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Mixtacki: WARF's new CFO/COO makes career jump from appliances to science

By Brian E. Clark
For WisBusiness.com

MADISON – In hindsight, Steve Mixtacki wishes he had paid more attention during the few science courses he took back during his undergraduate days at UW-Wisconsin.

Especially now that he is the chief financial and operating officer at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

A few weeks into his new job, Mixtacki -- the former senior vice president and chief financial officer of American TV and Appliance of Madison -- says he is learning something new every day about WARF.

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“This is my first involvement with anything on the scientific level,” acknowledges Mixtacki, who earned his degree in accounting.

At first blush, it would appear that the two organizations couldn’t be more different.  

American TV has 15 retail stores, two distribution centers and a service center. This year, it will do about $415 million in sales.

WARF, by contrast, is the nonprofit, technology transfer office at UW-Madison that handles patents and licensing of new discoveries.  Founded in 1925, it provides more than $50 million annually to research and building programs.  Since its inception, WARF has contributed nearly $1 billion to the university.

“We have a really world-class university here and over the years our great scientists have done pioneer work,” he said.

“The goal of WARF was to create a way for those technologies to get developed and benefit mankind.  We don’t just have an economic goal, but a mission goal that goes back to how WARF was founded in the 1920s (when) Prof. Harry Steenbock discovered how to enhance Vitamin D, which cured the childhood disease of rickets.”

In addition, WARF is in charge of the new Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery on campus, which are scheduled to open in December.  The Institutes were funded with grants of $50 million from the state, $50 million from WARF and $50 million from UW-Madison alumni John and Tashia Morgridge.  

“It was more than a little leap to make this kind of job switch,” said the 55-year-old Mixtacki, who was with American TV for 29 years.

“But I had concluded a couple of years ago that I wanted to try to do something different,” he said. “So I’d summoned up the courage to do that and I had decided to retire from where I was ... so I could go out and look around for something I really wanted to do.”

“After that, I stumbled across the WARF posting and things developed from there.”

Mixtacki said the biggest difference organizationally is that WARF has a charitable mission to donate huge amounts of money, while his former employer operated to make a profit for its owners.

“I just hope that I can help some way in the stewardship of WARF to help grow our support to the university,” he said.

Though much is different, Mixtacki said there are also similarities in how WARF and American TV are operated. 

“Most organizations run effectively through people, trying to knit them together into effective systems,” he said.

“Management tools aren’t dramatically different in for-profit vs. not-for-profit organizations, so at least the core of the functions are similar. It’s the product of the functions that is the one that is a lot different.”

Mixtacki said he’s glad he landed at WARF.

“I’m too young to really retire,” he said. “And my wife got a look of horror at the thought of me being home all the time.

“I’m lucky because every day I get to learn new stuff,” he said. “And I have a tremendous amount to learn before I’m going to be as effective as I want to be for WARF. 

“But I’m impressed by the great people I’m getting to opportunity to work with. And this is a great opportunity for a second career.”

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