SIXTY YEARS after earning his first degree from UW-Madison, Bob Bush BS’50 was back on campus in May to pick up another one, this time an honorary doctorate in food science. The longtime president (1978-1985) and chair (1985-1999) of Green Bay-based Schreiber Foods was one of five people to receive the honor during commencement; fellow CALS grad Milton Friend, emeritus scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, National Wildlife Health Center, was also bestowed. We caught up with Bush to talk about what it was like to run the second-largest cheese company in the world and his not-so-quiet life in retirement.
How did it feel to be back on campus to receive an honorary degree?
It’s awesome. I’m humbled, thrilled. When Chancellor Martin called to tell me, I was truly speechless. I never expected I’d become “Dr. Bush.”
You’ve stayed connected over the years with the college—can you tell us how that relationship started?
Not too long after I graduated, the Food Research Institute saved Schreiber Foods from certain bankruptcy. I got a phone call from a customer saying that our cheese had made him sick. Soon I got two more calls. Naturally, we were extremely concerned. We recalled the cheese, but it came from a 40 million pound lot. Health officials said we would have to throw it all away, which would have meant everyone at the company would be out looking for another job. FRI helped us devise a test to determine which cheese from the lot was affected. Ultimately, we figured out that only 1 percent of the lot had been contaminated. I was so grateful that FRI was here and could provide us with the technical expertise we needed.
What was Schreiber like back then?
Well, Mr. Schreiber asked my father to help him start a cheese company in 1945, and I joined him after I finished up at UW. When I started, Schreiber had one plant and fewer than 50 employees in Green Bay. I worked almost everywhere in the company. Now we have plants throughout Wisconsin and the world. If you order a cheeseburger at a restaurant, there is a 90 percent chance that the cheese on it is a Schreiber product.
Was it difficult to lead the company through such a growth spurt?
I had a great team. They told me their ideas, and I told them to go do it.
Even in your retirement, you’re involved with multiple organizations and causes in the Green Bay area. Aren’t you tempted to slow down?
When I see a not-for-profit struggling, I can’t seem to resist stepping in to help. Often I end up as chairman of a board or committee, and we get to work.
The same way you “ended up” as CEO of Schreiber?