30 Thoughts on Building Business in Minnesota
Twin Cities Business marks its 30th anniversary this September. Illustrations by Randall Nelson

30 Thoughts on Building Business in Minnesota

We asked 30 Minnesota business leaders to share some words of wisdom on building business and navigating challenges ahead.

Thoughts from 30

This issue marks the 30th anniversary of Twin Cities Business, which was founded in the spirit of celebrating, connecting, and leveraging the collective power of Minnesota’s business community. So it seemed fitting to mark the milestone by asking 30 Minnesota leaders to share some words of wisdom on building business and navigating the challenges ahead.

To mark its 30th anniversary, TCB on Sept. 14 hosted a celebration at the Glass House in Minneapolis. Click through for photos from the event.

On risk taking: 

“I’m excited about new business growth in Minnesota. My favorite saying is ‘What great thing would you do if you knew you could not fail?’ Wouldn’t it be great if we changed the definition of failure to the absence of trying rather than the lack of success?” 

—Joy Lindsay, CO-FOUNDER and CEO, StarTec Investments; managing partner, Sofia Fund

On team building:

“Proactively seek out and surround yourself with people who bring out your best. I believe, the more diverse their professional backgrounds, life experiences and voices are, the better the thinking, ideas, and results will be. A thoughtfully assembled team can be a powerful multiplier for success.” 

—Kevin DiLorenzo, president and CEO, Rise and Shine Partners 

On climate change:

Bethany M. Owen
Bethany M. Owen

“I believe we have a tremendous responsibility to find ways we can all work together to achieve a clean energy future. The critical need to address climate change will take all of us, now and in generations to come. We must keep pulling more chairs up to the table, seeking out and embracing diverse perspectives, listening with compassion, and developing lasting and meaningful solutions together. And, in this increasingly polarized world we’re living in today, that will take even extra effort and extra resolve.  But, working together, I know that we can chart a course for a sustainable, just, and equitable future for all. Whether we work at a company, or a nonprofit organization, or in education, or in government, we share that responsibility. Sustainability and community go hand in hand.”

—Bethany M. Owen, chair, president and CEO, ALLETE, Inc. 

On believing in yourself:

“In challenging times, I have learned to rely on my values, my strengths, and my champions (those people that know me so well and always lift me up).  I also remind myself often not to seek perfection, yet infinite desire.” 

—Kate Kelly, regional president—Minnesota, PNC Bank

On playing ball:

“We find ourselves in a world that’s more divisive than ever before. That reality confronts us everywhere. However, it also underscores the power of sports. Minnesota Twins baseball has been bringing community together for more than six decades. That connectivity must be nurtured and protected.” 

—Dave St. Peter, president and CEO, Minnesota Twins 

On hometown pride:

“Hometown brands infuse a sense of identity into the community. As companies better understand the culture and needs of their local communities, they become uniquely positioned to channel resources in ways that strengthen the fabric of the neighborhood and reinforce our collective sense of pride in our hometown.” 

—John Butcher, president and CEO, Caribou Coffee

On Gathering: 

“I see business opportunity in more local restaurants that can connect, engage, provide an experience, and compete with franchises.”
—Ann Ahmed, chef/owner, Gai Noi, Khaluna, Lat14

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Dorothy Bridges
Dorothy Bridges

On globalization:

“Today’s business landscape presents an unparalleled opportunity for businesses that embrace global strategies. The world is more interconnected and readily accessible today, enabling businesses to benefit from enhanced efficiency and a myriad of diverse prospects for expanding their client base beyond borders.”
—Dorothy Bridges, president and CEO, MEDA-Metropolitan Economic Development Association

On leveraging local talent: 

“Minnesota is home to 15 Fortune 500 companies and hundreds of businesses, both large and small, that provide opportunities unlike any other. We’re bringing critical solutions to everything from healthcare to technology, from food security to bridging the digital divide. It’s the variety of our industries and the talent of our people that are our greatest advantage and provide our largest opportunities.”

—Beth Ford, president and CEO, Land O’Lakes

On medtech advances: 

“The future of medical devices and health care is as bright as ever. We have, in this community, all the scientific talent and major strategic players to continue our leadership. But we must strengthen our ability to finance these new efforts and technologies—either privately or have more support from grants, government or scientific institutions.” 

—Manny VillafaÑa, founder and CEO, Medical 21, Inc.

On changing the narrative: 

“Minnesota has been in the headlines for ways we didn’t want to be for racial injustice. Think about the opportunity we have and role the business community can play in investing in talent and people. Attracting talent strengthens our community fabric.”

—Kofi Bruce, chief financial officer, General Mills

On leadership:

“The pace of change is accelerating, and companies will need leaders who can keep up and stay focused on solving the problems of the future, who can inspire and build trust with a changing workforce, and who are willing to champion bold decisions to seize the transformative opportunities new technologies are presenting.”

—Kim Nelson, independent board director

On growing talent:

“Combining investments in education with a business environment that creates attractive jobs to keep talent local is the magic combination that will bring the biggest return.”

—Matt Kucharski, president, Padilla

On leveraging mistakes: 

“Business is like the weather. You don’t learn how to predict weather from a textbook. You learn from your mistakes. Follow your curiosity and be willing to fail forward until you get traction.”

—Paul Douglas, founder and chief meteorologist, Praedictix and Climatrends

On adaptability: 

Bahram Akradi
Bahram Akradi

“I believe it’s imperative this next generation firmly recognize their world will change at a significantly more rapid pace than any generation before us. Committing to adaptability and agility are going to be mandatory skills required to survive and thrive.” 

—Bahram Akradi, founder and CEO, Life Time 

On creativity: 

“I am inspired by the next generation’s enthusiastic embrace of technology and creative application to our business community. We have an amazing opportunity to influence the future and will only be limited by our imagination of what is possible.”

—Nathaniel Opperman, president, MSP Communications

On investing in new ideas:

“One hundred years ago, Ecolab began as a small startup in St. Paul and today we are a global water, hygiene, and infection prevention company with 11,200 active patents and 47,000 associates. We believe that investing in innovation and Minnesota startups creates the space and opportunity for the next great business to grow. We don’t know what the next big idea will be; but we know that an environment that supports growth, ideas, and opportunities is best for our business community and the state of Minnesota. By investing in new ideas, together we can tackle global challenges and create a more prosperous future for generations to come.”

—Christophe Beck, chairman and CEO, Ecolab

On the evolution of work:

“I’d like to see us stop focusing on where we work and start focusing on how we work. Technology has enabled us to sacrifice less and deliver more value, to create thoughtful products that allow humans to operate in more optimal ways. But only if we let it. The real opportunity is in inventing new ways to work. We have to be truly exploratory and experimental when it comes to creating culture and calling people in to make them a part of new thinking and new ways of working. Business must open itself up to more humanity. Companies can be profitable and do it with more sensitivity toward how complex life really is so everyone can thrive at work and at home. I do believe we can live more fulfilling lives and that work can be a part of that, not an exception to it.”

—Nancy Lyons, co-founder and CEO, Clockwork

On connections:

“To succeed in a changing world, leaders must foster a connection between their business objectives and how business success positively impacts their customers, employees, the local community, and the broader world around us.”

—Chris Hilger, chairman, president, and CEO, Securian Financial

On amplifying Minnesota:

Rodney Young
Rodney Young

“Our most significant opportunity is to continue accelerating Minnesota’s return to prominence as a state that offers robust employment with ample career opportunities in multiple industries.”

—Rodney Young, CEO, Delta Dental Minnesota


On standing out: 

“Differentiate yourself. There are lots of ways—be creative, always be prepared, be the first to arrive, be someone that can always be counted on. “

—John Wilgers, president and CEO, Greater Twin Cities United Way

On bridging divides: 

“I think that we will remain a divided community of those that have equity and those that do not.  This challenge arose from years of systemic impediments and will take a commitment that is at the grassroots level as well as at the institutional level. I truly believe we can be better and reflect our aspirations.  A sustained effort from across the spectrum will turn our challenge into an incredible opportunity.” 

—Beth Leonard, partner in charge-Minnesota, EisnerAmper

On engagement: 

“Take the opportunity—any chance you get—to make sure people who aren’t in the business world understand the importance, really the necessity, of a state having a very healthy business climate. If we can count on next-gen leaders to be actively engaged as their forerunners were, I have no doubt the state’s best days are ahead.”

—Lynn Casey, independent board director

On future-forward investments: 

“The state of Minnesota will be investing hundreds of billions of dollars into public infrastructure.  The business community should work closely with government to ensure these investments do more than simply repair and replace aging assets.  The focus should be on 21st century infrastructure, which stimulates private investment, economic growth, equity and inclusion, and sustainability.”

—Patrick Seeb, executive director, Rochester’s Destination Medical Center

On stepping up:

“Especially in Minneapolis, it seems we have a leadership vacuum from the private sector. We have lost the cadre of business leaders who cared deeply about and were active stewards of the health of the community. Many were locally grown CEOs and others from deeply rooted families. I feel strongly that citizens and policy makers would benefit from the impact of active private sector leaders who can bring their problem-solving skills, financial resources, and growth-minded thinking to the many civic issues we face.”

—Deborah Hopp, president, MSPC (and former TCB publisher)

On sustainability:

“As the world grapples with the challenges of climate change and social inequality, businesses in Minnesota have a unique chance to lead the way in creating a more equitable and environmentally conscious economy. By prioritizing sustainable operations, adopting clean energy solutions, and implementing inclusive hiring practices, Minnesota businesses can not only contribute to a healthier planet but also attract socially conscious consumers and top talent.  As a state, we need to put a stake in the ground as the place for sustainable business, and figure out how to brag about it.” 

—Sri Zaheer, Elmer L. Andersen Chair in Global Corporate Social Responsibility, University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management

On community:

Bill George
Bill George

“As the families who have built many of Minnesota’s companies have moved on, corporate leaders are increasingly moving here from outside our community, as I did in 1970 to start the consumer microwave oven business for Litton Industries. Almost immediately, I felt welcomed into the Minneapolis business community by people like Ken Dayton, Ed Spencer, Jim McFarland, Steve Keating, John Morrison, Earl Bakken, and David Lilly. They invited me to join several corporate, community, and arts boards. For this reason, when I made two career changes—first to Honeywell and then to Medtronic—my wife Penny and I decided to make Minnesota our permanent home, turning down lucrative offers to live elsewhere. Today, Minnesota has a rich array of talented emerging leaders moving here from outside the state. My advice to all of you is to become deeply engaged in this community with organizations that serve the greater good. This will help you grow as leaders and prepare you to have an important impact in building an even healthier and more prosperous community.”

—Bill George, author, Harvard Business School Executive Fellow, former Medtronic CEO

On diversity of thought:

“I have unwavering faith in our capacity for innovation. We need a diverse medley of perspectives in tech. It’s not just a moral imperative; it is a strategic one. We need to nurture an environment where anyone, regardless of their background, can play a part in shaping the future landscape.”

—Dan Mallin, co-founder and CEO, Equals 3 Inc.

On corporate pride:

“We take for granted that 3M, Cargill, General Mills, Target, and so many other large companies are here. This creates rocket fuel to support entrepreneurs in the form of customers with business. I have found Minnesota as an amazing place to build businesses and don’t see that changing any time soon.”

—Scott Litman, co-founder and chief operating officer, Equals 3 Inc.

On leaning in: 

“The leadership of business requires stepping outside of companies to become leaders of communities. There’s a greater hesitation today to do that, to avoid political involvement. We need to lean in. If we lean in and partner with the legislative bodies, we are going to have a much healthier climate as we move forward.”

—Pat Ryan, board chairman, Ryan Companies