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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: 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.
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.
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