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Lee Schafer

Columnist | Business
phone: 612-673-4302
Lee Schafer came to the Star Tribune after 15 years as a corporate officer, consultant and investment banker in the Twin Cities. He has been a columnist for Twin Cities Business magazine and was senior editor for Corporate Report Minnesota.
Recent content from Lee Schafer
Schafer: Minneapolis small business owners would lose under $15 minimum wage

Schafer: Minneapolis small business owners would lose under $15 minimum wage

What's really missing from the conversation about a higher city-mandated minimum wage, one mayoral hopeful said, is a clear understanding of who it is that will be paying more.
Schafer: With Whole Foods deal, Amazon doing what it set out to do

Schafer: With Whole Foods deal, Amazon doing what it set out to do

The online retailer's ambitions should be no surprise to its competitors, including Target.

Schafer: Many in Minnesota are learning the hard way about investing in RUSNs

There’s a kind of investment available in the market called a renewable, unsecured subordinated note. When the pros talk about them it sounds like “Russians,”…
Schafer: How you can tell if a hand is in the till

Schafer: How you can tell if a hand is in the till

The right approach for management is not to completely give up on trusting employees. Instead it's to trust and verify.

Schafer: Bubble spotters are mythical creatures, and the Fed can't pop them either

Prices for houses are generally back to where they were during the housing bubble that preceded the financial crisis a decade ago. What’s worse, flipping…
Schafer: Comedian had wiser words for graduates than Facebook CEO

Schafer: Comedian had wiser words for graduates than Facebook CEO

Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, is fabulously wealthy and successful, but also not quite educated.
Schafer: Tricky valuations at center of Lunds case

Schafer: Tricky valuations at center of Lunds case

The district judge in Minneapolis who ruled that Kim Lund was owed $45.2 million by Lunds & Byerlys for her share of this well-known grocery…
Schafer: Does General Mills need to get out of the yogurt business?

Schafer: Does General Mills need to get out of the yogurt business?

General Mills sales haven't been growing, and one big reason is slipping sales in the U.S. yogurt business.
Schafer: Buffalo Wild Wings CEO deserved a better send-off

Schafer: Buffalo Wild Wings CEO deserved a better send-off

A sharply fought shareholder contest like the one that came to a head Friday at Buffalo Wild Wings is so rare it can be difficult…
Schafer: Social trends portend dire future for brick and mortar

Schafer: Social trends portend dire future for brick and mortar

There's so much bad news about retail that it's becoming ho-hum. But few of the articles even hint at a cyclical slump to explain what we're seeing. It's now clear it's not cyclical.

Schafer: Employee ownership could be answer to exit of baby boomer owners

The deal-making crowd is understandably excited about the fees to be earned in helping baby boomers sell their businesses on their way into retirement. None…
Schafer: Ownership is more than owning shares — just ask Buffalo Wild Wings

Schafer: Ownership is more than owning shares — just ask Buffalo Wild Wings

The campaign over board seats and control of Buffalo Wild Wings is a good illustration.
Schafer: Ten K Solar's downfall reflects industry trends

Schafer: Ten K Solar's downfall reflects industry trends

One obvious conclusion — management must have run this company into the ground — doesn't seem at all fair.

Schafer: Polaris is thinking aggressively with Indian brand

Polaris Industries has made a big effort this year in a sport so obscure that even ESPN doesn’t televise it, sponsoring a team in the…
Schafer: How to make better decisions every day

Schafer: How to make better decisions every day

The wisdom presented at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School came from Kathleen Vohs.

Schafer: When robots do the work, is it time for a guaranteed income?

Last of an occasional series on the future of work. An experiment is underway in northern California to see what happens if every month people…
Schafer: Sloppiness brings down a champion of integrity

Schafer: Sloppiness brings down a champion of integrity

Getting taken to a golf tournament might be no big deal in a lot of industries, but founder Jeff Slocum always said his firm would be above that sort of thing.

Schafer: Brenton's fruitless quest for an engineer indicative of the tight workforce in robotics

Here's a company designing and building automation equipment to replace human labor with the big problem of not being able to hire enough human labor.

Schafer: Divesting should be about economics, not popularity or size

As a decision by Portland, Ore., shows, once support builds for getting rid of investments based on what someone thinks of the underlying business, it's not all that easy to decide where the line gets drawn.

Schafer: Twin Cities experts focus on keeping the customer satisfied

Minneapolis marketing consultant Dan Wallace thinks the Twin Cities might have a top "cluster" of thought leadership in managing a better customer experience. He makes a good point.
Ousted from his own start-up, entrepreneur turns setback into lessons for others

Ousted from his own start-up, entrepreneur turns setback into lessons for others

Entrepreneur Thompson Aderinkomi is best known for co-founding and then getting fired as CEO of a high-profile start-up company, RetraceHealth. Not that getting canned has…
Schafer: Twin Cities shopping centers need more than stores, as Maple Grove is finding out

Schafer: Twin Cities shopping centers need more than stores, as Maple Grove is finding out

If city councils like Maple Grove's aren't prepared to see retailing spaces get turned into something else, like a Portillo's hot dog restaurant, then they should expect to see a lot more empty space.
Schafer: Wells Fargo CEO didn't take 'run it like you own it' mantra to heart

Schafer: Wells Fargo CEO didn't take 'run it like you own it' mantra to heart

Just about any great management practice can lead to terrible results if the implementation gets thoroughly bungled. Wells Fargo & Co. just proved that. A…
Schafer: Odds are long for retailers that file Chapter 11 bankruptcy

Schafer: Odds are long for retailers that file Chapter 11 bankruptcy

By the estimate of a Credit Suisse analyst, nearly 9,000 stores will close this year, many more than in the worst year of the Great Recession.
Boomers are discovering an often forgotten deadline on 401(k) distributions

Boomers are discovering an often forgotten deadline on 401(k) distributions

The government wants people to start taking money out of their retirement accounts so they can tax them. And it set April 1 as the annual turning point for retirees.
Schafer: Fairview's new CEO sees perfection as the goal

Schafer: Fairview's new CEO sees perfection as the goal

A quick read through the background of any new CEO an organization recruits from the outside provides a pretty good indication of the direction the board thinks it needs to go.

Schafer: Minneapolis firm's Robot Fear Index shows little fear

So why publish an indicator of how much many of us fear the future with the technology of artificial intelligence, augmented reality, robotics and virtual reality?
Schafer: Why Surdyk's Sunday liquor sales stunt is assault on rule of law

Schafer: Why Surdyk's Sunday liquor sales stunt is assault on rule of law

Jim Surdyk's decision to open his liquor store in Minneapolis on a Sunday months before it was legal to do so was a far ­bigger act than just selling some wine and beer.
Schafer: Fun Is Good team serves up lessons with dose of humor

Schafer: Fun Is Good team serves up lessons with dose of humor

Emily Stuckenbruck, a 34-year-old college dean, will be in St. Paul next week to tell an audience how younger and older people can more easily…

Lee Schafer: Even 'experts' don't get GDP

No one should conclude that big trade surpluses or a shrinking trade deficit actually are what cause economic slowdowns. They aren't.
Ex-Target exec jumps into a tough situation at Uber

Ex-Target exec jumps into a tough situation at Uber

As Target's chief marketing officer, Jeff Jones stepped out with candid comments and advice during the company's rough patch in 2014. Now, as the new president of Uber Technologies, he's dealing with an even bigger corporate crisis.

Lee Schafer: Target's price-cut jargon is not fooling investors

The leaders of Target ought to at least consider ditching the use of the term price investment. Their institutional shareholders know exactly what this retail…

Schafer: R&D isn't dead, it's broken

No one should have been surprised when the Office of the Legislative Auditor found the Minnesota research-and-development tax credit to be a net drain on…
Schafer: Manufacturing job losses, yes, but gains for trained Minnesota workers

Schafer: Manufacturing job losses, yes, but gains for trained Minnesota workers

Here's one of the ironies in looking ahead at how the nature of work is going to change — manufacturing may actually be a bright spot.
Schafer: Creating jobs takes a lot of hard work

Schafer: Creating jobs takes a lot of hard work

Not that long ago a chamber president like Matt Kramer of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce would join with just about everybody else…
Schafer: Lunds & Byerlys learning about the cost of equity amid sibling legal battle

Schafer: Lunds & Byerlys learning about the cost of equity amid sibling legal battle

The owners' capital in a family business only looks like it doesn't cost anything. That can be a tough case to make with owners.
Schafer: Housing bond pool in Minnesota evaporates

Schafer: Housing bond pool in Minnesota evaporates

But the need for affordable housing in Minnesota hasn't.
Schafer: Automation tempers hope for new Iron Range mining jobs

Schafer: Automation tempers hope for new Iron Range mining jobs

The pro-mining coalition that is pushing the proposed PolyMet ­Mining project in northeastern Minnesota decided to get right to the point — by giving itself the name "Jobs for ­Minnesotans."

Schafer: Jux Law Firm is a different breed of legal beagle

The Jux Law Firm put on a seminar this week that was anything but the usual law firm event. The topic was traditional enough, picking…
Along the trail, fortunes diverged for Polaris, Arctic Cat

Along the trail, fortunes diverged for Polaris, Arctic Cat

Maybe it's been a long time since anyone's called Arctic Cat and Polaris Industries the Minnesota Twins, but it's not just a clichéd way to describe two local rivals.
Schafer: Some sellers don't buy the New York state of mind

Schafer: Some sellers don't buy the New York state of mind

A certain kind of East Coast deal guy can certainly alienate his clients.
Schafer: New tax plan could hobble Target, Best Buy

Schafer: New tax plan could hobble Target, Best Buy

Big American companies are so good at sidestepping income taxes that many pay nowhere near the statutory rate of 35 percent. One notable exception is…
Schafer: Bill tailored for Xcel cuts PUC out of the process

Schafer: Bill tailored for Xcel cuts PUC out of the process

Nobody needed a deep knowledge of regulatory law to understand a bill introduced at the Legislature that allows Xcel Energy go ahead with an $800…

Schafer: Congress starts complicated process of getting rid of the Affordable Care Act

Don’t feel bad if you can’t predict what’s going to happen to the employer-sponsored health insurance market now that the Affordable Care Act is on…
Schafer: Indian Motorcycle shows the power of a brand

Schafer: Indian Motorcycle shows the power of a brand

So Indian Motorcycles are a big success after six years in the hands of Medina-based Polaris even as Victory goes out of business — and both were designed and built by the same company. So maybe what's turned out to be a die hard is the Indian brand itself.
Schafer: Rich and poor came together at Macy's

Schafer: Rich and poor came together at Macy's

Macy's will still have hundreds of stores open, but its store base is contracting and there's no reason to think that will stop.

Lee Schafer: It's time to figure out your net worth

By now statements from banks and investment companies from the end of last year have arrived, making now a great time for the most useful…

Loup Ventures turns venture capital conventional thinking on its head

"DFJ invests in visionaries who create the future" is the way the venerable Silicon Valley venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson describes what it does,…

U.S. shale oil drillers leaner, meaner after surviving OPEC's ugly price war

The OPEC global oil cartel decided two years ago to put a big chunk of the U.S. shale oil industry out of business. If you…
Schafer: Jeremiah Program has found a way to expand nationally

Schafer: Jeremiah Program has found a way to expand nationally

Expanding outside the Twin Cities not easy for nonprofits.
Schafer: City-owned bank is possible, but it's probably not necessary

Schafer: City-owned bank is possible, but it's probably not necessary

The city of Minneapolis is looking into the “possibility” of launching a city-owned bank. But, of course, it’s possible. So is opening a pet shop.…
Schafer: Stock deal brings unexpected cuts elsewhere for some Medtronic shareholders

Schafer: Stock deal brings unexpected cuts elsewhere for some Medtronic shareholders

As a general rule of thumb, an unexpected letter from the Social Security Administration won’t make you happy. That’s if you can even understand what…

Schafer: Health care players still consolidating

The election result of November means that there is a jump ball again in national health care policy, but the big health care players haven’t…
Schafer: In Cook County, simple pleasures suffer from a lack of help

Schafer: In Cook County, simple pleasures suffer from a lack of help

Employers have tried just about every common-sense idea to get and keep people, leaning particularly hard on the option of importing them from abroad.

Schafer: Closing the deal was right move for Datalink

The data storage company Datalink agreed last month to be acquired by an Arizona company called Insight Enterprises for $11.25 per share in cash, about…

Schafer: HealthPartners positioned well for whatever may come

If health care executives had no idea how the market was going to evolve four years ago as federal health care reform kicked in, one of the smartest things to do is what Park Nicollet did, and that's merge with HealthPartners.
Schafer: Keep all that clutter and be thankful for what you have

Schafer: Keep all that clutter and be thankful for what you have

Decluttering is the fashion, but the joys of living light look different to somebody who never had the money to accumulate a lot of nice things in the first place.
Schafer: 'Minneapolis Plan' would cut odds of a big bank bailout

Schafer: 'Minneapolis Plan' would cut odds of a big bank bailout

After the Dodd-Frank regulatory reforms were put in place, the odds of another crisis and taxpayer bailout only slipped to 67 percent. That still seems pretty likely.
Schafer: Win by Cubs shows the value of soft skills

Schafer: Win by Cubs shows the value of soft skills

  The Chicago Cubs ended a 108-year drought by winning the World Series earlier this month, at the same time giving a little boost to…
Lee Schafer: With Trump as president, it's difficult for businesses to feel at ease

Lee Schafer: With Trump as president, it's difficult for businesses to feel at ease

The election of Donald Trump apparently means we should count on a lot more volatility and more uncertainty, too.
Schafer: Settlement doesn't mar fired Northern Oil executive's optimism

Schafer: Settlement doesn't mar fired Northern Oil executive's optimism

You have to admire the sunny attitude of Michael Reger, who was fired in August as CEO of Northern Oil and Gas and who just…
Lee Schafer: Concern about state putting tax dollars into Vikings stadium

Lee Schafer: Concern about state putting tax dollars into Vikings stadium

Investing in an NFL stadium in downtown Minneapolis is starting to look a little like buying RCA stock in the summer of 1929, gold in 1980 or shares of Apple stock last May.

Schafer: Not all that venture capitalists offer entrepreneurs is gold

The only thing worse for an entrepreneur than venture capitalists declining to invest is having them give unsolicited, company-killing advice on their way out of…

Schafer: Is Pentair signaling a recession?

Pentair executives didn’t use the words “industrial recession” in adopting a newly pessimistic outlook as they announced quarterly results last week. But if what they…
Schafer: Groceries get cheaper, to retailers' dismay

Schafer: Groceries get cheaper, to retailers' dismay

Great news for shoppers is a problem if you are in the food business at any level.
Proposal to sell off Buffalo Wild Wings outlets is no slam dunk

Proposal to sell off Buffalo Wild Wings outlets is no slam dunk

Buffalo Wild Wings reports its quarterly results this week, when it should have more to say about whether it wants to dump most of the restaurants it owns to franchisees.
Schafer: Cyberprotection requires vigilance

Schafer: Cyberprotection requires vigilance

U.S. Bancorp’s head of cybersecurity, Jason Witty, uses the internet for pretty much everything. He even described in a recent conversation how he bought a…

Schafer: China's dirty water gives Pentair and Ecolab a big business opportunity

“Great Opportunity in China” isn’t a headline we have seen much this year. Yet U.S. companies from spigot manufacturers on up should have figured out…
Schafer: Size wasn't the issue in Wells Fargo debacle

Schafer: Size wasn't the issue in Wells Fargo debacle

Could the fake accounts scandal mean it's time to break up Wells Fargo & Co.?
Schafer: For Target, buyback is an investment in the company

Schafer: For Target, buyback is an investment in the company

one lesson out of the Minneapolis-based company's recent history is that spending a lot of money isn't the same thing as investing it.

Schafer: Economist Deirdre McCloskey argues that wealth followed social equality

One reason the economist Deirdre McCloskey goes on the road to explain how most of civilization became rich is to help audiences understand that the…

Schafer: Big power users benefit from competitive pricing law

The state’s Public Utilities Commission blessed a proposal last week to boost some big industrial operations in northeastern Minnesota by cutting their electric bills, which…
Schafer: Wells Fargo fiasco had roots in Norwest strategy

Schafer: Wells Fargo fiasco had roots in Norwest strategy

Wells Fargo may have a California headquarters address and carry a California brand name, but scrape off the red and yellow paint of Wells Fargo and you will see the blue and green of Norwest Corp.

Schafer: One20 thinks its free app can help truckers

The people involved with the start-up company One20 don’t really consider it a social media company, but one dead giveaway is that One20 doesn’t plan…

Schafer: MNsure isn't the cause of rising insurance rates

We can't make a good decision in the state about what to do about exploding insurance premium rates for individuals if it's MNsure that gets the blame.
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