Terry D. Gerhardt
Vice President of Corporate Technology
Sonoco Products Co.
Exec MBA ’99, PhDEM ’79, MSEM ’74, BSMetE ’72
At UW-Madison, Terry D. Gerhardt discovered that jogging to Picnic Point and relaxing with friends on the Union Terrace balanced the long hours spent studying Elasticity Theory and Applied Mathematics. During his 20-year research career, Gerhardt focused these theoretical principles on wood and paperboard structures and developed new products and design methods that are now used globally.
As vice-president of corporate technology at Sonoco, Gerhardt’s responsibilities include identifying and pursuing emerging technologies that provide new business opportunities and competitive advantage. Sonoco is a Fortune 1000 packaging company with 295 locations in 33 countries.
Gerhardt’s success story began with four degrees from UW-Madison: a bachelor’s degree in metallurgical engineering, an MS and PhD in engineering mechanics and an Executive MBA. He credits Mechanics Professors Alois Schlack for encouragement to pursue graduate work and Shun Cheng for illustrating the value of fundamental approaches in solving research problems. While conducting research at Forest Products Laboratory, Gerhardt developed an accurate method to compute stress concentrations in anisotropic materials using complex variable theory. This led to a design methodology for notched, wood beams now called the Gerhardt CFHS Theory in the engineering literature. This methodology is used internationally to design wooden pallets.
In 1985, Gerhardt joined Sonoco in South Carolina to start a solid mechanics research program focused on structural behavior of products converted from recycled paperboard. In 1987 he returned to Madison to establish, staff and manage a satellite Sonoco R&D location at the UW Research Park. Mechanics findings from the Madison team have been patented and commercialized into Sonoco products in Asia, Europe and the U.S. After a series of promotions, including senior research fellow, Gerhardt returned to South Carolina in 2000 to assume his current role.
For seven years, Gerhardt served as coach of the MathCounts team at Madison’s Jefferson Middle School. For this activity, he was honored with a Distinguished Service Award from the Madison Metropolitan School District and a Teacher of the Year Award from the Wisconsin Society of Professional Engineers.
Gerhardt’s wife, Teri, also took MBA courses at UW-Madison. Their son Spencer received his philosophy degree here in 2000; their daughter Teena is a math major at Stanford University.