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Inside Track

A look at what’s behind today's Minnesota business headlines.

Maria Ploessl will lead Minnestar

Veteran educator and nonprofit executive Maria Ploessl has signed on as the first executive director of Minnestar, the nonprofit conference organizer that supports emerging Minnesota technology companies with popular events that have topped 1,000 people.

“It’s been completely run by  volunteers for the last 10 years, funded by [about 40] sponsoring companies of various sizes,” Ploessl said. “  ''The board is looking to promote sustainability and the growth of minnestar. Our events are popular and routinely sell out, so there’s momentum in this incredible tech community. We have to look at what else can we do to help the technology community in Minnesota thrive.”

Minnestar is known for its signature events where software developers, designers, entrepreneurs, and investors come together to connect and share ideas. The annual Minnebar conference, long dubbed the ‘unconforence,’ features sessions conceived and run by tech community members. And three times a year Minnestar runs Minnedemo where community members, companies and startups share their ideas and projects in short live demos. 

The organization has run on a budget of about $250,000 annually..

 “Hiring Maria is great news for our local technology community,” Minnestar Casey Helbling Minnestar board chair said in a prepared statement. “An executive director adds needed capacity to deliver on and grow the organization operationally and strategically.”

Ploessl, 31, has a decade of program management, administration, and community-engagement experience in the nonprofit and education sector. Most recently she served as campus director for the Iron Yard, the former software-coding school, She was program manager for City Year Boston. She began as an educator in the Minneapolis Public Schools. She also was a Fulbright Scholar in Bragança, Brazil where she developed university-level educational programming and events.

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Executive compensation at UnitedHealth Group changes to reflect new roles.

The management succession plan announced at UnitedHealth Group on Wednesday also comes with corresponding changes in compensation to reflect the changing responsibilities of executives.

David Wichmann will be promoted to CEO on Sept. 1 and see his base salary rate increase from $1.1 million a year to $1.3 million. In addition, he will be eligible for a larger annual cash incentive and receives additional long-term equity awards including stock options, restricted stock units and performance shares.

Wichmann has done pretty well in his 20-year tenure at UnitedHealth Group. The last two years he has been the highest compensated non-CEO of a Minnesota public company when he took home $25.2 million in 2016 and $30.2 million in 2015, mainly from the realized value of his long-term equity awards.

Conversely, Stephen Hemsley will become executive chairman of the board on Sept. 1 and his annual salary will move from $1.3 million to $1 million per year. Hemsley has had the same $1.3 million annual salary since 2007. 

The executive chairman title is a new one at UnitedHealth Group and Hemsley is expected to continue his role in shaping the mission and strategic direction of the organization.

During Hemsley’s tenure as CEO the company’s revenue grew from $71.5 billion to an estimated $200 billion and UnitedHealth added more than 200,000 new jobs during that time, including 17,000 in Minnesota.

Hemsley, who has realized millions from long-term equity awards over the years, has generally held on to those shares after they have vested or he’s exercised options. According to the most recent proxy Hemsley now owns or controls more than 3.7 million shares of UnitedHealth Group which would be valued at nearly $725 million based on the current share price.

The role changes also affect chairman Richard Burke who will become lead independent director and his annual cash retainer will decrease to $75,000.