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Yet he's an unabashed supporter of business and the prosperity it creates at good companies that share the wealth. And he ticks off a list of retired executives, including Win Wallin, Bob Kierlin, Bill George, Chuck Denny, Janet Dolan and others who also have been philanthropists and community servants after they made their fortunes.
"I think you and I agree that the supply of good and ethical business executives is unusually long in Minnesota," he said. "At the same time, though, it seems to me that a number of public companies here are locked into too-often dysfunctional CEO pay-and-performance-game systems. And I don't think a lot of CEOs in the Twin Cities necessarily buy into the good-guy stuff. Too many think that Enron and WorldCom are aberrations and let's get on with it."
Mourns manufacturing loss
A familiar Beal refrain is his fear that America is giving up its cornerstone -- the manufacturing sector -- and that we're piling on too much personal and national debt as we buy more foreign-made oil, vehicles, electronics and other stuff. Four years ago, Beal and retired University of St. Thomas professor Fred Zimmerman wrote "Manufacturing Works," a good book about those trends and concerns.
In a typical show of modesty, Beal took some pot shots at himself in his last regular column for not being more skeptical about the technology bubble of the late 1990s and a few local companies that eventually fizzled out.
But for every one that Beal may look back and wince at, I credit him with scores of bull's-eyes.
Just last month, the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists named Beal best of breed in 2005 for a column he wrote that reminded us of how all the debt the new owners of Northwest Airlines took on to buy the once-conservative company in 1989 sure didn't help when times got tough last fall and the company declared bankruptcy. Of course, those guys made millions selling their stock ahead of the bankruptcy.
With a grasp of history and how things really work, Beal can get beyond the day's headlines and the latest news release to hold managements and boards accountable -- without trashing the system.
"What's that old saying? 'Capitalism is full of warts, but it's still better than any other 'ism,' " Beal concluded.
Neal St. Anthony 612-673-7144 firstname.lastname@example.org