Features

CEOs: What Are They Thinking?

More than 100 Minnesota CEOs, presidents and top leaders tell us about their priorities, how they solve problems and what they think of each other.

By Steve LeBeau
01-27-2017

Our 2017 CEO Survey
My Astrologer Made Me Do It
What are they thinking? (About each other)
CEO Insights
Quotes from CEOs

Our 2017 CEO Survey

 

It never hurts to ask, so we did. In our second survey to find out what is top-of-mind for the top executives in business in Minnesota, we received 106 responses. Given our focus on small and midsize businesses, the respondents are primarily CEOs and owners of everything from pre-revenue startups to established businesses with hundreds of millions in annual revenue. About 44% are women; several respondents run nonprofits; a couple are former Minnesotans who run businesses in California.

A substantial portion of the survey was developed with Rico Mace, who has a doctorate in business administration. He is also the CEO of Orman Guidance, a Minneapolis-based market research company. Rico and I started collaborating more than a year ago as he was about to conduct his research for his doctoral dissertation on the Strategic Agility Paradox — an approach to understanding how executives provide the proper balance between stability and flexibility in their companies — based on work formally published in 2008 by Yves Doz and Mikko Kosonen, after an extended research study with Nokia.
 
To come full circle, I asked Rico to provide an interpretation of the results, from the perspective of the Strategic Agility Paradox.
 
MNBIZ: What is the strategic agility paradox?
Rico: The strategic agility paradox is a puzzle that all decision-makers must confront: balancing the competing forces of flexibility and stability. Anyone making a decision to resolve a business issue has to make sure his or her company remains stable to sustain, while at the same time, remaining flexible enough to grow. 
 
MNBIZ: Can you give me an example of a company that wasn’t agile enough, and then went down?
Rico: People remember Blockbuster. It was the industry leader in video rental stores before Netflix and Redbox changed the paradigm. Blockbuster did not respond to the market. It slowly sold its assets until an eventual bankruptcy marked the end. There is significant research on Blockbuster for not being agile. 
 
MNBIZ: That’s your worst case. What’s a good agile company that you can point to that is changing with the flow?
Rico: Procter & Gamble. P&G is known for its open innovation systems. The company has been recognized and awarded for its ability to be agile by involving customers in the company’s open innovation processes. Open innovation is a strategy whereby businesses de-privatize their R&D activities. In P&G’s case, the company told customers and employees, “ We want ideas from you.” These customers and employees were rewarded.
 
MNBIZ: So you have to maintain enough stability to be predictable, but you don’t want to be too stiff so that you can’t change.
Rico: Yes, that’s correct. An IT/IS consultant that I interviewed for my dissertation partitioned the different parts of his company, and said that some parts are flexible by nature and some are stable. High-quality customer experience was stable, but his research and development activities were flexible. 
 
Business activities may change from being flexible to being stable and vice versa. For example, a customary notion is that the customer is always right, but the contemporary notion is that the customer is not always right. Many variables are at play, and business leaders should equally position the needs of the company, the needs of the employees, and the needs of customers to attain agility.
 
MNBIZ: Are there any local companies you can point to as to be particularly agile and non-agile? 
Rico: Take the case of Zivix, a Minnesota company that creates virtual music devices. One may say it competes against the traditional guitar industry. Zivix created a virtual guitar that teaches you how to play and learn the techniques. Customers get an app with virtual lessons, and it may be synced to your television. It actually senses the guitar pick as the person is playing the modified, virtual guitar. 
 
MNBIZ: The person doesn’t play a real guitar? 
Rico: No, it’s not a traditional guitar — it’s a digital version.
 
Competition is high in the music industry. Consider this, Zivix creates this new product, and it challenges the market share of big guitar companies in an era where technology is ruling. This small Minnesota company may have beaten very large companies to the next era of musical devices. When Zivix needed support for this product, the company crowdfunded and ended up getting about $800,000 to develop it. That’s a really cool story about how Zivix was agile.  
 
MNBIZ: What is the key component in a company to ensure proper flexibility?
Rico: It’s usually inherent in the culture and the decision-makers, the CEO and the executive staff. There is no specific process that can be flexible without a person making a decision within that process. You can have flexible processes, but without people harnessing that flexibility, it is not going to work. The top team drives that bus. 
 
MNBIZ: Is a startup more likely to be agile than a Fortune 500 company?
Rico: In most cases, yes. The primary attribute that makes startups agile is their ability to quickly move resources, whether those resources are human or intangible, such as technology. If a company needs to rewrite an employee’s job description, it tends to occur faster and with less resistance. That person converts, does the training and cuts over. Darin Lynch, Chief Liberation Officer of Irish Titan, said that generalists are a considerable asset for small businesses.
 
In taking those risks, small businesses can be more entrepreneurial than larger businesses. Their entrepreneurial spirit aligns with the agility perfectly — being more flexible, taking risks, and making drastic changes. However, larger businesses are starting to create inter-preneurial teams with hopes to combat the small-business advantage.
 
MNBIZ: I recently heard from John Sweeney of the Brave New Workshop, a comedy improv company does corporate workshops to promote creative thinking. He pointed out the irony that a lot of the small companies want to grow into these big corporations, and yet he’s hired to go to these big corporations to promote entrepreneurial culture.
Rico: Big companies know that they are not as agile. They know that they are not as fast with radical business-model changes. Their ears aren’t as close to the ground as small businesses’. That’s why small businesses become overnight sensations. We’ve seen this, it’s the Ubers of the world. Shareholders are bothered by this phenomenon where small companies cleverly capture significant market share. That’s where the desire for internal entrepreneurial thinking, or inter-preneurial teams are launched. 
 
MNBIZ: Is there a recipe for strategic agility?
Rico: There is a recipe. Doz and Kosonen identified three main components of strategic agility, which they labelled pillars: resource fluidity, leadership unity and strategic sensitivity. 
 
Resource fluidity is the ability of decision-makers and the company to quickly move resources. It could be money, people, technology or other things. 
 
Leadership unity is the ability of the top team to unify and implement decisions. This requires people to be caring and authentic, but most important is that they have open dialogue. 
The third pillar is strategic sensitivity, a type of awareness formed by combining insight and foresight. Insight is current knowledge, foresight is future knowledge. So — being able to predict the future through your insights. 
 
*Survey Question: How aware and sensitive are you to your business problems? 
 

MNBIZ: There are three dominant answers to this question, the top being: “I always know what’s going on, I talk to people;” then second is “I am on top of the situation.”
Rico: Our respondents were CEOs and business owners. Understandably, they know what’s going on and they are plugged in. CEOs and decision makers are most aware of the ecosystem, but some did mention that they are not plugged in to daily operations. They have people that manage their processes and sense those problems.

 
MNBIZ: Then the third highest is, “I get a vague feeling and then check it out with someone who knows.” These people would be in a position to be agile because they know what’s going on?
Rico: Absolutely, they or their successor should be the most agile person in the company. Problems comes in different shapes and sizes, meaning that not all problems are recognizable by the CEO. CEOs and business owners are in a better spot when their executives sense a problem and implement solutions to correct the issue. It frees up CEOs’ time to focus on a multitude of high-level problems.
 
*Survey Question: How do you know you have a problem in operations, processes and business model of your company? 
 
MNBIZ: This question asks, “How do you know you have a problem?” The top two answers say “it’s obvious” or “I found it going over the numbers.” The third one, a few points back, is “my customers complain.”
Rico: Like the last question, the awareness of a problem is associated with the type of problem. If it’s obvious, CEOs must be noticing a high-level issue. If they’re noticing it in the numbers, the first indication is a drop in revenue or an increase in expenses. This requires further investigation to understand the activities causing the change; don’t stop at the numbers. Although CEOs don’t want to hear customers complain, it is needed. Decision-makers cannot shut themselves off from this feedback.
 
*Survey Question: Once you notice a problem, how do you go about solving it? Select all that apply. 
 
MNBIZ: This question asks, “Once you are aware of the problem, how do you go about solving it?” The biggest answer is having a brainstorming session with key staff, followed by discussing it with peers in business network. 
Rico: Conducting strategy sessions with key staff is a step toward being strategically agile. It’s part of leadership unity, and key business issues are on the table for resolution, while also producing transparency and open communication. 
 
MNBIZ: But the third biggest answer was that they work on the problem alone. 
Rico: This is very true, because some problems require CEOs to rest and contemplate a mix of variables, such as: What do my customers need? What do my employees need? What is legal and ethical? Will this affect my strategic partnerships? Consider your environment on your own or with a trusted source, and then co-create actionable solutions with your executive team. At times, singular intelligence (intelligence of one person) may outweigh distributed intelligence (intelligence of many people). CEOs seem to instinctively sense what is needed.
 
MNBIZ: Then there are some esoteric responses too. “I calm my mind and use my intuition.” About 25 say, “I pray.” Ten people say the answers come to them in a dream. (For more, see page 44) These things certainly aren’t taught in business schools.
Rico: Dreams, prayers and intuition are a very real part of decisions. Decision-making is not a stale, superficial calculation. CEOs take this seriously, and those with a religious orientation may rely on a belief system that’s balanced with a higher power.
 
*Survey Question: After you have identified the problem and have decided on a plan, how do you get buy-in with your team? 
 
MNBIZ: The clearly dominant way that CEOs get buy-in from their top executives is through open dialogue. That’s nearly 87% of all respondents.
Rico: As we have discussed, communication and open dialogue are essential to strategic agility. That’s been consistent across the responses from almost all of the participants, the top decision-makers and even the executive teams. When they are not doing this, discord is created, people become impassive, nothing changes or nothing happens. The business model breaks down, services break down, employees break down and growth is stunted. This might seem obvious, but open dialogue is not unchallenging — it takes practice.
 
*Survey Question: How does your company manage the Strategic Agility Paradox? (The struggle by a company to maintain stability yet be flexible enough to handle change has been called the Strategic Agility Paradox.)
 
MNBIZ: How does your company manage the strategic agility paradox? The biggest answer was, “I lead by example.” What does that mean?
Rico: Most CEOs associate flexibility with human resources, and they lead by example to demonstrate flexibility through actions. In most cases, they or the executive team build flexible processes and teach people to follow those processes. This emphasizes the human element, and shows how the approach to balancing stability and flexibility isn’t just a business textbook technique.
 
MNBIZ: This is a new theoretical model, and some people have not even thought about this paradox. 
Rico: Our research found that not a single CEO/decision-maker had heard of the Strategic Agility Paradox, but most of them were actively engaged in resource fluidity, leadership unity, and strategic sensitivity. In my research, they mentioned it in different terms, and there weren’t processes that specifically addressed the need to create an agile environment. Most of them mentioned that they desired for it to be in their master plan.
 
*Survey Question: What are your priorities as CEO?
 
MNBIZ: Here we have two responses that significantly domainate, People and Culture, and Finding Growth. What would you say about that?
Rico: It’s common across all companies, that people are the primary drivers. Even in companies that are becoming more virtual, even in the technology companies and health care companies, where they’re creating global, virtual teams. The people behind the computers are still the people driving the bottom line. CEOs and the executive teams have to have confidence in these people. 
 
Finding Growth, which came in second place, is the initiative of most CEOs, but as we can see it’s in the 50s because not all CEO’s are focused on growth. Many are focused on sustainment. In my research, not all CEOs are interested in growing or innovating. They were interested in serving their current set of clients, and only offering their current set of products and services. It’s indicative of the CEO or the executive team, whether or not they’re even focusing on growth
 
*Survey Question: What are the top business challenges in Minnesota? 
 
MNBIZ: Here we have one overwhelmingly dominant response, and again it deals with people. The biggest challenge is the right staff and staff flexibility.
Rico: That’s especially true in the current economy. It’s a candidates’ economy, meaning that it is harder for businesses to attract and retain talent. That’s why CEOs are offering different types of benefit programs, as well as doing the more contemporary type benefits — such as being able to bring your dog to work every day.
 
MNBIZ: It says The Right Staff and Staff Flexibility. What does that mean? Staff flexibility?
Rico: There has been some openness when it comes to the staff flexibility component. There are some newer benefits that are coming about in the past couple of years, like unlimited vacation. Companies have found that once they start offering that unlimited vacation benefit, people tend to take less vacation.
 
MNBIZ: Really?
Rico: Yes. It may be a psychological effect of being stuck inside of a box, only knowing that you have a certain amount of time to do something. But once that box is opened, you don’t have that feeling of being trapped. That’s one type of benefit for flexibility, as well as unlimited work-at-home hours. As long as those hours are catalogued, go ahead.
 
*Survey Question: What kinds of business worries are most likely to keep you up at night?
 
MNBIZ: What kinds of business worries are most likely to keep you up at night? Here we see a concern about employees again, but it’s at number two. The top concern is worrying about making wrong decisions. Is that normal?
Rico: A big part of being a decision-maker is having that worry. Let’s call it stress. It’s partly good — some of your awareness of making wrong decisions is an okay thing. When it literally keeps you up at night, that’s when it gets into the harmful zone.
 
MNBIZ:The third thing that’s pretty high up there is worry about competitors. 
Rico: Competition is always something that CEOs are aware of. Some of them are able to do it instinctively, but there is always some level of research that is going on with the CEO, whether it’s through the peer groups or something else. There is always that worry that the competition — or the big corporation — is going to limit your ability to expand.
 
MNBIZ:The fourth one here, concerns about the new president, will be featured in its own section on page 46. Of the least concern are the minimum wage and sick-time-off initiatives. 
Rico: I would say most of the companies responding to this survey are above the minimum-wage type employee. They probably have college-educated staff. 
 
 
Rico Mace has a DBA, a doctorate in business administration, for which he interviewed several CEOs in IT. Rico is also the CEO of Orman Guidance, a Minneapolis-based market research company. 
 

 

My Astrologer Made Me Do It

Lynn Gordon Founder and CEO, French Meadows Bakery

 
Lynn Gordon was riding high in 2006. She was the 2005 Small Business Person of the Year, traveled with Governor Pawlenty to China, and had just signed a partnership deal with Super Valu’s new chain of organic stores, Sunflower. The chain was going to expand to hundreds of stores, so suddenly French Meadow became very attractive to investors.
 
The leading suitor was Rich’s, the non-dairy topping and frozen foods giant based in Buffalo, New York. In March, as part of her due diligence, Lynn got a reading from her astrologer. She wanted to know if she should be selling. 
 
“It was incredible,” says Lynn. “It was all about a huge change and a new ERA for me. I got goosebumps. He said ‘You’re going to be coming into money. This is a bountiful time for you.’ I’m like, great, great, great!” 
 
But then the astrologer worried about the timing of the sale. “I recommend that you do it by July 9,” he says. “Any time later would not be good.”
 
Lynn took it to heart, and hurried the team from Rich’s to close by July 9. She told them, “My astrologer said.” They humored her, and broke their backs to meet the deadline dictated by the stars. 
 
Two weeks later they got word that Sunflower canceled the contract with French Meadows. If they had not closed when they did, Rich’s may have backed out of the deal, because the big attraction was the Sunflower deal. Coincidence? Or do the stars really know?
 
 

What are they thinking? (About each other)

One of the great inspirations for CEOs is other CEOs. That’s why we made room in our survey for the respondents to cast superlatives toward their favorites.

 
Who is the wisest CEO?  
 
Greg Page, former CEO, Cargill “During his tenure, Page grew Cargill to one of the top 15 companies in the world, public or private — linking a foundation of core values to a worldwide culture.  He often explained that ‘our culture travels in shoes’.” 
—Steve Wilcox, President, Resultants for Business
 
Andrew Zimmern “He does what he wants, how he wants, and makes things happen. He has his finger on every aspect of everything in his businesses all of the time even when others would say micromanaging isn’t the right thing to do. It works for him and he has proven it. (Again, no red button was pressed.)” —Amy Zaroff, Owner, Creative Director, Amy Zaroff Events + Design
 
Nobody specific —but the wisest executives I’ve known are those who don’t consider themselves to be wise.” —Shaye Mandle, President & CEO, The Medical Alley Association
 
Wisest CEO: Krista Carroll, CEO, Latitude “Krista has an uncanny ability to look at chaos and complexity, identify underlying elements, and articulate a framework for success. She is a lifelong learner who takes time to teach those around her. With her ability to help others learn, it is no surprise she was once a school teacher. Krista is the type of person who can listen to any problem and help sort it into manageable parts. She put purpose at the center of her business, attracting employees and clients who share her values.” —Aaron Hall, CEO, JUX Law Firm
 
Who is the funniest CEO?  
 
Elon Musk “The guy is one of the most important and innovative people alive, yet he keeps it real. Refers to explosions of his SpaceX rockets as a RUD for ‘Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly.’” —Tyson Schnitker, President, Skaalvenn Distillery
 
Funniest CEO: Mike Veeck (pictured above), president and co-owner, St Paul Saints ”Veeck continues to stay committed to his and his company’s philosophy that ‘fun is good’ at a time when we all need more creativity.” —Mike Zipko, President, CEO, Zipko Strategy
 
Who is the most humble CEO?  
 
Glafira Marcon, Healthcare.MN “Marcon is doing a fantastic job leading Healthcare.mn, producing lots of value for the community and shes very humble about her influence.” —Pete Kane, CEO, Silicon Valley Artificial Intelligence
 
Earl Bakken, founder of Medtronic "Bakken never stopped being the guy working out of his garage who understood the importance of everyone at every level inside of a company.” —Dale Wahlstrom, CEO, Act, LLC
 
Linda Neimeyer, Blue Sky Fibers “Linda is always open about her challenges and incredibly committed to learning and working with others to overcome them.” —Anonymous
 
Most Humble: Amee McDonald, Jabberlogic “Amee is one of the most amazing women I’ve ever met, and knowing her, she would disagree. She is blissfully unaware of the light that she shines, as she is too busy trying to help others and change the world for the better.” —Sarah Moe, CEO, Sleep Health Specialists
 
Who is the hardest worker?  
 
Pam Sartell, CEO, Sartell Group “There is no challenge Pam won’t face head-on with class, hard work and dedication.” — Anonymous
 
Hardest Worker: Mondo Davison, aka The Black Tech Guy “Mondo is consistently working on multiple new and innovative projects, and somehow manages to give care and attention to everything he touches.”—Sarah Moe, CEO, Sleep Health Specialists
 
Who is the best networker?  
 
Bill Hawkins, former CEO, Medtronic ”Bill made a major effort to be involved in many things that are outside of his realm of responsibility that have allowed him to become connected in all corners of the world.” —Dale Wahlstrom, CEO, Act, LLC
 
Mick White, Virginia Asset Management, “Mick asks the best questions about life, strategy and goals, causing you to leave every conversation knowing more about yourself and appreciating his insightful perspectives.” —Aaron Hall, CEO, JUX Law Firm
 
Stacey Stratton, CEO, True Talent, “Stacey lives in a place where networking builds value for her, her clients, and her team, so everyone feels like they benefit from knowing her. Plus, she is funny and energetic — great to be around.” —Anonymous
 
Best Networker: Lars Leafblad, Ballinger|Leafblad
“He’s the master.”—Scott Burns, CEO/co-founder, GovDelivery
 
Who is the best dressed?  
 
Rand Fishkin, former CEO, Moz “Always very sharp and can sport a handlebar mustache with the very best of them.” —Laura Weintraub, CEO, Aimclear
 
Marni Hockenberg, CEO, Hockenberg Search “Marnie always dresses in shades of purple or lavender with matching accessories.  Her personal brand stands out by her unique look in any crowd.” —Steve Wilcox, President, Resultants for Business
 
“Kai Worrell, CEO, Worrell Design   “Everything Kai owns is custom tailored, but it’s not too formal. He straddles the line of formal and informal very well.” —Al Baker, CEO/Co-founder, Reemo 
 
Best Dressed: Becky Roloff, president, St. Catherine University
”Becky has that unique appearance where big and bold jewelry with her great sense of fashion just captures one’s attention!” —Deborah K. Delaney, Founder/CEO, Touching Lives Adult Day Services and Touching Lives Communities, LLC
 

CEO Insights

Rico talks to three leading CEOS

 

Bob Worrell (pictured above), Founder, Worrell Design 

RICO: You and I talked about the ups and downs in business. Can you share a story about some of your company’s ups and downs with its strategy?

BOB: Sure. We’ve won just about every design award, including Time Magazine’s Top 10 Designs Award. It was a head trip. We found out that one of our products was not successful and this changed us. It involved the in-home PC market in the 80s and 90s — this market was big, but then it stalled, and eventually dropped. A client came to us asking us to develop a media storage box (during the floppy disk era) during the market stall. Jumping ahead, the product didn’t sell. 

RICO: So, you changed your business model to try to prevent these things from happening again?
BOB: We did this by adding multiple layers of research to our designs — and, we created our own research process to plan for the variables. There are always surprises, but some of these surprises can be eliminated or turned into an advantage. You can’t be so rigid that you can’t adapt. Stable companies have flexibility.

 

Darin Lynch, Founder and CEO, Irish Titan

RICO: We talked in great depth about business survival. In your opinion, how do CEOs spearhead agility to avoid going out of business?

DARIN: Make decisions and then fix those decisions. Do not let those decisions hold you back. We must be able to balance insight and foresight like knowing what is going on in the market right now and predicting what will happen in the market in the future.

RICO: Then, how do CEOs learn to make these decisions and solve problems quicker?
DARIN: I always say that I like being “the dumbest guy at the table” regardless of how it is qualified or quantified. I like being around people with more experiences or knowledge than me. My job as the owner is to be the steward of the company, a great leader, to move the company in the right direction — not to be the smartest guy at the company.

RICO: You like to hire “athletes.” This is intriguing since I’m a sports fan. Tell me about this.
DARIN: Sure. Athletes means that they have a core set of skills that fit well with our team. They learn quickly and adapt, they have emotional intelligence, they relate well to others. We use an acronym, POTIS, which is passion, ownership, teamwork, impact, and skills.

 

Jeff Martin, CEO, Collective Genius

RICO: How do you like to run your business to be more strategically agile?

JEFF: I prefer not to compete, because there is more room at the top of an industry when companies design a business model that’s outside of the norm. Businesses are more agile when they aren’t competing, and more value is delivered to customers. For instance, we created the Lead by Change and Tech Scenes online video series, highlighting key aspects of the IT industry. Nobody is doing this.

RICO: Do people and talent have anything to do with this paradox?
JEFF: I am currently interviewing and collaborating with top executives to investigate why some companies can change and some can’t change. I’m finding a connection between human talent and agility or adaptiveness. If employees are not willing to learn, then they’re not willing to change.

RICO: Businesses and CEOs mature over time as they grow and gain experience. Does this apply to the IT industry?
JEFF: Not all technology companies are mature enough to be agile. There may be three levels of agility in software companies: 1) the IT leaders are just maintaining current systems, 2) the IT leaders have a centralized office that’s maintaining current systems and developments in their specific field, and 3) the IT leaders are persistent with innovation and they create teams to explore new territories.

 

Quotes from CEOs

CEOs reflect on our survey

 

“The most challenging task is to have the energy to scope in on issues then scope out on the big picture. The ability to do this day in and day out is essential to running an organization of any size.” 
Jeff Martin, CEO, Collective Genius 

“I get a gut feeling sometimes, we also have systems and great people that know how to manage and spot problems when they arise. We don’t kill the messengers or have a culture of punishment, so employees and my management team bring issues forward and we solve challenges together.” 
Anna Tsantir, Founder, Two Betty’s Cleaning 

“I expect people to deal with the small problems. I can usually tell if something is off with executive employees and I get to the bottom of it; we don’t have time for people not to share problems. I am fairly plugged in with our weekly meetings, so I get plenty of feedback.” 
Robbie Harrell, CEO, Minnesota Ice Sculptures 

“In my business, pursuing innovation with ridiculously smart people leads to business growth. I can’t do the latter without the first two.” 
Andrew Eklund, CEO, Ciceron 

“If you don’t grow as fast as your industry, you will eventually cease to exist. If you don’t innovate, what makes you different than the other alternatives? People and culture are the most important elements for long-term success.”
George Lee, CEO, Snap Agency

“Culture eats strategy for lunch. A successful business must start with your people and your culture. If those pieces aren’t working, executing on the other priorities becomes extraordinarily challenging.”
Terri Soutor, CEO, FastBridge Learning

“Workforce equity (improved outcomes for people of color and low-income workers) and skills upgrade overall should be top priority for Minnesota businesses and communities.”
Dane Smith, President, Growth & Justice

“Although I feel that “the right staff and staff flexibility” is a top challenge for Minnesota, it is part of the reason that we offer unlimited vacation and sick time as well as the ability to work from home, when it makes sense to do so. However, I will also say that it is very hard to find the right staff...I’ve been doing a lot of interviews this year and I’m floored by some of the resumes that don’t match up to skills (or things that people will say/not say in interviews).”
Melissa Harrison (pictured above), CEO, Allee Creative

“Data. Data. Data. We need data to make the right decisions, take the right risks, and craft the right organization.”
Jeff Martin, CEO and founder, Collective Genius

“Perfectionistic, driven and passionate CEOs who ‘live’ their work are accustomed to sleepless nights....with a pen and paper at bedside.”
Lynn Gordon, President, French Meadow Bakery & Cafe and Bluestem Bar

“Where and how will we find the talent? We had a very good year, and now I am searching for 22 new workers.”
Jeffrey Warner, President, Warners’ Stellian

“The most challenging task is to have the energy to scope in on issues then scope out on the big picture. The ability to do this day in and day out is essential to running an organization of any size.” 
Jeff Martin, CEO, Collective Genius 

“I get a gut feeling sometimes, we also have systems and great people that know how to manage and spot problems when they arise. We don’t kill the messengers or have a culture of punishment, so employees and my management team bring issues forward and we solve challenges together.” 
Anna Tsantir, Founder, Two Betty’s Cleaning 

“I expect people to deal with the small problems. I can usually tell if something is off with executive employees and I get to the bottom of it; we don’t have time for people not to share problems. I am fairly plugged in with our weekly meetings, so I get plenty of feedback.” 
Robbie Harrell, CEO, Minnesota Ice Sculptures 

“In my business, pursuing innovation with ridiculously smart people leads to business growth. I can’t do the latter without the first two.” 
Andrew Eklund, CEO, Ciceron 

“If you don’t grow as fast as your industry, you will eventually cease to exist. If you don’t innovate, what makes you different than the other alternatives? People and culture are the most important elements for long-term success.”
George Lee, CEO, Snap Agency

“Culture eats strategy for lunch. A successful business must start with your people and your culture. If those pieces aren’t working, executing on the other priorities becomes extraordinarily challenging.”
Terri Soutor, CEO, FastBridge Learning

“Workforce equity (improved outcomes for people of color and low-income workers) and skills upgrade overall should be top priority for Minnesota businesses and communities.”
Dane Smith, President, Growth & Justice

“Although I feel that “the right staff and staff flexibility” is a top challenge for Minnesota, it is part of the reason that we offer unlimited vacation and sick time as well as the ability to work from home, when it makes sense to do so. However, I will also say that it is very hard to find the right staff...I’ve been doing a lot of interviews this year and I’m floored by some of the resumes that don’t match up to skills (or things that people will say/not say in interviews).”
Melissa Harrison, CEO, Allee Creative

“Data. Data. Data. We need data to make the right decisions, take the right risks, and craft the right organization.”
Jeff Martin, CEO and founder, Collective Genius

“Perfectionistic, driven and passionate CEOs who ‘live’ their work are accustomed to sleepless nights....with a pen and paper at bedside.”
Lynn Gordon, President, French Meadow Bakery & Cafe and Bluestem Bar

“Where and how will we find the talent? We had a very good year, and now I am searching for 22 new workers.”
Jeffrey Warner, President, Warners’ Stellian