Passion for Engineering Leads to a Delectable Calling
Robert Michalski has always been pretty sweet on his career. Who wouldn’t be with a list of employers that is the Who’s Who of the confectionary world: M&M Mars, Dove, Cadbury, Cheesecake Factory, Ghiradelli, and Lindt & Sprungli.
Despite a taste for chocolate, it was actually Robert’s interest in engineering and at the guidance of a Moraine Valley instructor that catapulted him into a rewarding career.
Robert graduated from Stagg High School and enrolled at Moraine Valley. “We were a very blue-collar family. I was the oldest of four. We didn’t have a lot of money. Dad drove a bus for the Chicago Transit Authority, and mom was usually working at a restaurant or taking care of the kids. I knew I wanted to go to college, and the decision to come to Moraine Valley just made pure sense,” he said.
Robert had an interest in building and fixing whatever he could get his hands on.
“The counselor told me I’d be great at IET (Industrial Engineering Technology). It was a program that Moraine spearheaded by a gentleman with the name of Al Dedona, who has since passed away. This is where Moraine in many ways was way ahead of itself. It was like a self-study, self-motivating program where you completed modules at your own pace,” he said.
It was precisely this forward thinking that makes Robert stand out in the industry. He started working for M&M Mars and was part of the acquisition of Dove Ice Cream.
“We built a factory in Burr Ridge and early on, even though I didn’t finish my degree just yet, I had responsibilities to build very large buildings and establish an industrial engineering department. Mars gave me a great foundation of work,” Robert said.
After 10 years, and the completion of his industrial engineering degree from Purdue University, Robert and his wife, Deborah, and their two children moved to New Jersey where he took a job for Cadbury.
“I was a part of the marketing group for about a year and a half or so when management said to me, ‘Hey, you’re an engineer—we’re having troubles with this brand called Certs—it’s coming from Italy. Can you go over there and give them a hand?’”
Robert took on the task and returned to the United States. after a few weeks. When the vice president of operations in Italy quit, the company asked him to take over. “They said, ‘Robert, can you live in Italy for a while? Just 8 or 9 months.’ So my family and I moved to Italy, and we lived there for 10 years.”
After the family’s extended stay in Italy, his expertise was called upon again.
“I got lucky enough to be the one to build the factory for the Cheesecake Factory. That was kind of what I was doing most of my life—so we moved to North Carolina. It was a great challenge. It was a great job. But, once the factory was built, it really wasn’t something I wanted to stick with,” he said.
Robert’s next move brought him to a beverage company that wanted its factories turned around.
“Then Lindt called and said we really need you. We know what you’ve done. We’ve seen your history. You’ve got a great education background, etc. Would you mind moving to New Hampshire? So I did and I’ve been there for five years,” he said. “Now I’m at the perfect moment in my career.”
Robert attributes his career success in large part to the relationship he had with Mr. Dedona. “I remember I was very proud of myself when I had just become a senior engineer at M&M Mars, and I actually went to visit Al and learned he passed away. That killed me. I wanted to tell him, and I wanted him to feel proud,” he said.
Robert also believes his Moraine Valley experience was paramount. “I still think Moraine Valley was well ahead of its time,” he said. “Purdue was a great university, but it was very much a ‘here’s what you have to do to get through it,’ and I don’t have near the fond memories as I do of Moraine. I think Moraine means high-value education. I think it means preparedness for where you’re going to go. Moraine was the beginning of my life. I wouldn’t be here today without that foundation."