Matzek: New CEO ready to guide Waupaca Foundry to more growth

As Mike Nikolai steps into the role of CEO at Waupaca Foundry, he plans to draw on his considerable experience with iron castings manufacturer where he started as a metallurgist in 1993.

“I’ve learned so much from those around me,” said Nikolai, who succeeds longtime president Gary Gigante. “Gary really showed me how we as a company need to continually improve our manufacturing excellence and efficiencies.”

The world’s largest foundry, Waupaca Foundry’s iron components appear on everything from Honda and Toyota cars and trucks to John Deere farm equipment.

Nikolai held several roles throughout the company including production manager and plant manager in Tell City, Ind., and plant manager at Etowah, Tenn. He also was the foundry’s vice president of operations before becoming president and chief operating officer last year. In addition to the main Waupaca plant and those in Indiana and Tennessee, Waupaca Foundry also has plant in Marinette.

His experience at other Waupaca Foundry facilities will help him moving forward, Nikolai said.

“You see how every site is different because of its location. That has really broadened my perspective and will help me as we look to continue growing and move in Mexico,” he said.

Waupaca Foundry was purchased in 2014 by Hitachi Metals Foundry America. Earlier this year, Waupaca Foundry announced it would merge with Hitachi Metals Automotive Components USA as part of a larger reorganization within the company. The move is designed to position the company to better meet customer demand.

“It’s definitely an exciting time for our business and we’re poised to grow even more as we will be able to offer our customers unprecedented access to metals technology and casting innovation,” Nikolai said.

While CEO, Gigante transformed Waupaca Foundry by introducing ductile iron production to the company and led it through two ownership changes. He also steered the foundry through the Great Recession by flexing the company’s production and staffing levels, helping Waupaca Foundry to grow even stronger.

“Our company was founded by entrepreneurs who fostered a culture of innovation,” he said. “I have had the pleasure of working with the best and most inventive foundry people in the business and I learned from all of them.”

As Nikolai transfers into his new role, he’s learning new things every day.

“When you take over your boss’ job, you find out all these things that he did that you had no idea about,” he said. “I hope to continue to learn from Gary and learn about all the nooks and crannies, just like he has.”

Airport unveils customs area: Appleton International Airport recently opened its new U.S. Customs & Border Protection area. The move means private international flights coming to Appleton will no longer need to stop elsewhere before coming to the airport.

The new facility will be able service planes with up to 20 passengers. The airport hopes that between 75 and 100 planes will use the facility in its first year and will continue to grow in years to come as more people know about it.

— Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.