Meet a few of our bright minds.
Russ Wanke, President and CEO
With 30 years of paper industry experience, Russ became CEO at the formation of Expera. Previously, he was Vice President and General Manager for Thilmany Papers since November 2008. Prior to joining Thilmany, Russ headed the publication division for NewPage as VP – Publication Paper Operations. In that role, Russ was responsible for operations of seven publication paper mills, with more than 4,000 employees annually producing 2.8 million tons of paper and 2.0 million tons of pulp. Earlier, Russ led Stora Enso North America’s fine paper business, a $1 billion sales business with 1,580 employees that produced 1 million tons. He also had responsibility for the North American research, central maintenance and engineering units. Russ received his start here in Wisconsin with a Paper Science and Engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Russ is former Chairman of the Wisconsin Paper Council Board of Directors and continues to serve on the Executive Committee. He also serves on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point College of Natural Resources Advisory Board and the Board of the Paper Science Foundation, as well as the Board of the American Forest and Paper Association based in Washington, DC. Russ was a founding member of the Wisconsin Partnership for a Stronger Economy, a bipartisan working group of job creators and representatives from worker training organizations, economic development groups, educational institutions and labor organizations.
Robyn Buss, Vice President – Sales and Marketing
Robyn began her career in 1991 in the field of financial accounting, but quickly found her love of people and business strategy pulling her to the commercial side of the organization. Robyn transitioned into a sales representative role in 1993 and has since served the company in various sales and marketing leadership roles. She has a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
Ann Funk, Vice President – Procurement and Logistics
Ann brings a diverse background into her role as the leader of the procurement and logistics organizations. Since rejoining the company in 1997, Ann has held leadership roles in sales, marketing and supply chain in addition to her current role. Ann formerly held positions in the sales and supply chain areas as a customer of the legacy Thilmany Papers. With Ann’s experience and Bachelor of Science degree in Business from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, she is an invaluable part of the leadership team at Expera Specialty Solutions.
John Katchko, Vice President – Business Improvement
John’s specialty papermaking experience spans more than 30 years of leading the way in identifying and translating unmet and unarticulated needs into custom and value-added solutions. John has been a part of the Rhinelander and legacy Wausau team since 1988, and helped to develop the new Expera Specialty Solutions. In leading business improvement efforts, John’s career has helped shape several major capital projects and he continues to make big ideas fly as the owner of nine different patents in the areas of specialty papers and surface coatings. John has a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from King’s College in Pennsylvania, and has completed graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Rob Michel, Vice President – Human Resources
Rob has an extensive HR background that spans more than 25 years. He is responsible for leading the Human Resources organization and Expera’s people strategies – helping employees put their big ideas into motion. Rob brings a broad base of knowledge to his role including experience in several manufacturing and distribution companies such as Banta Corporation, Rockwell and Morgan Products, Ltd. Most recently, Rob was the Vice President of Human Resources at Plexus Corporation for their Operations, Global Customer Services and Global Market Development Groups. He holds a Master of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management, both from Eastern Illinois University.
Steve Myers, Vice President Operations – Integrated Mills
Steve joined the company in 2009, bringing a wealth of experience in engineering, chemicals, sheeting and paper mill operations management to the table. Steve proudly serves as Vice President Operations – Integrated Mills. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Paper Science, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Chemistry from Western Michigan University and a Master of Science degree in Paper Science from the Institute of Paper Science & Technology as well as an Executive MBA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Jeff Verdoorn, Vice President Operations & Rhinelander Mill Manager
Jeff has 29+ years of operating experience in the paper industry across a number of papermaking platforms. In 1992, Jeff joined the legacy Wausau Paper and prior to his Rhinelander Mill Manager assignment had responsibility for four different mills simultaneously. Jeff has a Bachelor of Science degree in Pulp and Paper Technology from the University of Minnesota and a Master of Business Administration degree from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Harry Challender, Vice President – Coated Products
Harry Challender joined Expera Specialty Solutions Coated Products division to lead the group as its Vice President. Harry has held several senior leadership positions throughout the paper converting industry, including several years of service in the Industrial Papers segment at Expera’s Thilmany Mill when it was owned by International Paper. Harry has a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Beloit College with continued education from the Kellogg Executive Program at Northwestern University and the Eli Broad Graduate School of Management at Michigan State University.
Gary Garand, Mosinee Mill Manager
Gary began his career in the paper industry in 1993, working for a couple different organizations in the roles of Quality Supervisor, Product Development, Quality Manager and Production and Maintenance Manager. Previously, Gary was the Director of Operations at the Otis Mill in Maine and Vice President Operations at the Mosinee Mill. Currently the Mosinee Mill Manager, Gary is proud to serve this Central Wisconsin community and also represents Expera Specialty Solutions on the Board of Directors for the Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company (WVIC). Gary has a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Maine.
Lee Hammen, Thilmany Mill Manager
Lee began his career in 1996 as a Process Engineer after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a Bachelor of Science degree in Paper Science and Engineering. After holding several manufacturing positions, Lee is now serving as the Thilmany Mill Manager in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. When not at the mill enthusiastically coaching his Thilmany team, he can also be found coaching youth football and basketball and supporting the sporting efforts of his children.
Chris Williams, Nicolet Mill Manager
Chris joined Expera in 1997 after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a Bachelor of Science degree in Paper Science and Engineering. He has held various manufacturing positions throughout Expera’s Nicolet Mill, and has played a key role in improving systems, product development, and safety facility-wide. Chris most recently held the position of Superintendent at Nicolet Mill, and is driven to do still bigger and brighter things as Mill Manager.