George Gellert ’60, MBA ’62, JD ’63, to be honored with the 2016 L. Joseph Thomas Leadership Award

This year’s recipient of the L. Joseph Thomas Leadership Award, George Gellert, is a generous and dedicated “triple red” who credits Cornell with providing a great foundation for life.

George Gellert ’60, MBA ’62, JD ’63

By Jeffrey Gangemi, MBA ’09

George Gellert ’60, MBA ’62, JD ’63, chairman and CEO of the Gellert Global Group, the largest privately owned food importer in the UnitedStates, has been selected to receive the 2016 L. Joseph Thomas LeadershipAward, Johnson’s highest honor. The award recognizes alumni for their exceptional demonstration of vision and leadership, sound business sense, and commitment to community.

Members of Johnson’s leadership team and the JohnsonAdvisory Council selected Gellert “for his longevity, success, and dedication to ethical business practices, and for his unfailing commitment to Johnson and the broader Cornell community. He sets an inspiring example that all business people can emulate,” said Johnson Dean Soumitra Dutta.

Gellert is a “triple-red” who earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and JD degrees from Cornell in an impressive seven years. In that time, he ran several on-campus businesses and also completed Cornell’s ROTC program. In addition, Gellert ran track and played football for Big Red. AfterCornell, he took his background in law and finance to a job at the U.S.Securities and Exchange Commission and from there on to the Pentagon. During that time, Gellert’s father-in-law Leon Rubin, who had started Atalanta TradingCorporation in 1945, approached the up-and-comer to come work for him. Gellert eventually accepted the job.

When Gellert took the helm, Atalanta primarily imported canned hams from Poland. In 1971, Gellert convinced Rubin to take the company public to spur growth. Since 1976, Gellert has been running the company, whichi s now comprised of 10 separate operating companies with a combined $1 billion in revenue. He took the company private again in 1980, enabling him to build one of the most successful family-owned businesses in the country.

Atalanta is still the flagship brand, but the group has moved far beyond ham into specialty cheeses and groceries, including seafood, nuts, and dried fruits as well as canned and frozen fruits and vegetables. The group’s activities also include restaurant operations and real estate investments. Growth – both organic and through acquisition – has been consistent throughout the years since Gellert took over from his father-in-law. He says one of his biggest breaks came about 16 years ago, when he bought two companies from ConAgra Foods and sealed the company’s status as a market leader.

Gellert says his Cornell education “was a great foundation for my life,” and that the business school had some amazing professors, many of whom he remembers by name and credits with helping him grow his business. “Some of the things that they ingrained in our heads I still remember. I think ofCornell every day,” Gellert says.

With so many of his family members affiliated withCornell, that is no small wonder.

Gellert and his three brothers earned Cornell degrees and his own three children are alumni, as are eight nieces and nephews. “If you cut any of us, we all bleed Cornell red,” says Andy Gellert ’89, George’s son and president of the Gellert Global Group. Andy joined the family business shortly after graduating and now oversees several of the operating companies, as does his brother, Tom Gellert ’94, MBA ’99, JD ’00. “Everyone really appreciates Cornell and has gotten a lot out of it,” Andy says.

The Gellerts’ relationship with Cornell extends far beyond their student days. George Gellert has served on the Cornell Trustee Council and continues to serve as a Presidential Councilor and on Johnson’s PersonalEnterprise Task Force and Management Oversight Council. In addition, George and his sons have been actively involved with the Entrepreneurship Program and theCollege of Agriculture and Life Sciences. In 2010, the Gellert Family endowed the Gellert Family Professorship of Applied Science and Management. In 2015, the Gellert Global Group endowed a food science research chair in the Department ofFood Science. Andy serves on the Food Science Advisory Board, and Tom serves on a CALS advisory board and is a member emeritus of the Dyson School AdvisoryCouncil.

The Johnson community will honor George Gellert and present him with the L. Joseph Thomas Leadership Award at Party on Park onMay 16 in New York City.