Mary Burke was raised in Hartland, Wisconsin, the daughter of John Burke, founder of Trek Bicycle. Today, the company has grown into a multi-million dollar global company – largely due to the outsourcing of jobs and production overseas – and its financial success has made Mary a definitive ‘one-percenter.’
The family wealth allowed Mary to be educated at expensive private schools and later both Georgetown and Harvard Business School.
Following her graduation from Harvard, Mary purchased a quarter-million dollar condo in New York City (now valued at over $1.6 million today), and went to work for McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm known for its outsourcing expertise. Soon after, she returned home to join her father’s company, but quickly became bored with her Wisconsin lifestyle. She returned to New York to start a business with a friend, and Manhattan Intelligence opened in the trendy SoHo neighborhood.
But after just months in operation, Mary declared the business a failure and sold her stake and returned to the family business to spearhead Trek’s overseas expansion. After a few years in this position, Mary – at the age of 35 – was burned out and took a year-long sabbatical to snowboard and relax in the mountains of Argentina and Colorado.
Mary then went back to work at Trek as Director of Forecasting and Strategic Planning. Although she downplays her involvement in Trek overseas outsourcing strategies, company officials note she was in charge of revitalizing her family company’s global chain analysis system, which is used to help forecast the number of bikes that would be needed within Asia’s manufacturing operation. In fact, “she took it to a whole other level.”
Retiring from that post while in her 40s, Mary became President of the Maple Bluff Country Club, and was ranked as a state golf amateur.
Mary loves saying she was the Secretary of the Department of Commerce under Jim Doyle, but she does not talk about the details of her failed leadership. In fact, she prefers to not talk about the details of the 2006 Audit of the State’s Economic Development Program, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee’s 2007 public hearing on the topic of “Follow-up: State Economic Development Programs,” or the 2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Watchdog Report. These reports have been hard to avoid, especially since they detail “major shortcomings” of Wisconsin’s taxpayer-funded economic development programs under Mary’s watch. These reports include descriptions of: ineffective oversight of taxpayer-funded programs, poor results, and a lack of management.
But Mary was proud to agree with Jim Doyle and gushed that she supported his policies “entirely.” The administration was marked by substantial tax hikes as well as the loss of 133,000 jobs and 27,000 businesses, yet Burke is advocating a return to these policies.
After just 3 years as state jobs chief, Burke was ready to retire again. Mary tends to change careers almost as frequently as she likes to change her position on the issues (more on that later). After her retirement, she decided to enter politics and ran for school board in Madison in 2012. Determined to win, she outspent her opponent 12-to-1, putting over $128,000 of her personal fortune into the race.
As a major stockholder in Trek, Mary has made over $6 million in recent years. Her wealth enabled her to purchase a sprawling 4 bedroom second home on 83 secluded acres overlooking the Wisconsin River Valley, with a view protected by easements.