History of the Ward & Kennedy Company
In the 1800’s the majority of shoe manufacturing was being done on the east coast, but with more and more people living further west, it was time for a change. By the early 1900’s shoe factories were popping up all over the Midwest and the demand for more local suppliers became apparent. Seeing this, a company who supplied the footwear industry by the name of Manufacturer’s Supplies decided to open a branch in Milwaukee, WI.
They started by hiring Mr. James F. Ward and shortly after hiring Mr. C. F. (Cecil) Kennedy. After a few short years, Mr. Ward & Mr. Kennedy felt that they wanted more control over the company they ran and decided to incorporate. So, on April 18, 1928 Ward & Kennedy Company was born. The strategic plan of the company was to continue as a findings company for the footwear industry. Therefore, Ward & Kennedy Company continued to add new lines to represent and distribute.
In 1929 Walter Mettelman, a salesman for the company, was also made a stock holder.
On August 11, 1943 they purchased the location at 1225-26 N. Water Street which is where they had been renting space since 1936. By 1949 this location housed eight different business; all but one servicing the footwear industry.
On March 16, 1945, Mr. Kennedy retired. The remaining stock holders were Mr. Ward, Mr. Mettelman and Mr. Lester Staab who had been given a share of stock a few months earlier. That year bonuses were given in the form of Victory Bonds.
When Mr. Ward retired in 1963 the company was purchased by some of his employees. On May 3, 1963 Curtis Gleisner, along with Walter Mettleman, Lester Staab, Carin Panaro, Melvin Rudolf, Ray Ettle, and M. F. Kerr, became the new owners of Ward & Kennedy Company. They decided not to change the name as they were already well known in the footwear industry as Ward & Kennedy Company.
On December 25, 1973, Curtis F. Gleisner (who started with the company in 1945) became the sole owner when Mel Rudolf, the last of the 7, retired. On May 21, 1973, Curt’s son Greg C. Gleisner started with the company followed by his brother Mark S. Gleisner on September 1, 1978. Curtis, Greg and Mark continued to supply primarily the footwear industry with the help of a seasoned salesman, Ron Shick.
In 1984 the decision was made to purchase Boston Electric Heating Corporation, who Ward & Kennedy Company distributed for. Boston Electric was a struggling company which was incorporated in 1924, but for which Ward & Kennedy Company could see more potential. Boston Electric manufactures steamers, boxtoe presses and hand irons for the footwear industry. It took a lot of hard work from the owners and employees to turn this company around but they did find success in their decision. The directors of Ward & Kennedy Company at this time were Greg C. Gleisner- President, Beverly Gleisner (wife of Curtis)- Vice President and Mark S. Gleisner – Secretary / Treasurer. Boston Electric was purchased on July 31, 1984 and the officers were Mark S. Gleisner – President and Greg C. Gleisner – Vice President.
The markets that Ward & Kennedy Company has served over the years have changed dramatically. In the 1970’s the footwear industry underwent drastic changes as more and more imported footwear caused factories to close, downsize or look to outside sources to provide their shoes. During this time Curt was able to adjust and change the business so that Ward & Kennedy Company did not follow in the footsteps of the many failing shoe factories. With the help of Greg, Mark and Ron Shick, the company began its change by picking up additional accounts outside of the Midwest. The next important change the company made was to begin marketing products that they already carried to other industries such as the Cutting & Sewing trades. Both of these changes helped the company to grow at a time where many of its competitors struggled to stay afloat.
Curtis Gleisner retired on January 1, 1986 and died a little more than one year later.
In May of 1989, Ward & Kennedy Company moved to its current location at 8324 W. Calumet Rd.
The old location was leased to Luke’s Sport Spectacular (now Red Rock Saloon), who remodeled it into a bar and restaurant. The change was challenging as the remodeling of the old building was being done before Ward & Kennedy Company had moved out. When the move did occur, it was exciting and stressful at the same time. The offices were originally placed in the store room as carpeting was not installed and the unpaved parking lot created a few problems. Little did anyone ever think that Ward & Kennedy Company and Boston Electric would ever fill the large “footprint” at this new location.
In 1991, Ward & Kennedy Company decided to start promoting itself more to the industrial market. While they had been selling to industrial accounts for many years, little had been done to get out and sell to that industry. The new change proved to be very beneficial as the industrial markets have become a very large piece of Ward & Kennedy Company’s business. Ward & Kennedy Company began to distribute abrasives, adhesives, spray equipment and industrial tools in order to diversify even further.
Ward & Kennedy Company was owned and operated by Mark and Greg Gleisner until August 31, 2016. During their tenure, the two brothers continued to diversify the company into many different markets growing at a steady pace year over year. On August 31, 2016 Jason Billeb acquired Ward & Kennedy Company. Jason started his employment at Ward & Kennedy Company during the summer of 1993. Jason’s father Brian Billeb was employed at Ward & Kennedy Company at this time and Mark Gleisner asked Brian if one of his sons would like a lawn mowing job. Jason came to the facility to mow the lawn and was asked if he would like a summer job while he was attending college at the University of Wisconsin. He accepted and continued to work for the company through all 4 years of his college education. Jason mowed the lawn, worked in the machine shop, die cut, shipped and received, ran deliveries, etc. The week before he graduated he received a job offer for a Sales position at Ward & Kennedy Company. He accepted and continued to be a Sales Representative for Ward & Kennedy Company until 2004. He went to work for a few companies from 2004-2016 allowing him to get a feel for how other businesses “clicked”. The diversification which embodies Ward & Kennedy Company always interested him. When Mark and Greg Gleisner were ready to retire, Jason seemed to be the perfect fit. Which brings us to 2016….
Ward & Kennedy Company once shared 10,000 square feet with 7 other businesses. They are now, solely, under 22,250 square feet. In this space they continue to manufacture boxtoe and counters for the footwear industry, die cut for other industries, warehouse and distribute abrasives, adhesives, wire, eyelets, air tools, spray equipment, heat units and manufacture custom heat presses, steamers and laminating machines.
For over 89 years, Ward & Kennedy Company has served a myriad of different industries and continues to seek out new markets.
Historical Timeline of Ward & Kennedy
April 18, 1928 Ward & Kennedy Company was born
1929 - Walter Mettelman, a salesman for the company, is made a stock holder.
August 11, 1943 - Ward & Kennedy purchased the location at 1225-26 N. Water Street
March 16, 1945 - Founder C.F. Kennedy retires. The remaining stock holders are Mr. Ward, Mr. Mettelman and Mr. Lester Staab who had been given a share of stock a few months earlier.
1963 - James F. Ward retires
May 3, 1963 Curtis Gleisner, along with Walter Mettleman, Lester Staab, Carin Panaro, Melvin Rudolf, Ray Ettle, and M. F. Kerr, become the new owners of Ward & Kennedy Company.
They decided not to change the name as they were already well known in the footwear industry as Ward & Kennedy Company.
May 21, 1973, Curt’s son Greg C. Gleisner starts with the company
December 25, 1973 - Curtis F. Gleisner (who started with the company in 1945) becomes the sole owner when Mel Rudolf, the last of the 7, retires
September 1, 1978. Greg's brother Mark S. Gleisner starts with the company
July 31, 1984 - Boston Electric Heating Corporation, who Ward & Kennedy Company distributed for, is purchased
Boston Electric manufactured steamers, boxtoe presses and hand irons for the footwear industry
January 1, 1986 - Curtis Gleisner retires
May 1989, Ward & Kennedy Company moves to its current location at 8324 W. Calumet Rd.
1991 - Ward & Kennedy Company diversifies by starting to distribute abrasives, adhesives, spray equipment and industrial tools to industrial markets
August 31, 2016 - Mark and Greg Gleisner retire
September 1st, 2016 - Jason Billeb becomes new owner of Ward & Kennedy