Frequent donor Gary Roling steps up to name UNI’s JPEC Incubator Suite

Frequent donor Gary Roling steps up to name UNI’s JPEC Incubator Suite

Gary Roling headshotGary Roling (Accounting and MBA, ‘76 and ‘84) has quite a career story to tell. From moving on from his position at John Deere during the farm crisis in the 1980s to being laid off during a company buyout in the early ‘90s to ascending as controller and president at Cedar Rapids-based manufacturer J-TEC Associates, Roling says he’s lucky to end up where he did: as the sole owner of J-TEC Associates in 2007.

And none of it would have happened without the Wilson College of Business.

That’s why Roling felt a need to pass it on. For 41 consecutive years, he has donated to UNI. Just recently, his gift to the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center put his name on the Incubator Suite, a space for students to explore new ideas with JPEC faculty and staff.

“I always tell my wife that we wouldn’t be in this financial position of strength without UNI,” Roling said. “With what I learned and accomplished at UNI, it led me to John Deere, it led me to J-TEC, the MBA I received. So it’s a case where I felt the need to pay it back.”

Roling jokes that he took a decade to graduate from college, which is true, but most of that can be attributed to a four-year service in the military. After becoming a full-time student, Roling jumped into the accounting program and eventually passed the CPA exam before launching his career at John Deere.

Roling became invested in startup companies during his time at J-TEC Associates. After he started making good money and more so after he became sole owner, he received cold calls in the office about businesses looking for funding. He was burned a few times – like one movie company in California that paid themselves instead of producing a movie – but he considers those learning opportunities.

Since then, he has focused on investing in local companies in Iowa, especially Cedar Rapids. One company that has found success was a small Ames-based business that developed application-specific integrated circuits. They were eventually bought by a semiconductor company in California. At one point after leaving John Deere, Roling was invited to start a small manufacturing company. But the lack of stability for him and his family stopped him from pursuing it.

“I always had that entrepreneurial interest,” Roling said. “That spurred my interest in investing in new technology in various places.”

Now as a contributor to the UNI JPEC, he plans to keep his eye on intriguing businesses that he might want to invest in.

“I’m interested in seeing what companies come out of the entrepreneurial efforts,” Roling said. “I serve on a couple of nonprofit boards, and I serve on three private company board of directors. I like to be involved. I like to provide some information that might be helpful for them and guide the company they’re leading.”