The Corner

Mary Burke’s Associates Say She Was Fired From Her Job at Trek

Chances are, your day yesterday was better than Mary Burke’s.

First, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s Democratic gubernatorial challenger got the news that the final Marquette University Law School poll before the election showed her trailing Walker by a 50–43 margin. Just two weeks ago, the same poll – the most respected survey in the state – showed the race tied. That particular poll from mid October had some substantial glitches in its results: For instance, it showed that the large gender gap in the race had evaporated and that independents, who had previously favored Walker by 13, now favored Burke by a point. Throw out the result from two weeks ago and the poll has had Walker leading by 3.6 points, 5.8 points, and 7 points in the past two months.

But the real bombshell came when several executives from Trek Bicycle, a company started by Burke’s father and where she worked in the past, told local media that Burke had actually been fired by the company, in 1993. At the time, Burke headed up Trek’s European division, and claimed that she had expanded sales there from $3 million to $50 million, a number the company has never verified.

While Burke has made her time in Europe the centerpiece of her campaign – she claims it demonstrates her business acumen and aptitude for numbers – former Trek CEO Tom Albers said yesterday that during her time in Europe, Burke was “under water” and recently suggested that the job was perhaps “too big for her.” (Albers’s account was backed up by other Trek executives — some on the record, and some who chose to remain anonymous.)

Albers said that after being sent to Europe to check up on Burke’s problems, he came back and provided a report to Burke’s father, Richard. Soon thereafter, says Albers, Mary Burke was “fired” by her father and promptly left for a two-year snowboarding sabbatical in Argentina and Colorado. In an interview yesterday, she said the company was going through a reorganization and her job was “eliminated” through downsizing. Burke has consistently maintained she left the company on her own volition, saying she was “burned out” and needed the rest.

In a column today, I pointed out:

But Burke would have us believe that in “eliminating” her job, the company made a decision to kill their own golden goose.  In her television ads, Burke brags about increasing Trek’s European sales from $3 million to $50 million during her tenure, numbers that have never been verified.  That hardly seems to be a record that would prompt a business owner to “downsize” his own daughter.  (As one Twitter follower pointed out, even Tommy Boy got to keep his job with his dad’s brake pad company.)

And as for how she was “fired”:

The debate seems to be largely one of semantics.  Sure, it seems unlikely that there was any moment where Richard Burke and Mary’s brother, John, said the actual words “you’re fired” to her.  Probably a long shot that she was told to go clean out her desk and hand over her badge.

However, it seems as though there may have been a moment where Richard and John Burke looked at her sales figures, saw the alleged difficulty she was having with her employees in Europe, and decided to ease her out.  They could have just said, “look, Mary, we know you’re having trouble, and it doesn’t look like it’s working out.  How about you go take some time off, come back, and see if this is really what you want to do?”

That would have been the humane thing to do to your own daughter/sister, and it seems consistent with what the CEOs have been saying.  So while Mary Burke may not consider it a “firing,” it does seem likely that she was eased out of her position.

If Burke’s father recognized how terrible she was at her job, he was merely getting the jump on Burke’s predecessor at the state department of commerce, who once privately called Burke, who ran the department at one point, a “disaster.”

It appears, however, that “disaster” might actually be the best adjective one could use about the Burke campaign leading up to next Tuesday’s election.

— Christian Schneider is a columnist with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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