2006 Distinguished achievement award: Jan Acker

// Mechanical Engineering

Tags: alumni, Engineers' Day, Jan Acker, ME-Day

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Jan R. Acker 
President and Chief Executive Officer
Placon Corporation
BSME ’76
Madison, WI

Jan Acker’s early technologies benefited the Statue of Liberty and the Space Shuttle. During the Statue of Liberty restoration, workers used liquid nitrogen to freeze the coating away from its surface. Acker patented the process — one of five patents he holds — as an undergraduate. After he completed his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1976, he worked at Rockwell International and helped develop the high-pressure hydrogen fuel pump that is an integral part of the Space Shuttle main engines.

His passion for engineering began as a boy. Following his father to work at John Deere in Horicon, Wisconsin, young Acker rode tractors in test fields and watched other relatives work in manufacturing and assembly. While the experience inspired him to design and build machinery, his seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher helped him set his sights on becoming a mechanical engineer.

Today as president and CEO of thermoformed packaging manufacturer Placon Corporation, Acker is determined to keep the 500-employee company independent and thriving. He launched a strategy to propel Placon into the top-10 industry companies by 2010. The strategy includes expanding operations to China, growing existing retail business and expanding into the food and medical markets, starting a research and development department that includes an alliance with the College of Engineering Polymer Engineering Center, and expanding Placon into the U.S. Southwest and Northeast. While in recent years the nation’s plastics industry has been challenged, Placon more than doubled company sales in less than five years and raised the company’s sales ranking in the thermoforming industry from No. 27 to No. 17. Acker also currently is chair of the major plastics industry trade association.

Under Acker, Placon continues to be a strong community supporter. Placon is a founding member of the Madison Area Business Volunteer Network and is a perennial supporter of the United Way of Dane County. The company sponsored a Habitat for Humanity home build, provides Meals on Wheels drivers, participates in days of caring, and encourages employees to serve on executive boards of non-profits.

Acker and his wife of 22 years, Sara, have three children: Sara Jane, 18; JR, 15; and Allison, 13. He focuses much of his spare time on supporting his children’s scholastic athletic efforts in hockey, soccer, track and football. An all-around athlete who played on the UW-Madison football team for two years, Acker also enjoys playing golf.