Georgia Berner / Berner International Corp and Berner Energy Recovery, Inc., Owner and CEO

What drives you up the wall?

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There was a day, not too long ago, when a business owner approached Georgia Berner, owner and CEO of Berner International Corp. and Berner Energy Recovery Inc., and accusingly said to her, "I know why all your employees like working for you, you buy them pizza."

Mrs. Berner was taken aback.

"Do you know how much pizza costs?" she asked.

The real story is not that Mrs. Berner treats her employees with pizza, it is that she treats them with respect.

Respect, she said, does not show up on the ledger.

Mrs. Berner did not rise through the corporate ranks.

Instead, she went from the kitchen to the corner office in three days in 1984 after her husband, Christian Berner, who was then CEO of the company, died when the plane he was flying crashed.

It was on the night of the crash, Mrs. Berner said, that she realized there was no one she could pay who would watch out for the interests of both the company and her family. The newly widowed mom of four children ranging in age from 9 to 15 took over as the new CEO of the company that manufactures air curtains. Most people will recognize air curtains as that blast of air that hits them when the grocery store door opens.

Since that time the company has had solid growth, increasing revenues by nearly seven times while adding new products and business. Mrs. Berner has remarried and has four stepchildren and a combined 14 grandchildren.

As a child, her career choice was dependent on the book she was reading. "I wanted to ride horses; I wanted to catch spies."

She earned her bachelor's degree in political science and master's in social psychology and English literature.

What she has found as the key to business leadership is the ability to listen and pay attention to her workers, to her customers and to the market.

Treating her workers with respect, she said, "doesn't cost anything to do that, and the rewards are huge."

She said she doesn't know how it developed, "but it's a terrible mind-set that you have to punish people to keep them in line."


-- Ann Belser: or 412-263-1699


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