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2019-20 Leadership Minnesota participant profiles

Minnesota’s economic engine is powered by more than 100,000 businesses, a diverse landscape interconnected in ways not understood by the casual observer. For a select group, Leadership Minnesota opens the window to a behind-the-scenes look at what makes our state’s economy tick. We're thrilled to share this experience with an incredible 2019-2020 class of business leaders. For more information on Leadership Minnesota, click here.

Dave

Profiled on February 17

What is the best part about your current job?  
“My amazing coworkers!”

What was your very first job? 
“Z's Upholstery. I helped re-upholster a couch from Bob Dylan's brother's house!”

What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota?  
“Hanging out at the lake.”

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota?  
“Lake of the Woods fishing trip - 20 years straight and counting.”

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions?  
“Overall I am really learning a lot about other industries in Minnesota that I hadn't made the time prior to learn about. Lots of similar issues we face with the labor pool and trying to get the younger generation interested in construction and mining and the paper industry.”

What’s something super interesting about yourself?  
“Not super interesting but I have a twin sister and I my fingers are double jointed.”


 

Justin Pearson

Profiled on February 16

What is the best part about your current job?  
“Diversity. All of the different companies, industries, and locations I get to interact with on a daily basis.”

What was your very first job?
“Newspaper delivery. The Finder – Bowman, ND.”

What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota?  
“Get outside! I love the Minnesota state parks!”

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota?  
“Itasca State Park, it’s where I proposed to my wife!”

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions?
“Building relationships with some amazing leaders in the state and learning about different companies and industries.”


 

Joe

Profiled on February 15

What is the best part about your current job?
"As the Director of Business Development for CTC, a broadband cooperative, I have the privilege of working with rural towns and communities who are working to get world class broadband connectivity. Yes, it’s true there are thousands of people in Minnesota without reliable access to high-speed broadband and it’s a real economic development barrier and negatively impacts our education and health outcomes for rural Minnesotan’s. When individuals, families and businesses lack the technology they need to be successful it is incredibly rewarding to see how the impacts of robust technology and connectivity solutions can change their world. To consistently hear stories of entrepreneurial success, or parents not needing to drive their children 20 miles to get decent wifi connectivity to complete school work or the stories of families being able to video conference with military family members stationed overseas for the first time. All of this because we worked to provide rural business, families and communities with world class broadband connectivity. It is incredibly rewarding."

What was your very first job?
"I was supposed to clean my father’s law practice office. In reality I set the cleaning supplies by a desk and I read police reports. I was around 10 years old and I learned a lot!"

What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota?
"Hockey and bikes. Or is it bikes and hockey?"

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota?
"Grand Marais. I’m very happy to be in the Twin Cities but having lived on the North Shore for many years I love returning. Between the lake, the food (and beer) and all the adventure to be had it’s a great place."

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions?
"I looked forward to meeting a lot of interesting people but admittedly wasn’t sure what to expect prior to our first session. The best thing is everyone participating wants to be involved and engaged. The sessions are fantastic but I find the people in our group and getting to know each of them better is the highlight. Each person participating is incredibly bright, talented, friendly and fun. I know our group holds the record for Minnesota Chamber leadership awesomeness."


 

Greg

Profiled on February 14

What is the best part about your current job?  
“Being in the position to make a positive impact ever day on not only the direction of the company but also on employees’ lives.”

What was your very first job?    
“I had a lawn mowing service when I was in the 8th grade.”

What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota?  
“Cruising the lakes on my pontoon, or attending Vikings home games, I bleed purple.”

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota?  
“Brainerd lakes area in the summertime.”

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions?  
“I loved the Cambria tour and Marty Davis’s talk on defending his product against subsidized Chinese goods, we face the same dilemma.”

What’s something super interesting about yourself?  
“I bungee jumped for the first time off a bridge in New Zealand over a river where bungee jumping was invented.  Recently hiked for 20 miles in one day in the mountains of Patagonia.”
 

 

Paula Canter

Profiled on February 13

What is the best part about your current job?
"As an engineering leader at Collins Aerospace, I am #RedefiningAerospace by making the world smarter, safer and more connected than ever with aircraft sensors. As a role model to young girls interested in pursuing STEM, they see a woman thriving in that space. As a veteran, I am showing others that a successful journey after military service is possible - especially in a defense company." 

What was your very first job?
"At 19, the United States Navy trusted and trained me to repair aircraft engines. My love of mechanics and aviation grew exponentially from that experience." 

What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota?
"I love sailing on Lake Minnetonka, especially during sunset." 

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota? 
"As a transplant from North Carolina, I love discovering St. Paul, a friendly and historic city. My favorite restaurants are the Saint Paul Grill and the Handsome Hog. I love Karaoke at the Wayzata American Legion, too."

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions?
"My favorite highlight? This entire experience has taught me about wonderful Minnesota communities – with thriving economies and unique challenges – and how policy affects them. Leadership Minnesota gave me the opportunity to see private manufacturing up close. Through this lens, I watched a mining blast, toured a hospital, delivered a piglet and observed the production of bacon a day later. Minnesota is a diverse and hardworking state. My Leadership Minnesota colleagues enrich the learning from this program by sharing a wealth of leadership experiences."

What’s something super interesting about yourself?
"I LOVE Wonder Woman! What’s not to love about a superhero who flies in an invisible jet, uses advanced technology (Lasso of Truth and indestructible bracelets) and believes that love can truly save the world? I hope that through my community service, I am a superhero for legions of girls who dream of flying airplanes, launching rockets and blazing a trail in a STEM-related field."
 

 

Raj

Profiled on February 7

What is the best part about your current job?
“Externally, empowering our customers to run and improve their business through technology, while internally helping my team accomplish their professional goals, be happy, and see the fruits of our collective efforts in the product we deliver are reasons I love getting out of bed every morning.”

What was your very first job?
“The Mail Shop etc.”

What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota?
“Golfing, going on the lakes with my dog, and of course, enjoying a beer on brewery patio on a nice summer day. If I can do all of that in a day, it’s a win.”

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota?
“I love the Brainerd Lakes area, but also love the hangar steak at Burch Steakhouse.”

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions? 
“I’ve learned so much about Minnesota businesses and the community through the program and equally as important, I’ve met some truly amazing good humans in the process. My highlight so far has to be delivering a piglet at Hugoson Pork.”

What’s something super interesting about yourself?
“I’ve traveled to [around] 85 countries including a renting an apartment on the Amalfi Coast to simply live before grad school. I have on and off done pottery since I was 12 and have vases and stuff I’ve made in my house.”


 

Mark Schmitke

Profiled on February 5

What is the best part about your current job?  
“The best part about my job is the great people I get to work with every day at Digi-Key Electronics. I also enjoy the opportunity to be a part of the local community serving alongside others on various boards and organizations to help support our community and region.”   

What was your very first job?   
“My very first job was bagging groceries and filling shelves at a local grocery store in Thief River Falls.”

What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota?  
“I enjoy exploring parts of the state or attractions/landmarks in the state that I have not yet visited or have not visited for a period of time.”  

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota?  
“In addition to spending time in Thief River Falls and northwest Minnesota, I think everyone should definitely visit the North Shore and see all of the amazing natural views like Lake Superior or Gooseberry Falls, visit historic landmarks such as Split Rock Lighthouse, and hike or bike some of the trails. If you visit the North Shore multiple times, be sure to check it out during different seasons of the year.” 

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions?  
“I am thankful for the opportunity that I have had to be a part of the Leadership Minnesota program. What I like best about the program has been the chance to meet everyone else currently in the program as well as some alumni, making new friends, and learning more about the great companies they work for. It has also been beneficial to visit and learn about a number of different businesses around the state and see how they support their employees, region, and economy around the state of Minnesota.”   

What’s something super interesting about yourself
“I asked my wife to marry me after just one date. Here is the back story – we had dated for about 1.5 years, broke up for about three years and then after one date back together again I proposed. The official proposal came a few weeks later, but she said yes! 33 years and counting.

After earning a degree in management and marketing from Minnesota State University in Moorhead and spending approximately 12.5 years on three different store management teams with Target, I took a career turn and served as an Associate Pastor for approximately 13.5 years before coming to Digi-Key in 2011 where I have the opportunity to now work as the Community Relations and Events Manager.” 
 

 

Brian Hanson

Profiled on February 3

What is the best part about your current job?
"Helping decision-makers understand the benefits of locating or expanding their business in the APEX region of northeast Minnesota." 

What was your very first job?
“Bagging groceries, stocking shelves and cleaning at a local convenience store in Grand Rapids. The store included a Pop Shoppe, and I was a big fan of the root beer and pineapple soda!”

What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota?
“Get outdoors – hike, bike, live music, hunt, and fish!”

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota?
“Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth.”

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions?
“I like the diverse mix of backgrounds among my classmates.  We are learning a TON from both the program, and from one another.”

What’s something super interesting about yourself?
“I’ve sat on top of a wind tower, and I’ve been to Machu Picchu.”


 

Anne Hansen

Profiled on January 30

What is the best part about your current job? 
“Exposure to fascinating companies and helping solve their problems by leveraging our companies and the mix of solutions we offer between technology and traditional marketing.”

What was your very first job? 
“Sales Representative at Proctor and Gamble for Cover Girl Cosmetics.”

What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota? 
“Get outside! Hike, ski AND go to all of the fabulous restaurants.”

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota? 
“North Shore for outside activities! Food and culture in the Twin Cities.”

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions? 
“I love the exposure that Leadership Minnesota provides in regard to so many different businesses and traveling to the different parts of the state to get a sense of how those industries and companies impact the communities where they are based. The best part thought is the group of people in our class. There is a lot of idea sharing, conversations around challenges and best practices and a WHOLE LOT of fun!” 

What’s something super interesting about yourself?
“I have hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I speak Norwegian (my husband is Norwegian and we lived there almost 10 years).”


 

Kirsten

Profiled on January 28

What is the best part about your current job?
“I love strategizing solutions to problems. As a co-owner of a small business there are plenty of those! But it's the problem solving and strategizing for our clients that I love the most. 'How can I get to yes' is a question I ask a lot.”

What was your very first job?
“I was a Legislative Correspondent and Press Assistant for Representative Mark Green (WI-8) in the U.S. House of Representatives which means I wrote a lot of press releases and constituent mail and I gave Capitol tours which was great.” 

What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota?
“Boating on one of our many lakes!”

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota?
“I love the North Shore and spend a lot of my summers in Grand Marais hiking, reading by Lake Superior and enjoying Voyageur Brewing.”

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions?
“I absolutely loved the Iron Range trip. I loved the camaraderie of staying at Sugar Lake Lodge and really enjoyed all of the tours, especially Minntac. It's a part of the state I've driven many times but haven't spent much time and it was great to learn so much.”

What’s something super interesting about yourself?
“I've been to Israel three times and I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up (didn't achieve that one...)”


 

Jeff Frank

Profiled on January 21

What is the best part about your current job?  
“The best part of my current job is the culinary aspect. We get the privilege to work directly with chefs and culinary professionals on one of life’s greatest pleasures – food!”

What was your very first job?
“Lifeguard.” 

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota?
“I love the north shore of Lake Superior and my favorite thing to do is hike in the area.”

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions?
“As a native Minnesotan, I thought I understood the state’s economy well, but the leadership Minnesota program has opened my eyes with a far more in-depth understanding of the state’s main businesses and economic drivers. The ability to travel around the state and meet directly with business leaders and policy makers enables a hands-on learning that simply isn’t possible through other means.”


 

Jennifer Gale

Profiled on January 16

What is the best part about your current job? 
“Touring amazing businesses in my community to learn about the products and services they offer.”

What was your very first job?  
“Managed a local movie theatre (big reels of film and all).”

What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota? 
“I love to fish and do anything on the water.”

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota?  
“The Minnesota State Fair.”

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions?  
“So far the biggest highlight in Leadership Minnesota is visiting the taconite plant and seeing the massive footprint they have in greater Minnesota and the explosion.”

What’s something super interesting about yourself?
“I own a goat yoga studio and when I was growing [up], ballroom danced with a professional group.”
 

Scott Jones

Profiled on January 10

What was your very first job?
“My first job was an electrician. My dad is an electrical contractor, so naturally I grew up playing with electricity and shocking myself.”

What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota?
“Spending time with my family. With the current season it’s playing in the snow with my two young daughters and wife. In the summer we enjoy time at the lake.”

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota?
“It’s hard to choose just one…there’s so much to enjoy in Minnesota! The North Shore, Target Field and the State Fair would be high on my list.”

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions?
“My favorite session so far has been the Timber, Mining and Energy session centered in Grand Rapids and the Iron Range. I have really enjoyed the intimacy of the program and very thankful to the businesses that have given us a first row seat into their successes and challenges in Minnesota. I am looking forward to our next session in Austin, Minnesota where we’ll visit the SPAM museum, a hog facility, and the Hormel Institute!”

What’s something super interesting about yourself?
“I spent 23 days in South Africa in College with the Gustavus Choir where we gave a performance 21 out of 23 days.”
 

Liz Sheets

Profiled on January 7

What is the best part about your current job? 
“Working with clients to solve their challenges so they can move on to the next thing on their list. Our core credo is to help clients be understood by stakeholders who are critical to their success and in my role I spend a lot of time matching client challenges to our methodologies and services that deliver on that credo.” 

What was your very first job? 
“I was a lifeguard at the Lake Elmo Park Reserve. I worked there for three summers and to this day it is still one of my favorite jobs I’ve had.” 

What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota? 
“My favorite thing to do in Minnesota is be on the lake. Most lakes and lake-life activities bring me great joy.” 

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota? 
“I have to represent my hometown, so downtown Stillwater and boating on the St. Croix River.”  

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions? 
“I have enjoyed Leadership Minnesota in many ways – the camaraderie quickly built amongst our cohort, the tours and front row visits with businesses around the state, learning various perspectives I don’t get to hear in my day to day job and moreover the connections I’ve made that I know will be impactful for years to come.”

What’s something super interesting about yourself? 
“I performed with the Minnesota Opera Company in Tosca and I studied abroad in Milan, Italy.”


 

Ben Schlauderaff

Profiled on January 3

What is the best part about your current job?  
"The best part of my job is having the opportunity to work with many outstanding organizations. Hearing a business’s success story is always fascinating to me and helping them with their future plans or helping them solve a challenging topic is something I truly appreciate."

What was your very first job?  
"I grew up on a farm in central Minnesota and my very first job on the farm was filling up the water tanks for the cattle daily." 
 
What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota?  
"My family and I like to get away to the north shore. Each season on the north shore offers different adventures that are fun to take part in."  
 
What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota? 
"This is a tough question. There are so many different areas of the state that I’d consider “can’t miss destinations” that it is tough to decide. If I had to pick one, I’d say head to Duluth in the summer time and experience Lake Superior and the surrounding areas."   

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions? 
"Leadership Minnesota is a great opportunity from many perspectives. I have really enjoyed visiting the different businesses across Minnesota and learning about the economy and ecosystem in which they operate. There are many different industries across Minnesota and hearing the perspectives of the local businesses has been very interesting." 
 
What’s something super interesting about yourself? 

"I was a drummer in high school."
 

 

Greg

Profiled on December 27

What is the best part about your current job?  
“Even after 20+ years there are still so many things I do NOT know! Lots of variety in communications both internal and external. Never ever boring and always a challenge!”

What was your very first job? 
“Cleaning the Mr. Donut in West St. Paul two times each week.”

What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota?  
“Anything with my wife and two sons. Often watching them at baseball and hockey.” 

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota?   
“Minnesota State Fair.”

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions?  
“The trip to the Iron Range was a real eye-opener. You [get] some knowledge of the industries and issues by what you read in the media, but there is no comparison to seeing it in person and hearing from the people who are living the life. Informative and fascinating!” 

What’s something super interesting about yourself?
"My wife sometimes has to remind me that Gopher hockey is just a game and I recently took a fantastic San Francisco vacation with my wife and two sons."


 

Jen Augustson Executive Director, Operations HealthPartners Institute

Profiled on December 19

What is the best part about your current job?  
"I work with brilliant, compassionate people." 

What was your very first job?  
"I was a summer nanny for two kids when I was only 12 years old. I still can’t believe it." 

What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota? 
"We have amazing restaurants in Minneapolis/St. Paul – Colita, Martina, and Bellecour are my favorites for special occasions."

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota? 
"The North Shore, Superior National Forest and specifically, Grand Marais, MN – it’s my family’s happy place!"

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions? 
"I am so grateful for the new friends and colleagues I have met through this program. We are learning so much about industries important to our state’s economy, and having fun at the same time." 

What’s something super interesting about yourself?
"I live three miles from where I grew up."

 

 

Andi Moffatt

Profiled on December 12

What is the best part about your current job?  
"I love helping staff develop both their technical skills and their leadership skills. It is very rewarding." 

What was your very first job?  
"I worked food service for a retirement apartment building. I was really bad at it because I could never remember people’s food orders, even though there were only two choices." 

What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota? 
"Head up to Grand Marais to hike the woods and watch Lake Superior."

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota? 
"Lake Superior"

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions? 
"The program has really provided an in depth look at how our businesses work in Minnesota and how that relates to our economy and our government. I really like learning from the other participants as well, and look forward to hanging out with the cohort." 

What’s something super interesting about yourself?
"I used to teach scuba diving."


 

Eric Levenhagen


Profiled on December 10

What is the best part about your current job? 
“Seeing my team find creative ways to optimize our spend and solve the hardest legal and regulatory issues facing one of the most regulated industries in the country. I love how they are so engaged in seeing Sun Country thrive – it’s encouraging and fun to work alongside these wonderful people.”

What was your very first job?
“Desk clerk and van driver at what was the Holiday Inn Express in Eagan.”

What’s your favorite thing to do in Minnesota?
“Water ski!”

What is your “can’t miss destination” in Minnesota?
“Gull Lake outside Brainerd/Baxter.”

What is your favorite highlight of Leadership Minnesota, what do you like best about the program, or what are you looking most forward to in the remaining sessions?
“Hearing from businesses about their concerns in St. Paul and Washington and what those folks view as the best path forward to solve increasingly complex issues. I am optimistic about Minnesota and our business environment after meeting so many wonderful people – I look forward to learning even more in the coming sessions.”

 

Check back to this page as more of our wonderful 2019-2020 Leadership Minnesota participants are profiled!