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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 start-up Stratifund guides new crowdfunding

Before the rules finally allowed just about anyone in the crowd to invest over the internet in a start-up company, the founders of a research…
Schafer: Exposing shortcut many firms take to augment perceived value

Schafer: Exposing shortcut many firms take to augment perceived value

Donaldson Co. announced a share repurchase program last year as part of its strategy to ­support “our strategic growth plan while also returning cash to…
Schafer: What the lessons of tax-cutting in Kansas hold for Minnesota

Schafer: What the lessons of tax-cutting in Kansas hold for Minnesota

Kansas officials can’t seem to put out a tax forecast that’s pessimistic enough, with tax collections in June falling short again, this time by more…
Schafer: Dayton shows Essar the door, but the mining company isn't dead yet

Schafer: Dayton shows Essar the door, but the mining company isn't dead yet

Gov. Mark Dayton invited the mining company Cliffs Natural Resources to step over the lifeless body of Essar Steel Minnesota and take over Essar’s stalled…

Schafer: Kickstarter 'Guide' takes the path less traveled

Entrepreneur Kurt Boerner is about to kick off a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a product he’s desperately hoping will be broadly used, but…
Schafer: Hedging is about lowering risk, yet Delta talks as if it's a bet

Schafer: Hedging is about lowering risk, yet Delta talks as if it's a bet

When pressed on why Delta isn't eager to lock in fuel prices with a hedge now that oil prices seem cheap, CEO Ed Bastian replied, "I don't get paid to make those types of bets."
Schafer: Minnesota State at the brink

Schafer: Minnesota State at the brink

The state's second-largest college system is under an extreme revenue squeeze as part of legislators' ongoing shift of money from education to health.

Schafer: Just why do people keep falling for financial fraud?

It’s never easy to guess, when reading a story about financial fraud, just what the victims could’ve been thinking. Sorry if this sounds like victim-blaming,…
Schafer: Pro-Brexit forces didn't seem interested in self-interest

Schafer: Pro-Brexit forces didn't seem interested in self-interest

In the chaos since the vote last week in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, maybe the biggest unanswered question is how much more damage angry voters in big democracies are willing to do to themselves.
Schafer: Angel investor's lesson – it takes plenty of at-bats before you hit home run

Schafer: Angel investor's lesson – it takes plenty of at-bats before you hit home run

When people put the first outside capital in a start-up company, it’s usually called angel investing, and it’s yet another one of those activities that…
Schafer: Minnesotan sees profits in the paleo diet

Schafer: Minnesotan sees profits in the paleo diet

The language and culture of technology start-ups seems to be leaking into other industries, and hearing a term like "get to scale" from a food…

Schafer: Why we keep working these long, long weeks

This column is getting wrapped up at about my 50th hour of work in what’s traditionally considered the first week of summer, when the kids…
Lee Schafer: Cliffs' deal with steel giant looks like Essar's last loss

Lee Schafer: Cliffs' deal with steel giant looks like Essar's last loss

A new long-term supply agreement that Cliffs Natural Resources has reached with steel giant ArcelorMittal put the final nail in the coffin of Essar Steel Minnesota.
Schafer: What in the name of 'tronc' was Tribune Publishing thinking?

Schafer: What in the name of 'tronc' was Tribune Publishing thinking?

The world of journalism rarely provides lessons in business leadership. Then came tronc. In case you missed this news, that will be the new name…
Schafer: How our biases lead us to make mistakes

Schafer: How our biases lead us to make mistakes

It’s refreshing to read in a new book called “The Physics of Brand” that the authors refuse to use terms like consumer or target market.…
Schafer: Why the Central States Pension Fund is doomed to fail

Schafer: Why the Central States Pension Fund is doomed to fail

The Teamsters' Central States Pension Fund looks all but certain to fail, crushing the retirement dreams of thousands of Minnesotans and many thousands more in other states.

Schafer: Proterra invests in battling hunger

Rich Gammill of the private equity fund Proterra Investment Partners might have mentioned "feeding the world" a half-dozen times in an hour, as he talked through where his firm puts its money.

Schafer: Real estate tech firm stakes out new turf in real estate

The only way for an entrepreneur to claim credit for a big surge of demand no one really saw coming is by responding the way…
Start-ups these days don't necessarily want to be UnitedHealth

Start-ups these days don't necessarily want to be UnitedHealth

The next UnitedHealth Group is probably going to go out of business this month as the founders shut it down rather than try to raise more money to pay June's rent.
Schafer: Legislature should protect Prince's right of publicity

Schafer: Legislature should protect Prince's right of publicity

Do our state legislators have the good sense to make it easier for Prince's estate to legally protect the value of his image and likeness?
Schafer: Pioneer Press owner's plan is to 'harvest' what is left of the newspaper

Schafer: Pioneer Press owner's plan is to 'harvest' what is left of the newspaper

The hedge fund that controls the Pioneer Press has apparently decided on one of the time-honored strategies to make money in a declining business. It’s…
Kashkari tells Schafer he knew what he was doing

Kashkari tells Schafer he knew what he was doing

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis next week will have its second symposium on what to do about the risk of having to bail out a bank that is still too big to fail. Its president, Neel Kashkari, says he thought the initiative would make a splash. Instead, banks are "trying to throw every criticism at us."
Schafer: St. Jude sale is sad, but part of inevitable industry pattern

Schafer: St. Jude sale is sad, but part of inevitable industry pattern

As disappointing as it is, there's nothing unique about big companies in Minnesota getting gobbled up.

Schafer: 2 brothers, 2 breweries, but no ill will on tap

After I first heard that brothers Robert and John Klick had founded competing craft breweries on Lake Minnetonka, the headline more or less wrote itself:…

Schafer: Carlson is just one big family business doing what is best

It was certainly no surprise when Carlson announced Wednesday that it’s getting out of its hotel business. There is a Chinese buyer, which makes the…
Schafer: Tough times could mean difficult choices on the Iron Range

Schafer: Tough times could mean difficult choices on the Iron Range

It's not surprising that a snapshot of the Iron Range economy from the state's Office of the Legislative Auditor shows a depressing picture.

Schafer: Huntsman sees U.S. opportunities in China

The former American ambassador to China says U.S. executives and business owners don't appreciate how much opportunity exists for them to make money in the world's most populous country.
Schafer: Job losses in mining are no longer big news, and recovery will not be a smooth trip

Schafer: Job losses in mining are no longer big news, and recovery will not be a smooth trip

United States Steel Corp. didn't think it was worth a public announcement, the news this month that at least one out of every four of its salaried employees would lose their job.
Schafer: Many securities brokers stay on the job despite complaints against them

Schafer: Many securities brokers stay on the job despite complaints against them

Four out of 10 brokers who lose their job after misconduct quickly get another one, according to a team of researchers, including one at the University of Minnesota.

Schafer: Iron Range is latest region to face resource curse

Maybe we've been wrong all along about the abundant deposits of iron ore in northeastern Minnesota, enabling generations of Minnesotans to earn a good living by mining.

Schafer: U political scientist Larry Jacobs takes on the Fed in new book

Business columnist Lee Schafer says Jacobs makes important points, though he doesn't agree with all of them.
Schafer: Here's why this time really is different for Minnesota mining

Schafer: Here's why this time really is different for Minnesota mining

By now a "15,000 Layoffs?" newspaper headline should be no surprise to the iron miners of northeastern Minnesota.
Lee Schafer: High stakes in growth struggle at General Mills

Lee Schafer: High stakes in growth struggle at General Mills

There's no financial crisis but, with what has happened to some of its rivals, the pressure is real at General Mills.
Schafer: Presidential candidates are missing the point on trade

Schafer: Presidential candidates are missing the point on trade

Economist John Spry said his profession maybe deserves a little of its reputation for muddling an issue, but on a few things, economists really do know the score.
Schafer: Clear thinking is needed on the future of Giants Ridge

Schafer: Clear thinking is needed on the future of Giants Ridge

The Giants Ridge resort is such a big part of the state agency leading economic development on the Iron Range that the resort received its…

Schafer: The investor conflict at Cogentix is unusual

One of the most successful investors in med-tech has made public a quarrel with a company where he sits on the board.
Schafer: New book by Mike Veeck covers all the innovative bases

Schafer: New book by Mike Veeck covers all the innovative bases

The professional baseball impresario Mike Veeck wrote what he called a "sports book with silly stories" more than 10 years ago. He found that he'd accidentally written a business book.
Schafer: Why is state only now taking action on Twin Metals mine?

Schafer: Why is state only now taking action on Twin Metals mine?

The state’s governor may not have killed the proposed Twin Metals copper, nickel and precious metals mine project in northeastern Minnesota, when he said this…
Schafer: Plans for soccer stadium area shy of 'realistic'

Schafer: Plans for soccer stadium area shy of 'realistic'

It's just not easy to imagine several office buildings standing in the Midway area, even in 15 years and with a gleaming soccer stadium right there, too.
Macalester QB, economics student tackles football analytics

Macalester QB, economics student tackles football analytics

Macalester College quarterback and budding economist Benny Goldman has built a predictive model that just may reshape traditional decision making.
Schafer: Ecolab the latest to alter operations in Venezuela

Schafer: Ecolab the latest to alter operations in Venezuela

Ecolab’s announcement that it is “deconsolidating” its businesses in Venezuela might look like a creative accounting approach to get a bad business off the books.…

Attention, retirees: Social Security loophole is closing

Sometimes when Congress gets around to closing a loophole in some government program, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that it's not just…
Banking structure hasn't changed enough to stop another crisis like 2008

Banking structure hasn't changed enough to stop another crisis like 2008

New Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari decided he wouldn’t really be doing his job if he didn’t warn us that a 2008 kind…
Comic actor John Cleese makes the case for creativity

Comic actor John Cleese makes the case for creativity

An audience at the University of St. Thomas' Minneapolis campus last week got to laugh while hearing comic actor John Cleese's sensible advice on how to foster creativity.

Schafer: Fixes, hopefully, would put state's pensions on a path to stability

A proposed set of “sustainability fixes” that just came out for the state’s biggest public employee pension plans should go a long way toward reducing…
Schafer: Is St. Paul soccer parking headed for an off-ramp?

Schafer: Is St. Paul soccer parking headed for an off-ramp?

There’s a study underway to estimate just how many people will use transit to get to the new soccer stadium once it gets built in…
Schafer: Why do Fed voters always agree?

Schafer: Why do Fed voters always agree?

Our Federal Reserve policy committee only shifts direction when nearly everyone agrees — and as a result probably plays it too safe.
Schafer: Caution signs appear along the economic highway

Schafer: Caution signs appear along the economic highway

Sales of all-terrain vehicles aren’t one of the classic leading economic indicators that point to how the broader economy will do just down the road,…

Schafer: State-run retirement plans could offer a fix for future

If employers haven't been paying attention to what states are now up to with their own private-employer retirement plans, it's time they start.
Schafer: Sale of Carlson hotels could be a well-timed decision

Schafer: Sale of Carlson hotels could be a well-timed decision

A business owner starts looking for a buyer when the company is performing well and worth a lot, or when going it alone begins to…
Why is the Downtown East Commons park such a tough sell?

Why is the Downtown East Commons park such a tough sell?

It's going to take $22 million in donated money to fully realize the plan for the Downtown East Commons park, envisioned as the kind of civic jewel that should inspire the generosity of the corporate community.

Schafer: Find financial peace as the markets struggle

A wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime family vacation had me out of the office for the first two weeks of January. One completely unintended benefit of not going…

Schafer: Defining and defending disruptive innovation

Clayton Christensen, the doctor of “disruptive innovation,” is about as celebrated as business thinkers get. Yet he was just back in the Harvard Business Review…
Schafer: Minneapolis hedge fund exposes the dark side of hedge funds

Schafer: Minneapolis hedge fund exposes the dark side of hedge funds

Maybe becoming wealthy enough to have your money in a hedge fund is actually one of the drawbacks of getting rich.

Schafer: Thoughts of money make us harder working and more self-centered

Being reminded of money, even unconsciously, changes the way people behave, making them both harder working and more self-centered, a University of Minnesota researcher has…
Schafer: After the slump, Congress didn't have to act that way

Schafer: After the slump, Congress didn't have to act that way

With an apparently perfect sense of timing, Congress decided to stimulate the economy through fiscal policy the very week the Federal Reserve decided its extraordinary efforts to stimulate the economy probably weren't needed anymore.
Getting a nonprofit off the ground can be tricky

Getting a nonprofit off the ground can be tricky

Leading a small nonprofit out of its development stage looks to be as much of a challenge as that faced by an entrepreneur trying to launch a company. The big difference, of course, is that when the nonprofit finally blossoms there won't be big financial rewards for the boss.
Schafer: Fed has taken the first step back to normal

Schafer: Fed has taken the first step back to normal

It’s not going to make much of a difference in a big banking company like U.S. Bancorp that the interest rate for federal funds is…

Schafer: A starting wage of $11 or $12 an hour isn't much progress

Even $11 per hour isn't a real minimum wage for most workers, at least if by minimum we mean being able to afford much of a life.
Schafer: Target still trying to catch up after mistaken Web strategy

Schafer: Target still trying to catch up after mistaken Web strategy

How different would the landscape look today had Target not outsourced much of its website for 10 years to Amazon.com?

Attention, retirees: Social Security loophole is closing

Sometimes when Congress gets around to closing a loophole in some government program, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that it's not just…
UnitedHealth takes a direct approach with the Affordable Care Act

UnitedHealth takes a direct approach with the Affordable Care Act

UnitedHealth Group shook the ground under the Affordable Care Act market for individual health insurance when it said it was considering withdrawing altogether after a bad experience this year.
Verso's Duluth paper mill may get caught in crossfire of company's struggles

Verso's Duluth paper mill may get caught in crossfire of company's struggles

If the name of the paper company Verso shows up in any Minnesota newspaper, you can be sure the news won't be good.

Schafer: University Enterprise Laboratories is breeding success

It would be a lot easier to understand just how successful University Enterprise Laboratories in St. Paul has been if no one insisted on calling…
Schafer: Poignant words on leadership and sacrifice from a veterans' veteran

Schafer: Poignant words on leadership and sacrifice from a veterans' veteran

It's not easy to upstage U.S. Bancorp CEO Richard Davis, about as gifted a public speaker as this business community has. But a soft-spoken oil field safety specialist from North Dakota managed to do so last week.

Schafer: New Minneapolis Fed leader was truly tested in a crisis

Very few of us are ever really tested in a crisis. We haven’t been in charge when the cost of failure is far greater than…
Schafer: Lower interest rates might be the new normal

Schafer: Lower interest rates might be the new normal

The Federal Reserve may finally be ready to raise interest rates in December, but borrowers and savers looking for a return to normal interest rates could be in for a far longer wait.

Schafer: Twin Cities start-up shows how to succeed without Silicon Valley

Last year, venture capitalists poured nearly $27 billion into start-up companies based in California, mostly going into the great technology cluster in Northern California known…
Schafer: Power of monopoly has role in drug costs

Schafer: Power of monopoly has role in drug costs

The usual explanation for headline-grabbing price increases in pharmaceuticals is a lack of effective regulation, or maybe the absence of an ethical compass in the executive suite. The explanation that makes the most sense, though, is an absence of competition.
Schafer: Soccer venture an asset to the region

Schafer: Soccer venture an asset to the region

A conversation with Minnesota United owner Bill McGuire yields some insight on the value of investing in pro soccer.
Schafer: Outgoing St. Jude's CEO Dan Starks was hands-on in his approach

Schafer: Outgoing St. Jude's CEO Dan Starks was hands-on in his approach

Dan Starks, who will step aside at the end of the year as CEO of St. Jude Medical, doesn't spend his time the way some CEOs of other big companies he's observed do, being what he called "administrators."

Schafer: This kind of hack helps businesses grow

The marketing job to shoot for isn’t chief marketing officer after all. It’s growth hacker. Growth hacking is finding ways to grow sales without running…
Schafer: Activist shareholder campaigns often don't deliver results

Schafer: Activist shareholder campaigns often don't deliver results

Four years ago this week, one of the most high-profile activist shareholder campaigns against a local company wrapped up at Regis Corp., and it wasn’t…
Schafer: Despite lower copper prices, PolyMet's mine still has financial appeal

Schafer: Despite lower copper prices, PolyMet's mine still has financial appeal

Opponents of copper and nickel mining in northeastern Minnesota have turned hopeful that declining prices for those metals mean PolyMet Mining’s project no longer makes…
Schafer: ConAgra's move from Omaha to Chicago shows that big cities still reign

Schafer: ConAgra's move from Omaha to Chicago shows that big cities still reign

ConAgra Foods' new CEO recently tried telling the people of Omaha that moving the headquarters to downtown Chicago was "not an indictment of Omaha." Of course it was.
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