Jay Novak’s diverse 34-year career comprises not only business journalism and publishing but also corporate communications, government service, and investment banking. He’s not only written and edited articles on entrepreneurs and their innovations—he has helped develop and support a robust entrepreneurial culture in the state of Minnesota.
At this year’s Entrepreneur of the Year award event in Minneapolis, Novak was recognized with a special Supporter of Entrepreneurship award. He acknowledges it as an especially meaningful honor.
“So many entrepreneurs are among my favorite kinds of people—tinkerers, thinkers, inventors, and innovators,” Novak says. “Stories of entrepreneurial achievement that we hear are not only compelling, but also comforting. They remind us that enterprise is enduring.”
Like any entrepreneur, Novak has taken opportunities that have presented themselves, then run with them. He began his career as a Twin Cities business journalist at a Minneapolis magazine that covered the Upper Midwest banking industry. Within a couple of years, he was writing for and editing two established Twin Cities business publications—City Business, a weekly newspaper; and Corporate Report, a monthly magazine. In fact, for a short while, he was working for both (they were published by the same company).
After a stint as General Mills’ director of communications in the early 1990s, Novak was given the opportunity to help build a new business magazine, then called Twin Cities Business Monthly. During his two-and-a-half years as its editor, TCBM became the largest and most respected business magazine in Minnesota, and a model for others across the country. In 1995, the magazine became and remains the media sponsor for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Awards for Minnesota and the Dakotas (Wisconsin was added two years ago). The magazine dropped the “Monthly” in its name in 2006, as it ramped up its Web site and electronic publications.
Novak entered a new phase of his career in 1995, when Governor Arne Carlson tapped him to head the State of Minnesota’s Department of Trade and Economic Development. As commissioner, Novak oversaw a department that provided funding for numerous start-ups and economic development projects, stimulating new entrepreneurial activity throughout the state.
After Carlson left office in 1999, Novak became an investment banker at the Minneapolis firm Miller Johnson Steichen Kinnard, where he originated corporate bonds, raised money for a bank hedge fund, and helped develop a new Internet stock-trading service. In 2001, he returned to TCB as editor and publisher. In his second tenure, he has guided the development of numerous revenue-enhancing ideas, including special events and bonus publications. The magazine has been named “Best Regional Business Publication” for six of the past 10 years, and has also won numerous writing, editing, and design awards.
For all the twists and turns in Novak’s career, a particularly strong thread running through it is a profound understanding of the crucial role that enterprise plays in a polity’s prosperity and well-being. He knows first-hand the interconnections that make entrepreneurial endeavors possible.
“In Minnesota, financial acumen and entrepreneurial vitality are joined in the process of building businesses,” Novak says. “We live in a state where the development of technologically advanced products is commonplace, and the achievement of superior financial results is almost taken for granted. Opportunity, expansion, and growth are hallmarks of business throughout Minnesota—and among the states that surround us, too.”
Novak will retire as editor and publisher of Twin Cities Business at the end of this summer. But he won’t exactly be retiring. He’ll be associated with a limited partnership investing in distressed bonds, and affiliated with six nonprofit boards, including the advisory board for the Hamline University School of Business.