Business Profile | Joe Oberweis

December 2011/January 2012 View more

This fourth-generation leader has sights on national expansion

NMAG1211_Business_1Almost 100 years ago Peter Oberweis started selling the surplus milk from his Aurora farm to neighbors; today it takes 28 family farms to supply Oberweis Dairy daily with 38,000 gallons of milk for its 35,000 home-delivery and retail store customers in seven states. This growth translates into 1,000 employees in 50 different buildings, but Oberweis production continues to operate out of its manufacturing facility at the company’s headquarters on Ice Cream Drive near I-88 in North Aurora.

Peter’s great-grandson Joe Oberweis has been CEO of Oberweis Dairy since 2007 and assumed the additional role of president in 2009. He leads the company’s efforts to establish a significant national presence and to become the preeminent national purveyor of ice cream and dairy products. Naperville Magazine recently sat down with Joe to gather his thoughts on the past and his visions for the future of this iconic Midwest company.

Your father Jim was running his investment firm when you were born, but bought Oberweis Dairy after your uncle had a stroke when you were a child. What was it like growing up as a member of the Oberweis family?


Joe Oberweis (fourth generation president) stands left of his father Jim Oberweis (third generation chairman) with a signature milk delivery truck.

Outside of sometimes being asked if we get free ice cream, I am sure it wasn’t much different than any other family—but there were a few fun perks. Maybe the best treat was that we had a refurbished Multi-Mixer at home and could make authentic Oberweis milkshakes. I can also remember getting to make ice cream concoctions with whatever flavors and toppings I could dream up (although I am not sure my parents knew!).

You have a business degree from U of I and an MBA from Northwestern. Did you always plan to join the family business?

My parents were very upfront with all of us on both family businesses; if we were interested in being involved, we could be to the extent of our capabilities. And conversely, they made it very clear that we should not feel any pressure to become involved in either family business if our hearts weren’t there.

From a very young age, being involved in the dairy just seemed to be the career path I expected. In some ways, I shortchanged myself by not exploring more alternatives, but I am pretty happy with how things have worked out and I truly love my job.

What are the biggest challenges Oberweis needs to overcome in its quest for national growth and recognition?

We have three very distinct distribution channels, and for the company to build a national footprint, each channel has to have economics that allow that. There are significant differences between what’s required for local or regional success versus national success, and we’ve been working very hard to create economics for each channel that can be replicated across the country. I wish there was a magic bullet, but it’s simply a lot of hard work, trial and error, and luck.

You’ve been an officer and director of the Northern Illinois Food Bank and you recently won an elected seat on the Kaneland School Board. Do you have any further philanthropic or political aspirations?

I do have future not-for-profit ambitions, but they are not fully developed in my mind at this point. In terms of political aspirations, I would like to be part of our representative government, but I don’t think I have the patience for putting up with what elections in our country have become. Therefore, I think it’s extremely unlikely.

What is the Oberweis legacy that you hope to pass on to your three young children?

I think we’re all on a quest to be happy and successful in life, and I hope they learn at a young age to define happiness and success by their own definition—at a deep, core level within their hearts—and not by those imposed by society. I think my wife Jennifer and I, like all parents, want them to be happy and successful according to their own definition of success.

Photo by Mike Hudson