As America diversifies, so are its business ranks and MBA classes.

Meet Vernon Rowland and Pleasant Radford Jr., recent MBA graduates of the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas.

Both in their 30s, the two men also brought different life and work backgrounds to the program. They are accomplished, humble guys who say they benefited from their grad school experience.

"I knew something about health and health care but I needed to learn the language of business," said Radford, 31, a Chicago native who spent two years before business school in the Peace Corps, working in basic health, nutrition, sexual and maternal health in rural Nicaragua. "I came here because the Twin Cities has a strong health care perspective."

Before the Peace Corps, Radford worked for urban nonprofits in a public health program allied with the University of Chicago Medical Center.

"The St. Thomas program taught me about how to conduct business and do it ethically," said Radford, who joins UnitedHealth Group as a leadership trainee in July.

Rowland, 36, once a homeless kid, graduated from DeLaSalle High School and Bethel College and is the married father of two children. He has worked as a security guard, IT technician and fledgling entrepreneur. He's joining Boom Labs, the IT consulting business.

"It wasn't just the academics, but the dynamics of group work in business school that was meaningful," Rowland said. "It was inspired learning, and about personal development."

Chris Puto, dean of the UST business school, said the UST "Outreach Scholars" program meets the demands of recruiters increasingly seeking graduates of varying backgrounds and life experiences.

"We are delighted with the success of the UST program and the positive effect it has had on all of our students," Puto said. These scholarships are valuable. The full-time St. Thomas MBA tab is $63,600.

And if you show up at local graduate programs, particularly at schools such as St. Mary's University and Augsburg, you will see more and more female and minority students.

Century-old Toro rings bullish bell

CEO Mike Hoffman of the Toro Co. rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday to herald the company's 100th anniversary this summer.

The Bloomington-based manufacturer got its start in 1914 building engines for the Bull Tractor Company, a maker of small farm tractors. Toro's first plant was in St. Paul.

In 1918, Toro built a power fairway roller for the Minneapolis Golf Club, beginning its long history of innovative products for the golf and turf industries. In 1919 Toro was approached by the Minikahda Club in Minneapolis to build the first motorized fairway mower for the golf industry and in 1938 it designed its first power mower specifically for the residential market.

The big celebration is on July 10. A website filled with historical information and images is at

Patrick Kennedy

Schuler Shoes fits in Anniversary

Schuler Shoes, the Maple Grove-based retailer that prides itself in selling comfortable shoes that fit correctly, is preparing to celebrate its 125th anniversary in August. In anticipation of the event, the company has commissioned a new logo for its brand identity that is now starting to roll out into the public eye. The rebranding was conceived and completed under the direction of Capsule, a Minneapolis brand-strategy agency.

Schuler Shoes, which employs pedorthists on its staff to properly fit their customers, is run by the fourth generation of Schulers, a family-owned business that began in 1889 with Vincent Schuler. The company, with seven Twin Cities locations and one in St. Cloud, employs 250 people. Sales have been strong, even through last decade's recession, climbing 87 percent between 2006 and last year.

David Phelps

People we know

• Pahoua Yang Hoffman was named director of policy at the Citizens League. She will lead developing and advancing policy recommendations with the Citizens League's members and partners. Hoffman previously served in management at Twin Cities Public Television, focused on planning, research and communications to meet the station's program and financial goals. Previously she worked as the assistant director for the University of St. Thomas' Office of International Student Services, and for the American Refugee Committee.

"Pahoua stands out not just in her understanding of policy and government affairs, but especially in her ability to listen to and engage a wide range of stakeholders … and to manage complicated initiatives from start to successful completion," said Sean Kershaw, executive director of the League.

Hoffman will focus on issues of electrical energy efficiency, higher education, assisting with the League's Taking on 2025 project and reinvigorating the Citizens League's news/publication functions. Taking on 2025 refers to the year when baby boomers begin to reach the most expensive stages of their aging and medical care. The 62-year-old membership organization, which dubs itself "common ground for the common good," brings together Minnesotans from different backgrounds and ideologies to create and advance policy solutions.

• Jeremy Hanson Willis, former head of the Minneapolis economic development agency, has been named deputy commissioner of workforce development, reporting to Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Hanson Willis, a onetime PR guy and farm kid from northwestern Minnesota, earlier served as chief of staff to former Mayor R.T. Rybak.

• Blake Chaffee, who was director of the communications, analysis and research division at the Department of Employment and Economic Development, was named deputy commissioner and chief operating officer. Chaffee, who grew up in Cloverdale, Minn., once worked for the late U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, the eloquent lion of the Iron Range.