Other board service
Dalsin Industries 2020-present
Collective Measures 2019-present
Park Industries 2018-present
Dunwoody College of Technology 2013-present
EDCO Products 2013-present
Greater Twin Cities United Way 2013-2020
YWCA of Minneapolis 2008-2011
Gustavus Adolphus College 2002-2005
Before she left her tiny hometown of Gibbon, Minn., to attend Gustavus Adolphus College, Nancy Dahl already had learned valuable lessons about personal responsibility and running a business.
“The town didn’t work unless you showed up,” says Dahl, who graduated from high school in a class of 42 students. “You needed to be accountable for your contribution, and people counted on you to do that.”
In her rural southern Minnesota community, her grandfather supplied egg coolers to farmers and her father established a manufacturing insulation business. As a teen, Nancy Johnson was loading bags of insulation into semitrailer trucks.
“I grew up in a family business, and our board meetings were in the fishing boat,” Dahl says.
This summer, Dahl has been based out of a home on Leech Lake, where she sometimes boards a pontoon boat.
She rises early to contemplate market challenges and opportunities for five Minnesota-based businesses. Dahl sits on the boards of directors for the companies, including four in the construction and building materials sector. “When you get up early, you get that quiet time to settle your mind and get super focused before the noise of the day comes in,” she says.
After a long and successful career as a business executive, most recently at Lifetouch and Tastefully Simple, Dahl is now laser-focused on board service. She’s attracted to companies that are willing to do the hard work of reinventing themselves to ensure they can grow and succeed in the coming years.
“I don’t ever pretend to be the teacher with all the answers,” Dahl says. “That’s not possible in today’s world, but if you’re curious and you’re in that zone, I think you have the appetite and the potential to be an awesome board member.”
She’s careful about staying in her board member lane. “You are not solving management issues in the boardroom, but you are having a discussion with the board members so that management pulls away value and vice versa,” Dahl says.
“I don’t want to be part of a ‘gotcha’ board, where the board wants to point out everything that management did wrong,” she says. “I would rather create an environment and culture on the board that’s a ‘good catch’ board, so that it creates transparency and vulnerability.”
On her boards, Dahl says she’s concerned about the mix of businesses within a company and how they are performing. She’s passionate about her belief that board members must emphasize the company’s strategic planning for how it will operate several years into the future.
She says she wants to know “where the market is going and how prepared the organization is to be there,” and she wants to ensure that businesses have the right employees and technology to evolve and compete successfully.
Dahl is the lead director of the advisory board for Knutson Construction, a family-owned company based in St. Louis Park. Founded in 1911, the company is now owned by the Curry family.
Owner and chairman Steve Curry hired James Benning, a non-family member, in 2019 to succeed him as the company’s top executive. As Curry planned to shift from day-to-day responsibilities, he wanted to create a board that could work effectively with the owners and management.
He acknowledges he felt like he was “stumbling around,” trying to figure out what he wanted from an advisory board.
“We kept getting some feedback that Nancy Dahl might be the person to help us get this thing off the ground,” Curry recalls. Dahl worked with him to establish the advisory board’s purpose and functions, and Curry asked Dahl to serve on the board.
There is an owners’ plan for the Knutson business, and its management has an operational and financial plan. “The board’s job is to make sure that both of those are aligned, and if they are not aligned, that they get aligned,” Curry says.
Dahl’s biggest contribution is her focus on strategic planning, he says. “The whole industry is changing rapidly with technology and innovation. It is so easy to lose sight of where you want to go in two or three years,” he says. But Dahl wouldn’t allow that to happen, despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic.
EDCO Products board member Joe Coughlin, CFO of Ergotron, has witnessed Dahl’s drive and high standards in her role as chair. Hopkins-based EDCO makes steel siding and roofing.
Dahl interviewed Coughlin before he joined the EDCO board. He notes that she wants to make sure all board members are a good culture fit, which includes a commitment to hard work, honesty, and accountability.
She doesn’t try to be an “omniscient CEO-type leader,” Coughlin says. “Nancy knows the role of a chairperson is actually to facilitate discussion amongst those who are at the table.”
She relishes working with other engaged board members. “They know how to ask questions that provoke management to think differently,” Dahl says. “That’s when you know you are on a board that’s really going to be powerful and add that strategic value to a company.”