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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: Would the Twin Cities be a better Amazon partner than Seattle?

Schafer: Would the Twin Cities be a better Amazon partner than Seattle?

Minneapolis residents found out this month that seven of their City Council candidates and two people who are running for mayor can imagine a city…
Schafer: Trading case tied to former Life Time exec hits investing neophytes

Schafer: Trading case tied to former Life Time exec hits investing neophytes

It's a cautionary tale, if proven in court, about how quick profits can easily tempt unsophisticated people to break the law.
Schafer: Mayo Clinic is invested in Rochester, but there's more work to be done

Schafer: Mayo Clinic is invested in Rochester, but there's more work to be done

Company towns got their bad reputation when the big employers veer from not just bossing people around to taking advantage of them.
Schafer: In sizing up bids for businesses, you can't forget Minnesota starts better off

Schafer: In sizing up bids for businesses, you can't forget Minnesota starts better off

Compared with Iowa and Wisconsin, in Minnesota we enjoy higher household incomes and are more likely to have a job, have college degrees and be covered by health insurance.
Schafer: Perception of the Twin Cities technology market doesn't meet reality

Schafer: Perception of the Twin Cities technology market doesn't meet reality

Entrepreneur Chip Pearson has been trying to get the word out that our region’s startup technology sector is a lot bigger — and has created…
Schafer: Target's wage hike not invoked for theatrics

Schafer: Target's wage hike not invoked for theatrics

Some local employers can't imagine how Target gets attention for starting people at $11 per hour. It's far too late in this tight labor market for $11 an hour to be news.
Schafer: Could Amazon steal the Twin Cities' top talent if it expands here?

Schafer: Could Amazon steal the Twin Cities' top talent if it expands here?

Complaining about competing against Amazon for workers would make Best Buy and Target look like whiners. But it's clearly an issue.
Oct. 5 event aims to help investors be better stewards of assets

Oct. 5 event aims to help investors be better stewards of assets

Fred Martin, the founder and lead portfolio manager for Disciplined Growth Investors of Minneapolis, is also the founder and host of an event he hopes will recur annually called Objective Measure.
Schafer: Best Buy CEO tells investors it's all about the customer experience

Schafer: Best Buy CEO tells investors it's all about the customer experience

Keeping the customers coming back seems pretty fundamental, but in traditional retailing it's easy to get distracted by the store.

Schafer: Teachers pension plan officials cry foul over report that used its numbers

When a standard changed, what was already a sizable financial hole turned into a crater.
Schafer: Is Amazon the big game for Twin Cities? Bring it on

Schafer: Is Amazon the big game for Twin Cities? Bring it on

The Twin Cities doesn't have to get Amazon.com's second headquarters and its potential of 50,000 jobs to get a big win out of the new headquarters sweepstakes.
Schafer: There's no good economic case for ending DACA

Schafer: There's no good economic case for ending DACA

Most of what I learned in economics for a degree granted more than 30 years ago has long ago leached away, but I remembered enough…

Schafer: Savings from joining forces could make this deal a winner for H.B. Fuller Co.

Savings achieved by joining forces might make this deal a winner for H.B. Fuller Co.
Schafer: CEOs get a windfall and need perspective to handle it

Schafer: CEOs get a windfall and need perspective to handle it

People would be happier, and not to mention a lot easier to work for, if they really grasped that it's far too easy to give themselves credit for good fortune.
Schafer: Place your bets on college, not the lottery

Schafer: Place your bets on college, not the lottery

There's an old line about a lottery that is well worth repeating: It's not a form of legalized gambling, it's a form of legalized swindling.
Schafer: Criticism isn't the only thing Wells Fargo's board deserves

Schafer: Criticism isn't the only thing Wells Fargo's board deserves

Somebody on that board did a lot of hard work trying to fix the bank's problems.
Schafer: Thrivent executives have hard conversations about race

Schafer: Thrivent executives have hard conversations about race

It turns out that it's not elitist or corporatist to believe that businesses will do better if they find a way to include everybody. It's common sense.

Schafer: For Red Wing entrepreneur, 'make the world a better place' isn't an empty phrase

Susan Langer's start-up is called Live. Give. Save., but this is business, not philanthropy.

Schafer: Staying the same has made Minneapolis investment firm new

Traditional, even old-fashioned, precisely describes Minneapolis money manager Compass Capital Management. Yet it is also growing.

Schafer: 10 years later, financial crisis remains a puzzle

A commentary by two savvy economists shows something new and important to say about the financial crisis even 10 years later.
Schafer: Foxconn's economic impact study fails to show the math

Schafer: Foxconn's economic impact study fails to show the math

What the people of Wisconsin need is a cost-benefit analysis to answer questions. What they got was Foxconn's economic impact study.
Schafer: Co-founder CEOs often need to step aside

Schafer: Co-founder CEOs often need to step aside

Clay Collins' transition from co-founder and CEO to chairman of the board of the fast-growing Minneapolis company Leadpages could not have been managed any better.

Schafer: High income tax may aggravate Connecticut's budget problems

Connecticut's individual income tax collections have slid, recently coming in far below what had been forecast and lower than had been collected last year.

Schafer: Chaos in health care not scaring off investor

The latest healthcare and health insurance reform proposal collapsed in Washington this week, about when the Minneapolis health benefits company Gravie Inc. announced its latest…

Schafer: Sky-high pay packages have many searching for good explanations

It turned out to be a bad idea to look for research papers that explain why big companies routinely pay their top executives well into…
Schafer: St. Paul Ford plant site rhetoric exaggerates the risks

Schafer: St. Paul Ford plant site rhetoric exaggerates the risks

A decision about the master plan is still a long way off, but at least we know one thing now: Opponents are willing to talk nonsense about it.
Schafer: Business wisdom is seldom truly new

Schafer: Business wisdom is seldom truly new

Another one of life's dreams ended, that of closing a career by writing a terrific management book.

Schafer: Wage hike will reshape dining experiences in Minneapolis

With Minneapolis charging ahead with a $15 per hour minimum wage last week, Minneapolis restaurant owners are already well down the road to figuring out a new model for the table service segment of the local industry.
Schafer: Minnesota's Lake County looks for exit on broadband project

Schafer: Minnesota's Lake County looks for exit on broadband project

One of the biggest projects to bring broadband to rural areas of Minnesota has reached a crossroads.
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.
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