Make or Break
BCBS of Minnesota is a nonprofit, and it’s a big one: For 2018, the health plan provider had revenue of $13.1 billion. Dr. Craig Samitt arrived at its Eagan headquarters in mid-2018 from Indianapolis-based Anthem, one of the largest for-profit insurers. He wants to “disrupt” the industry but has already run into challenges. In July the Minnesota Hospital Association filed a complaint with state regulators about BCBS’ new prior authorization policies, which the MHA argues are prompting denials for basic care. The controversy is a black eye for the state’s largest insurer; how Samitt manages the issue will provide a strong signal for whether he’s up to the challenge.
Gersson Rosas took over the Timberwolves this summer, the latest attempt by earnest owner Glen Taylor to find a savior for his franchise who can figure out a way to win sustainably. Rosas spent most of his career at the admired Houston Rockets franchise, an organization steeped in player development analytics rather than the old-school basketball X’s and O’s that dominated the Wolves’ various leadership approaches over the years. He is rebuilding the Wolves basketball operation in apparently much the way Derek Falvey has done with the Twins, methodically and rooted in data and analytics. Success-starved local NBA fans are methodically counting on his success.
Andrew Zimmern’s take on a Chinese restaurant (in St. Louis Park’s West End shops) opened to huge crowds, then fell to earth laboring under relentless demand and ultimately saw patronage slide. A weeks-long summer closure recast the restaurant in a pan-Asian model, but it remains to be seen whether AZ and partners’ attempt to breathe life into typically middling Midwestern Chinese fare is going to hit the mark. Derided by critics for cultural rather than culinary reasons, the restaurant, which opened as a proof-of-concept for a national rollout, may end up as proof that successful restaurants, even for the most talented of chefs and entrepreneurs, are ultimately an exercise in kismet.
After nearly a decade leading the Wilder Foundation, MayKao Hang recently was selected by St. Thomas to establish a College of Health. University president Julie Sullivan chose Hang because of her breadth of professional experience and ability to educate health care providers who can address disparities among low-income and minority communities. Hang will reimagine the substance and delivery of education, which will include how practitioners can find innovative solutions to systemic problems such as access and cost. Hang, who previously chaired the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’ board, wants to emphasize community-oriented care that keeps people healthy, mentally and physically
Lisa Goodman has been a player in Minneapolis politics, an often low-key power center in municipal leadership, known for her deep knowledge of housing issues and pragmatic, constituent-oriented approach to governance. Soon to be the longest-tenured councilmember in city history, Goodman now finds herself rather marginalized by the cadre of progressives and quasi-socialists who dominate the body. A confidante of Mayor Jacob Frey, in 2020 she will need to decide whether to run for another term. Her calculus will inevitably be whether that term will on the back benches representing south downtown and CIDNA/Kenwood/East Isles or whether the city’s ideological pendulum will swing back, allowing her greater influence
Cory Hepola departed a weekend anchor role at KARE-11 TV and landed a reasonably prominent shift on the Good Neighbor early this year. His brand of high-energy, sports-passionate, self-improvement-driven talk is a breath of fresh air on the metro’s most tradition-bound station. What is clear is he’s livened up mid-morning radio for the better. What’s unclear is whether Hepola’s tweak of the ’CCO model is sufficiently dynamic to create a template for the station’s next era or even help stem its long, gradual slide in audience share over recent decades.
It’s time once again to save ValueVision Media. Or Evine Live. Make that iMedia Brands. Tim Peterman, who had served as CFO and COO, started his second tour of duty at the long-struggling Eden Prairie-based TV shopping channel as CEO in May. (He previously served as CFO and COO.) Peterman quickly focused on rebranding. Evine Live became iMedia in July, then the Evine channel returned to the ShopHQ name. The company’s second quarter results saw the usual declining sales and a net loss, but there was a glimmer of hope, as iMedia Brands saw adjusted EBITDA earnings of $0.2 million for the quarter. Peterman is sharp and getting the numbers into better shape, but the road ahead is long and uncertain.
As workplace giving to United Way has waned, the philanthropic organization developed a new long-range plan and hired John Wilgers to lead its transformation. He accepted the top job this year following a 35-year career with EY and service on United Way’s board. Grantmaking from United Way’s general pool has declined from $50.1 million in 2014 to $40.8 million in 2018. Simultaneously, there’s been a modest upswing in gifts designated by donors for specific nonprofits. Wilgers is charged with boosting donations but also expanding United Way’s volunteer efforts, public policy advocacy, direct client services, and use of technology to communicate with donors.
Watch out, Ben & Jerry’s—Izzy’s is coming for you. After 19 years as a local favorite, with a shop on each side of the river and statewide distribution to restaurants and about 100 grocery stores, husband-and-wife founders Jeff Sommers and Lara Hammel are ready to bring their premium ice cream to the rest of the country. In May, they stepped up production with the help of a contract manufacturer. Now, they’re in talks with grocery chains in Chicago. “Our vision is to compete directly with HÃ¤agen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s,” Sommers says. “We’re just trying to make better ice cream.”
In Chicago, businesses have signed up sight unseen for space being developed by Brian Whiting. His firm, Telos Group, has transformed well-known Chicago structures including Willis (Sears) Tower, Prudential Plaza, and the mixed-use Old Post Office. But leading the redevelopment of The Dayton’s Project in downtown Minneapolis is forcing Whiting to prove himself, and his team, to a community that is both anxious and extremely protective of this landmark. Whiting seems to know that. He delayed construction to secure a designation on the National Register of Historic Places—which facilitated tax credits and key preservation work for the $200 million renovation. He has promised that when visitors enter in 2020, they will feel a connection between the beloved department store and its modern iteration. The big question is what they will find when they get inside. As of press time, no retailers nor office tenants had been publicly signed.
So what is going on at DHS? Governor Tim Walz hopes that Jodi Harpstead, whom he appointed in August, can straighten things out. Stories of the summer turmoil at the department read like a soap opera: allegations of fraud and misspent funds, numerous top-level resignations (then some un-resignations, plus a re-resignation), and a commissioner who left after just six months. That puts Harpstead, who’d been serving as president and CEO of St. Paul-based Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, in the hot seat. She has the right experience. Can she provide the sunlight and fresh air legislators are demanding?
The Iron Range city of Mountain Iron might seem a curious place to manufacture solar panels, but Ontario-based Heliene is betting $18 million that it can work. Also anteing up is the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB), which, along with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, lent Heliene $3.5 million in 2017. That’s the year, by the way, that the Mountain Iron plant’s previous occupant, Washington-based Silicon Energy, went dark, despite a $3.6 million loan to build the facility. Martin Pochtaruk says his company is in better financial shape than Silicon Energy, and he has plans to employ 105. For both Heliene and the IRRRB, the heat is on.
Last spring, New Jersey-based women’s clothing retailer Ascena Group, whose brands include Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant, sold its majority stake in Duluth-based Maurices to London-based private equity firm OpCapita. (Ascena retains 49 percent of that company.) Debt-heavy Ascena has been struggling, closing hundreds of stores. Maurices itself, which boasted more than 1,000 stores in 2017, was down to 937 as of May. The sale to OpCapita could provide a fresh restart for Maurices and a chance for Goldfarb, the company’s congenial longtime top executive, to try new ways to boost sluggish sales.
When Craig Leipold became the Minnesota Wild’s majority owner in 2008, he wanted his club to one day win the NHL’s Stanley Cup. He’s still waiting. Early-season optimism quickly dimmed when the 2019-20 Wild began the season 1-6. Diehard fans are impatient at the Wild’s inability to make an extended playoff run. In August, Leipold hired general manager Bill Guerin from the Pittsburgh Penguins after the short, troubled tenure of Paul Fenton. Guerin was an NHL star player and has extensive management experience. In 2020, the pressure is on Leipold, Guerin, and coach Bruce Boudreau to make a deep playoff run, lest the team face another rebuild.