Business Partnership’s Charlie Weaver Will Retire Shortly After 2023 Session
Charlie Weaver, a self-deprecating political pro, will end a 20-year run atop the Minnesota Business Partnership over the summer.
Weaver, 65, and the high-profile business organization announced Wednesday that Weaver intends to retire as executive director. That’s a role that placed him in frequent contact with governors and key legislative leaders as they shaped public policies in Minnesota.
A firm has been hired to identify candidates for Weaver’s successor.
“When I came to the Partnership, it was a very strong organization,” Weaver said. “It’s in good shape, so it’s a good time to let someone else take the reins.”
Weaver joked that a love of public policy is a “defect in my family,” but he said Wednesday that he doesn’t plan to restart his political career after retiring from the Minnesota Business Partnership.
Weaver was chief of staff for Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2003 when he accepted the job of succeeding former Sen. Duane Benson in the Partnership’s top position. It was a challenge that Weaver took on after serving 10 years as a moderate Republican in the Minnesota House, running for attorney general in 1998, and leading the Department of Public Safety in the administration of Gov. Jesse Ventura, an independent.
Weaver’s father, Charles, also served in the Minnesota Legislature, so Charlie Weaver began his political education at a young age. In a 2018 interview with TCB, Weaver said, “Like a lot of people, I would love to be governor.” But at the Partnership, he said, “I am blessed with the best job in the state because I get to scratch my political itch through working with legislators and the governor.”
During a TCB interview on Wednesday, Weaver reflected on his work at the Partnership, priorities for the 2023 legislative session, and how he plans to spend his time after he retires.
When asked whether he intends to run for political office again, he gave an unequivocal “No.”
After uttering a series of three “no” responses, Weaver said, “I’m not interested in elected office. There are plenty of good people out there that I’ll certainly be happy to support.”
Immersed in the 2023 session
In the short term, Weaver is weighing in on a large volume of policy proposals that have been surfacing at the Minnesota Legislature at a frenetic pace. As he begins his second term in office, DFL Gov. Tim Walz is dealing with a much different political landscape. Democrats are in control of both houses of the Legislature, and they are assessing how to allocate a large budget surplus.
Weaver and members of the Business Partnership, which consists of CEOs of major corporations and other big employers, met with Walz last week to discuss their priorities.
“This is a super competitive environment we are in right now for businesses because everyone is fighting for employees,” Weaver said. “Our members every single day get calls from other states or other countries to lure them out of Minnesota.”
Consequently, he said, “Just do no harm. That’s our approach at the Capitol. Don’t make it harder to operate and grow a company here. That’s our message to the governor.”
Paid family leave is at the top of the Partnership’s legislative agenda. “We know that something is going to pass,” Weaver said. “That’s why we’re so engaged early with legislators on both sides of the aisle and with the governor’s team to get into the details of this bill.”
As written, the Partnership opposes House File 2 and its companion bill, Senate File 2, that were introduced by DFL lawmakers at the outset of the legislative session. It would create a new payroll tax and state employees would oversee a system requiring employers to provide 12 weeks of paid parental and family leave and 12 weeks of paid medical leave.
“Our approach is not that paid family leave isn’t important. It is,” Weaver said. “We don’t want a system that requires everybody, regardless of the benefits that they get at their own companies, to have to be a part of it. We want to be sure that this bill allows companies who already offer benefits, that are as good or greater than those required in the bill, that they can opt out and continue to offer their own benefits.”
To illustrate the Partnership’s concern, he cited the example of a woman employee who wants to go on pregnancy leave and access her existing company benefits. Weaver argued it doesn’t make sense to force her “to go into a state system that No. 1, provides worse benefits, No. 2, makes her pay a payroll tax, and No. 3, instead of working with her own HR person at her company, now requires that she call some new state bureaucracy to deal with her benefits.”
Weaver said there are 109 employers who are members of the Minnesota Business Partnership and they employ about 500,000 people. Many of the large public corporations that are members already offer paid leave to their employees.
Bill sponsors want to make paid family and medical leave broadly available across Minnesota’s economy. Weaver said that he and his members spoke to Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, on Wednesday, because they want substantial changes to the proposed legislation.
“I think the Partnership, the governor, and Commissioner Grove, we’re all on the same page,” Weaver said, because they agree on two overarching principles—that paid family leave is an important benefit and that “whatever passes the Legislature works well for everybody.”
Improving educational outcomes for K-12 students is a longstanding priority of the Minnesota Business Partnership. So Weaver said the Partnership supports a proposal from Gov. Walz to increase funding for early learning scholarships, which help prepare children to enter kindergarten ready to succeed.
The governor aims to triple state spending for the program that makes direct scholarships to families with financial needs, so they can enroll their children in high-quality early childhood programs.
“It’s a civil rights issue, it’s an equity issue, and it’s a talent issue,” Weaver said.
“If we continue to leave half of the Black students in Minneapolis without a high school diploma, that has enormous social consequences for those students and their families,” he said. “But also, we can’t afford to leave those kids on the bench when the Minnesota demographer says that we will have no increase in talent in Minnesota for the next 10 years.”
As it has during every legislative session, the Minnesota Business Partnership will be monitoring tax proposals. “We don’t want to be an outlier,” Weaver said. “The Business Partnership is not an anti-tax organization. But we’re certainly an organization focused on making Minnesota competitive in the tax environment. So we just don’t want to make it harder for our companies to stay here and recruit here.”
Solving problems during pandemic
When he surveys his career with the Partnership, Weaver said he’s proud of how the Partnership worked with government officials during the first phase of the Covid pandemic.
Weaver enlisted then-CEO Doug Baker of Ecolab to bring Partnership businesses together to help secure personal protective equipment (PPE) when masks and other items were scarce. Baker and others, Weaver recalled, “played a significant role working with the governor’s team, helping them with the whole issue of supply chain.”
The lines of communication between top state officials and Minnesota’s major businesses were open during the uncertain early months of Covid-19. “Every single week, we talked on Tuesday morning with the governor’s team,” Weaver said. Those calls occurred for more than a year after Covid-19 surfaced in March 2020.
Weaver was joined on those calls by HR leaders and attorneys for some of Minnesota’s largest companies. The governor frequently took part in the weekly calls, he said, and the regulars from the administration were then-Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, DEED’s Grove, and Chris Schmitter, the governor’s chief of staff.
The tone of the calls is clearly imprinted in Weaver’s mind. “It isn’t, ‘Here’s what we want you to do,’ ’’ he said. “The tone is, ‘How can we help you be successful, whether it’s public safety or Covid or responding to George Floyd.’ Those are all moments in time when it was really important for the business community to pull together and work with public leaders to make sure that we get this right as challenging as that is.”
Weaver was talking to the governor’s staff on Tuesdays in 2020, and every Monday he did calls with Partnership CEOs.
“In every call, we had four or five CEOs on a panel, telling what their experience was either laying off employees or bringing back employees, dealing with all the challenges every week, and discussing the regulations that were coming out,” he said.
“That was the opportunity for business leaders to privately share the challenges and opportunities and lessons learned during Covid,” he said, adding that the CEOs were candid about what was working, what wasn’t working, their frustrations, and their uncertainties about next steps to take in a changing environment.
While they don’t occur weekly any longer, Weaver said he still conducts CEO calls. He and his members discovered the benefits of regular convening, and now he said they talk frankly about critical public issues.
“We had a call this week with the Rev. [Jerry] McAfee and Cedric Alexander, the commissioner of public safety in Minneapolis, about crime in Minneapolis and public safety and how the business community can be helpful,” Weaver said.
What’s next for Weaver?
It’s unclear precisely what date Weaver will leave his position. That depends upon the search process, and he estimates he’ll wrap up work sometime between June 1 and Sept. 1.
That means he won’t be executive director when the Partnership holds its 2023 annual dinner in the Minneapolis Convention Center. During those yearly gatherings, Weaver’s humor was showcased in videos that he appeared in with business CEOs and Minnesota politicians.
At the annual dinner in October, he was a clueless character in a spoof on horror films. In another recent year, the video theme was “Mr. Weaver’s Neighborhood.” Weaver wore a sensible sweater in the video and spoke in a soothing voice in a takeoff on the Fred Rogers character.
“I’m so grateful that the Partnership allowed me to do those goofy videos for 20 years,” Weaver said. “It is in the eye of the beholder whether it is humorous.”
After he retires, Weaver said, “I want to take a break and catch my breath before jumping into anything right away.”
But it’s unlikely that he’ll be idle for long.
“This is a time for me to do stuff I want to do, do things that are meaningful, serve on some boards, both profit and nonprofit,” he said.
“My son has Down syndrome,” he said, and previously Weaver has served on the board and done volunteer work for Special Olympics, Gigi’s Playhouse, and the Down Syndrome Association. “I want to continue that kind of thing as well.”
A Coon Rapids resident, Weaver said, “I’ve been approached in the last couple of years to do consulting or serve on a variety of boards, so those would be things that I’d be interested in.”
He will remain engaged on political issues. “I love the intersection of public policy and business,” Weaver said. “So I’ll be looking for opportunities in those areas as well as others. I’m not taking anything off the table.”