Don MacPherson hasn’t seen the “employee engagement” numbers so low since he started surveying workers for his corporate clients 15 years ago.

The stock market has made a full rebound; employment is accelerating. But the working stiffs, whose productivity skyrocketed as wages stagnated in recent years, aren’t buying management’s shtick, according to the latest numbers from MacPherson’s Modern Survey, a 32-person Minneapolis business that researches employee issues and sentiment for employers.

“Confidence in CEOs is exceptionally low,” MacPherson said last week of the report, which will be out in a couple of weeks.

About 68 percent of the 1,000 full-time workers who make at least $30,000 that Modern Survey polled in February reported that they were “disengaged” or “underengaged” in their job but said “they’re sticking it out,” partly out of fear of being on the street, MacPherson said. “About 32 percent say they are disengaged, and that’s the highest level we’ve ever reported.”

“People are still fearful,” MacPherson said. “The No. 1 desire of employees [before the Great Recession] was for recognition and personal growth and development. Now, people just want some confidence in their senior management and a belief in the future of their company.”


WFC touts small business lending

CEO John Stumpf, a Minnesota farm boy who runs huge Wells Fargo & Co., is touting Wells Fargo’s commitment to small business. The bank’s just-released 2012 annual report features Shua Xiong, owner of St. Paul’s Golden Harvest Foods, and small business banker Abby Ward.

“In 2012, Wells Fargo extended $16 billion in net new loan commitments to U.S. small businesses … up more than 30 percent from 2011,” Stumpf, a onetime commercial lender, said in his annual letter to shareholders. “In 2012, Wells Fargo finished its fourth consecutive year of SBA lending leadership, extending a record $1.24 billion in SBA 7(a) loans.”

A happy ending at Best Buy? We’ll see

Founder Dick Schulze, ousted by the Best Buy board of directors last year for not revealing that former CEO Brian Dunn was carrying on with an employee, has abandoned (for now) his private buyout plans and signed on with new CEO Hubert Joly, who has stabilized once-nosediving “BBY.”

Schulze, a strong-willed entrepreneur who started the company in 1966 and remains Best Buy’s single-largest shareholder, was hurt over his treatment after an independent investigation by a former SEC enforcement lawyer. Brad Anderson, the CEO who retired from Best Buy’s board after Dunn took over in 2009, was Schulz’s easier-going No. 2 for 35 years. Insiders and former employees say his role was critical in bringing together Schulze and Joly, a courteous, strategic pragmatist who has impressed the troops with his smarts and demeanor. Anderson is joining the board on behalf of Schulze, in addition to another former Schulze lieutenant.

Schulze, who has moved from aborted takeover bid to making peace, and the board can blame only themselves for Best Buy’s misfortunes. Dunn was good at building stores and firing up the sales staff. But BBY foundered against low-cost Internet-based competition. Joly has improved online and other operations and will be helped by pending federal legislation that would require Internet-only peddlers such as Amazon to pay state sales taxes, just as Target and Best Buy now do. A Schulze confidant last week hailed the Schulze-Joly union as a “win-win.”

“It’s an olive branch to Schulze,” said Frank Lombardi, portfolio manager at Boston-based Cubic Asset Management. “It gives him a say on the board, but he won’t have much to do with execution.”

Best Buy’s stock price has nearly doubled to $22.15 per share from $11.29 in December. But three years ago, it was trading over $40. It will take great execution to push the stock higher. Lombardi sold his stake into the recent price run-up.


• Peter Kelsey, owner of the New French Bakery in Minneapolis, has been named the Minnesota Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Kelsey has financed his business with several SBA-guaranteed loans that he used to buy two buildings and increase employment from 27 people in 1997 to 290 employees. He will be honored at the Minnesota Small Business Week Awards program in May.

• John Wodele, a business and public affairs veteran, has signed on as vice president of marketing at Doran Cos. Founder Kelly Doran, for whom Wodele worked as a communications consultant, said creation of an in-house marketing post made sense because of the company’s growing multifamily housing business, including construction of 1,000-plus apartments in the Upper Midwest.

Wodele, a young mayor in the 1970s of his hometown, Wabasha, Minn., also served as press secretary to former Gov. Jesse Ventura.