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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: 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.
Schafer: Minn. has taken 'tax the rich' about as far as it can

Schafer: Minn. has taken 'tax the rich' about as far as it can

State policymakers who are looking to close some of the income inequality gap by changing the structure of our state income tax system really need…
Scandal at Volkswagen offers a case of how not to comply

Scandal at Volkswagen offers a case of how not to comply

The crisis now unfolding at Volkswagen over its emissions cheating underscores yet again that "compliance" means a lot more than just making sure some underling fills out the right paperwork.
Schafer: St. Paul has the better location for a pro soccer stadium

Schafer: St. Paul has the better location for a pro soccer stadium

A lot of people in the western half of the metro area have argued that it is obvious that the best place for a new…

Health care innovation shifts to IT, not devices

Health information technology is gaining ground fast on medical device innovation, and if all goes well in a few years we won't even much notice…

Strategic investor Andrew Mitchell wants to connect start-ups with branding experts

Start-up companies looking for capital are usually happy to take any money, but even better than capital is strategic capital. It's the money that comes…
Nashwauk steel plant falls short of its big promise

Nashwauk steel plant falls short of its big promise

A looming default on a $65.9 million state grant for a steel production facility provides a reminder that once the taxpayer gives something away in…
Schafer: Starkey upheaval is an old story of power and family

Schafer: Starkey upheaval is an old story of power and family

“There are no issues that affect our company, and it’s business as usual,” read the simple statement of Starkey Hearing Technologies founder and CEO Bill…
Investors follow plans, not tea leaves

Investors follow plans, not tea leaves

The portfolio managers and analysts at an event last week for finance pros hadn't all even gotten their lunch yet when the slide presentation of…

Schafer: Life in a start-up is difficult and fun

Everyone who dropped by the Beta.MN 2.5 event earlier this week to meet with 15 promising start-up companies got three small tokens to distribute among…
Donald Trump blind to the value of immigrants

Donald Trump blind to the value of immigrants

The state's corporate community last week finally got around to blasting the immigration plan of presidential candidate Donald Trump, but it didn't go nearly far enough.

Schafer: Possible state cuts threaten UCare's ability to survive

UCare has made a point of saying it’s gone to court to fight for the well-being of its members in two public health programs now…
Infinite Campus wants to lure IT workers to Blaine

Infinite Campus wants to lure IT workers to Blaine

An innovative thinker is turning "Garbage Hill" into a hive of innovation.

Schafer: New Orleans needed healing, not fixing

In the 10 years since Katrina came ashore in Louisiana and flooded most of the city of New Orleans, I’ve never been able to ­listen…
Schafer: Target's priorities change as growth opportunities diminish

Schafer: Target's priorities change as growth opportunities diminish

For those who are still waiting to hear more from Target about its plans for growth, it's pretty obvious right now. Just look at how the company spends its money.
Schafer: Google's new structure has roots in GM management innovations

Schafer: Google's new structure has roots in GM management innovations

Google’s new plan to operate as a technology holding company called Alphabet raises many questions about how such a structure should ideally work. A good…
JAMF's new CEO makes a respectful transition

JAMF's new CEO makes a respectful transition

The first thing new JAMF Software CEO Dean Hager wanted to do last week was dispel the idea that he knows of any secrets of how to take over as CEO from the co-founders of a dynamic company.
Lee Schafer: Minnesota's upbeat fiscal story pays off

Lee Schafer: Minnesota's upbeat fiscal story pays off

The state takes a step closer to AAA status in the debt world.
Lee Schafer: Elon Musk, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, has achieved extreme success

Lee Schafer: Elon Musk, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, has achieved extreme success

Elon Musk's business mission is to turn us into an interplanetary species and thus increase our odds of long-term survival, along the way completely reinventing our transportation system to be finished with fossil fuels.
Schafer: Rochester upstart sees a niche in cell phones

Schafer: Rochester upstart sees a niche in cell phones

The Boston Consulting Group uses a little grid to guide the thinking of CEOs when their products turn into commodities. It’s hard to know where…
Schafer: Farmers are planning for the second bad year in a row

Schafer: Farmers are planning for the second bad year in a row

It's not going to be a good year for farming in Minnesota, at least not for corn and soybean farmers, the backbone of the state's agriculture.
Schafer: More to Polaris Industries' paint plant woes than costs

Schafer: More to Polaris Industries' paint plant woes than costs

It would be great to know just how much creativity went into the new painting facility at the Polaris Industries manufacturing plant in Spirit Lake,…
Schafer: CEO Clay Collins has big ambitions for LeadPages

Schafer: CEO Clay Collins has big ambitions for LeadPages

Clay Collins of LeadPages looks to be that rare co-founder of a technology company who can stay in the top job all the way through…

Schafer: Cardiovascular Systems sales complaint comes up a little odd

A few pages into a whistleblower legal complaint against Cardiovascular Systems that just became public, the plaintiff points out that CSI sales representatives each had…
Market economics don't explain high pay for CEOs

Market economics don't explain high pay for CEOs

Wages are sticky, and don't move up and down like the price of corn. Social and political thinking about what's appropriate matter, too.
Lee Schafer: Entrepreneurs spotted opportunity in health care law

Lee Schafer: Entrepreneurs spotted opportunity in health care law

Tucked away in a Minnetonka office park is a new software company called Health E(fx) that looks like it’s on its way to being a…
For millennials, ideal jobs are all about location

For millennials, ideal jobs are all about location

It would be possible to take the bus from my neighborhood in St. Paul and get to work at the new TCF Financial facility in…
As health insurers scramble to get bigger, UnitedHealth sits pretty

As health insurers scramble to get bigger, UnitedHealth sits pretty

Aetna’s agreement to buy its rival Humana is only the first deal to come out of an amazing merger-and-acquisition free-for-all going on among the largest…
Vikings tap many sources for stadium funds

Vikings tap many sources for stadium funds

It's now possible to accurately estimate what the owners will end up putting into the stadium. It's about $572 million.

Schafer: Business climate not the same for everyone

CNBC's recent study put Minnesota at the top, but not all businesses agree.

Lee Schafer: Health-care collaboration gets patients home faster

Any health care facility with “suites” in its name sounds like it’s got to be more of a hotel than a clinic. It’s true that…
U.S. Bank hangs on as rates stay low

U.S. Bank hangs on as rates stay low

Even a little bump in rates should mean U.S. Bank won't have to follow the lead of other banks and get earnings growth by cutting the jobs of hundreds if not thousands of employees.
Mayo Clinic joins move to get new drugs to market faster

Mayo Clinic joins move to get new drugs to market faster

Mayo Clinic is a partner in a new development model to get safe drugs on their way to market.
Schafer: As a company grows, founder usually isn't best choice to lead

Schafer: As a company grows, founder usually isn't best choice to lead

Code42 Software’s Matthew Dornquast has wisely chosen being rich over being king. Dornquast had been the CEO of Code42 Software, a pillar of the emerging…
Schafer: Hormel is right to get into organics

Schafer: Hormel is right to get into organics

Hormel gets it. In this kind of a deal — a Big Food company buying an organic and natural products company — the biggest risk is accidentally spoiling the organic brand that just took a lot of money to buy.

Schafer: Lessons from the past still hold value

The student chosen to speak at the undergraduate commencement ceremony at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School, John Reichl, decided to tell his classmates about…

The American dream? Now, it's just about holding on

Among the casualties of the Great Recession is the faith many Americans once had in a concept called the American dream. It hasn’t made much…
Schafer: No need to 'transform' Target; just run it better

Schafer: No need to 'transform' Target; just run it better

Target’s executives on Wednesday morning will have no choice but to update shareholders and analysts on the company’s “transformation.” If they don’t do it upfront,…

Schafer: As jobless rates sink, employers feel a shift in labor market

Finding and keeping the right employees has to be a strategic priority for any business as we approach an era of near zero percent unemployment.
Schafer: Jobs' genius was learning to lead his Apple colleagues

Schafer: Jobs' genius was learning to lead his Apple colleagues

Anyone who knows much about the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs knows he could really throw a tantrum. He also told employees all the time…

Out-of-favor conglomerates have some lessons for today's CEOs

We can learn from yesterday's conglomerates
Schafer: Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting is a once-in-a-lifetime treat

Schafer: Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting is a once-in-a-lifetime treat

The Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting is the closest thing to a national celebration of common-sense American business as this country has. This year's event was special, too, marking 50 years since Warren Buffett was put in charge.

Schafer: New book confronts perceptions of real estate developers

Peter Hendee Brown starts a real estate development class he teaches at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs by asking his students…
Schafer: Franken's view hurt Comcast's big deal

Schafer: Franken's view hurt Comcast's big deal

The collapse of the Comcast-Time Warner deal could be a big win for Sen. Al Franken.

Schafer: No checking account? Be prepared to lose money and time

Cashing a $100 check in a check-cashing store turned out to be a humbling — and frustrating — two-hour job.It didn't help that the payroll…
Schafer: Iron Range slump appears set to last for a long time

Schafer: Iron Range slump appears set to last for a long time

Looking around at the global industry, it's shaping up as another of those slumps that sure won't feel temporary when it's done.

Schafer: Why do workers like the Twin Cities? Let's count

To understand why the Twin Cities developed a big constellation of corporate headquarters, it helps to know a little bit about the experience of Greg…
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