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New $3M distinguished chair at UW-Madison honors influential alumnus

January 28, 2015 By Scott Gordon

A newly established professorship will allow the University of Wisconsin–Madison to hire new faculty to build upon its widely recognized leadership in chemical and biological engineering.

Supported by a $3 million commitment from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), the Ernest Micek Distinguished Chair in Chemical and Biological Engineering will honor a UW–Madison graduate with a long record of service to UW–Madison. Ernest Micek, a native of Arcadia, Wisconsin, earned his UW–Madison bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1959, then went on to work at Cargill Corporation, starting as a shift supervisor and then working his way up to CEO, a capacity he served in from 1995 to 1999.

Photo: Ernest Micek

Ernest Micek

During his time at Cargill, Micek played a major role in dramatically expanding and refocusing the company’s operations, turning it from a producer of raw commodities into a global supplier and distributor of processed food products. As part of the executive team that built up Cargill into one of the world’s most respected companies, Micek also became an influential voice in international trade and other affairs, serving on many trade committees and voicing support for federal research funding. After retiring from Cargill in 2000, he continued to work in the private sector as president of Perth Corporation from 2002 to 2007, in addition to serving on the boards of other companies.

Throughout his career and into his retirement, Micek individually and Cargill as a company made significant contributions to UW–Madison, supporting multiple scholarships and serving on the WARF board as well as the CBE visiting committee. At WARF alone, Micek contributed 17 years of service, at different times serving on WARF’s Investment Committee, the Start-up Equity Committee, and the Patent and Licensing Committee, and chaired the Audit and Personnel Committee. He was a founding member — and for a time, chair — of the board of the Morgridge Institute for Research. Micek received the 1991 Distinguished Service Citation from the UW–Madison College of Engineering, and has received honorary doctorates from the UW–Madison and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

“Ernie’s many successes testify to the value of a great UW education,” says Carl Gulbrandsen, managing director of WARF. “He harnessed his chemical engineering degree and went on to transform an industry. As a member of the boards of trustees for WARF and the Morgridge Institute for Research, he’s graced our organizations with his vision, private-sector expertise and friendship.”

“Ernie has been a longtime friend and contributor to the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering,” says Thomas Kuech, the Milton J. and A. Maude Shoemaker and Beckwith-Bascom professor and chair of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

“His advice and help to the department over the many years has been helped move the department further. This gift in Ernie’s name continues his legacy of support and helping to move the department into the future.”

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