked as a supervisor of production, quality control and of warehousing between 1984 and 1985. Rather than accept a transfer to work in New York with Pepsi, Gmunder took a position working as a process control chemist with WM Wrigley Jr. Co. closer to home in New Jersey. Recollecting her early days at Wrigley, she says, “It was defi nitely a male-dominated world when I started out, down on the plant floor.”

She worked her way up through the ranks at Wrigley for the next 21 years, in roles that ranged from QA to sales to engineering. During her time at Wrigley, Gmunder also earned a master’s degree in business administration and ultimately served as president and CEO of Wrigley’s subsidiary, the LA Dreyfus Co. Her last career stop before Premio Foods was at National Starch Food Innovation, where she worked as vice president of global logistics from 2006 until 2008.

As vice president of operations at Premio, a position she has held since 2008, Gmunder has successfully exceeded expectations in an environment many men or women wouldn’t even attempt. For starters, she was hired to help fill the shoes of Steve Cinque, who owned and operated the company with his brother, Marc. After Steve was diagnosed with ALS, he and Marc agreed to hire Gmunder to help streamline operations. Ultimately she would take over Steve’s role after he passed away in 2009 after bravely battling the disease. Knowing the prognosis for ALS is grim, the brothers realized plans for the future of the business had to be made and both agreed hiring Gmunder was a smart move. Like everyone at Premio, Gmunder was inspired by Steve and she is honored to have worked with him. “He was very supportive of me and made that support known to everyone,” she says. “I’m very appreciative of that.”

Gmunder never fathomed her business acumen would land her a job working for a sausage processing company. “I had a preconceived notion that I’d be going into a dirty place that smelled bad,” she says. As part of the interviewing process, however, she toured the company’s processing plant and as it turned out, what went into the company’s sausage wasn’t at all shocking. Missing from the plant were the bad smells, blood and guts she feared. “It wasn’t at all what I expected,” she says.

Continuous improvement

In the three years since joining Premio, Gmunder has done plenty to improve operations. Some recent initiatives she has championed include implementing a material requirements planning system to improve the maintenance of the company’s supplies; integrating Lean manufacturing; and overhauling the company’s compensation structure to reward team efforts using performance-based incentives. She has also led the company in improving its food-safety practices and is working on several sustainability-based objectives.

Gmunder remains driven to continually learn about the industry and do her part to push Premio to achieve excellence. “I wouldn’t do this if there wasn’t a lot to learn. I don’t want to stagnate and I don’t want this organization
to stagnate. That is why we’re constantly looking for new and better approaches.”
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