Hometown Hawkeye: Kelly Ortberg
Engineering graduate is corporate, community leader
Degree: B.S. (Mechanical Engineering) ‘82
Occupation: President and CEO, Rockwell Collins
Residence: Cedar Rapids
As the head of one of Iowa’s most technologically advanced companies—Cedar Rapids-based aerospace and defense giant Rockwell Collins—Kelly Ortberg has many demands on his time. As a consequence, he goes out of his way to share his time with others.
On giving back to the community, he says: “I think it is critical to engage in community activities beyond our day-to-day work. I encourage all my leadership (co-workers) to get engaged and find something that they have passion in and use that to better our communities.
“My passion is in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education where I am on the Governor's STEM Advisory Council, the Board of Directors of FIRST (United States Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), and the University of Iowa College of Engineering Advisory Board,” he says. “My end goal is to inspire more youth to look to science, technology, and math as an enabler to a satisfying career.”
Growing up in Dubuque, Ortberg learned some of the lessons that guide him in his day-to-day work.
“I grew up in a typical Midwest family,” he says. “My dad worked at John Deere, and my mom was a stay-at-home mother of four. I enjoyed the TV show ‘The Wonder Years’ because it reminded me of my childhood. This upbringing instilled some key values in me that have served me well. You need to work hard to earn your keep.
“I was involved in Boy Scouts and eventually became an eagle scout, where I learned key leadership skills and character traits that I still use today,” he says.
At Rockwell Collins, Ortberg’s advance has been steady and progressive since he first joined the company in 1987 as a program manager. Over the years, he has led both the commercial and governmental divisions of the company. As a Rockwell Collins biography notes, Ortberg “launched innovative product lines that continue to transform commercial and military operations, and helped set the strategy for the future direction of the company.”
In September 2012 he was named president, and in August 2013 Rockwell’s Board of Directors elected him CEO.
For those and other accomplishments, Ortberg will be inducted into the UI College of Engineering’s Distinguished Engineering Alumni Academy Dec. 21 at the engineering undergraduate commencement ceremony. The academy honors UI engineering alumni for their personal contributions toward engineering achievement, leadership, and service to the profession and society.
In addition, he will deliver the “charge to the graduates.”
On being inducted into the Alumni Academy, he says: “It’s a great honor to be recognized with such a prestigious award, and I'm humbled to be among the previous inductees. When I graduated from the University of Iowa, I would have never dreamed of receiving such an honor, which I guess is a great testament to what hard work can do.”
When it comes to recreation, Ortberg enjoys a hobby that is dear to the hearts of millions of people around the world. As President Dwight Eisenhower reportedly said of golf, “It offers healthy respite from daily toil, refreshment of body and mind.”
“I love to golf,” he says. “It’s a game that keeps you very humble, and there's only one person to get credit or blame for the results. While I don't get to play as much as I used to, it is a time when the cell phone is turned off, and it’s just me and my buddies in search of that ‘great round.’ There are always those one or two shots that keep you coming back.”