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Original Hilmar Cheese CEO retires after 31 years
Son of founding farmer to assume new title as CEO
Hilmar Cheese Ahlem
Hilmar Cheese Company former chief operating officer David Ahlem inherited the title of CEO on Tuesday. - photo by Photo Contributed

After three decades that included the transformation of Hilmar Cheese Company from a small 12-dairy family operation into a worldwide leading producer in cheese and whey products, CEO John Jeter felt that it was finally time to retire.

“You reach that stage where there’s a good group of people coming up in the company, so it just felt like time for me,” said Jeter. “I had been there 31 years. I felt that it was a good run.”

Former chief operating officer David Ahlem inherited the title of CEO on Tuesday following Jeter’s retirement announcement. Ahlem is also the son of Chuck Ahlem, who is one of the company’s founding farmers.

Among other things, Ahlem said that he looks forward to working with a “first class team of people who do amazing things each and every day.”

“At the end of the day I hope we can improve lives in the communities in which we operate by making our customers and the dairy farmers who supply us more successful,” said Ahlem.

Ahlem said that he plans to continue the success created by his predecessor by investing in people and bringing passion and commitment to his new position.

“I love this business and the people in it,” said Ahlem.

Hilmar Cheese Company was founded in 1984 after 12 Central California dairy families sought to maximize the value of their Jersey cows’ high solids milk. The following year, the company received milk from 15 local family dairy farms and made three vats of cheese, as well as hosted tours of the new facility and packed the first cheese gift packs.

“I think we were in the right place at the right time. We were very fortunate,” said Jeter. “A lot of things went our way and I think a lot of people worked extremely hard. It’s a great culture and people work together well.”

Today, the company processes more than 21 million pounds of milk daily that it receives from more than 230 dairies and produces more than 2.4 million pounds of cheese, including Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, Colby, Colby-Jack, flavored Jacks, Mozzarella and Hispanic cheeses, each day.

Over the years, the company, which employees 1,200 people, grew to serve customers in more than 50 countries from its two manufacturing facilities in Hilmar and Dalhart, Texas. The company’s Hilmar location annually produces more cheese and whey from one site than any other manufacturer in the world.

Hilmar Cheese also recently announced plans to continue investing in its Dalhart manufacturing site by increasing cheese capacity and adding 500 pound barrel production. The facility currently processes cheese into 40 pound blocks and 640 pound blocks.

The new expansion will increase production capacity by 20 percent when completed in 2016. It will also provide flexibility for cheese packaging to better meet customer needs.

Additionally, Hilmar Cheese will be opening the doors of its milk processing facility in the Turlock Regional Industrial Park later this year. The manufacturing process at the Turlock facility will use the most technologically-advanced equipment to capture the water in milk for reuse to conserve precious ground water. Water will be recycled, reused and passed through a preliminary treatment before going to the Turlock Regional Water Quality Control facility. 

 “I just look back on the wonderful people I got to work with and do business with, it’s been a delight,” said Jeter. “It’s been a dream job.”

Jeter said that he hopes to see the company continue to create beneficial change in the communities it serves, including inspiring minds to learn and grow, fostering healthier lives for generations to come, improving community resources and dedicating to the arts.

“I just think that the larger we get, the more we really that we really exist for the benefit of a lot of people—our customers, suppliers, employees, their families, and the communities we operate in,” said Jeter. “It is very evident that we need to do more of that. We need to be a benefit to all stakeholders and create beneficial change.”

Jeter said that while his post-retirement plans include more traveling, one thing he won’t be doing is worrying about the well-being of his company.

“David is a great guy and he’ll do a great job of it. I am very confident that’s he’s going to do extremely well,” said Jeter. “He has a lot of great people to help him.”