Photo by Jason Wold
"I look at [board service] as providing a service to people I’ve worked with throughout my career," Larson says.
Director, Nortech Systems
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Kenneth Larson and Michael Degen parted ways professionally in 1988. That’s when Larson, who was general manager of Toro Company’s worldwide commercial and consumer business, left the Bloomington company where they worked together to become president and chief operating officer of Polaris Industries, the Medina-based recreational-vehicle maker. “I would certainly classify him as a mentor of mine,” Degen says.
The two reconnected professionally in July 2002, when Degen, who was leaving the board of Nortech Systems to become the company’s president and CEO, asked Larson to assume his seat.
A manufacturer of electronic components such as wire and cable assemblies and printed circuit boards for a variety of industries, including automotive and medical products, Wayzata-based Nortech was dealing with an abrupt turnover in management after Degen’s predecessor died unexpectedly. What’s more, like many manufacturers at the time, Nortech was struggling to reposition itself against low-cost competitors overseas.
Degen says Larson’s strong operations background was a key component in the turnaround of Nortech, which he describes as an “operations-oriented company,” meaning that it focuses on efficiencies in manufacturing in order to provide customers with the highest-quality products at the lowest cost. Since 2002, Nortech’s revenues have climbed from $60 million to more than $95 million. “In terms of sales growth, we’ve exceeded what the industry growth has been,” says Degen, who amply credits the skills of Nortech’s directors, including Larson.
“The things I really value about Ken are his common sense and his great, well-rounded experience,” Degen says. “He’s done everything from work on the shop floor to be the president of Polaris Industries.”
Larson started his career in the General Electric Company’s management training program. In 1966, he moved on to Milwaukee-based farm-equipment manufacturer Allis-Chalmers. He was manager of shop operations for Allis-Chalmers’s Indiana plant when, in 1971, he left to become vice president of manufacturing for the Gehl Company, a Wisconsin farm equipment business. A few years later, Larson was recruited by Toro.
Larson retired in 1998 at the age of 58. In addition to Nortech, he also serves on the boards of Featherlite, a manufacturer of standard and specialty trailers and custom luxury motor coaches, and Bellacor, a lighting retailer. He’s also chairman of Restaurant Technologies, an Eagan company he helped launch in 1999 that installs and maintains automated cooking-oil systems in restaurants.
Board service, Larson says, “is a way to continue to be involved and challenge your mind, in terms of the things you were interested in throughout your career, without it dominating your life.”