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February 12, 2021

Jeffrey J. Rotsch: 2020 Distinguished Achievement Award recipient

Written By: Staff

 Jeffrey Rotsch

Jeffrey J. Rotsch (BSIE ’72)
Retired president, worldwide sales, General Mills

Jeffrey is an industrial engineer and visionary leader who drove global business success in the consumer foods industry.

How did you choose to attend UW-Madison?

Choosing to attend the UW-Madison was an exceptional opportunity to not only get a prestigious engineering education, but also gave me a chance to play college hockey with an up-and-coming team. In 1968, Bob Johnson was building the UW Badger hockey program from its infancy into becoming one of the elite college hockey teams in the country. So the chance to play for the Badgers came at an exciting time. Plus, I fell in love with the campus when I made my recruiting visit. Finally, Madison was a short drive from Minneapolis, so my parents could attend all the games. It all added up to being a great place to attend a top school and play top-level hockey.

How did your experience in the College of Engineering shape your career path?

For me, industrial engineering was a great discipline and area of study. UW-Madison had been on the cutting edge of computer work, plus the IE degree touched on a number of different engineering disciplines, so it gave me a very broad exposure. Also, I was fortunate to spend a week working with someone in industrial engineering my senior year. Through that experience, I realized my interest and expertise were more in the marketing side of the business. So after I received my IE degree, I stayed on as assistant hockey coach of the Badgers and got my MBA at UW. Being able to marry the quantitative reasoning and the problem-solving skills from engineering with the MBA marketing skills was extremely helpful in advancing my lifelong career at General Mills.

Who has played the greatest role in your achievements?

Whatever modest success I have had in life, I owe to a number of people. My parents were extremely supportive of all I did, plus they gave me a solid “compass” for life. I was very fortunate to have had two incredible hockey coaches. Both my high school coach, Dave Peterson, who was head coach of two Olympic teams (1988, 1992), and my Badger coach, Bob Johnson, who was head coach of three NCAA championship teams, one Olympic team (1976), and a Stanley Cup champion, were amazing people. My guess is nobody can claim coaching like that … nobody. On the education side, my IE advisor, Professor Charles Faulkner, and on the MBA side, Professor John (Jack) Nevin, were both a big help. Once I got into the business world, I had some great bosses who became mentors. Plus, I can’t forget my wife of 45 years, who has always been my greatest supporter.

Can you share are a few of your best memories from your time, overall, at UW-Madison?

The highlights and memories are many and all very positive. Graduating with an IE degree and an MBA from the UW-Madison rank high, because we all know what is demanded to get those degrees. Also, a number of my memories revolve around UW hockey with lifelong friendships with the other players and coaches. From a hockey team standpoint, I was able to participate in three NCAA Frozen Four championships. And from an individual hockey standpoint, being co-captain of the Badgers, being one of only six college players to be named to the 1972 All-American team, and being the first Badger ever to be drafted in the NHL were all great honors. While still at Madison, being able to play for the two U.S. national teams in world championships was unforgettable. Plus, who can forget singing or hearing Varsity at every game?

Any family members you’d like to mention?

I was able to meet my wife, Chris, who was a retailing major, at UW-Madison, and we got married in 1976. My daughter, Molly, who is a UW-Madison MBA, works for Bloomin’ Brands in marketing. My son, Andrew, works for BIC International in sales and is truly a Badger at heart, although his college degree isn’t from Madison. Finally, we were fortunate to have our first grandchild, a future Badger named Lily, in 2020.