Minnesota businesswomen to be celebrated

Twelve will join the Minnesota Women Business Owners Hall of Fame on April 24

By Valerie Engler
04-17-2014

The women who will be inducted into the Minnesota Women Business Owners Hall of Fame this month are more than successful. They’re more than executives, leaders, or hard workers. They are women who have impacted billions of dollars of business decisions, shaped Minnesota’s economic climate, and paved the way for women entrepreneurs throughout the state, nation, and world.

On April 24, a dozen leaders (four posthumous and eight living) will be inducted into the hall of fame, which was created in 2013 by Jill Johnson, founder of Johnson Consulting Services and past president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).

“The women we’re honoring have transcended racial, social, and cultural barriers to build extraordinary businesses, and many of them have become major philanthropists,” Johnson says. “They are women who never considered themselves to be part of history. But their stories matter.”

The second-annual gala event  which will be held at Cargill World Headquarters in Wayzata  is months in the making. Johnson says that hundreds of hours of research went into the selection of the inductees.

“You cannot be nominated for this award,” she says. “These women have emerged because of their accomplishments and the recognitions they’ve receive. They’ve stood the test of time.”

Born before the Civil War, Amanda Lyles is one inductee who will be recognized posthumously for her contributions as both an entrepreneur and a civil rights activist. Lyles started her own business in 1880  a major decision for an African-American woman at the time. She went on to take over her husband’s funeral home company in 1920, spoke out on race issues and anti-lynching laws, and supported women’s suffrage movements.

“I am so in awe of her story,” Johnson says. “She was so much more than a business owner.”

And doing more than just leading a company is a common theme among this year’s 12, and last year’s 25, honorees. The women were hand-selected by the Minnesota NAWBO board and all met certain criteria. Johnson says the inductees had to be advocates for women business, winners of major industry awards, and had to have meaningful connections to Minnesota.

In order to make the award a stand-alone recognition, women selected did not need to be NAWBO members.

“We will be covering nearly 140 years of Minnesota business history with the women being inducted into the hall of fame this year,” Johnson says. “We need to tell their stories so people remember that Minnesota women business owners are significant.”

As a genealogist and natural storyteller, Johnson’s efforts to call attention to women business owners won’t end after the hall of fame event. “I’m going to have to write the book on these women,” she says, noting that she has compiled a list of more than 100 influential businesswomen in the state. “As women, it’s so important that we continue to be recognized for our work.”

Amanda Lyles
Cindy Kelly
Ethel Arnold
Genevieve Bolger
Jeanne Voigt
Judith Corson
Lou Brum Burdick
Sally Sandoe
Marilyn Tickle Bryant
Mary Moldenhauer
Marlene Smith
Rose Totino

Amanda Lyles

The Hair Bazaar and Mrs. T.H. Lyles Hair Emporium, Saint Paul

Born in the 1850s before the Civil War, Amanda learned how to style both African-American and Caucasian women’s hair. She established her first business, the Hair Bazaar in 1880, later re-naming it Mrs. T.H. Lyles Hair Emporium. Amanda operated her hair styling business from 1880 until at least 1902. She worked closely with her first husband in his business and took over management of his funeral home operation after his death in 1920. Amanda also worked in public service including supporting the Red Cross and was an activist for what today would be known as civil rights. Amanda organized literary societies for African-Americans in St. Paul. She spoke out on race relations and gave speeches across the nation in support of anti-lynching laws. Amanda also spoke up about the importance of the right to give the women the right to vote. Amanda is buried in an unmarked grave next to her first husband, Thomas. The Hall of Fame committee is hoping to raise the funds to provide for a headstone.

*Bio provided by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners

Cindy Kelly

NorthStar Orthodontics, Park Rapids

Cindy and her husband Jim founded NorthStar Orthodontics, Inc. in 1976. This dental lab specializes in orthodontics serving more than 5,000 orthodontists and dentists, and 1.5 million patients. With an annual revenue exceeding $5 million, it is a major employer in their area of northern Minnesota with 85 employees. Since Jim’s death in 2008, Cindy has continued to grow the business. Her firm has the unique distinction of having a Green Coordinator to monitor its implementation of sound ecological practices throughout the lab. Cindy is active in many community organizations and was awarded the Minnesota Jaycees “10 Outstanding Citizens” award in 1989. Minnesota State Community and Technical College – part of MNSCU – recognized Cindy and her late husband as their 2012 Hall of Fame Inductees.

*Bio provided by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners

Ethel Arnold

Ambassador Sausage Corporation, Minneapolis

Ethel’s formal education stopped after 8th grade. Married with two children, she began work on the production line at Sanitary Sausage Company in Northeast Minneapolis. After her first husband drowned, she later married the sausage company's founder, Otto Arnold. When Otto died, the company was in dire straits. By drawing on her history as a production worker, shrewd business savvy and unwavering commitment to quality, she had the company (later re-named Ambassador Sausage Company) profitable within three months and out of debt in a year and a half. Ethel became the first woman to serve on a Twin Cities bank board. When Ethel retired and sold the company in 1991, it generated $5 million in revenue and was the only remaining independently owned sausage company in the Upper Midwest. At age 73, Ethel was named the Small Business Person of the Year by the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce.

*Bio provided by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners

Genevieve Bolger

Bolger Vision Beyond Print, Minneapolis

Gen was instrumental in helping her husband John to build Bolger into one of the largest printing firms in Minnesota and among the largest printers in the nation. Gen made her mark in a male-dominated industry, opening the door for other women to follow. At printers' conventions, Gen would be the only woman among a thousand men. Because of the enormous respect she had earned, whenever Gen was at an industry event, they would address the room by saying, “Gentlemen and Mrs. Bolger.”  In 1982, Gen was named "Man of the Year" by the Printing Industry of Minnesota. In 1986, Printing Industries of America honored Gen with the Lewis Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award. After her husband’s death, she led the company and built it into a firm with $30 million in annual sales.

*Bio provided by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners

Jeanne Voigt

MindWare, Minneapolis

Jeanne founded Mindware in 1989 after holding several management positions at First Bank System (now U.S. Bank). MindWare is a distributor and creator of educational toys in the direct and business-to-business channels that sells “Brainy Toys for Kids of All Ages” to parents, homeschoolers and educators. Jeanne grew MindWare to an industry leading level of profitability before selling a majority interest in 2003 of the then $18 million company. In 1997, Jeanne was named Minnesota’s Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. In 2002, the Minnesota Business Journal named her company one of the Top 50 Fastest Growth Private Companies in the state. MindWare earned the Parent’s Choice Award three years in a row. Jeanne also was a member of the Federal Reserve Bank’s Small Business Advisory Board.

*Bio provided by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners

Judith Corson

Custom Research Inc., Minneapolis

Judy launched her career in marketing research at The Pillsbury Company. In 1974, with Pillsbury’s support, she and two other Pillsbury managers founded Custom Research Inc. At its peak, the company had 125 full-time people and 200 part-time telephone interviewers. Judy received the first-ever Woman Business Owner of the Year award given by NAWBO-MN in 1982. Her firm won the Minnesota Quality Award in 1995 and the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1996. At the time Judy and her business partner sold the company in 1998, the company had revenues of $30 million. Judy has served on a number of for-profit and non-profit boards, and has been a board member of several Fortune 500 companies.

*Bio provided by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners

Lou Brum Burdick

Brum & Anderson Public Relations, Inc., Minneapolis

In 1978, Lou and 2014 inductee Sally Sandoe (then Anderson) launched Brum & Anderson Public Relations, Inc. They became one of the top public relations firms in the Twin Cities within three years. By 1985, with revenues of $2.7 million, Brum & Anderson ranked among the top 50 public relations firms in the United States. In December 1986, Brum & Anderson was merged with Padilla & Speer.  After the merger, the new firm reported revenues of over $5 million and became the 10th largest independent public relations firm in the nation. Lou was a co-founder and the first president of the Public Relations Exchange (later the International Public Relations Exchange and now IPREX). This network of public relations firms across the U.S. and ultimately worldwide enabled Brum & Anderson to compete better with the large national firms. IPREX today is a $200 million network with 100 offices worldwide.

*Bio provided by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners

 

Sally Sandoe

Brum & Anderson Public Relations, Inc. Minneapolis

In 1978, with a typewriter, a card table and $2,000, Sally and 2014 inductee Lou Burdick started their new firm: Brum & Anderson Public Relations, Inc. Sally sold her share of Brum & Anderson to Lou in 1984 to pursue an emerging business with her second husband: the design, construction and sale of Celtic folk harps. The founders of Brum & Anderson were the first of the big PR companies to provide paternity leave. Brum & Anderson Public Relations was honored with a “golden trumpet” award from the Publicity Club of Chicago with employees of Norwest Bank for handling emergency communications after Thanksgiving Day fire. They received numerous Minnesota Classic Awards from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) for their work with the American Red Cross, Minneapolis Housing Council, Minnesota Orchestral Association & Sommerfest, National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Norwest Corporation and Minnesota Racetrack, Inc.

*Bio provided by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners

 

Marilyn Tickle Bryant

Adjustable Joist Company, Minneapolis

Marilyn grew up in a family-owned business that produced the concrete formwork that made it possible to build skyscrapers in America.  She was the co-owner, vice-president and director of this construction company. She developed the company's equal opportunity programs and served as the company's representative to the industry-lobbying group, Associated General Contractors of Minnesota. Marilyn was one of the early members of the Minnesota NAWBO Chapter. Marilyn retired from the business and focused her leadership skills on many community and philanthropic efforts. She has worked tirelessly for the University of Minnesota through her support for women in athletics, the University of Minnesota Foundation, and through her service on the board of the University Women's Cancer Center and the University of Minnesota Foundation Board of Trustees.

*Bio provided by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners

 

Mary Moldenhauer

GreyStar Electronics, Inc., Duluth

Mary launched GreyStar Electronics, Inc. in 1993 at age 43 because she wanted to create jobs in this depressed area of northern Minnesota. Today the company manufactures 54 different components and sells to clients all across the USA and in India with revenues of nearly $2 million. Despite being a single mother raising three kids by herself, Mary never lost sight of her goal to build a successful business from the ground up. As a Native American as well as the owner of a business typically dominated by men, Mary has broken down many barriers. She also has opened her business to school tours and helped get electronics components for student lab projects at Duluth’s Lincoln Park Middle School. In 2006, Mary was the first person from Duluth to win Minnesota's Minority Small Business Person of the Year award presented by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

*Bio provided by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners

 

Marlene Smith

Plastic Products Co., Lindstrom

At the time of her husband’s death in 1975, Plastics Products Co. was experiencing hardship and declining sales. Instead of giving up and forcing people to lose their jobs, Marlene decided to fight to keep the business. Marlene not only made it work, but as owner and president, she turned the company into a thriving, award-winning business, one that is repeatedly ranked as one of the nation’s largest woman owned businesses. When she retired in 2013, the company had $151 million in revenue and nearly 900 employees in plants located across the U.S. Marlene has a passion for preserving historic landmarks, protecting the environment and drawing tourists to the Chisago Lakes area. Her company also supports church and school activities. Marlene fought for the preservation of Lindstrom’s water tower, now a prominent Swedish “Coffee Pot”, a landmark for this area.

*Bio provided by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners

 

Rose Totino

Totino's Finer Foods, Minneapolis

The daughter of Italian immigrants, Rose dropped out of Edison High School at age 16 and helped support her family by cleaning houses. At age 19, she married baker James Jim Totino. They dreamed of opening a restaurant, but needed $1,500. Demonstrating the ingenuity that would make her famous, Rose baked a pizza and took it to a banker. Impressed, he loaned the couple the money they needed. In 1951, they opened Totino's Italian Kitchen, one of the first pizzerias in Minneapolis. In 1962, they started a separate business, Totino’s Finer Foods, producing and selling frozen pizza that could be baked at home (an unheard of concept at that time). Totino's Pizza was the top-selling frozen pizza in the United States in the 1970s. In 1975, the company was generating $38 million in sales and had more than 400 employees. When they sold the business to Pillsbury that year, Rose became the company’s first female corporate vice president at age 60. She worked with Pillsbury scientists to perfect the crust, which resulted in a patent that included her name. Over the years, the Totinos gave millions of dollars to charities and educational institutions in Minnesota. Rose was the third woman ever inducted into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame, and the first woman inducted into the Frozen Food Hall of Fame in 1993.

*Bio provided by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners