Anett Grant, a four-decade pioneer of the local executive-speaking circuit, had just about had it with the business a couple of years ago.

“I was just doing private coaching,” she recalled. “I stopped doing groups of business people 20 years ago, because they would go in and out with their cellphones and that irritated me.

“Business was successful with one-on-one coaching. We got up to $1.4 million [in revenue] in 2014. I charged [up to] $15,000 for two days for executives. And that included the Russian oligarch who I trained on his yacht on the Maldives. I’ve never experienced such a level of condescension.

“I could have gone on. But I was burned out. I needed a new process.”

Grant, 66, founder of eight-employee Executive Speaking, was faced with bailing or reformulating the business.

She and her younger, tech-savvy employees invested nearly $300,000 last year in new equipment and customized software, a studio and more to create the new “Leadership Speaking Bootcamp 360” that they launched this year.

The two-day group sessions use an 85-inch video screen, personal coaching and feedback from peers with iPads. Grant, who launched the product a few months ago, said it’s more engaging, dynamic and realistic training for speeches, group encounters and one-on-one exchanges.

“I decided to try a new approach with the new voting technology we developed with our own software,” Grant said. “It was an immersive experience.

“We hired technical people, integrated this advanced technology and built a facility in our [downtown] building. We struggled through to develop this system over [several] months. Nights and weekends. It was exhausting. And it’s working.”

Grant said more than 280 people have participated in the two-day program so far; companies from 34 states and overseas, including 3M, Abbott Laboratories, Aetna, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, U.S. Bancorp and Toro.

The cost is about $3,000 per person, for a two-day class, but less per person for groups of up to 12 people.

“It’s very profitable,” Grant said. “I care about money because I’m in a business. But I also always want to … allow people to learn better. This is like ‘crowdsourcing.’ Speakers can see what others think. Immediately. We have iPads and people rank them on style and message. So we provide feedback from somebody other than the instructor. Peer evaluation.”

Grant, who still does some one-on-one coaching, has turned to a young protégé to lead the boot-camp program. Jonathan Monson, 26, the son of an Owatonna small business owner, has a master’s degree from Oxford University.

“I trained him and what we’re doing is meaningful, and it works,” Grant said. “We also have a profit-sharing plan because I want our young employees to act like owners. And I believe we now have a competitive advantage.”

Grant, the mother of two adopted immigrant children, also does pro bono coaching with charities.

“This business will go in one of three directions,” Grant said of the future. “We could franchise, or duplicate it ourselves in other cities. Or, down the road, I will partner with someone, or sell to a larger company.”

Always good theater and a native of Montreal, the charismatic, direct Grant moved to the Twin Cities in 1973 to earn a master’s in theater direction at the University of Minnesota. She also worked on stage productions and taught at a community college.

A corporate recruiter suggested Grant’s background might be useful in training. Grant flew to New York City to watch a speech-coaching seminar. She decided to be an entrepreneur and started Executive Speaking in 1979.

Afro Deli exits West Bank amid legal dispute

The owner of six-year-old Afro Deli will close his popular restaurant by Thursday in the African Development Center (ADC) on the West Bank, after a monthslong fight and amid litigation over a lease renewal and an ownership dispute.

Afro Deli owner Abdirahman Kahin, who also owns a downtown St. Paul location and catering service of the same name, said he plans to open in January an Afro Deli in Stadium Village on Washington Avenue on the East Bank of the University of Minnesota, about a mile from his flagship location. Kahin also said he is negotiating for another, unspecified site on the West Bank.

“This is our best year ever,” said Kahin, whose business has grown to 33 employees amid the landlord dispute. “We’re expanding.”

Kahin, in an ongoing lawsuit filed in June after months of failed negotiations, asked a Hennepin County district judge to ban landlord ADC from claiming ownership in his restaurant and asks for more than $50,000 for lost business.

Kahin charged that the executive director who took over ADC in 2013 had wrongly tried to take over the restaurant, even though he is the legal owner of the popular bistro on Riverside Avenue near Augsburg College and the U.

 

Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.com.