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Gossner CEO is one of Utah’s biggest cheeses

Event to honor her and 49 other powerful women

SHARE Gossner CEO is one of Utah’s biggest cheeses

Dolores Gossner Wheeler had a few misgivings when taking over the family farm and dairy business in 1983. Even though she'd worked the farm her entire life, it was a tall order.

She settled on a familiar management style — "strong mom with family-atmosphere workplace" — that has proved successful over the years.

"When I first took this on, I was working on the farm and didn't even dream of doing this," said Wheeler, who is president and CEO of Gossner Foods. "I thought, 'I was a pretty good mother, and I hope I can be a pretty good employer.' It does come down to that in a lot of ways."

Under her direction, the agri-business has grown from 100 employees to 315, it pays higher than average wages, buys $45 million worth of raw milk from Utah and Idaho farms, sells ultra-high-temperature milk internationally and to the United States military, and markets about $33.5 million pounds of cheese and butter yearly.

Wheeler is among a group that will be honored at a May 16 luncheon at the Little America Hotel as Utah's "50 Most Powerful Women."

The event is being sponsored by the Women's Business Center, the National Association of Women Business Owners, the Small Business Administration, the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, Zions Bank and Utah Business Magazine.

Wheeler winces a little at being described as "powerful" and taking credit for her company's success.

"It's a little embarrassing to be picked as an individual. It's an honor, of course," Wheeler said, "but I'd prefer that it be Gossner Foods being honored because Gossner Foods is not Dolores Wheeler. I'm privileged to accept it, but it's for everyone. It's all the producers and the milk haulers and all the people who make it possible."

Her close-knit family is one thing that makes it all possible. Allen Wheeler, her husband of 45 years, helps run the operation. Their daughter Trish and her husband, Wayne Gibbs, work on the farm, and Trish and Allen are on the company's board of directors. The Wheeler's other daughter, Dixie, is the organization's human resource officer, payroll manager and secretary-treasurer. Dixie's husband, Alan Udy, is the field man who works with all the farmers. A niece, Dawn Jones, is a company director. And all grandchildren work either in the farm or factory.

"It really is a family operation," Dolores Wheeler said.

Wheeler's loyalty and sense of commitment to all the people she works with, whether dairy producers or employees, have guided Gossner Foods over the years.

It figured prominently into the decision to spend approximately $8 million to expand a cheese packaging facility at its headquarters in Logan rather than relocate to California or Idaho. Gossner Foods buys raw milk from farms throughout Utah, as far away as Delta, and Wheeler was eager to continue supporting those producers.

The dairy must enlarge its cheese packaging efforts to keep up with demands by grocery chains.

"We specialize in Swiss and Muenster cheese, but we have a full line of cheese and want to supply customers with everything they need. We have to expand our packaging operation because there is that much demand," she said.

Even though there were some advantages in Idaho and California, Wheeler is happy to expand here.

"We really feel like we have a commitment to the milk producers and to our employees. We had to do this to stay competitive and build a future for everybody. We have a lot of young, loyal employees here, and we want to make sure that they can feel they can make their career here," Wheeler said.

A self-described hands-on manager, Wheeler still delegates a good deal to her three plant managers and others. "I know just enough to be dangerous," she jokes. "I have excellent people. I try to be involved in everything, but I let the experts run their own departments."

Randy Parker, for one, doesn't think Wheeler gives herself enough credit. The marketing director for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, Parker has dealt extensively with Gossner Foods.

"She's terrific to work with," Parker said. "She shoots straight with you, she's honest and let's you know what she thinks. I respect that."

Parker also said Wheeler looks beyond her own profits. "The decisions that she makes are not specifically for her. She has to look out for her business, but she is so committed to those decisions being good for the dairy producers and improving their economic situation. That really impresses me."

You can reach Linda Thomson by e-mail at lindat@desnews.com