Jeff Gau

Jeff Gau

With infectious energy and a salesman’s intuition, he grew a small St. Cloud typewriter shop into a national IT company.

Marco Technologies LLC

Founded | 1973

Headquarters | St. Cloud

Employees | 1,200+

Revenue | $400 million+

Company overview | Supplier of office equipment, audiovisual services, and myriad IT services


Jeff Gau was a business student at the University of North Dakota in the 1980s when he met Marco Technologies co-founder Gary Marsden.

Marsden had dropped in on Gau’s marketing class during the university’s homecoming. The class was working on a case study, and the instructor asked Marsden if he wanted to participate and work alongside students. Even back then, Gau’s leadership skills were apparent to Marsden.

“Jeff was very outgoing,” Marsden recalls. “He contacted me after that session. We communicated back and forth, and I made him a job offer.”

At the time, Marco was still a small shop selling typewriters and office furniture. But Gau took on his job as an office furniture salesperson with gusto. It would mark the start of a blossoming business partnership that lasted for 37 years, culminating in Gau’s ascendance to chief executive of the St. Cloud company in 2005. Gau’s peers and friends say he has seemingly limitless, and infectious, energy, with the capacity to generate a high volume of sales in a short time.

“His motivational ability is absolutely phenomenal. He just instilled a heck of an environment for people to grow.”

—Kenny Nelson, founder, KLN Family Brands

Marco grew out of a typewriter shop that Gary Marsden purchased with co-founder Dave Marquardt in 1973. In its first year of operation, the St. Cloud-based company had annual revenue of around $500,000, Marsden says. By the time Gau retired as CEO, Marco had vastly diversified its offerings, becoming a major IT services supplier and office equipment seller pulling in more than $400 million in revenue a year. “It’s a hell of a story,” Marsden says.

The company, still based in St. Cloud, now has operations in 12 states, including a dozen offices across Minnesota. Marco still sells traditional office equipment such as printers and copiers, along with cybersecurity services, data storage, and more.

For those who know Gau, his trajectory is not at all surprising.

When Gau joined Marco in the 1980s, companies like IBM and Microsoft were among the biggest players in the computing space. Marco’s own founders were ex-IBM salesmen. But Gau saw an opening for the small St. Cloud company. He had high hopes for Marco, and he convinced his peers and superiors to follow along. “He was so focused on sales,” says Kenny Nelson, founder of KLN Family Brands in Perham and a 2018 TCB Hall of Famer. “And he would motivate people to sell. He was able to channel his business acumen into that arena.”

Gau was born in 1958 in Little Falls, Minnesota. The eldest of four boys and the son of a longtime auto parts salesman, Gau had sales in his blood. Today, two of Gau’s brothers work at Marco, along with Gau’s son, who’s been selling for the company for over a decade now.

Before he started his career at Marco, Gau served in the U.S. Air Force from 1978–81. His final base was in Grand Forks, N.D., home to the University of North Dakota. With his service completed, Gau went to UND to study business, earning his bachelor’s degree in 1984. That same year, he landed his first job at Marco.

But Gau’s path to the top spot at the St. Cloud company almost never happened. When Gary Marsden first offered him the job, Gau initially had second thoughts. Marsden eventually persuaded Gau to join by promising to teach him everything he needed to know about running a business in three years. Marsden described it as an MBA of sorts.

“I made him a commitment way back,” Marsden says. “I still have the letter—and I’m sure he does, too—where I said, ‘OK, I’ll give you your MBA in three years. First year, I’ll teach you how to sell. Second year, I’ll teach you how to manage. Third year, I’ll show you how to run the business.’ He accepted that premise, and away we went.”

In 1984, Gau took the job as an office furniture salesperson for Marco, working his way up through increasing positions of leadership in sales. Eventually, he oversaw the company’s entire sales function. In 2003, Gau had risen through the ranks to become president of the company. He held that position until 2005, when he was named CEO, a position he held until his retirement in March 2021.

As CEO, he oversaw a period of rapid growth for Marco. The company, which was employee owned until it was purchased by Norwest Equity Partners in October 2015, executed 47 acquisitions under Gau’s watch. Since 2016, the company has acquired more than 20 companies. For Gau, it was all part of a broader vision to grow Marco, whether through acquisitions or organic growth. Today, Marco has more than 1,200 employees.

Even as the company grew, Gau continued to lead with a human touch. “His motivational ability is absolutely phenomenal,” says Nelson of KLN. “He got close to his people. He’s a very sharp guy. He remembered everybody’s name. He just instilled a heck of an environment for people to grow.”

Nelson didn’t work directly with Gau; the two met after Gau purchased a lake home in Perham near one of Nelson’s employees. They quickly became friends, a testament to Gau’s ability to network in his local communities.

More than just motivating employees to sell, Gau took his role as mentor seriously. He’s helped dozens of employees rise through the ranks to leadership positions, but for Gau, mentorship has always been a two-way street. Jonathan Warrey, Marco’s chief operating officer, was among those who benefitted from mentorship with Gau. The two first met 25 years ago, when Warrey was also a business student at UND.

Warrey “was a mentor to me, and I to him, even though he worked for me that whole time,” Gau says. “I spent the better part of my career being mentored by people all around me, none of whom were necessarily my bosses. Most of the mentoring came from people that I just thought were doing good things, smart things, the right things.”

For his part, Warrey learned a sense of perseverance, alongside a generous helping of solid business skills. It was during times of macroeconomic difficulty, Gau would tell Warrey, that “we were at our best.”

“What he meant there was this: Are you still taking care of customers? Are you still watching expenses? Are you taking the appropriate calculated risks to move the business forward?” Warrey says.

Since retiring in March, Gau has stepped away from Marco’s day-to-day operations, choosing to serve as the company’s nonexecutive board chairman. But he’s still an active member of the St. Cloud business community. He serves on the boards of five organizations, three for-profit and two nonprofit. That includes the Greater St. Cloud Development Corp., where he’s served as a board member alongside Granite Partners founder and CEO Rick Bauerly.

Bauerly has been a Marco customer for decades, first with his family-owned company and then later with Granite Partners. Beyond being a business partner, Gau has a strong attachment to his community, Bauerly says.

“The breadth and depth of [Gau’s] community engagement, volunteerism, and community giving is outstanding,” Bauerly says.


Timeline

1958 Born in Little Falls, Minnesota.

1973 Gary Marsden and Dave Marquardt launch Marco from a small St. Cloud typewriter shop they purchased.

1978 Jeff Gau begins four-year service with the U.S. Air Force.

1984 Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks; joins Marco as an office furniture salesperson.

1989 Marco becomes employee-owned company.

2003 Named president of Marco.

2005 Marco is acquired by Norwest Equity Partners; Gau is named CEO.

2021 Retires and begins service as company’s non-executive board chairman.

See the other 2021 Minnesota Business Hall of Fame inductees