PLYMOUTH, WIS. – Lou Gentine said he will retire as chief executive officer of Sargento Foods, Inc. at the end of the year but remain as chairman. Sargento’s board of directors has approved the promotion of Louie Gentine, a third-generation owner, to c.e.o.

Leonard Gentine, Lou’s father, founded the family-owned cheese company, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Lou Gentine became c.e.o. in 1981 and chairman in 1996. During his tenure, company sales increased to $1.2 billion from $80 million and employment increased to more than 1,600 from 300.

Louie Gentine has been president and chief customer officer for the past four years. He began working for the company in high school and performed such tasks as washing trucks, working on production lines and working in accounts receivable and retail sales.

Louie Gentine worked for Sargento while obtaining a bachelor’s of business administration in finance from the University of Notre Dame. Following family succession rules, he then worked outside the company as a commercial lender for three years.

After obtaining a master’s in business administration from Loyola University of Chicago, Louie Gentine returned to Sargento and held management roles in production, procurement and marketing. He was president-consumer products division from 2006-09.

“I am confident and I believe our stakeholders – shareholders, customers, suppliers, communities and employees – are also confident, that Louie is well-prepared to take on these new responsibilities,” said Lou Gentine. “His robust and varied experiences serving in multiple roles throughout his 13-year Sargento career, teamed with knowledge of and relationships within the industry, have prepared him well to lead Sargento forward.”