Everything Chris Yerke learned about small business, he learned from his dad.
His family owned a small greenhouse and garden center in Mukwonago, WI, about 30 minutes south of Sentry’s Oconomowoc headquarters, where he got his first paycheck at the young age of 10. He learned the benefits and challenges of running a family business from his parents. In 1954 his grandfather started the greenhouse which his parents expanded when they took it over to include a year-round garden center.
“My dad was the biggest influence on me,” he says. “Working for him for 15 years taught me that a good work ethic was required in my household.”
After he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2013 with a degree in mechanical engineering, he knew he wanted to work for a company that valued its employees like his family-owned business. He found that feeling when he joined Sentry as a sales and application engineer in early 2017.
“What made Sentry shine was really the culture and how it seemed to fit with what I'm comfortable with in an employee-owned family business,” he says. “It feels that there is more care. It's a feeling. It's warm.”
Three things he’d take on a deserted island: “My family, a boat and gas for the boat.”
Why he chose to work at Sentry: “I grew up working for the family business and working for an employee-owned company has the same feel.”
Did he know how to pronounce Oconomowoc before working at Sentry Equipment? “I did, but only because I grew up in the area.”
putting people first
In his role, he solves problems and fosters positive relationships both with coworkers and customers around the country. He enjoys balancing the twin challenges of diving into technical applications while communicating clearly with teams throughout the organization – including customer service, engineering, procurement, purchasing, service, sales and production control – as well as customers.
He says it’s easy to deliver high-quality products and service because the entire Sentry team brings their “A game” to work every day. He attributes this high level of performance and integrity to the employee-owned business model.
“I think it supports or fosters the feeling of we're all in this together. We're sharing the workload and we're sharing the benefits of a good quarter or a good year,” he says.
It also supports a strong path forward; with a clear vision of the next step he can take in the company. He’s already discussed the potential to move toward a regional sales manager or another position with a higher level of responsibility.
He’s even recruited a few friends to consider working at Sentry, even if they’re not sure where their career might take them. “One of my selling points for them is that Sentry hires good people and they will find a place for you if you want to stay. I've seen many people transition in from one role to another. At Sentry, it's about keeping the people.”
This people-first policy fits in with Chris’ vision of how business should be. He recently moved into the house he grew up in Mukwonago, where his family proudly displayed flowers and plants for nearly seven decades. His dad retired last year and shut down the business after 64 years.
Now Chris enjoys spending time with his wife, Abigail, two-year-old daughter, Magnolia, and 10-year-old son, Leonardo. He and Leonardo manage several dozen backyard chickens and recently built a second coop for their growing flock, just one step in passing on the family work ethic to the next generation.
Employee-Owner Profiles is a regular feature that highlights members of our team. As an employee-owned company, Sentry Equipment believes that employee ownership makes a difference. Our employee-owners are dedicated to hard work, positive results and continual improvement and innovation to provide our customers the highest quality products and services.