Gary Gigante was inspired to pursue engineering after taking a woodworking and metalworking course in high school. He designed a pattern in wood shop to make a casting of an eagle in the foundry lab, and his teachers acknowledged his talents and encouraged him to consider college.
Today, Gigante is the president and CEO of ThyssenKrupp Waupaca Inc., the largest iron foundry in the world.
He began his college career in general engineering at UW-Milwaukee and later decided he wanted to study metallurgical engineering. He transferred to UW-Madison, earned his bachelor’s degree, and immediately went to work at Waukesha Foundry. “After working in it for this long, it’s no longer a job,” he says. “It’s a way of life. I really enjoy it.”
He started out as a metallurgist with responsibility for quality control. In the early 1980s, the Waupaca Foundry produced only grey iron used in cast brake rotors, brake drums, and transmission housings. Gigante was put in charge of introducing ductile iron to the business. Ductile iron castings are a lower-cost alternative to malleable iron castings, steel forgings and steel fabrications. Gigante guided the conversion to success and was immediately made plant manager, a position he held in Marinette from 1986 to 2002.
He was named president and COO in 2004, and assumed his current position as president and CEO of the company in 2007.
It is a demanding environment and Gigante enjoys the challenges it presents. The process in a high-volume foundry is continuous. For example, in one Waupaca plant the cupola melts 120 tons of metal per hour to feed nine molding lines. In total, Waupaca Foundry melts 9,500 tons each day. “For the melting process to be stable the molding lines must have high reliability, so we work very hard to make sure equipment is operable above 90 percent,” he says. “The controls and the level of systems we use are equal to or better than most other industries. You wouldn’t think of that in a foundry, but it really is very high-tech.”
Currently, Gigante is focused on making the foundry as green as it can be. The company tries to recycle 100 percent of all the materials and waste it generates. Currently, it reuses about 90 percent of the water, 80 percent of the sand and 100 percent of metallics. “We’re probably the largest recycler in the Midwest,” he says.
Gigante and his wife, Jeanne (also a metallurgist and 1977 UW-Madison graduate), live in Waupaca and have been married for 33 years. They have two children, Teresa, 2004 UW-Madison graduate, and Nicholas.