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No open search in UW-Madison hiring for job filled by former Foxconn executive

Wisconsin State Journal - Kelly Meyerhofer

Apr 25, 2022

The university’s decision to waive the typical recruitment process followed university policy because the position is a temporary appointment lasting two years or less.

UW-Madison did not publicly advertise a newly created position before giving the $125,000-per-year post to a former executive with Foxconn, a company that has fallen far short of its promise to build a massive manufacturing plant in Racine County, recently released records show.

The university’s decision to waive the typical recruitment process followed university policy because the position is a temporary appointment lasting two years or less. Most UW-Madison jobs are required to be publicly posted for a period of time to allow all potential candidates an equal opportunity to apply.

UW-Madison earlier this year hired Alan Yeung, Foxconn’s former director of U.S. strategic initiatives, to be a professor of practice for entrepreneurship, according to the university’s offer letter. His official title is “Internal Consultant I” in the College of Engineering’s research office.

Yeung’s hiring, reported in late March by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has drawn criticism from Foxconn skeptics. He was deeply involved in a deal approved by state lawmakers in 2017 to build a massive manufacturing plant in Racine County with the help of some $4 billion in taxpayer incentives. The company in 2018 also pledged to donate $100 million to UW-Madison to help fund a new engineering building and company-related research.

So far, both commitments have faltered. Last year was the first time the company created enough jobs to begin tapping state tax credits, and records show Foxconn has so far only given $700,000 to the university — less than 1% of the company’s commitment more than three years into the five-year agreement.

UW-Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank said last summer that she wasn’t expecting the Taiwanese technology company to honor its pledge, citing the trade war between the U.S. and China and other problems taking place in markets where Foxconn operated as reasons why the gift fell through.

Foxconn representatives, provided more than two business days to respond to submitted questions, declined to say if the company ever plans to honor its promise to UW-Madison and whether Yeung’s hiring changes its relationship with the university.

Yeung’s position is expected to last a year or less and is being paid for with funding from the Grainger Institute for Engineering, a private gift from the Grainger Foundation, UW-Madison spokesperson John Lucas said.

Yeung, a 1984 UW-Madison alumnus who holds multiple patents and has served as a senior executive in Silicon Valley, started the UW-Madison job on April 1. The job description shows he will lend advice to the College of Engineering on commercializing university research.

“Alan brings invaluable experience in new business venture and technology commercialization,” College of Engineering Dean Ian Robertson said in a statement. “Taking more of our world-class research to market more quickly is a top priority, and Alan’s leadership and expertise in addressing opportunities and achieving alignments make him the right person to begin this effort.”

Expanding industry research is an area UW-Madison has long targeted for improvement. Among other institutions in the top 10 nationally for research spending, the level of business funding in the 2020 fiscal year ranged from $177 million at the University of Pennsylvania to $50 million at Harvard University. UW-Madison came in last with $30 million, according to National Science Foundation research spending data.

Yeung will help establish the College of Engineering’s new Technology Entrepreneurship Office, which he said will collaborate with the College of Letters and Science and the School of Computer, Data and Information Sciences. He said he will help recruit and hire the office’s director and work on other staffing.

He declined in an interview to explain why Foxconn’s promise to UW-Madison fell through and whether, as a UW-Madison employee, he is disappointed by Foxconn’s level of investment in the university. He said his new job doesn’t entail working with large corporations partnering with UW-Madison on technology-related research, so it would “not be his role” to try and persuade Foxconn to honor its $100 million pledge.

Instead, Yeung said his work will focus on forming relationships with alumni and others affiliated with UW-Madison who have business experience. The new office plans to offer an entrepreneurship-in-residence program that will connect these executives or entrepreneurs with faculty, postdoctoral researchers and students.

Yeung also said he’s hoping to build a long-term fund to keep the entrepreneurship-in-residence program running so that it doesn’t rely on grants in the long term.

Yeung isn’t UW-Madison’s first Foxconn hire. The university last year hired John Garnetti, the company’s former deputy director of U.S. strategic initiatives, to lead the university’s Office of Business Engagement after a monthslong search that yielded a “significant” pool of applicants, officials said. Garnetti was hired at a $145,000 annual salary.

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