An Advocate for the UW System

Board of Regents president and WSB alumnus Drew Petersen works to ensure that higher education in Wisconsin stays strong

Drew Petersen (MBA '03)

When Drew Petersen (MBA ’03) walks into Grainger Hall, he feels a sense of pride seeing education in action. But for the president of the UW System Board of Regents, there’s also a moment of trepidation that maybe an assignment or presentation looms. That’s because when Petersen comes to the Wisconsin School of Business, he does so as an alumnus of the Wisconsin Executive MBA Program.

Petersen is also senior vice president of corporate affairs at Madison-based TDS Telecommunications, where he has worked since 1997. Prior to that he worked in government, for former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson and U.S. Rep. Scott Klug.

The 18-member Board of Regents is responsible for establishing rules and policies, managing over 40,000 employees and 170,000 students, and a $6 billion budget for the UW System. Sixteen members are appointed by the governor. Petersen has been a regent since 2013 and was elected president in June 2019. Juggling that role with his professional and other civic commitments is no easy task, a balancing act that Petersen talked about during a visit to WSB this fall.

WSB: You have pledged to be a tenacious advocate for the University of Wisconsin System. Tell us more about what that means to you.

Drew Petersen: The University of Wisconsin is one of the most impressive institutions of higher education in the nation and the world. We hire and invest in world-class faculty and staff that change lives every day. The groundbreaking research and discoveries our campuses incubate are remarkable.

It’s important to make sure we don’t dilute quality during difficult budget times. We have all kinds of economic prosperity in Wisconsin right now. The economy is almost firing on all cylinders, and we’d like to make sure we don’t atrophy. The UW System has a role to play in talent development, in job creation. That’s the case I’m hoping to make—that now is the time to make quality investments in the UW System.

WSB: Are there specific goals and initiatives you have identified?

DP: I want to focus on three things in particular. One, building a case for reinvestment in the UW System by the legislature, by taxpayers, and by private donors. Second, focusing on growing internships and other student work opportunities because I know how pivotal they can be to success. Third is focusing on students’ mental health. It’s smart to select initiatives you can have success in, but it’s also smart to select initiatives people can get behind.

The UW System has a role to play in talent development, in job creation. That's the case I'm hoping to make—that now is the time to make quality investments in the UW System.

Drew Petersen (MBA ’03)
UW System Board of Regents President

WSB: How has your Wisconsin MBA helped shape your career?

DP: My MBA has been an absolute tailwind for success in my multiple positions held at TDS, as well as serving on the numerous boards I’ve been fortunate to lead.

My company is very focused on analytics. We operate as a fiber-optic broadband provider in 35 states and want to make acquisitions and grow. We look at income demographics, household formation, stability of the economy, and regulatory treatment.

I came from the public sector and know how Washington and state government work, but what I felt was a blind spot for me was a strong financial background. Prior to having my MBA, I’d have internal business conversations and hear, “Well, Drew, you’re the ‘common man,’ what do you think?” It’s much more rewarding to say, “I think it’s a good idea and here’s why,” and that’s because of the financial and business principles I learned as part of my MBA. That gave me a stronger voice at the management table.

WSB: How do you balance the many professional and civic roles you fill?

DP: My MBA taught me several critical thinking and executive skills, the most important being time management. I find I am able to optimize my performance, both at the office and on the several boards I serve, when I have a full schedule.

I also believe in setting an example for my children that having a public service component of your professional career is important. Giving back to the State of Wisconsin and our communities is vital; I hope they embrace that as they mature into adulthood.

WSB: What would you share with your fellow Business Badger alumni about the importance of staying connected to the university or the business school?

DP: UW graduates have an important role to play in amplifying the message of how valuable their degree was to their success. There is nobody better than our alumni to tell the story of this university’s value and its positive impact in helping to develop more informed citizens, a better educated workforce, and a state with strong economic opportunity.

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