Staff Directory 157932475

Lee Schafer

Columnist | Business
Phone: 612-673-4302
Location: Minneapolis
Other languages: None

Lee Schafer joined the Star Tribune as columnist in 2012 after 15 years in business, including leading his own consulting practice and serving on corporate boards of directors. He's twice been named the best in business columnist by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, most recently for his work in 2017.

Schafer grew up on a southwest Minnesota cattle farm and studied history and economics at Macalester College. He received his masters degree from Northwestern University and worked as a writer and editor for a regional business monthly before returning to business. His work included investment banking but he had the most fun advising CEOs on growth strategy. He lives in St. Paul with his wife Tanya Bell, a real estate development consultant and civic leader, and they have three adult daughters. He's also been active as a volunteer, including for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, Neighborhood House and Urban Homeworks.
Recent content from Lee Schafer
An Uber test of a self-driving Ford Fusion.

Schafer: How many jobs will robots eliminate?

Self-driving cars and other robotic technologies won't come for a while, a top McKinsey executive says. But until then, leaders in business and society need to figure out how millions of people's jobs will be affected.
Irwin Jacobs, pictured in 2009.

Schafer: Did Irwin Jacobs improve the companies he targeted?

Lord only knows how many different businesses Irwin Jacobs touched during his career, but it was his high-profile public role as a takeover artist that…
Former Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan testified before the House Financial Services Committee on March 12.

Schafer: Insider was wrong person to fix Wells Fargo's biggest problem — its culture

It’s actually possible to feel a little sorry for Tim Sloan, the departed chief executive of Wells Fargo & Co. Like the time Tim Sloan’s…
Banks are now paying interest rates that are below, or just around, the rate of inflation.

Schafer: Have low investment returns become normal?

If the Fed is backing off rate hikes, big questions still loom, business columnist Lee Schafer writes. Among them: how will savers beat inflation? And what will happen when the next recession comes and there is little room to cut rates?
Lyft went public last week valued at more than $24 billion, but the people providing its assets can’t afford the payments on a Honda Civic.

Schafer: Lyft's filings are a new milestone for asset-light businesses

There were few surprises in the filings of ride-sharing firm Lyft Inc. as it prepared to go public. Anybody paying attention already knew the company…
Alan Krueger, in 2011, when he was chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Schafer: With 'Great Gatsby Curve,' economist Krueger saw inequality kids face

His work in the Obama administration highlighted just how long the odds kids might face of lifting themselves into the upper classes are.
In this 2018 file photo, a trader works at the New York Stock Exchange. Corporations' appetite for buying back their own stock hit a record high in 20

Schafer: Companies should be smarter about stock buybacks

When looking to confirm news of a stock buyback plan, a first scroll through recent news releases of Medtronic PLC turned up nothing. There was…
Schafer: As people live and work longer, is it time to rethink retirement?

Schafer: As people live and work longer, is it time to rethink retirement?

Maybe it's time to dump the term full retirement age: A lot of hard-to-plan-for things can happen between the last day on the job and last day on earth.
Prior Lake is having a debate on how to fund infrastructure improvements for new housing developments.

Schafer: New-housing infrastructure fees stir up the suburbs

Deep in a report by the trade group Housing First Minnesota on fees cities collect on new housing is a little chart that shows how…
For many who move to the Twin Cities for jobs, cold winters are not the draw -- it's good schools, health care and outdoor recreation.

Schafer: Lessons about the power of being a 'headquarters economy'

Our governor and legislators might be a little busy now but by next session they should have read a new book called "Headquarters Economy" by business school Prof. Myles Shaver.
Target has boosted same-store sales by giving customers several ways to shop and pick up merchandise, including in the store, online and drive-up deli

Schafer: Amazon's single-minded focus has allowed retailers like Target to outflank it

E-commerce giant's focus on delivery left a gap for those who knew customers.
Jim Ratcliffe, chairman of Ineos, along with two partners are reportedly on their way to relocating to the tiny Mediterranean city state of Monaco for

Schafer: Tax avoidance might make financial sense, but is it fair?

It’s apparently not embarrassing any more to talk openly about tax avoidance. This term shows up in news articles, investment websites and in invitations to…
This undated photo provided by Google shows a Google data center in Hamina, Finland.

Schafer: Public subsidies for the Apples of the world are real puzzlers

While it's certainly possible to have missed some, a good-faith effort to find one built without any public subsidy came up empty.
"If we canvas the community and ask if there is a system or a health plan or care system that stands out, that clearly stands above others, there’s

Schafer: When a health system works together, outcomes improve

A HealthPartners senior leaders' meeting was a rare opportunity to see and hear how the managers think and talk to one another.
Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans reminded the governor and all the legislative leaders who were copied on the memo that varian

Schafer: In light of 2017 law, Minn. needs to take a look at its income tax

Perhaps it's time for at least a little concern that Minnesota, a state that gets more than half its general fund revenue from individual income taxes, has the kind of problem that has been brewing elsewhere.

Schafer: Otis-Magie Insurance Agency bought by industry innovator, Marsh & McLennan Agency

The recent acquisition of Otis-Magie Insurance Agency in Duluth by a firm called Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC was too small to be statewide news.…

Schafer: It's smart to get in on stock options with promising startups

Venture capitalist Rob Weber of Great North Labs really wants more Minnesotans to overcome their hesitancy and join promising young technology companies to get in…
This undated image provided by Anheuser-Busch shows a scene from the company's Bud Light 2019 Super Bowl NFL football spot. (Anheuser-Busch via AP)

Schafer: Bud Light's Super Bowl ad missed target market, upset farmers

For students of business, the whole episode seems baffling.
A day at the beach, especially in January, is quite different in Minnesota than it is in Florida. But weather isn’t the only factor in determining t

Schafer: The best spot to retire might not be the warmest

It turns out that Minnesota is a contender on lots of rankings of the healthiest states.
The interior of a TCF branch on W. 50th St. on Monday, when the merger was announced.

Schafer: TCF Financial-Chemical Financial merger comes down to one thing

What really matters now is cutting costs and becoming efficient enough to hang around as the industry consolidates.
Gov. Tim Walz, shown with Minnesota Chamber President Doug Loon, has described how the prospect of a state government technology collapse costs him sl

Schafer: IT woes that haunt Walz also plague businesses everywhere

He lamented there's no real constituency championing more IT investments, at least until something goes wrong. But that's hardly unique to government.
A logo sign outside of a Shopko Hometown retail store in Kiel, Wisconsin, on June 24, 2018.

Schafer: Shopko bankruptcy filing raises some questions

Shopko stores are being put out of business by competitors who are simply better at delivering what more consumers want.
C.H. Robinson provides transportation, shipping and related services, including technology for truckers shown here.

Schafer: New normal highlighted by growth of logistics at C.H. Robinson Worldwide

For those of us who have marveled at how fast business processes seem to change and technology gets adopted, that pace is only going to accelerate.
Investors are hungry for reliable data on cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, which can be traded on more than 200 exchanges.

Nomics co-founder Clay Collins sees future in cryptocurrency

What he believes in is the long-term business opportunity for the tools and infrastructure.
The Federal Reserve building

Schafer: Fed finding maximum employment hard to measure these days

The law requires Federal Reserve officials to do what they can to foster maximum employment, yet it’s becoming obvious they really won’t know when or…
When it moves into the Gateway tower, RBC will have the highest sign on a Minneapolis skyscraper.

Schafer: Was RBC's fight for a prominent Minneapolis building sign worth it?

There's a temptation to think of rooftop signs as similar to the brands all over sports stadiums.
Cuauhtemoc Cruz Herrera was a math whiz as a kid, but his opportunities were limited. He vowed to change that for others.

Macalester grad fulfills childhood dream of advancing math in home country of Mexico

Now an entrepreneur and educator, Cuauhtemoc Cruz Herrera has already made a big difference. And way ahead of schedule.
Kmart Chairman Edward Lampert, left, and Sears CEO Alan Lacy listen during a news conference to announce the merger of Kmart and Sears in 2004.

Schafer: Sears chairman will be remembered as professional investor who didn't want to invest

It's a harsh world for retailers and maybe nothing would have worked, but Edward Lampert gave away the company's best chance.
A screen above the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange shows the closing number for the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Dec. 27, 2018.

Schafer: Stop blaming yourself for retirement savings shortfalls

Reading a few tweets from financial writer Helaine Olen was all it took for me to abandon a long-planned personal-finance column that was going to…
Mike Stone, right, the CEO of MakersKit, talks with Ryan Broshar, top left, Techstar's managing director and Brett Brohl, Techstar's entrepreneur in r

Venture capitalist says 'narrative has changed' on Twin Cities startup scene

Pessimists probably don’t succeed as venture capitalists, and Ryan Broshar seemed about as sunny as a person can be early on a Monday morning in…
Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Schafer: New tax on nonprofit salaries means less money going the mission

New tax on salaries was meant to level playing field, but it means less money going to the mission
Joshua Mills, service director, Sears Imported Autos, Inc. Fighting a shortage of technicians, Mills has devised a train-the-trainer progressive-learn

How Sears Imported Autos is finding skilled technicians in tight labor market

Joshua Mills has been the Mercedes-Benz service director for Sears Imported Autos of Minnetonka for a couple of years, having previously worked as a master…
Three Bird scooters were on the sidewalk at 9th and Hennepin in downtown Minneapolis.

Scooter blight in the Twin Cities is a feature, not a bug of startups' business model

Research into the electric scooter business quickly turned up a piece by technology columnist Troy Dreier, writing for the Jersey Journal newspaper in New Jersey.…
Xcel Energy is pledging to be carbon-free by 2050. Above, its Green Wind Power Project serves customers in Colorado.

Schafer: Xcel's pledge to be carbon-free by 2050 makes good business sense

What we have here might simply be a case of a big company going carbon-free to meet the rising expectations of its customers.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, shown in September, assessed the U.S. financial system on Wednesday.

Schafer: Investor angst is up, even as the economy keeps rising

One "vulnerability" the Fed identified that got attention was excessive debt by businesses and consumers.

Medical records create a new software niche and opportunity

Health care systems have invested billions of dollars in their electronic record systems.
There are only four Midwestern metro areas in the nation’s top 25 and Minneapolis is the only one of the four that has been growing since the 2010 c

Schafer: Twin Cities investment in people (and not Amazon) is right move

The way the HQ2 fiasco turned out raised questions that leaders of lots of cities and states have to be thinking about.

Schafer: Lessons on giving from Thoreau and Zacchaeus

"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." It's a quote so memorable that it…
This June 15, 2018, file photo shows U.S. currency on a counter in East Derry, N.H. To most of us it probably does sound at least a little ridiculous

Schafer: If you're like half of us and dislike job, here's possible path to retire early

FIRE, or "financial independence, retire early," is about willingly trading away material things for the flexibility to live without needing a paid job.
Amazon logo

Lee Schafer: Minnesota, like others, was played by Amazon in HQ2 sweepstakes

Amid the flood of media coverage of the competition for the second headquarters project of were a couple of columns that saw real potential in the project for Minnesota, and they were written by me. What a sap.
Nice Healthcare's website homepage.

Schafer: House-call startup finds new lease on life

A Twin Cities startup that provides health services through home visits is in its second insurance enrollment period.

Schafer: More Minnesota companies are feeling tariffs' bite

It's not just a management headache for big multinationals.
CHS headquarters in Inver Grove Heights, Minn.

Schafer: CHS grew far beyond a simple business

CHS turned out to be in a whole extra business beyond making a profit on its members' crops.
The latest iPhone models include the iPhone XR, left, that has a single lens, and the iPhone XS Max that has two lenses.

Schafer: Mpls. investment firm tries to break spell of iPhones in our lives

Here's a possible lesson: If we want to be free of our smartphones, it seems, at least for a while it's going to be up to us.
Columnist Lee Schafer tackles the complexity of differences in health care costs.

Schafer: Tracking health spending by location gets tricky, but it's telling

Minnesota now tops the list of states in what's called healthy life expectancy, meaning not just still alive but generally healthy and free of disabling conditions.
Art Rolnick

Schafer: U economist has seen that investment in kids yields real economic returns

At least once a week the economist Art Rolnick gives a talk on the big economic returns from publicly funding early childhood education, or he…
When I Work CEO Chad Halvorson, shown in 2015, built a software platform to help hourly workers more easily get their schedules.

Challenge getting his hourly work schedule inspired Thief River Falls native's $100M firm

When I Work is one of the state's highest-profile and high-potential software companies.

Schafer: Manova Global Summit called a success ... so far

Maybe one problem with the first Manova Summit was just unfamiliarity.
Joe Galatowitsch has written a primer on household finance.

Schafer: Author takes analytical look at managing household money over a lifetime

"Manufacturing Wealth " is not an easy read. But for those who want to put some work into it, they will learn a great way to think about their finances.
The new chapel, which went up across the street from the old building, lets in natural light through its modern design. “Any and everybody is welcom

Schafer: Rebirth of north Minneapolis funeral chapel grew into a community effort

Some of the support from Minneapolis and Hennepin County came in an unusual way.
Slow wage growth continues to be puzzling, particularly so far into a long economic expansion.

Schafer: Rising costs are canceling out wage increases for most workers

The Trump administration insists wages are increasing. Many economists seem pretty sure that if so, the growth rate rounds to zero.

Schafer: Lessons from the crisis still relevant a decade later

The single best explanation for why we had a terrifying financial crisis 10 years ago goes back to how easy it seems to be to…

Schafer: Crow Wing Power co-op should look after members, not insider executives

The idea is that co-op members are well-equipped to look out for themselves, but Crow Wings is putting that to the test.
Paul Aasen, president of the Minnesota Safety Council, said, “The workplace culture … [is] definitely heavily influenced by the organization’s i

Minnesota Safety Council's Paul Aasen has good, bad news

Focusing on workplace safety can pay off by lowering costs.
Many renters would love to own their own home, but without much net worth, it isn’t going to be easy coming up with a down payment.

Schafer: Income stagnation is a big factor in housing crisis

Housing costs more than it used to for most of us, and our incomes haven't kept up.
Columnist Lee Schafer, left, and Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari in the rain at the Minnesota State Fair on Tuesday.

Schafer: Talking bank failures and 'Hamilton' at the fair with Neel Kashkari

Part of the fun of going every year to the Minnesota State Fair is seeing what’s new — and this year that included Federal Reserve…
Ryan, right, and Rob Weber are the founders of Great North Labs, a Minnesota-based venture fund that invests in startups.

Schafer: Founders of St. Cloud startup build tech portfolio on the prairie

They don't suggest it's a lot easier to build a successful technology company in a college town more than an hour's drive from downtown Minneapolis and half a world away from Silicon Valley. They just doubt it's any harder.
In 1937, Henry Ford is seated in his first car, built in 1896. Behind him is his son Edsel, then president of the Ford Motor Company, inside the 25,00

Schafer: Ford case defined role of business

Sen. E­liz­a­beth Warren hopes to see a new legal chart­er ad­opt­ed by big A­mer­i­can busi­nes­ses. The Mas­sa­chu­setts Democrat’s i­de­a being to kill the no­tion that…
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, in happier times at the introduction of the Model X SUV in 2016.

Schafer: How Minneapolis' top tech watcher views the Tesla and Musk drama

After talking to Gene Munster, it's clear he's remaining as professional as possible when sharing his thoughts on a potential transaction that was disclosed in the wackiest possible way.
When it comes to apartment projects, without money for investors and bankers, nothing happens, no matter how brilliant the vision.

Schafer: Key to apartment development is yield, and it's slim these days

If public officials don't take the time to really get it, odds seem high that the problem of not enough lower-cost housing gets worse in the Twin Cities.
A home that was sold by realtor Terry Ahlstrom after multiple buyers bid on it in Richfield. The suburb's proximity to the downtowns have made it a po

Schafer: Commuting cost can drive home-buying decisions

Home buyers have long known about this trade-off between cheaper houses and longer commutes, sometimes called the drive-until-you-qualify strategy. Buying cheaply enough to get approved for a mortgage loan means looking in neighborhoods that are probably much farther out from the city center. But commuting with a car isn't cheap.
Schafer: Cheap, short-term health plans are a cure worse than the disease

Schafer: Cheap, short-term health plans are a cure worse than the disease

The Minnesota Council of Health Plans hasn't taken a position on a new policy initiative out of Washington because its members apparently can't all agree.
Neel Kashkari, Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank president, said embracing immigration is one way to build a healthy local economy.

Schafer: Immigration and immigrants are a positive force in Worthington

If you're in favor of economic growth, welcoming immigrants is one good way to get that.
Kelly Skalicky (Provided by Stearns Bank)

Schafer: Answering the phone on the first ring is more than a courtesy at Stearns Bank

The Stearns Bank equipment finance operation in Albany, Minn., has a much bigger front desk than anyone could expect.It only takes one person to greet…
In some Twin Cities suburbs, builders can't say where all the fees they pay are going.

Schafer: Municipal fees a barrier to more affordable housing in suburbs

Another column in an occasional series on the future of housing. Realtor Kathy Samson knew exactly how a parcel of 6.3 acres in the northwest…
The Supervalu Inc. logo is displayed at a distribution center in Hopkins, Minnesota on Monday, Jan. 9, 2012.

Schafer: Issues behind Supervalu sale built over decades

That just isn't Supervalu's fault. It was, however, Supervalu's problem. The company never quite met the challenge.
GOP leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, touted the impact of their 2017 tax bill for workers and companies. One group — corporate executives

Schafer: CEOs are doing just fine thanks to corporate tax cuts

Top executives are doing just fine, thanks to corporate tax cuts.

Schafer: Main Street Meter can tell us when there's no room left to grow

The current economic expansion is about a year away from setting a record as the longest in American history.
Pedestrians walk past a recently built trio of geodesic domes that are part of the Seattle headquarters for Amazon. What e-commerce companies are demo

Schafer: Online businesses turn to old-school offline marketing

Maybe it shouldn't have been surprising that the world's leading e-commerce company plans to distribute paper catalogs and is going after new customers with direct mail.
A billboard for Tuft & Needle in St. Paul. The online retailer sells a basic mattress that comes packed in a big box.

Schafer: Bed-in-a-box concept lowers prices, but is it adding value?

For those determined to figure out what to buy without any help, good luck.
The Minnesota Timberwolves' Derrick Rose (25) passes the ball to a teammate in the second quarter against the Houston Rockets' Clint Capela (15) in Ga

Schafer: Adidas deal with Timberwolves' Derrick Rose a bet that didn't quite play out

Co-branding with a bench player in an NBA backwater obviously isn't what anyone at Adidas had in mind when locking up the endorsement rights to Rose back in 2012 — a contract that has been regularly reported as worth about $190 million.
A 1950 historic enameled steel Lustron home, one of 2,500 built, on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis.

Schafer: Market forces, regulation have worked against more affordable housing

If the question is how to make more affordable housing units available, a Minneapolis Fed official's answer is not that complicated.
A barge filled with soybeans.

Schafer: Minnesota soybean farmers have a problem, but how big?

Thanks to an escalating trade dispute between the United States and China, Minnesota-grown soybeans are about to get a lot more expensive for Chinese buyers.

Schafer: Want affordable housing? Do you have 40 years?

Third in an occasional series on the future of housing. Here’s an old real estate joke you maybe haven’t heard before: Know how to create…
Mayo Clinic signage at an event

Schafer: Defining the Mayo Clinic could cost it millions in lawsuit

While it's obvious the Mayo Clinic is a health care provider, it's not at all obvious that this is the best way to describe it.
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