September 19, 2023 Spotlight on Badger Alumni: Mechanical Engineer Randy Homel Written By: Caitlin Scott Departments: Mechanical Engineering Categories: Alumni Randy Homel (BSME’85) is now the CEO and Chairman of The Foth Companies, but he was once a badger engineering student attending lectures and lab sections. Fun fact: there are currently 54 UW-Madison graduates working at Foth, and many more who have retired or serve on the board. Among them, they have 15 different majors and between 1 and 44 years of experience. Homel lives in the Green Bay area and serves on our ME industrial advisory board. He is hosting a College of Engineering alumni event at Foth in De Pere on September 27th. Reach out to us if you’d like more information! Tell us about your time on campus! Which degree(s) do you have? To say I am a proud UW-Madison alum is absolutely true and an understatement. Having graduated in ’85, the campus, the BSME program, many of the professors, and certainly the personal style looks very different today. But one thing hasn’t changed – UW-Madison offers a stellar student and alumni experience. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering, and during my time on campus, I operated with a work hard-play hard mentality, which has carried with me throughout my career. I have countless fond memories, and many lifelong friendships that took root during my time there, including two influential professors who mentored and guided me through the program: Frank Fronczak for dynamics systems and David Foster for thermodynamics. I always admired Frank’s teaching style and his ability to relate to students while showing an amazing sense of humor. Dave is a “motor head” like me, and that shared interest helped me love thermodynamics, which was often referred to as the “weeder class” at the time. UW-Madison graduation with wife Linda Since 2020, I’ve had the honor of sitting on the UW Madison Mechanical Engineering Industry Advisory Board (IAB), and recently had an opportunity to reconnect with both professors, which was a really great experience. As a board member, I have the privilege of helping shape the current curriculum, review senior design projects, and being a voice for the needs of engineering related employers. I am beyond grateful to be able to give back to my Alma Mater where I established my engineering roots. What can you share with us about your career path? My career has taken many turns over 44 years with the Foth Companies. My journey began with an internship at Foth Infrastructure & Environment in 1979 (as a senior in high school), where I provided seasonal support in various roles, gaining valuable experience in wastewater lab work, land surveying, and software development for structural design analysis of trusses and large tanks. This hands-on experience was very formative in my early career, and I highly recommend that students prioritize internships in their work experience. I stayed with Foth upon graduation in 1985, as a project engineer for Foth Production Solutions, and worked on machine development projects as a mechanical engineer, specializing in analysis and automation. From there, I had the opportunity to take on roles other than technical engineering, including serving as a project manager, client team leader, business unit leader, chief operating officer, and for the past 11 years, as CEO and Chairman of the Foth. I am proud of my journey at Foth, an organization that lives up to our purpose: solving our clients’ toughest science and engineering challenges. I never originally set out to become a CEO, but it was the people around me who helped guide me to where I am today. What I am most proud of is the opportunity to be a cheerleader, both internally for our members and externally for our clients. In addition, I am proud of our 85 years of operating as a member-owned organization where our people show their passion for making our client partners successful. It has been amazing working alongside 670+ employees (who we refer to as members) in 28 different office locations to deliver science and engineering to an evolving list of markets, clients, and communities. Today, Foth is a full-service engineering firm serving communities and private industries. We deliver technical excellence in three main areas: infrastructure, environment, and manufacturing. We combine science, engineering, and technology with ingenuity and passion to build enduring client partnerships and create bright futures for our members. What are some of the experiences throughout your career that have been most interesting to you? What are you most proud of? Early in my career I assumed I would maintain a technical career path, but someone saw skills in me beyond technical engineering and highly encouraged (maybe pushed me a little) to pursue a client development role. Initially I thought there is no way I would enjoy that side of the business, but I realized that focusing on solving problems vs. selling a product was the key to being successful in the role. It surprised me how easily I was able to combine my passion for technical work with helping people solve problems. Eventually, I helped formalize this combined role into what we internally refer to as a “client team leader” and integrate it successfully across the organization. My advice is to be open to trying different paths, then stick with the one you can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning to do. Getting out of your comfort zone and taking a bit of risk will help you immensely in your career. Ribbon cutting ceremony for Conagra Brands Completion of Conagra Brands facility Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work on complex projects that have made a big difference and moved companies and communities forward. We recently completed the single largest project in our history which was design/building a greenfield new food plant for Conagra Brands in central Minnesota. This project presented previously unencountered challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting supply chain disruptions, and the coordination of more than 100 Foth members and hundreds of subcontractors during a time of lockdowns, quarantines, etc. Something I knew to be true, which was proven during this project, is the dedication and ingenuity of our members. Their ability to navigate new challenges at every turn and develop solutions to address those challenges made all the difference on this project. Because of them, we were able to deliver the entire project within 1 day of the original schedule set before the start of the pandemic. It truly was a triumph! Foth participating in the UW-Madison Engineering Expo One of the unexpected joys of a long career at one company is seeing our members grow and develop and find what makes them happy in their careers. It is amazing to see people hit their stride and reach their full potential. In addition, I am very proud of our efforts to give back to the STEM field through opportunities like the UW-Madison Engineering EXPO, volunteering for and sponsoring robotics teams, and shadow days to expose students to our work. We are rooted in science and engineering, so we recognize this is where we can help younger students discover the power of STEM and learn early that there is a place for them in these fields. In fact, in 1990, Steve Van Dyke, our former Foth CEO, joined forces with local science professionals and peers to create the Einstein Project, which connects the classroom with industry partners to make science education more engaging and impactful. Today the program is flourishing and shares the STEM Innovation Center on the UW-Green Bay campus. I feel grateful to have had a front-row seat to Foth’s journey to becoming the largest science & engineering firm headquartered in the state of Wisconsin. The evolution of our business has been equal parts intention and good fortune. By focusing on solving problems and remaining nimble, we’ve successfully established greater confidence, trust, teamwork, and collaboration with our clients. I truly believe that’s the formula that led to taking on more and more complex challenges. We have become quite comfortable taking on first of kind projects with our client partners and driving those to success. Please discuss how UW shaped what you may be instilling in your family. You don’t have to look far to see the impact UW-Madison has had on my family. The values of hard work, having fun, and cheering for the Badgers are all staples in our home. In fact, my son is now in his senior year as a mechanical engineering student at UW-Madison. He exhibited early skills in being mechanically inclined, which has been a joy to watch. We share a bond over our love of cars and racing track days – which we have done together for years. Homel and his son Adam share a love of cars and racing track days. When he was preparing to enter college, I admit it was exciting to think of him attending UW-Madison. But I also wanted him to forge his own path. He applied to several great schools, but really fell in love with Madison, and the program at UW fit his interests so well. He interned at Foth for two summers, then, following some encouragement from a mentor at Foth, he pursued a co-op position in a manufacturing setting to gain a different perspective. My wife, Linda, and I are extremely pleased that he has experienced a quality education that will prepare him for a successful and fulfilling career.