Redefining university-business partnerships: An interview with OBE managing director John Garnetti

UW–Madison Office of Business Engagement

The University of Wisconsin–Madison is no stranger to collaboration, and the Office of Business Engagement (OBE) helps make it possible by working to connect businesses large and small, global and local with UW–Madison’s forward-thinking and innovative community of students, faculty, staff, and researchers.

Managing Director John Garnetti joined OBE in April and has been leading his team on a journey to redefine what it means for UW–Madison and businesses to partner on shared economic and talent development goals. In this Q&A, Garnetti talks about the importance of the university-business partnership, the evolution of OBE, and how businesses of all sizes can benefit from partnering with UW–Madison. 

How would you describe the Office of Business Engagement to somebody who has never heard of it? What’s your elevator pitch when somebody asks you what you do?

The Office of Business Engagement is a one-stop shop for any corporate or industry partner who’s looking to work with UW–Madison. Our office has gone through different iterations over its 20-plus-year history, and historically the role that we’ve played is that of the front door to campus, the initial point of entry. While that’s an important role—and one we continue to play—we’ve grown as an organization to be not just your partner at the beginning, but a partner throughout your company’s engagement with the university, spanning the extent of the relationship and being an active partner in that relationship.

To build on the analogy of being “the front door,” now we’re more of a concierge. We open the door, of course, but we provide service throughout, guide the conversations, and provide feedback. Our end goal is to facilitate and build lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with the business community.

Why UW–Madison? What does the university offer a business—small or large—looking to solve a specific problem or achieve a certain goal? How can the university help?

It’s an excellent question and it’s framed the right way because the strength of UW–Madison is in its breadth and its depth. You often find organizations where there’s normally one or the other. There’s breadth or there’s depth. It’s a rare and really unique asset to have both.

UW–Madison is set up to partner with all organizations—from small startups to established 100-year-old corporations—and help them in whatever stage of growth that they’re in.

I could quote numbers until the cows come home, which is an oddly on-the-nose reference for our state, but Wisconsin is a leader in a wide variety of fields, whether it’s biotech, medicine and public health, engineering, or agriculture, it spans the gamut. Not only can we as a university provide that depth when it comes to research, but we also have depth and strength in our student body, in our faculty, in the people that make this institution the world class, academic and research institution that it is.

There’s a fun fact that UW–Madison leads in the amount of Peace Corps volunteers year after year and is a top producer of CEOs across the country, so if there’s any one fact that puts the breadth and depth of UW–Madison into perspective, I think that one does a great job. Read more …