July 25, 2021
Katie Yeutter, Florida Chamber of Commerce

Photo: Matthew Coughlin

Safety First

Katie Yeutter, Florida Chamber of Commerce

The chamber's No. 2 executive plays a key role during the pandemic

Amy Martinez | 10/28/2020

Two years ago, at an annual gathering of chamber of commerce executives in New Orleans, Mark Wilson met Katie Yeutter. At the time, Yeutter, then CFO and COO of Wisconsin’s chamber of commerce, walked with a limp, the result of a knee injury.

Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida chamber, remembers Yeutter, a four-time Ironman triathlete, telling him how she had gotten the injury. “She was like, ‘Oh, two days ago, I finished my fourth Ironman. I hurt my knee, but I wasn’t about to quit.’ That’s her — ‘give me an obstacle, and I’m going to overcome it,’ ” he says.

A year later, Wilson hired Yeutter to lead the development of the Florida Chamber Safety Council, an initiative to provide workplace safety training to businesses.

Yeutter grew up in Berlin, Wis., the second oldest of eight children. Her father, an orthopedic surgeon, owned a dairy farm. During summers, she’d pick up rocks in the field, mow hay and milk cows. “I always looked forward to going back to school in the fall, and I never looked forward to getting out of school in the spring,” she laughs.

She stayed close to home for college, getting her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and both an MBA and a master’s in accounting from Edgewood College in Madison. She then worked for the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and started her own sustainable beef business. “I had commercial freezers in my basement and my health license and all that,” she says. “I was going to expand that business into vegetables with renewable energy and greenhouses, but then I got a call asking if I’d be interested in working for the state chamber.”

In 2016, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s chamber, hired Yeutter as senior director of finance and operations. By the time she left, Yeutter had become CFO and COO, as well as president of insurance and safety services. Under her leadership, the Wisconsin Safety Council “performed more public and private trainings than ever before” and produced “a record-setting and sold-out crowd at its annual conference” in 2018, according to the WMC.

Last year, when Wilson began looking to create a safety training initiative for the Florida chamber, he approached the National Safety Council, which had no Florida chapter at the time. Wilson sought the council’s advice on whom to hire to lead the initiative. “I said, ‘Who is the best safety leader in the U.S. for a state-level safety effort?’ They said, ‘well, there’s a lady in Wisconsin named Katie Yeutter,’ ” he recalls.

Initially, Yeutter was reluctant to take the job because it involved moving from Wisconsin, she says. She and her husband, Mike, a construction project manager for Boldt, have three sons, ages 2, 5 and 7. “I didn’t have any interest in moving to Florida at the time, but I agreed to help Mark put a strategy together,” she says. “The more I talked to him, I got a good understanding of his leadership style, his drive and vision, and it actually got me quite excited about what we could create in Florida.”

In addition to leading the Florida Chamber Safety Council, Yeutter is now the No. 2 person at the chamber, with the title of chief strategy and operations officer. “Our entire strategic plan over the next five years is really guided by her,” Wilson says. She has been mentioned as a likely heir to Wilson once he leaves or retires. She would be the chamber's first female CEO.

Yeutter, who lives in Tallahassee with her family, wasted little time in getting the word out about the chamber's new safety initiative. In January, the council sponsored an all-female-driven Lamborghini at the Rolex 24, an endurance race at Daytona International Speedway. Yeutter also spent her first few months on the job traveling the state to meet with corporate safety executives, including Greg Hale, chief safety officer at Disney Parks and Resorts, and Mark Morgan, senior human resources manager of corporate safety and workers’ compensation at NextEra Energy. Both serve on the council’s advisory board. “A lot of people on that board have never met each other,” Yeutter says. “You’re talking about individuals who are the best of the best in their industry but they’ve never met. Part of the purpose of the advisory board is to bring that community together to learn from each other.”

Once it’s fully up and running, she says, the council will release a study on the state’s current safety status and launch an annual, statewide safety conference. The coronavirus pandemic has made the council’s focus on workplace safety and health more relevant than ever. In June, it created a website with a section devoted to COVID-19, including a downloadable guide for businesses on opening safely during the pandemic.

“A lot of companies that are small to mid-sized don’t have a safety department. A lot of that falls under human resources or operations,” Yeutter says. “We want to be that resource for them, to say, ‘Here are some protocols to have in place, and by the way, this is what Disney has done,’ so that companies can be safer, healthier and more sustainable.”

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