2009 Distinguished achievement award: Dean Foate

// Mechanical Engineering

Tags: alumni, Dean Foate, Engineers' Day, ME E-Day

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Dean A. Foate
President and CEO
Plexus Corp.
BSME ’82
Neenah, Wisconsin

Dean A. Foate’s career is marked by his loyalty to a pair of colleagues and the company his father co-founded. After graduating from UW-Madison with his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1982, Foate and his wife, Cindy, left Foate’s two college roommates and closest friends for Indiana, where Foate began his career designing electronic engine and transmission controls for Delco Electronics. However, it wasn’t long before the pair persuaded Foate to return to Wisconsin and join Plexus Corporation. The decision was made easier when Foate and Cindy had a son, Jake, and the family moved back to Foate’s native Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1984.

Foate began working for Plexus on Groundhog’s Day. His father couldn’t believe his son was giving up a secure job in the middle of a recession to work for the small company he had co-founded and retired from. Yet Foate and his friends were determined to become better engineers and leaders to grow the company — and that’s exactly what they did.

Foate held various leadership positions within Plexus, and when he became president of the design and development organization, he decided to seek formal training. He earned a master’s degree in engineering management from the Milwaukee School of Engineering in 1999, graduating with honors.

His business knowledge helped drive the growth and profitability of Plexus, which is now recognized as an industry-leading electronics manufacturing services provider with revenues of approximately $1.7 billion and the best shareholder returns among industry peers. In 2002, Foate was named president and chief executive officer of the company.

Foate credits his engineering education at UW-Madison for the communication and leadership skills he needed to launch his career. He now helps other aspiring engineers as a supporter of FIRST, a program for children to develop technological and leadership skills. He also sponsors a scholarship program and created a Plexus foundation to provide technology support to schools.

Foate is committed to promoting science and technology education in part because he believes engineering is an especially valuable profession for society. “Engineers have changed the world in everything from technology to infrastructure to communication, and engineers can make a significant impact on the quality of life around the world,” he says.

In his spare time, Foate and Cindy gather with friends and family, including Jake and their daughter, Allison, at their cottage in Three Lakes, Wisconsin. Foate enjoys bicycling, downhill skiing, hiking, boating and many other outdoor activities. He also is an avid traveler and has visited more than 25 countries.