Blank excited about Foxconn partnership possibilities

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who talked to Foxconn executives over dinner at the governor’s mansion this month, says she’s excited for the possibility to partner with the company.

Blank said she pitched UW-Madison’s top-ranking engineering and business programs, including one of the country’s top supply chain management programs — something Foxconn “cares a great deal about.”

Blank said once the Foxconn hiring managers learn “what we offer here at UW-Madison,” the company will hire more of its graduates in places beyond southeast Wisconsin. Those jobs, she added, could involve being based in other countries and entering the “global workforce” of top engineers and business execs.

“This is the type of career you want our students to set themselves up for,” she said.

Foxconn asked whether UW-Madison could cross-train students in engineering and supply chain management, and she said it would a “very easy program” to put together.

Siemsen, the UW-Madison business professor, said that’s already happening to some extent but the Foxconn announcement gives them a chance for both departments to work together more closely.

He said he’ll also focus on helping develop Foxconn-related opportunities for students — and perhaps bring a Foxconn representative onto the center’s board. Further engagement with officials, he said, will help convince Foxconn that “we have willingness and ability to provide so much more” so they can partner with Wisconsin companies.

“I will try to approach them, see if I can get them engaged,” he said.

Blank said the workforce discussions with Foxconn are at “the very beginning stages” but she hopes they’ll have more detailed conversations soon.

“How big this will be, I don’t know, but we’re well set up, I think, to deal with it,” she said.

Blank also said other opportunities exist for research partnerships with Foxconn, particularly with the UW Carbone Cancer Center.

Paul Carbone, the late UW-Madison oncologist, spent time in Asia helping develop the oncology profession in countries like Taiwan, where he advised the National Taiwan University, according to Susan Lampert Smith, a spokeswoman for the UW Carbone Cancer Center.

He met oncologist Ann-Lii Cheng while he was there, who then came to UW-Madison to train for two years — overlapping with Howard Bailey, who now is the director of the UW Carbone Cancer Center. Cheng now leads the National Taiwan University Cancer Center, which gets major funding from Foxconn chairman Terry Gou. Cheng joined Gou in visits to the U.S., including Wisconsin, this summer.

Executives from Foxconn’s medical division also met with Bailey and other Carbone Cancer Center researchers this month, Smith said, talking about ways they can develop partnerships.

“It’s important to us and to our patients that we are open to the best ideas for treating their cancer, whether they originate here or elsewhere in the world,” Bailey said in a statement.

Blank, meanwhile, noted UW-Madison already has strong partnerships with companies like GE Healthcare and that Foxconn could benefit from tapping into UW-Madison’s top group of radiologists to develop “the next generation” of medical devices.