Alumnus gives back by advancing Wisconsin innovation

Posted on 10. Dec, 2012 by in Academic Departments, Alumni, Gift Report, Issues, Mechanical Engineering, People, Research

When Frederick Mancheski spent 35 years building Echlin Inc. into one of the world’s largest automobile parts companies, he would frequently employ a secret weapon in his quest for new technology: The engine experts at the UW-Madison.

As Echlin CEO, the 1948 mechanical engineering alumnus oversaw the Connecticut-based company’s growth from $10 million in annual revenues in 1969 to $3.1 billion in 1996. Mancheski says many of Echlin’s groundbreaking advances in engine efficiency and pollution control came from research partnerships with mechanical engineers Phillip Myers and Otto Uyehara—two of the world’s leading figures in engine research. “I looked at the Wisconsin College of Engineering as my R&D department deluxe,” recalls Mancheski, who retired in 1997. “It was exciting. Phil and Otto had tremendous ideas and they also wanted to see them developed, so we helped each other.”

Frederick Mancheski

Frederick Mancheski

Mancheski says the late Myers and Uyehara both were involved in the early 1970s development of an add-on pollution reduction device that employed ultrasonic waves to create cleaner emissions. The “sonic generator” became one of Echlin’s top products, with millions sold worldwide to help cars meet tough new air pollution standards. Myers and Uyehara also contributed technology that improved auto gas mileage and braking.

Echlin’s boom was fueled by global growth in the automotive industry and by demand for safer, cleaner, higher-performance vehicles. Echlin became the leading supplier of parts for NAPA Inc., one of the household names in auto parts. “We just blossomed, but we had good people helping us,” he says. “I chose to work with UW-Madison back then because I needed to partner with places that have a proven track record of innovation,” Mancheski says. “Today, I am still deeply invested in UW-Madison talent with a number of faculty who are coming out with new products.”

Mancheski supports exciting Wisconsin start-up companies through his investment vehicle, Knox LLC, of Las Vegas. Those include SHINE Medical, developer of medical isotopes from non-nuclear sources to diagnose and treat heart disease and cancer; FluGen, developer of better vaccines and technology to fight influenza; Phoenix Nuclear Labs, a global leader in accelerator-based fusion technology; and Neoclone, which develops high-quality antibodies for therapeutics and diagnostics.

Mancheski, a Stevens Point native, says his best college memory is of his yearlong senior project, which required him to conceive, develop and build a new product. As model airplane aficionados, he and his student partner created the first-ever dual-cylinder model airplane.

Mancheski studied at UW-Madison during the time of the GI Bill, when thousands of World War II veterans returned to pursue college degrees. While still an undergraduate, Mancheski was asked to help meet demand by teaching engineering technical drawing courses. He did so for almost three years until graduating.

He showed entrepreneurial resourcefulness as well during his Madison years, starting a company to help local hospitals meet blood supply needs. He developed a network of returning veterans to donate blood, and since GIs already knew their blood type, it accelerated processing time for hospitals.

After graduation, Mancheski joined the Timken Roller Bearing Company in Canton, Ohio, and later McKinsey & Company in Chicago and New York. Those roles gave him a unique blend of manufacturing and consulting experience that he brought to Echlin in 1963, where he was first hired as vice president of engineering. He became president and COO in 1964, then CEO from 1969 to 1997. When Mancheski retired, the company was producing auto parts in 100 operations spread across six continents, with nearly 30,000 employees.

His leadership earned him many awards, including Financial World magazine chief executive of the year in the automobile parts industry in both 1975 and 1978. He is the only member of the auto industry to receive the top industry award from peers in each of the five major auto industry associations.

Mancheski also received an honorary doctorate of science from UW-Madison in 1996. He received special recognition for his community work as chairman of the board of Connecticut Hospice—the first hospice organization in the United States. That organization essentially spurred the nationwide movement to provide holistic care for patients with irreversible illness. He is still on the board today.

On his involvement with UW-Madison, Mancheski says: “Well, I really feel like I should help keep the place strong. The university has talent and people with insights to improve what industry can offer. Give talented people a good problem to chew on, and they come through most of the time.”

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