2004 Distinguished Service Award: Robert Cervenka

// Mechanical Engineering

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cervenka_robert2004Robert F. Cervenka
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Phillips Plastics Corporation
BSME ’58

Robert Cervenka has been at the forefront of innovation in Wisconsin’s plastics industry for more than three decades.

Cervenka, co-founder of plastics industry leader Phillips Plastics Corp., is a 1958 graduate of UW-Madison with a BS in mechanical engineering. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the UW-Stout in Menomonie in 1996.

Following his graduation from UW-Madison, Cervenka worked for Modern Plastics Corp. for two years, then moved on to Northern Engraving in La Crosse, WI. He co-founded Phillips Plastics in 1964 and currently serves as its chairman and chief executive officer. The company is a custom injection molder and decorator with 11 manufacturing plants and a corporate center, technology center and operations center, all in Wisconsin. The company employs 2,200 people.

Cervenka has been a long-time champion of entrepreneurial and technology development in Wisconsin. He served as one of the original members of the Governor’s Science and Technology Council, formed 10 years ago to advance Wisconsin’s economy in high-technology fields. In 1987, he launched the Origen Group, a business incubator that has helped create 10 start-up companies.

Cervenka has also endowed the “People Process Culture” chair at UW-Stout, to focus teaching and research efforts on the people process culture, an organizational environment that creates a strong, positive belief in people. In addition, he co-founded the Ann Marie Foundation, which provides grants and scholarships aimed at promoting educational, humanitarian, cultural, recreational and aesthetic values. The foundation has awarded more than $4 million in scholarships and grants since its inception in 1974. Cervenka and his wife have also endowed the Mike Litvinoff and Ann Cervenka Scholarship program — in honor of their parents — at Phillips High School in Phillips, WI, that provides $2,000 annually for four years for eight students. In addition, Cervenka and his wife funded the Phillips Plastics Discovery Center at the College of Engineering’s Engineering Centers Building, which provides space for student design and construction projects.

Cervenka is a director of the Wisconsin Technology Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the UW-Stout Manufacturing Technology Transfer Board. He has served as a member of the College of Engineering’s Industrial Advisory Board and has continued his membership on the Wisconsin Science and Technology Council. He served as co-chairman of UW-Stout’s Fundraising Drive from 1993-96. He was also named a recipient of the UW-Extension Wisconsin Idea Award in 2002.

Cervenka’s wife, Debbie, works with her husband as an executive at Phillips Plastics Corp.