Opinion
Here's To 2015
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Here's To 2015

Observations and tips for a more productive 2015.

Like many of you, I spend New Year’s thinking about the year just wrapped up, and how to do better in the year ahead.

Looking in the rear-view mirror, I can’t help but appreciate the access this position provides to some of the greatest business minds in Minnesota.

We usually discuss how these people are doing as leaders. But our conversations often also delve into socioeconomic challenges facing our state, such as eliminating the achievement gap between minority and white students, increasing the percentage of post-9/11 vets who find good jobs here and curbing, if not stopping, the exodus of wealth to Florida, Arizona, Colorado and other states because of our current state government’s naive anti-wealth attitude.

Getting to know the families behind successful companies such as Nordic Ware and Bailey Nurseries as part of our Family Business Awards process is invigorating because they epitomize the concept of a double bottom line: growing profits while keeping the bigger picture—their employees, community, customers and even their competitors—in mind.

There’s a common theme throughout: an entrepreneurial mindset mixed with a clear sense of mission, values in action and an interest in bettering our state. Efforts range from making sure disadvantaged children graduate from high school to improving their company’s processes and culture so, for example, more women can ascend to C-suite positions.

Minnesota has its challenges—the cold, mosquitoes and current tax policies—but we’re rich in leaders who care about our society. I invite you to visit our TCB Videos page to hear from the people I’ve mentioned, at bit.ly/YvzvV7.

As for looking ahead, it’s hard to beat some of the content that comes out of EY’s annual Strategic Growth Forum, which attracts nearly 2,000 of the nation’s top CEOs, entrepreneurs, advisors, investors and thought leaders each November. The forum, and the regional Entrepreneur of the Year events that lead to it, remind us that the entrepreneurial spirit is essential everywhere, and sometimes needed more within established, large corporations than scrappy startups. Event speakers explore some of the most important challenges of our time, while affirming steps we’re already taking and providing ideas on how we might operate our businesses even better.

I wanted to share the most interesting takeaways this year, so I asked Christine Lantinen, one of our state’s most promising entrepreneurs, what her thoughts were.

President and owner of Maud Borup (a TCB 2014 Minnesota Family Business Award Winner), Lantinen was one of 13 women from the U.S. and Canada who attended as a member of Ernst and Young’s 2014 Class of Entrepreneurial Winning Women. Maud Borup produced 3 million gourmet food sets in 2014 and has a goal to generate $20 million a year in revenue. It also wants to acquire another business to become the largest food-gift manufacturer in the country.

Here were the most significant takeaways from my conversation with Lantinen:

Defining your corporate brand, including your mission, vision and values, and ingraining these into your corporate culture. Lantinen’s takeaway: As you do this, you can’t just do it once or twice. “Multiple people said you have to repeat it several times a day,” she says. “I realized that I’ll say something [value-oriented], but later I’ll see an employee doing something and I think, ‘Don’t you know this really bothers me?’ ” Going forward she plans to establish yearly meetings, goals and teams to help achieve those goals—all referencing the company’s mission, vision and values.

Understanding the importance of social media with millennials and the following generation. For Maud Borup, this may not seem all that important because the company doesn’t sell directly to consumers. But Lantinen internalized this point when thinking about how wholesale buyers, many of whom are younger, tend to make decisions fairly quickly based on their online and social media research about a potential vender.

Being an innovative and trend-forward leader in your industry. Most of us think we already are, but this involves taking on additional risk. “The aha moment, making a decision to do things differently, may cost us more, but I see it as a long-term strategy for growth,” Lantinen says. I see that as a way to stay ahead of the curve.”

Defining your C-suite/key leadership. In Maud Borup’s case, this means bringing aboard a CFO and a VP of marketing and sales. For a lot of entrepreneurs in startups, this becomes a question that needs to be asked sooner than later—especially if rapid growth is planned or already occurring.

As one of this year’s Winning Women, Lantinen also explored how to scale her business by:

  • Thinking big and being bold.
  • Building a public profile.
  • Working on the business, rather than in it.
  • Finding and establishing the right networks.
  • Evaluating financing for expansion.

These tips are great, if nothing else as reaffirming practices we know we should be following but sometimes forget. They also seem to be really helping the women who have listened to them. EY’s Winning Women program is in its seventh year and has helped 70 winners thus far: Participating companies’ 2013 cumulative revenue was 63 percent higher than the year before they came into the program. And in the second year after they were named a Winning Women honoree, entrepreneurs reported revenue growth of 50 percent or more, on average.

With that, I’m off to improve my public profile, determine how to work less in the business and more on it, and refine my personal and professional goals. Happy new year! TCB

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