Contact: Tom Still at 608-442-7557

MILWAUKEE – Robert F. “Bob” Cervenka, who founded Phillips Plastics 40 years ago and guided its growth in a multi-million company with 14 Wisconsin facilities, was awarded the 2005 “Seize the Day” award Tuesday at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference.

Cervenka accepted the award during a noon ceremony at the conference, which is being held at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, 333 W. Kilbourn.

The “Seize the Day” award is not given for technical innovation but for innovative leadership – the ability to take hold of business opportunities and transform them into successes. Over time, candidates for the award will have demonstrated:

Vision: Recognizing opportunities where others do not.
Courage: Vigorous pursuit of opportunities in the face of risk and skepticism.
Adaptability: Rapid and repeated reinvention in response to changing markets.
Persistence: Maintaining optimism and effort in the wake of setbacks.
Resourcefulness:  Overcoming obstacles and finding ways to fund growth.

“Bob Cervenka epitomizes what it means to be an entrepreneur,” said Mark Bugher, chairman of the Wisconsin Technology Council. The Tech Council presents the award along with the Wisconsin Innovation Network and the steering committee of the Entrepreneurs’ Conference, whose members judge the award finalists.

“Over the years, Bob Cervenka has maintained a strong vision for Phillips Plastics in the face of many market obstacles and transitions, all the while adapting to those changes and never giving up hope, even when others might have done so,” Bugher said.

Cervenka was born and raised in Phillips, located in Price County in northern Wisconsin. His parents installed in their son at an early age the importance of a strong work ethic, a trait that would serve Cervenka well as he worked his way through college at the UW-Madison, graduating in 1958 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. In 1964, after working at two plastics companies, Cervenka returned to Phillips to start Phillips Plastics Co. With an initial investment of $52,000 and his shirt sleeves rolled up, he worked side-by-side with people from rural Wisconsin to build one of the largest, privately-held custom injection molding companies in the United States.

It wasn’t always easy going. In fact, Cervenka faced several points in which he doubted he would make payroll, and took out a loan against his family car in order to make ends meet for the fledgling company. With the help of community bankers who knew and trusted him, Cervenka persevered.

Today, Cervenka is the CEO and chairman of the board of Phillips Plastics, a $220-million company that employs 1,500 people within 14 locations. The company has grown at a 20 percent annual rate, on average, by staying ahead of industry trends and adapting through technology. Among the company’s many assets is the Origen Technology Center in Menomonie, which has served as an incubator for new ideas and jobs.

Cervenka has remained steadfast in his commitment to have a company that rewards its people, treats everyone fairly, and gives back to the communities in which Phillips operates facilities. In 1974, he created the AnnMarie Foundation, a philanthropy that has donated more than $5 million to improve the quality of life within those communities.

Cervenka and his wife, Debbie, have also endowed $1.5 million to UW-Stout to develop and teach a curriculum on entrepreneurial corporate culture modeled after the people-oriented Phillips Plastics model. The Cervenkas have also donated $1 million toward creation of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery at the UW-Madison, where there will be opportunities to teach undergraduates and pre-college students about the latest in interdisciplinary manufacturing technologies.

Recognizing the important role the arts play in nurturing a vibrant entrepreneurial culture, each year’s award is a unique art piece, commissioned and sponsored by United States Patent Services, a Wisconsin firm specializing in the recognition of innovation. This year’s award is a creation of Kenosha sculptor Bruce Niemi and is titled “Outside of the Box.” The seven-foot sculpture depicts the dynamism of entrepreneurs who reinvent themselves and their businesses in pursuit of growth.

Niemi is a second-generation sculptor, studying under his father Frank Niemi from 1968 to 1974.  He graduated in 1981 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Sculpture from Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Ill. Working primarily in stainless steel and bronze, Niemi has been a full-time sculptor for 18 years, placing 20 public sculptures in that time. To learn more, go to

To nominate an entrepreneur for the 2006 award, contact the Wisconsin Technology Council at 608-442-7557 or at