Opinion
Ready For The Challenge
Columns

Ready For The Challenge

Minnesota’s strength is in its people and their ability to see problems as opportunities.

My 14-year-old son and I often talk about what school is or isn’t teaching him, and he’ll often say it’s behind the times—making kids memorize things they’ll never use, just nameless “authority” forcing people to do things they shouldn’t have to do. I understand this is part of the idealistic/cynical stage that most adolescents go through, as many of us did. And while he has good points here and there, I keep stressing that school is primarily about learning how to solve problems in different ways, and in different subjects. Or at least it’s supposed to be.

Similarly, in conversations with business leaders, one of their biggest complaints is that our schools are not doing enough to produce graduates who can, and will, problem-solve. Some are even more cynical than my 14-year-old is. Yet at the same time, they also can point to examples all around us of individuals doing a fantastic job of solving, or at least working to solve, major challenges. Many of their stories wind up in these pages, online and recognized at our live events.

They include our most recent batch of outstanding directors (who we wrote about and honored at an awards dinner last month) and family business award winners, profiled this month (page 41). In this issue we also talk with top executives at area companies who are out to change Minnesota’s abysmal record of hiring post-9/11 vets (page 30). Next month, we’ll be honoring our 2015 Person of the Year and identifying our 100 People to Know in 2016; also look for stories about this year’s MN Cup entrepreneurial winners. Every one of these people is great at problem solving in multiple ways.

A perfect example: Outstanding Director Lifetime Achievement honoree Wheelock Whitney, whom TCB also has honored as a Minnesota Business Hall of Famer. Whitney has served on numerous corporate boards including J.M. Dain & Co. (later Dain Rauscher, Dain Bosworth and then RBC Wealth Management). He developed what became Norwest Equity Partners. He did more to bring—and keep—professional sports in Minnesota than perhaps anyone else, helping establish national baseball and hockey league franchises here, then serving on the boards of the Minnesota Twins and Minnesota North Stars. He was an owner in, and served as president of, the Minnesota Vikings, too. His nonprofit board services ranges from the Johnson Institute and National Council on Alcoholism to Junior Achievement of Minneapolis, the Urban Coalition and Minneapolis Community College. If that weren’t enough, he helped Arne Carlson win two gubernatorial elections, was a three-term mayor of Wayzata and has provided his guidance in many other ways for our state and society.

With our Family Business Award winners this year, Jim Hoolihan stands out as an exceptional problem solver across a variety of situations. This includes growing his company, Industrial Lubricants, through the years despite the extreme ups and downs of the mining industry it supports. But Hoolihan also has served as mayor of Grand Rapids, president and CEO of the Blandin Foundation, and a leader in other ways—publicly and, with his family, both at home and at work.

Then there’s MyPillow founder and president Mike Lindell. He’s well known as a constant salesman, but he’s also a perpetual problem solver. At our 2015 Manufacturing Forum in September, Lindell discussed how he is dealing with the problem Minnesota manufacturers are increasingly facing, as unemployment rates continue to drop: finding qualified talent (who will also show up on time and put in a full day’s work). The answer for MyPillow was to separate from its manufacturing process those parts of the job that can be done in advance. The company then hired individuals who can only work so many hours a week, or may not know for sure when they can work due to personal challenges, and has them come in when they can.

The list of resourceful problem solvers goes on and on. I know it also includes individual employees within organizations whom we may never hear about, but are responsible in their own ways for helping the organization succeed.

Every time we publish stories such as theirs, or hold an event where they explain how they solved a problem, I wish we had high school and college students tuning in. The best education is usually from those who are out there learning and applying their knowledge, every hour of the day.

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