Category: Alumni Spotlight

Jim Trethewey ’67 – A Different Route to Success

"A really good education is your ticket to opening up opportunities. When opportunities struck, I was well prepared to take advantage of them.” Jim Tretheway '67

Taking “the road less traveled” takes courage, especially for a college student. Many students come to Michigan Tech for engineering, but an elective can lead to a different career path. Such is the story of Jim Trethewey.

Trethewey, from Ironwood, began as a mechanical engineering major. Then he took an accounting elective from Professor Sam Tidwell. Because he did well in the course, Tidwell encouraged him to change majors. After some soul-searching, Trethewey switched to accounting.

As an undergraduate, Trethewey was involved in Theta Tau fraternity and intramural sports. His academic achievements led to the honorary accounting fraternity Kappa Sigma Iota. “I made many good friends and liked the students’ work ethic,” says Trethewey. “And, in my career, it turned out to be a very good thing to have a mix of business and technical courses.”

After graduating, Trethewey accepted a position as an auditor for Copper Range, a copper mining concern. He next joined Cleveland-Cliffs (now Cliffs Natural Resources), an iron ore mining company in an exciting growth period, as a financial analyst in its Ishpeming office.

Cleveland-Cliffs offered Trethewey a wide variety of opportunities. From Ishpeming to Ontario to Cleveland, Trethewey worked in positions of increasing responsibility and became vice president-controller and chief accounting officer. Along the way, he also earned his MBA from Baldwin- Wallace College.

In his final years with Cliffs, Trethewey was senior vice president of business development and worked with the senior corporate team in reshaping the company, adding international experience to his career. He retired in 2007.

Looking back, Trethewey says, “A really good education is your ticket to opening up opportunities. When opportunities struck, I was well prepared to take advantage of them.”

Being open to different types of jobs within a company is helpful, as many newly learned skills could be transferred to other areas, he says. “Mobility is also important. Don’t tie yourself down to one location.”

Being involved in both professional and community organizations has also been important to Trethewey. He networked with professionals in the American Mining Association, the Society of Mining Engineers, and other industry groups that gave him a broader understanding of his field.

“I worked with community organizations such as United Way and currently serve on the boards of two charities,” says Trethewey. “I was always looking for ways to give back to society. It’s important to stay active in other things besides work so you can expand yourself.”

Trethewey credits a lot of his success to family support, especially from his wife, Dee. The couple divides their time among a winter home in Florida, a summer home in Chautauqua, New York, and a townhouse in Cleveland, where three of their five children and five of their eight grandchildren live.

Trethewey has found time in his busy retirement to continue giving back to Tech. In 1994, he began serving on the School of Business and Economics advisory board, and since 2009 he has served as a trustee of the Michigan Tech Fund.

Trethewey reflects, “My newer role as a trustee lets me deal with the entire University. It gives me an opportunity to participate in activities with other devoted graduates who care where the University is going. We help raise funds for the University, network, and work to form corporate partnerships. These activities are important to maintain sound financial footing and ensure the University continues to advance.”

As an advisor to the School of Business and Economics, he has been involved in AACSB accreditation, which has been particularly gratifying for Trethewey. Providing input on curriculum and meeting with students and faculty have been valuable for him. He is excited about many School and University programs including the Applied Portfolio Management Program (APMP) and Enterprise.

“I like that the School is getting involved directly with corporations and the hands-on nature of these programs,” he says. In addition, Trethewey has started two endowed scholarships for business students from Gogebic County. Other possible contributions are in the planning stages.

“The School of Business and Economics was my foundation, my beginning on the road to success,” he says. “So it’s really important for me to have a part in its growth. The current direction of the School is right on track. Being involved has given me the opportunity to have a voice in where the School is going and ensure it’s constantly getting better. And that’s very fulfilling.”

This article was originally published in Impact, the Michigan Tech School of Business and Economics magazine.


Steve Hicks ’83 – Building a Successful Career in the UP, Naturally

Steve Hicks '83 - CEO of Longyear

“Pure Michigan” is the slogan being used by the state to entice visitors to enjoy Michigan’s many treasures. “Pure UP” is the slogan that could easily be used to describe Steve Hicks and his meteoric rise through a UP company with global impact.

Hicks grew up in Iron Mountain. Always interested in the business world, he came to the School of Business and Economics in 1979 because “Tech was a regional school with an excellent reputation.”

Majoring in accounting, Hicks encountered many memorable experiences, including Professor Sam Tidwell of the red tie accounting fame. “He was an interesting and engaging man and it was always fun to be in his class.”

In addition to Tidwell, Hicks was impressed with the overall quality of all the professors and his business education. “The courses were serious, thorough, and solid. I graduated knowing I had a well-grounded foundation not only in accounting but in finance and economics as well.”

This foundation and his own talent and drive soon landed Hicks a job with J. M. Longyear LLC in Marquette. Longyear is a natural resources company with 165,000 acres of commercial timberlands and a large portfolio of iron ore and other mineral rights in the upper Midwest and Ontario.

Hicks began in the accounting department of Longyear, then became vice president of finance, followed by chief operating officer. In 1999, he attended a concentrated residency program for global executives at the University of Michigan School of Business. In that same year, he became CEO of Longyear.

In the past five years, Hicks has led Longyear in more than $2 billion worth of projects, including a $1.5 billion steel mill and a $350 million cellulosic ethanol facility. Cellulosic ethanol is a biofuel produced from wood, grasses, and other plant materials. The steel mill, Essar Steel Minnesota, is expected to be operational in 2012 and is North America’s first iron mining through steel processing facility.

According to Hicks, Longyear is successful in a modern, global marketplace because the company continues to follow the principles that have guided the Longyear companies for more than a century: creating value, maximizing performance, leveraging opportunities, and encouraging sustainability.

Hick’s own personal strategy for success is simple. “In anybody’s career, you’re going to encounter adversity. I think it’s just a matter of working harder and working smarter. And having fun at what you do. I also had good mentors earlier in my career, people who ran global operations and were senior people in law firms.”

Hick’s long career at Longyear has allowed him to remain in the UP. He has been married to his wife, Shelly, for fifteen years. They have two children: Ellie, age eleven, and Collin, age eight. Living in Marquette, the family has been able to be involved in all the outdoor “Pure UP” things that Hicks loves, including hunting and downhill skiing.

Having an impact in the business world has not been enough for Hicks. He has also been a dedicated alum of Michigan Tech. Currently, he is serving on the Michigan Tech Board of Control and on the Board of Trustees of the Michigan Tech Fund, and, in the past, he was involved with the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science advisory board.

According to Hicks, “I wanted to serve on the Boards to give back and share my experiences and knowledge to assist the University in implementing its vision and strategy. It has been rewarding working with the dedicated men and women who serve on the Board. Clearly everyone whom I’ve been associated with in this tenure has had Michigan Tech’s best short-term and long-term interests in mind.”

Looking ahead, Hicks feels very positive about Michigan Tech’s future and the future of the School of Business and Economics.

“I’m very comfortable with Michigan Tech’s strategy. I think it’s the right strategy for the right time. Michigan Tech is involved with a lot of research and science that, given the current state of the world, will reach emerging markets. The School of Business and Economics has made strategic alignments across the University, taking an integral part in leading innovation to the next step of commercialization. Whether it is in freshwater studies or alternative energy or any other engineering or science disciplines, I’m confident that Tech will be able to help solve the world’s problems and make it better.”

This article was originally published in Impact, the Michigan Tech School of Business and Economics magazine.


Tretheweys Create Endowed Professorship for Portfolio Management Program

James (Jim) Trethewey cites Tech's unique culture as one reason for the generosity he and his wife, Dee, display toward the University.

James and Dolores Trethewey have established a new endowed professorship in Michigan Technological University’s School of Business and Economics.

With a $1.16 million gift commitment, the couple is underwriting the James and Dolores Trethewey APMP Professorship. The inaugural recipient is Associate Professor Dean Johnson, founding director of the Applied Portfolio Management Program.

The gift supports the hands-on, real-life investment program that Johnson launched in 1998 with the Tretheweys’ backing. Finance students manage an investment portfolio of approximately $1.2 million with funds provided by a number of donors through the Michigan Tech Fund.

“This is a great and unexpected honor,” Johnson said. “I already owe them so much. Jim and Dee’s support from the first day I proposed the APMP was key to its starting. And, they have also entrusted APMP students with managing their scholarship funds for years.”

Mr. Trethewey graduated from Michigan Tech in 1967 with a BS in Business Administration. He spent most of his professional career at Cleveland-Cliffs, now Cliffs Natural Resources, retiring in 2007 as senior vice president for business development. The family devised the professorship to promote the APMP, he said, but there are many reasons for their support of Michigan Tech.

“Do you give because of the great administration and leadership exemplified by [University President] Glenn and Gail Mroz, who seem to give every waking moment to Tech?” Trethewey asked. “Or because deans like Darrell Radson and Gene Klippel before him built successful new programs? Or do you give because you have professors like Dean Johnson who have a dream and a vision and the fortitude to carry them out? Or, do you give because you have great students who bring these programs to national prominence?

“Or, is it the Tech culture, which is unique: hard work, ethics, creativity and intellect, all rolled into one? There’s an aura about Michigan Tech. It’s a special place.”

All those things matter, he said, but the impetus behind the Tretheweys’ giving can be summarized by two questions: 1. Did Michigan Tech improve your career and add to the standard of living of your entire family? 2. Do you have the desire and capability to give?

“The answer to both is a resounding yes,” said Trethewey. “Which leaves us with three more questions: How, when and how much?”

“When” is relatively easy. Tech is included in the Tretheweys’ estate plan, but they are also providing substantial annual cash gifts to support the APMP. “We wanted to see the fruits of our labors,” he explained.

“How” and “how much” are a little more complicated. “It’s like going into Walmart for a quart of milk and later coming out with $200 of packages,” he said. “We haven’t quite got our arms around our giving. I think we’re still mulling it around in the aisles of Walmart.”

Johnson is thrilled that the Tretheweys have pulled the APMP off the shelf. “It gives us a permanent source of funding,” he said. “I’d been scratching my chin, wondering how we were going to pay for student travel, with the stock market way down.”

APMP students travel for national investment competitions and, as top finishers, were once invited to open the New York Stock Exchange. Among their other destinations, they also visit the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and attend Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in Omaha, Neb.

“And we also give them scholarships,” Johnson said. “To fund all this has been a struggle, but now to have Dee and Jim recognize that need and meet it is just amazing.

“It’s also very humbling to have somebody recognize my dream and give it such incredible support,” Johnson added. “I’ve just been doing what I thought was the right thing to do: educate students.”

For the Tretheweys, that’s what their gift is all about. “When you pass through the halls of Michigan Tech, you come out with a first-class ticket to anywhere you want to go,” Trethewey said. “The route and the destination are up to the individual. And special programs like the APMP are examples of the tremendous role universities play in our society. We all have an obligation to help them.”

Trethewey is a member of the Michigan Tech Fund Board of Trustees, the Academy of Business and Economics, the APMP Advisory Board, and the School’s National Advisory Board.

Written by Marcia Goodrich, senior writer for University Marketing and Communciations.

This article was originally published on Michigan Tech News.


To Sir, With . . . Ties: Resurrecting the Sam Tidwell Tradition

Hollywood has created many movies about dedicated and inspiring teachers. From To Sir, With Love to Mr. Holland’s Opus, we have seen how teachers have changed the lives of students in countless ways. Michigan Tech’s School of Business and Economics has its own teaching legend. Although his story will likely never appear on the silver screen, memories of Accounting Professor Sam Tidwell continue to echo through the School’s halls. Tidwell died in 2002, but his legacy lives on in each student who came into his classroom.

A native of Mississippi, Tidwell was often referred to as “Gentleman Sam” for his southern drawl, dry sense of humor, and sophisticated presentation. He was interested not only in making the world of accounting more exciting and accessible, but also in teaching his students, many of whom were “rough around the edges,” about manners and professionalism.

Former student Ed Robinson ’66 recalls Tidwell with great affection. “I switched out of engineering and moved to business and accounting because of Sam. . . . He was a student’s professor. His whole interest revolved around the students. I remember spaghetti dinners at his home, his hospitality. He maintained contact with all his students, and that didn’t stop after graduation. He extended himself tremendously. If anyone could be held up as a model teacher, it would be Sam Tidwell.”

Paula (Kauppi) Seiter ’70 was the first woman to pass the CPA after graduating from Michigan Tech. “I found Sam Tidwell’s enthusiasm for accounting contagious, and it inspired me to pursue a career in accounting,” she says. “I have fond memories of Sam: the enthusiastic professor, southern gentleman, and all-around great person.”

“I still have hanging on my office wall a letter, a full page, before word processors, that he sent me at the completion of my freshman year,” says Dan Greenlee ’74, Michigan Tech’s chief financial officer. “He recognized my good grades and encouraged me to continue within the accounting major. He also invited me to stop by his office anytime and discuss where the accounting field could take me. His closing line always reminds me how he supported and encouraged his students: ‘I believe that you have all the material necessary to make a significant contribution to the business world, through accounting.’”

Not only did Tidwell make an impression on his many students, he made an impact on the accounting teaching profession. “He was a leader in the field of public school accounting,” says Robinson. “He put on seminars at Michigan Tech every summer for school administrators and caused a massive improvement nationally in public school fund accounting.” Tidwell authored four editions of the first textbook in the field.

Soon after coming to Michigan Tech in 1956, Tidwell started his red tie tradition. He requested that each student send him a red tie after he or she had passed the CPA exam. He then wore the tie, the more garish the better, to class and told his current students about the former student’s success.

Tidwell retired from Michigan Tech in 1984. In 1999, the School of Business and Economics established the Tidwell Center for Business Excellence. The Tidwell Center consists of endowment funds to support accounting scholarships and direct student services, such as counseling, tutoring, and mentoring. In addition, the student lounge and study center was remodeled and now carries his name.

In memory of Sam Tidwell and his dedication to students, the School of Business and Economics is resurrecting the red tie tradition (see above). Once again, each accounting graduate who passes the CPA exam will be asked to send in a red tie.

“A teacher like Sam Tidwell is rare,” says Dean Darrell Radson. “We want to continue to honor Sam and to keep connected with our alumni. We are resurrecting and reinvigorating the tradition to help inspire a new generation of accountants.”

Tie One On—For Sam

The School of Business and Economics is announcing the start of the Tidwell’s Ties Campaign. Alumnus Ed Robinson has agreed to chair the campaign for the ties and for more financial support of the Tidwell Center endowment, as he has done in the past.

The Tidwell’s Ties Campaign will use modern technology to create a virtual display of past and future ties online. This will allow more people to have access to the collection, which is already too large to be physically displayed in the current space. There is also discussion of organizing a “Red Tie Reunion” for alums.

“I am thrilled that Dean Radson has asked me to head the Tidwell’s Ties Campaign,” Robinson said. “Through these literal ties, we, as alums, will continue to strengthen our figurative ties to our School and to each other. It promises to be not only a fitting tribute to Sam Tidwell but a means to ensure that his legacy lives on in the pursuit of educational excellence at the School of Business and Economics at Michigan Tech.”

Alums should look forward to more news from Ed Robinson about the Tidwell’s Ties Campaign in the near future.


Alum Advises First-Years to Dream Big, Embrace Success

John Rockwell, 79' who sat on the panel during the Entrepreneurship discussion.

When John Rockwell ’79 was a student-athlete at Michigan Tech, his dream job was to be an NHL hockey player. It wasn’t until he was 31 that he discovered what he really wanted to do, he told a packed house at the Rozsa Center. Once he figured that out, he never looked back.

Rockwell, the inaugural speaker in Michigan Tech’s new Pattullo Visiting Executive Program, visited campus this week to address the first-year engineering class and meet with faculty and staff. His visit was funded by Scott Pattullo ’81.

While he has built a stellar life for himself in the years since his graduation, Rockwell remembered his undergraduate days fondly. “I envy you,” he told the crowd of incoming students. “The best four, five or six years of your life are ahead of you.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Rockwell was able to indulge his love of hockey as a member of the US Junior National Team and the US Select Team that won the Spengler Cup. It wasn’t until after he joined 3M’s business development wing, however, that he discovered his talent for building companies and commercializing technology.

Rockwell is now founder and managing director of Element Partners, a venture capital and private equity firm that specializes in green technologies. During the last 20 years, he has invested his time and money in numerous green-tech companies, from Luxar, a manufacturer of carbon dioxide lasers, to EdeniQ, a biofuels company now deriving sugars from cellulose.

Each company’s story is different, but they all illustrate principles he shared with the engineering students.

He flashed a PowerPoint: “Technology + Other Things = Innovation”

“Technology is necessary but not sufficient,” he said. “That’s where corporations step in.” In particular, corporations can marshal key resources, such as leadership and management.

“I would rather invest in a great management team with a mediocre product than a great product with a mediocre management team,” he said. Rockwell cited Microsoft and Apple as case studies. Apple’s products are easier to use, but Microsoft triumphed in the marketplace thanks to its superior business plan.

In fact, corporations are responsible for most of the technological breakthroughs that characterize modern life, from cell phones to solar panels, and corporations are the primary manifestation of capitalism. Capitalism is driven by the creation of wealth, he noted, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work on the side of the angels.

“If you want to make the world a better place, develop products that accomplish what you desire and that make money,” Rockwell counseled. The standard wisdom has been that you can’t make a profit on green technology, he said, but Rockwell has disproved that multiple times by keeping an eye on the bottom line. “We invested in technologies that made money for our customers.”

To do that, you need the right people. Jack Welsh, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, spent about 85 percent of his time of hiring, training and attracting people, said Rockwell. “He realized that if he hired the best people, they’d make the company profitable.”

Success is something to be proud of, he told the students. “Making money is good,” he said. “It’s a sign you are creating value and improving the world.”

Rockwell offered a few pieces of advice to achieve that success. “Follow your passion. Dream big. Don’t be afraid to fail,” he said. To prepare for the working world, obtain a broad base of knowledge, from engineering to business and economics. “You should understand how the financial system works,” he said.

“It’s impossible to say” which engineering discipline any individual should choose to follow, he said. “You should go into the discipline you love the most. No one was ever great at anything without loving it.”

No matter how successful you are, he said, always struggle to accomplish something new. “When you are happy and comfortable, look to make a change.” In addition, he said, value family above all else. “Family is the most important thing, by far,” he said. “I’d give up everything for that.”

Finally, he told the students, they are ideally placed.

“The US has the best environment for innovation in the world,” he said. It has the best education system, the biggest markets and the best access to capital.

Most importantly, it rewards risk. “This is our distinctive competence,” he said. But to stay at the top, the US will need to be a leader in making the most complex, high-tech products in the world. That will require engineers.

“There will be one million jobs opening in science and engineering, and we have only 200,000 graduates to fill them,” he said. “I want you all to be great engineers, so you can make the world a better place and help the US economy produce greater opportunities for our people.”

by Marcia Goodrich, senior writer
Originally posted in Tech Today.