WSI Facility Manager Joe Countney Champions WSI Ethics of Teamwork, Absolute Reliability - Feb 2017

During our 50th anniversary celebration and beyond, we wanted to take some time to acknowledge, thank and highlight a few of the many hardworking and loyal employees that embody WSI’s vision of absolute reliability to the customer, enthusiastic service to the community and dedication to the balance between work and life.

Joe Countney, who manages WSI’s Ehlers, Janssen and Martin Drive facilities in Neenah, Wisconsin, started with the Van Hoof Companies as a 16-year-old summer worker at Pacon. He was then hired in May of 1985 by Vicki Romenesko to support the WSI Media Center at Brighton Beach. He has built a storied career at WSI, with some breaks taken to pursue other career opportunities. Those opportunities ultimately enriched his ability to smoothly manage the SCA and Clearwater accounts – two of WSI’s largest paper customers. Joe praises his team, his customer and all his WSI friends for making WSI such a fantastic place to work.

“I really like my job, our customers and the people I work with. It’s kind of like quarterbacking the winning football team. Preparation meets opportunity. It’s easy to go the extra mile for really good customers that appreciate the efforts of all of us,” he said. “For example, SCA personnel know a lot of our team members on an individual basis. They were here to help us and assist us when we took over the handling part of the operation at Martin Drive in 2013. A kind of bond developed going through that process together to build that relationship of trust.”

Joe said he works with WSI veterans that have been with the company between 30 and 40 years, some mid-career employees who have been with the company 10 to 15 years, and some operators with one to three years of experience. He works with approximately 40 team members in total across the three facilities. “And they’re all exceptional employees,” he said.

From warehouse lead and manager jobs in the Fox Valley, California, Fond du Lac, Racine, Denver and with Pacon, Joe has seen it all. He smiled recalling when WSI started a new trucking operation in the Fox Valley area.
“While Merle Verhagen, Bill Romenesko, Fred Mader and the rest of the guys were running around in 18-wheeler trucks, I was taking care of some of their buildings,” he said, referencing a close group of WSI friends he has been in touch with both on and off the job for more than 30 years.

Joe left WSI for a few years to pursue distribution manager jobs, namely for apparel giant Fruit of the Loom, where he managed between 500 and 800 people. All the while, Joe said, he stayed in touch with friends like Joe Romenesko, Fred Mader, Mike Kilbane, Gary Liebhauser, and Tom Kiesow – a group of individuals he has been close with for most of his adult life. In 2002, Joe came back to WSI, working for Joe Romenesko in Racine.
Since taking over the SCA account, Joe has tackled some interesting and fulfilling challenges. In 2013, when WSI took over the labor on the SCA account in Neenah, Wisconsin, the SCA employees vacated the warehouse at 6 a.m., and WSI employees walked in at 6:30 a.m. WSI, led by Joe, took over the 400,000 square feet-24/7 operation. He was supported by a few administrative people from SCA and a transition team that included Bill Romenesko and Glen Mitchell. Thanks to months of planning, the transition went smoothly.

In March 2015, Joe coordinated the movement of 1,400 truckloads of paper rolls and finished goods that needed to swap buildings in less than two weeks. The move was incredibly seamless and smooth, he said, “due in large-part to our terrific Lead Crew (Chris Hupf, Jane Buelow, Bob Rogers, Tommy Howard and Scott Schnese).” 

Joe and his team incorporated lean methodology into the operation and have saved WSI and SCA approximately half a million dollars, both in customer cost savings and cost avoidance, all the while retaining strong employees.

On a more personal note, Joe met his wife 10 years ago. Joe and Cindy will be married seven years this summer. They have a “caring, polite, kind” six-year-old son who loves to read and a “feisty, opinionated, cute-as-a-button” four-year-old daughter. They share their 5.5 rural acres with a beautiful, rare Norwegian Fjord horse. Joe has spent the past 1.5 years building a horse barn on their property.

Countney’s commitment to WSI, his family and his family of WSI friends is inspiring. Thank you for your continued service, Joe!