Hilmar Cheese Company has announced its first and only CEO, John Jeter, is retiring after 31 years of service.
David Ahlem, the son of one of the twelve founding farmers, will be succeeding Jeter as CEO. Ahlem was most recently COO of the company, but has also held positions at Cargill Animal Nutrition.
“I have been in and around the business a long time,” Ahlem said. “I think it has exceeded all of our wildest dreams. I think [Jeter] made this business about people and caring for individuals and doing everything to serve our employees, our customers and our dairymen.”
Starting his career in 1984, Jeter has grown his Lander Avenue plant to be the biggest in the world, with Jeter in the head position since its inception. Some of his most notable achievements include building a second plant in Texas for the company and becoming a major global player in cheese byproducts.
Jeter was only 32 years of age when the founders asked him to manage the $2.5 million startup, holding a degree in economics from UC Davis and varied business experience, including a take-and-bake pizza shop and management of what is now the Meyenberg goat milk plant in Turlock.
When interviewed by the Modesto Bee, Jeter cited the ability of leaders to make aggressive moves as a team and the ability for its processing lines to adapt quickly to customer needs as reasons for Hilmar's success.
“I was just looking for work, and these guys had a vision,” he told the paper. “Turns out it was a good one.”
The company’s two plants turn out about 2.4 million pounds of cheese a day, including cheddar, Monterey jack, colby, mozzarella and Hispanic types.