Professional Development

Photo by Tate Carlson

Guided by Tenacity and Gratitude

Susan Denk, owner of White Crane Construction, inspires with sobriety

By Sue Hawkes
Tue, 2017-01-17 13:56

I reached out to Susan Denk, owner of White Crane Construction, because I’ve known her in many capacities over the years and have always been impressed by her leadership abilities. Susan facilitates a chapter of the Women Presidents’ Organization, and I’ve worked directly with the White Crane leadership team while implementing the Entrepreneurial Operating System over the past few years. I have also been a client of Susan’s and worked closely with her and her White Crane residential design/build firm to remodel our home. Throughout these varied experiences, Susan shows up as a conscious and tenacious leader. She is direct and thoughtful, and can be tough when the tension is high while still remaining curious and willing to listen. Beyond the workplace, Susan shares her tenacity in the extensive service work she does through the YWCA Minneapolis and as the current Board Chair of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, as well as in maintaining her sobriety. Courageously, Susan shares a portion of her path through addiction to recovery to illustrate how education and compassion can lessen the stigma associated with addiction and support others in finding help as well.
“Recovery first takes destruction”
“No one grows up wanting to attend Twelve Step meetings,” Susan admits. Now that she has been sober for nearly a quarter of a century, she reflects on her life and can see where her turning points were. Although neither of her parents struggle with addiction, they did pass on this “silent killer” to Susan. Growing up in a structured household kept Susan in line during her young adult years, but as she grew older, Susan’s addiction began to surface. “I had a big job and a strong relationship,” shares Susan. “Lots of fun, lots of dinner parties and a lot of wine. All of the trappings, if you will, of success.” Regardless of how it looked on the outside, however, Susan knew she “didn’t drink like other people,” and was very touched when she’d meet someone in recovery and hear their story. “I’d look at those people and say, ‘Wow; they have a great life and they are sober.’ They held a mirror up and I knew there was hope.” Twenty-plus years later, Susan enjoys being that mirror for others. 
Sobriety guides life
Susan is grateful to have sobriety guide her life, and when asked what her best practice is she promptly shares that “It’s my Twelve Step meetings... It turns out that this is a gift that is just irreplaceable, but it has taken that same tenacity to get to this point.” Regularly attending meetings gives  Susan the opportunity to “reboot and get back to a spiritual core,” which allows her to maintain her sobriety and stay on track. “I have gifts I’ve been able to manifest in really joyful ways as a result of being sober,” shares Susan. “My life is filled with an incredible amount of joy and humor now.” Susan also is intentional about who she surrounds herself with — hanging out with healthy and self-aware people is key.
The stigma is real
“Addiction doesn’t discriminate by gender, race or economic status. Whether it’s you or someone else, everyone is touched by addiction. It’s somebody’s child, somebody’s sibling, somebody’s parent, somebody’s next-door neighbor,” says Susan. She is proud to live in Minnesota because “we have a strong recovery community in our state and there is awareness of the damage that addiction and mental illness can have and how to effectively treat it.” Breaking through the stigma of addiction requires compassion and understanding from others, not just the sharing of recovery stories. “The stigma is that people who have an addiction did something wrong, but addiction often has a genetic component. I have as much control over having an addiction as I have control over the fact that my eyes are brown,” Susan shares. “Remembering this fact is important because it can bring quite a bit of compassion to the table.” 
An example for others
Susan knows from her own experience that seeing others living happy, sober lives provides hope to those still struggling with addiction. She now strives to live as an example by sharing her story with others. “I cannot tell you the number of times in my business practices over the years where an acquaintance has heard me talk about recovery and some period of time later will come up to me and say ‘I want to let you know you got me into treatment or, because of you I went to AA,’” says Susan. She believes parents can serve as an example for their children by prioritizing education about addiction. “It’s not worth the risk to not address the damage that could be done by alcohol and drugs with your children,” she says. Susan also recommends finding ways to celebrate without alcohol and sharing those with your family; “I have an incredibly joyful life and do lots of celebrating,” she shares. No Veuve Clicquot Champagne needed! 
Over the last 24 years, Susan has maintained her sobriety, founded White Crane Construction and given back to our community in innumerable ways. How has she done it? “Tenaciousness and the grace of God,” she says. “With that, I’ve been able to build a very healthy and happy life; a life that includes business, friends and also a life of service — and I have a lot of gratitude about that.”  

Learn more about Susan’s company at

Q&A with Susan
  • What do you read that others should?
  • The New Yorker magazine. “It can help anyone be a more informed and interesting person.”
  • Service or product you love?
  • Nokomis Auto Shop. “It’s across the street from our offices and I love it. We take the company vehicles there, and our entire staff takes their personal vehicles there as well."
  • Advice for business owners?
  • “I am a firm believer in having very high standards and a strong ethical code. The residential remodeling industry has such low barriers to entry that sometimes you hear about companies with poor business practices who do a disservice to their clientele. We work hard every day to hold ourselves accountable to deliver great design and construction.
  • Go-to source for inspiration?
  • AA Literature and the daily comics in the Star Tribune.
  • How do you recharge?
  • Golf, reading, cooking and laughter with friends.
  • What is your best habit or practice?
  • Retreating twice a year for four days of meditation and no phones. 
  • What’s next?
  • “I see a continued migration back to the great housing stock in the “Cities,” where there are fantastic neighborhoods and short or no commutes to work.”