Southeast Technical is honored to have Mr. Rich Wantoch as the recipient of our 2010 Outstanding Alumni Award. Rich is a visionary who built a number of successful career avenues upon graduating from our Electronics program in 1965. As a student in the Electronics program, his interest in data and systems management was right on target with the dawn of the computer age, positioning him in the right place at the right time. Blending his education as a business major at WSU and technical skills from Winona Votech proved to be a very successful combination as evidenced by his tremendous career.
After graduation and newly married, Rich landed his first professional job as a Customer Engineer with Control Data in Minneapolis, Minn. In this position he learned how to work on and repair computers, putting his newly acquired skills right into action. His logical side and keen perception were undoubtedly the combination that helped open the door to a field everyone was talking about “the computer age.” Unfortunately things changed abruptly shortly after Rich started with Control Data and the company lost a large government contract and subsequently needed to lay off hundreds of employees, Rich was among them.
Rich decided to use his circle of friends and headed straight for Watkins where he worked part time while in the Electronics program. He started in the sales department training representatives how to sell door-to-door. Later he became a Product Manager, where he worked from the late sixties into the early seventies. While at Watkins, Rich was able to strengthen his skills, learn more about the business and develop a better understanding of the skills he needed to continue growing his career. In 1973, an East coast business supplier offered Rich a Marketing/Sales position and he moved his family to the East Coast to take on different challenges. The next several years were spent out East and traveling internationally to guide several large companies through some difficult financial times. He worked for major corporations, including Sarah Coventry (C.H. Stuart), Coppercraft Guild (Dart Industries) and Royal Crest Jewelry. He served these companies in a variety of capacities including Vice President, Sales Manager and Design Manager. His forte appeared to be in “marketing makeovers” and he was good at it.
Eventually, the Midwest was calling him back and he returned to Winona where he joined the executive ranks at Watkins in 1980. Rich, who now had plenty of experience with re-engineering companies, brought his marketing skills and logical thought processes to work again and helped turnaround the Watkins Company which had struggled since bankruptcy in 1978. Within a few short years, he rose to become the company’s President, a position he held until 1992 when he left to serve on a number of boards and pursue other successful ventures including that as President of the Fuller Brush Company. If there are multiple messages Rich would want to share, one would be about the value of networking and the openness to re-invent oneself by using your natural gifts. He points out, we all have a “circle” of friends and this is a key to success whether you’re selling a commodity, or selling yourself. This was a philosophy he bought into early. He is no stranger to feeling the stresses of corporate layoffs, he’s walked the walk, and always remained optimistic. Little did he know the impressions he had made back when he was a part-time employee at Watkins would lead to a greater opportunity later in life in fact moved him from part-time mailroom clerk to President of the Watkins company.
As a Southeast Technical graduate he understands the value of education and the doors it can open. He also believes in leading by example and the value of being first a mentee and then a mentor in life. In addition to bringing leadership into his professional life, Rich also sets an example through his generous gifts of time, talent, and treasure to a variety of organizations in the Winona Community. Early on he served as a Winona Jaycee and was active in the Winona community in a variety of different roles at St. Stanislaus Church, Cotter High School, he also raised awareness for community organizations like the Buddy Club, American Cancer Society, YMCA, Special Olympics and more. He served the City as a Board of Adjustments member and National Direct Selling Trade Association as a Board member. He even co-owned a Winona business.
His advice to graduates, “be confident and always remember you are a marvelous work in progress and that it is not where you start … but where you finish that counts!”