West Bloomfield resident Kathleen Ligocki received an honorary degree from Oakland University.

West Bloomfield resident Kathleen Ligocki received an honorary degree from Oakland University.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

West Bloomfield resident ‘totally shocked’ by honorary degree after career in clean technologies

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published July 16, 2021


WEST BLOOMFIELD — Last year, West Bloomfield resident Kathleen Ligocki received a letter that she said left her “totally shocked.”

The letter was from Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, who is the president of Oakland University.

Ligocki was informed that she had been selected to receive an honorary degree from OU. Specifically, she earned a Doctor of Science Honoris Causa.

She recalled that she had no idea that she was even being considered and that the news came as “one of these pleasant surprises.”

Ligocki was initially set to be part of a 2020 graduation ceremony, but with it being canceled due to COVID-19, she was instead recognized this past May at an OU spring commencement ceremony.

“An honorary doctorate is one of the highest honors a university can award,” Ligocki said. “I was really flattered. It’s deeply meaningful. … Universities only award so many honorary doctorates at each graduation.”

According to an email sent from a public information specialist for Oakland, “Ligocki established a stellar career leading public and private companies to success, driving entrepreneurial technology and impacting the automotive industry in Michigan.”

The email went on to shed further light on why Ligocki was selected to receive an honorary degree.

“Now retired, she served as CEO of Agility Fuel Systems from 2015 to 2019 and is credited for overseeing a brand-new, highly profitable production facility in North Carolina that creates natural gas cylinders for the heavy-duty truck and bus markets,” the email states. “Prior to joining Agility Fuel Systems, Ligocki held leadership positions at various organizations, including Harvest Power Inc., where she raised $40 million toward the company’s efforts to produce renewable energy and nutrient-rich soils and convert the gas produced by food waste into natural gas.”

Ligocki has also been recognized among the Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink, and she is a part of various boards, including serving as chair of the board for Farmers Business Network, which is a “venture capital-backed firm in the AgTech sector.”

She is a board member of the Indiana University Foundation and a founding member of the Women’s Leadership Forum.

Ligocki was born and raised in Wisconsin. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree “with highest distinction” from Indiana University Kokomo and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ligocki is married to Pete Rosenau, a longtime Michigan automotive/motorcycle dealer and entrepreneur.

After she retired in 2019, the couple opted to live in Michigan.

The path Ligocki has taken is not the one she set out on.

Despite her undergraduate degree being in Chinese history and Renaissance art, she said, “I spent most of my 40 years in automotive and industrial companies.”

Ligocki said she has been the CEO of five companies.

“I ended up with a job as a factory foreman in Indiana, and it kind (of) started my industrial career,” she said. “I got hooked, and GM ended up sending me to Wharton on the GM Fellowship Program, where I got an MBA in finance, which is more employable, obviously.”

Ligocki further expanded on the direction she decided to take.

“I decided that I wanted to move into the venture capital and growth equity world, and focus on clean technologies. This is before it’s as fashionable as it is now,” she said. “I wanted to be involved at the forefront of that, and that’s what the companies that I’ve led focus on — one aspect or another of clean innovation, trying to address various parts of climate change.”

The “crooked path” that Ligocki opted to take has led to her traveling to numerous countries, which she couldn’t have done in a lot of other professions.

What she has learned along the way could help those who want to carve out their own paths in life.

Ligocki is a proponent of higher education, and she shared some messages for graduates.

“As university graduates, they have unlimited opportunities,” she said. “They’re only limited by their own dreams and aspirations. … Think through not only your work, but what else do you want your life to be about? … Whatever it is, make sure that you look at your life in 360 and follow your passions.”

Three principles that Ligocki said have been with her since she was a kid are wanting to do work she finds interesting, working with people she respects, and feeling like she is contributing to the world.

That kind of principles-based approach to a career path is one Ligocki expects to be carried on by another generation.

“I only (want to) work with companies and people that I have respect for, that I think are moving the needle in important ways in the world,” she said. “And I think that this generation, they feel more strongly about those principles than any previous generation. … One of the reasons that I have confidence in this generation is that they do things with purpose, they do things with principles, and I hope they keep those things with them for all of their lives.”

Ligocki considers hard work, a university education and “great” mentors to be key factors in her accomplishments. But there is another one that can be easy to overlook.

“I think you take opportunities, that when everyone else is running out in the business version of a fire, I’m the one who raises my hand and runs in,” Ligocki said. “There’s never enough people who (want to) volunteer for the tough stuff. … I think those are some of the things that provided the support system for me to achieve what I’ve achieved, and now my goal is to help give back to the next generations.”

Aside from OU, Ligocki has also been awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Indiana University Kokomo and Central Michigan University.