Former Cargill CEO and CBE alumnus Ernest Micek has passed away

// Chemical & Biological Engineering

Photo of James Dumesic, Ernest Micek and Sally Micek

Professor Emeritus James Dumesic, Ernest Micek and Sally Micek at the investiture of the Ernest Micek Distinguished Chair in Chemical and Biological Engineering in 2016. Credit: Todd Brown.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering graduate, friend and donor Ernest Micek passed away on October 29, 2020 at the age of 84.

Micek, a native of Arcadia, Wisconsin, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in chemical engineering in 1959. From there, he began a 42-year-long career at Minnesota-based food and agriculture corporation Cargill Inc., one of the largest privately held businesses in the United States.

Beginning as a night supervisor in an oilseeds plant in Norfolk, Virginia, Micek worked his way up the corporate ladder to director of the company’s massive corn milling unit. In 1995, he was elected chairman, president and CEO of the company. During his tenure, he helped turn the company from a producer of raw commodities into a global supplier and distributor of processed food products. He served as president until 1998, CEO until 1999 and chairman until his retirement in 2000.

After retirement, Micek used his managerial expertise by serving on the President’s Export Council, Asian-Pacific Economic Council and served as Chairman of the Emergency Committee for American Trade, among many other endeavors.

He also gave back to his beloved university. Micek served on the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation board for 17 years, chairing many sub-committees. He was Director and Chairman of the Morgridge Institute for Research and was a longtime member of CBE’s visiting committee, which provides advice, support and recommendations to the department.

He received an honorary Doctor of Science from UW-Madison in 2000. In 2015 the Ernest Micek Distinguished Chair in Chemical and Biological Engineering was established and awarded to professor (now emeritus) James Dumesic. He also established the Ernie and Sally Micek Scholarship to support undergraduates.

“Ernie was always a friend of the department. He was a very wise man, and gave us a lot of good advice and was very actively engaged with the university,” says Professor Emeritus Thomas Kuech, former department chair, who worked with Ernie on establishing the Micek Chair.

Doug Cameron first met Micek in 1991 when he was an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Wisconsin. Cameron left UW-Madison to start the corporate biotechnology group within Cargill when Micek was CEO. “At the time, his main concerns were for me to make the right professional choice and for Cargill to be supportive of UW,” he says. “Ernie was a wise and humble leader who would listen, question and ask for advice. He always strived to make the people and organizations he worked with better.”

Micek is survived by his wife of 62 years, Sally, as well as four children, ten grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Author: Jason Daley