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Cheers, and Happy New Year
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Cheers, and Happy New Year

Perspective and inspiration for the year ahead.

Many of you will be reading this month’s edition between Christmas and New Year’s—while enjoying time away from the office, I hope. Odds are you’ll also be reflecting on your challenges and accomplishments of the year just ending while organizing, at least in thought, some professional and personal goals for an even better 2013.

Strategic growth is a top priority for most Minnesota business leaders, based on our quarterly economic survey of 15,000 business execs. If we’ve learned anything from the Great Recession, it’s that we all must constantly reinvent our businesses; we all need to be entrepreneurs, even inside Fortune 100 companies.

For inspiration on this topic, it’s hard to beat Ernst & Young’s annual Strategic Growth Forum, which attracts nearly 2,000 of the nation’s top CEOs, entrepreneurs, advisors, investors, and thought leaders. The forum, held in November, is the culmination of the firm’s Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. The incredible stories behind this year’s Upper Midwest and National winners can be found at http://bit.ly/Sveow8 and http://bit.ly/SDXUDe. And here are some of my favorite takeaways from this year’s phenomenal forum speakers, two with a fresh perspective on doing business, and two bigger-picture viewpoints:

Mistakes Wanted: LetterLogic, Inc.’s founder and CEO Sherry Stewart Deutschmann runs a $25 million firm processing statements, invoices, and checks for other businesses. At LetterLogic, the employees come first, not the customers. The company also flips things around when it comes to making mistakes: instead of trying to avoid mistakes, it encourages them. “You’re required to make mistakes and to come to your quarterly meeting explaining the detail of your mistake, whether it was personal or professional, and what you learned from that mistake,” Stewart Deutschmann says.

Doing Things in Reverse: Jeff Davis, president and CEO of Orabrush, spent 23 years in sales, marketing and general management at Procter & Gamble Company. Today, he says, “everything I learned in my previous life I’m doing in reverse.” His 20-person, two-year-old business has thus far generated 10 billion Internet impressions and sold 2.5 million of the company’s tongue brushes in 100 countries, using a process of innovation and development that takes half the time and less money than traditional approaches. Orabrush buys millions of viewers on YouTube and asks them to choose between different colors, packaging, and pricing. Every 24 hours viewers choose a winning combination, and Orabrush switches out a new set of options for viewers to choose from. “Over the course of an 8 to 12 week period, we know what we load up is going to sell,” Davis says. Visit http://bit.ly/TAa8dv to see a panel discussion in which he participated.

The Bigger Picture, Personal: “Don’t play the result” is the advice from actor, author, and philanthropist Michael J. Fox. Like an actor who knows a pie is going to be thrown in his face, but has to look totally surprised by it, business leaders have to avoid playing off of assumed results—positive or negative—and instead perform each step along the way as well as they can. When Fox learned that he had young-onset Parkinson’s disease, “it was like knowing I was going to be hit by a bus but not knowing when it would hit me.” Instead of dwelling on that inevitability, he maintained his acting career, wrote three bestsellers, and started a foundation that has since raised $300 million to speed progress developing therapies for Parkinson’s.

The Bigger Picture, Economic: Frederick W. Smith, founder, chairman, president, and CEO, of FedEx Corp. offers this economic forecast: “We’re anticipating for 2013 a little more than 3 percent, maybe 3.4 percent growth worldwide, and an increase of a little over 2 percent for U.S gross domestic product.” Visit http://bit.ly/VjQvpJ to learn why, and to hear much more from Smith, who so impressed one attendee that he was asked if he might consider running for President of the United States.

Inspiration closer to home comes in the form of Bahram Akradi, chairman, president, CEO, and founder of Life Time Fitness, who started with nothing and today leads the nation’s premier health and fitness company. If you have time to use only one of the URL links in this column, it should be http://bit.ly/TFM37A, which will take you to his acceptance speech at our 2012 Minnesota Business Hall of Fame program. Visit http://bit.ly/SveB2f to see his speech as well as those of the other four excellent, also inspiring Hall of Fame honorees this year: Buffalo Wild Wing’s Sally Smith; Communications Systems Inc.’s Curtis Sampson; Ecolab’s Doug Baker Jr.; and U.S. Bank’s Richard Davis.

When it comes to getting the New Year off to a great start, Akradi may be in a class by himself. Not content to just make a resolution, his company is leading Commitment Day 2013, with the goal of having more than 300,000 people in 30 cities participate in a 5K run on New Year’s Day. The idea is to attract as many people as possible to collectively take a stand against poor health. Visit http://bit.ly/TLYiN1 for more about Commitment Day.

Other great local business leaders offering up words of inspiration and wisdom during 2012 include our Outstanding Directors (http://bit.ly/QrcTO1) and Family Business Award winners (http://bit.ly/VjQOAD).

Though the articles in each issue of Twin Cities Business deliver core insights, some of the best content associated with such a feature can be found only at its related event, when we hear from the honorees directly, or by visiting the links above.

I encourage you to join us at our events, not just because of the successful leaders you’ll meet and hear from, but for the interesting individuals and compelling networking opportunities you’ll find at the reception and later at your table. In fact, you still have time to sign up to join us January 10, when we honor the small business award winners profiled in this issue. What better way to start the New Year feeling inspired than to hear firsthand from thriving, successful business leaders?

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