Staff Directory 157932475

Lee Schafer

Columnist | Business
Phone: 612-673-4302
Location: Minneapolis
Other languages: None

Lee Schafer joined the Star Tribune as a columnist in 2012 after 15 years in business, including leading his own consulting practice and serving on corporate boards of directors. He's twice been named the best in business columnist by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, most recently for his work in 2017.


Schafer grew up on a southwest Minnesota cattle farm and studied history and economics at Macalester College. He received his masters degree from Northwestern University and worked as a writer and editor for a regional business monthly before returning to business. His work included investment banking but he had the most fun advising CEOs on growth strategy. He lives in St. Paul with his wife Tanya Bell, a real estate development consultant and civic leader, and they have three adult daughters. He's also been active as a volunteer, including for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, Neighborhood House and Urban Homeworks.
Recent content from Lee Schafer
A Zara store posted a large "Now Hiring," sign in its window in Miami Beach, Fla.

Schafer: People giving up on work is another sign that this recession is worse

And it's a message that employers and policymakers ought to be thinking more about.
As the temperature crosses below the 45-degree threshold, more restaurants are going to be relying on their delivery and takeout business.

Schafer: Winter is coming, and the restaurant owners all know it

Minnesotans shouldn't treat this like a normal winter.

Schafer: Venture capitalists willing to fund insurance startups who try to crawl over 'wall'

These firms are very much still startups, and you can hear a little Silicon Valley-style language in how they talk about themselves.
Paul John Scott

Schafer: Debut novel by Rochester author takes on big pharma issues

It wouldn't be possible to write so clearly about a complex industry without a deep understanding of it.
In 2019, Cleveland-Cliffs celebrated the completion of the company's DR-Grade Pellet Project at Northshore Mining in Silver Bay, Minn.

Schafer: It would be nice to say the latest big deal in steel is good for Minnesota

Honestly, it's too hard to tell yet what the Cleveland-Cliffs-ArcelorMittal transaction means.
Big companies have held up better than small ones in the pandemic-induced recession. File photo of the New York Stock Exchange.

Why bigger companies are faring fairly well in this downturn

The strong stock market in 2020 has been one of the biggest surprises in a year full of them, and we've heard the explanations, from…
The idea of new deal is that Allina Health will get a significant amount of its revenue based on how well it keeps 130,000 members of Blue Cross and B

Schafer: How Allina, Blue Cross define the 'value-based' trend sweeping health care

It's a term that's close to meaningless to an industry outsider.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter has pushed is a form of guaranteed income for St. Paul residents: a program where low-income households could receive $50

Schafer: From the left and right, ideas flow for an income floor

Economist Milton Friedman and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter share an idea.
Six months after the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in earnest, few of us knew that many would still be working at home.

Schafer: We are working harder to adjust to the here and now of the pandemic

Six months into the pandemic in the U.S., the picture does not look that much clearer.

Schafer: Private equity won't fill Minnesota's pension gap

There's no quick and low-cost way to sell the private assets and no real-time price for what they are worth.
An affiliate of Walton Street Capital of Chicago bought the Hilton in downtown Minneapolis for $143 million, renovated part of the building and then r

Schafer: Home real estate may be immune to the pandemic, but commercial properties aren't

It's easy to guess where it's really painful, with social distancing keeping lots of people from shopping in stores or staying in hotels.
Attorney Joe Cotchett, left, gestures beside Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, right, and his wife Janet Hill during a zoom media conference on Thursday

Schafer: Pandemic-driven virtual conferences may be here to stay

The marketers at Minnesota’s media companies came up with clever State Fair T-shirts this year after all, like Minnesota Public Radio’s “The Great…
People shopped at a Target in Brooklyn, N.Y., in May. Target reported record growth in the second quarter.

Schafer: Diverging effects of the pandemic visible in the numbers at Target, Walmart

It has long been understood that these two companies have a different core customer, even with a big overlap in merchandise at similar prices.
Rob Weber, co-founder and managing partner of Great North Labs, in a 2019 file photo.

Schafer: Can a downturn actually be the right time to start a business?

Recessions do seem to create more incentive for potential customers to look for cheaper or more efficient ways to do things.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, expecting a huge NFL payday, is pushing to play this season.

Schafer: Will it take a pandemic to finally change college sports?

Without money, the unfairness in the way risks and rewards were spread around gets exposed.
Caesar Russell, cycling instructor for Wellbeats, a St. Louis Park-based firm that offers videos and other online fitness programs.

Schafer: The best-kept secret in town? An at-home workout provider takes off in the pandemic

Usage of the fitness and wellness coaching service of Wellbeats skyrocketed, but this was not some sort of accident.
Terry Rasmussen, CEO of Thrivent Financial, shown in 2019.

Schafer: How Thrivent is gently raising its distinctive profile in a moment of change

A new marketing campaign aims to build more awareness of Thrivent as a financial services business that remains interested in helping people live a life of greater purpose.
The once-beloved SuperAmerica stores here aren’t even called SuperAmerica anymore. They got rebranded to Speedway.

Schafer: SuperAmerica, a well-liked Minnesota brand, has seen six owners churn through in a decade

Even for a time swirling with deals, this recent history seems absurd.

Lack of diversity among top executives contributes to racial wealth gap

Wealth inequality does not get nearly the attention it deserves, and nothing like the focus on income inequality.It's the hand-wringing over the role played by…
For nearly a decade, home prices have been rising in the U.S. and coronavirus hasn't stopped them.

Schafer: Think the stock market has made big moves? Take a look at home values

What's happened since the beginning of the pandemic this year isn't exactly a normal recession.
Mark Meadows, left, and Steven Mnuchin are working to put together a new stimulus bill.

Schafer: Here's why the $600 weekly jobless benefit meant so much to the U.S. economy

Even if Congress and the White House decided to continue the benefit, odds are slim it remains $600 per week.
Menards employee Bob LaCasse followed protocol as he passed a sign explaining it to customers.

Schafer: We might wear our masks yet if behavioral science is correct

Making decisions, over and over throughout a day, can use up our capacity for self-control.
President Donald Trump signed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act in the Oval Office in April.

Schafer: Big law firms embraced small-business loan program, and for good reason

It wasn't about making sure the rock stars kept getting paid but ensuring the crew members did.
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates on stage during a video portion of the 1995 Windows 95 Launch Event on the company’s campus in Redmond, Wash.

Schafer: Stock market rising on the indispensable companies

The boomers and Xers remember when Microsoft was so dominant that a federal judge ordered it broken up. That year of peak Microsoft…
Minnesota Twins pitcher Devin Smeltzer and teammates during a workout at Target Field earlier this week.

Schafer: How major league teams can still make money in front of empty stands

Is this the year that sports moves closer to completing its transition from an in-person experience to a reality TV show?
Best Buy headquarters in Richfield

Schafer: Work from home is not about the place

The reasons some employers canned flexible work programs were what you would expect. Yet those seem like correctable management mistakes.
Some companies are starting to adjust their financial results to account for the effects of COVID-19.

Schafer: An adjustment here, an adjustment there, soon you're talking real money

It's no defense of adjusting numbers for the virus to point out that investors see adjusted financial information all the time
Nurse Sarah Neva entered a patient's room at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul in May. M Health Fairview converted the hospital to treat only COVID-19 pat

Schafer: As threat vigilance ends, a new way of work is taking shape

The worst days of the spread of infection in our country’s COVID-19 pandemic were not in April after all. They were last week. There was…
Mary Grove

New VC firm focuses on Minnesota's bread and butter, and some software

Staking out a well-defined position in venture capital doesn’t look to be easy. Until a track record emerges of generating better returns than the alternatives…
The charitable trust that controls a majority of the Bremer Bank's shares argues that a sale would provide more money to fulfill its philanthropic mis

What is Bremer Financial worth? Well, it's complicated

The latest annual tax form called the 990 for the Otto Bremer Trust is now on the St. Paul foundation’s website, and very…
The MOA opened again this month for the first time since mid-March, where most shoppers wore face masks Wednesday, June 10, 2020, in Bloomington, MN.]

Schafer: How to coax holdouts to don a mask? Take a page from the Spartans

When you think about the health of the group as a whole, wearing a mask makes perfect sense.
Rendering shows the Control Data Corp. Northside plant in Minneapolis before its construction in 1967 and 1968. The plant closed when the company decl

Schafer: The last time Minneapolis rioted, one large company did more than just talk about change

Reminders of the one-time giant Control Data Corp. (CDC) can be seen all over the Twin Cities, from a street named Computer Avenue in Edina…
The pandemic recession may soon be over with a giant unemployment rate and a long road back to the economy as it was before. File photo of a career ex

Schafer: So the job market came back in May, but it was still awful

It was the second-worst month in the more than 27 years that layoff announcements of U.S. employers have been tracked.
Tynise Underwood pushed preschooler Kamiyah Henry on a scooter at a New Horizon Academy childcare center in north Minneapolis in March.

Schafer: Stress in child care will affect recovery from pandemic

In addition to being kept safe, active and fed, kids in a high-quality child care program are building skills that will help them do well once they get to kindergarten.
A single rose stands out on the burnt remains of twin bookstores Uncle Hugo's and Uncle Edgar's in Minneapolis on Tuesday. Someone had sprinkled roses

Schafer: All around Lake Street, hundreds of business owners now face difficult choices

Even with donations and GoFundMe fundraising, it could take years for this commercial corridor in the state's largest city to fully come back.
.

Schafer: More savings looks like a good thing, but it's not

Since the last recession ended in 2009, Americans have generally saved about 5% of what they made. That held up until March, when the savings…
Scott Wardell, financial planner and author

Schafer: If you're near retirement, some tips for the hard choices coming your way

Not always being able to pick your own retirement date is just one challenge.
Despite losing money, the delivery app Grubhub is in merger discussions with Uber Technology.

Schafer: Delivery business is dodgy all around, especially these days

Drivers sure need work, too, but delivery doesn't work great for them, either.
Those working from home will still be doing that, likely for many more months. So what's next?

Schafer: Maintaining work community away from the office isn't easy

The change in thinking isn't where we work so much as it's how to work better with the tools we have.
Dundee Venture Capital, which has an office in Minneapolis, studied the outcome of tech startup investing in about 25 states it calls "The Mighty Midd

Schafer: There's still resilience in tech startups in middle of the U.S.

Never easy, building a company from scratch is going to be harder in this year of the pandemic recession.
Congress has already passed relief bills to address the economic devastation of COVID-19. More financial help is being weighed.

Schafer: A job lost in government has the same economic effect as one lost in a business

Declining state and local government spending really can make an economic downturn worse. And this recession is bad enough already.
Warren Buffett spoke Saturday from an Omaha, Neb., arena to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders via the internet rather than holding an in-person annual m

Schafer: Buffett comforted investors until he described selling

It was sobering to realize he'd already concluded that the airlines likely won't be the same.
On behalf of the New York Stock Exchange, Kevin Fitzgibbons, Chief Security Officer, rings the Closing Bell on Friday in New York.

Schafer: At the end of an awful month, here's what the stock market taught us

The simple explanation for the bounce back? Hopefully April was the low point.
Leaders of The Power House are finding ways to serve customers even when they can't come into its fitness centers because of COVID-19.

Schafer: People in Minnesota businesses are solving problems fast

Instead of fixating on what can't be done for users, here are examples of focusing on what can.
Foreclosures, debt restructurings and so on can be messy and destructive to the productive capacity of the economy.

Schafer: Bankers are at the crossroads of this crisis and face new scrutiny

We're still early in this economic crisis, but banks should err on the side of keeping businesses able to recover and able to pay workers and suppliers.
HealthPartners headquarters in Bloomington.

Schafer: The pain of social distancing paid off for Minnesota health care providers

HealthPartners shows how the providers have had to tweak facilities, make plans for staffing and more so much still unknown about the disease.
Minnesota Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove, at a COVID-related briefing.

Schafer: There are no simple choices to find an exit from this lockdown

It's clear we can't go back to normal yet, and likely not for months.
U.S. toilet paper sales rose 51% between Feb. 24, 2020 and March 10, but manufacturing was already at capacity.

Schafer: TP makers, internet providers didn't expect everyone to be home at once

A better question than why there are shortages or surpluses is why there aren't many more of them.
With a pandemic now underway, it’s tempting to see a terrible vulnerability in senior care centers like those in Presbyterian Homes, business column

Schafer: Supportive communities are a strength, and working from home on video can't last

When you think about it, the supportive communities of elder care centers can be thought of as a metaphor for healthy neighborhoods, towns, cities and workplaces.
Deluxe Corp.’s Barry McCarthy and other executives took a pay cut. “We just got to get everybody at our company across to the other side,” he sa

Schafer: Executive pay cuts are just a start in this gloomy time

While it's never going to be possible to see a small cut on $7 million in annual pay as painful, there is a case for these cuts as one part of an authentic leadership response to crisis.
Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, shown in a photo taken at a briefing last month, is helping prepare the state's hospitals for the surge of

Schafer: Here's why Minnesota doesn't have enough hospital beds

One update from state officials this week on the COVID-19 epidemic included details on facilities to house more hospital beds. So far five usable sites…
Pete Scherer

Schafer: How one Twin Cities business owner views the path through the downturn

Had Pete Scherer and his colleagues in the family business not managed to survive the Great Recession, they wouldn't be as confident as they are now.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke Tuesday at the Jacob Javits Center that will house a temporary hospital in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Schafer: Stay home, Minnesota, and wait for the economic payoff to come

The Minneapolis Convention Center is not even half the size of the sprawling Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York, now being turned…
The Groveland Tap in St. Paul.

Schafer: Finding a way out means keeping the workers and the recipes

A neighborhood restaurant is a perfect way to illustrate something for both business leaders and policymakers to heed in the brutal downturn ahead.
An example of zero-risk bias, the notiont that, in an uncertain time, people will feel better if they eliminate some risk altogether. A shopper reache

Schafer: This whole thing would be easier if it weren't so uncertain

There is a lot of bad news this week in the economy. More is coming when the formal measures of consumer spending, jobs and the like start getting reported for March.
Cliq Studios, an online seller of kitchen cabinetry, closed last week after one of its investors decided not to infuse more cash into the company. Its

Schafer: Abrupt closing of Edina cabinet seller shows the rough times and hard decisions ahead

There's unlikely to be severance pay, unused vacation pay and maybe even no last paycheck from CliqStudios.
Whitney MacMillan, at Cargill's Administrative Lake Office

Schafer: Minnesota may never see another business leader like Whitney MacMillan

MacMillan was an almost perfect spokesman for Cargill, although he wasn't easy to reach.
No more handshakes: at a soccer match in Germany earlier this week, Tottenham's manager Jose Mourinho, right, and Leipzig's head coach Julian Nagelsma

Schafer: Social distancing is a matter of workplace safety, public health

It's difficult to imagine a full schedule of professional conferences, trade shows and the like resuming any time soon.
Hawaii's Waimea Canyon, as seen from the Canyon Trail in Kokee State Park, Kauai.

Schafer: People want to travel and trade, which means risk

There are a lot of people around the world on the move all the time.
The “working paper,” not yet published by a journal, called “A Comparison of Living Standards Across the States of America,” focuses on how we

Schafer: So many rankings put Minnesota near the top, but this one finds a quandary

The paradox: To enjoy the highest living standards, people may want to move out of states with high per-person incomes.
Bob Biesterfeld, chief executive of Eden Prairie-based C.H. Robinson Worldwide, center, meets with colleagues Pat Nolan, left, and Jerry Hoffman, at t

Schafer: C.H. Robinson leader sees ripples, not big changes, in global trade

It hadn't been a great couple of years for people who manufacture globally even before the coronavirus.
An oil well near Williston, N.D.

Schafer: Shale oil passed its peak without making money

There was a boom in it a few years ago, big enough to be felt in Minnesota. But the reckoning is underway.
Target invested in Casper and didn't make money when the mattress firm listed on the stock market last week. But there are other upsides and potential

Schafer: Why Casper mattresses appealed to Target, and what bounces lie ahead

After just a few days, it's way too soon to reach the conclusion that Casper Sleep is a financial fiasco. However, that's the way to bet.
Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus, is a big manufacturing and transportation hub in the center of China.

Schafer: Coronavirus outbreak underscores global economic connections

In times of heightened uncertainty, making a decision gets put off.
General Mills and other food makers juggle consumers' competing appetites for nutritional foods and indulgent ones.

Schafer: Old is when General Mills brings back a 'nostalgia' product you never heard of

A good way to feel old is to have a major food company reintroduce a “nostalgia” product like Dunkaroos that you didn’t know about when…
This Feb. 10, 2016 file photo shows a former iron ore processing plant near Hoyt Lakes, Minn., that would become part of a proposed PolyMet copper-nic

Schafer: Naifs like me thought the PolyMet project would be decided on economics

Whether this proposed mine ever operates in the northeastern corner of our state was always about politics.
Two Mayo Clinic appointment kiosks that were installed in 2018 as part of a electronics records transition designed by Madison, Wis.-based Epic System

Schafer: Hospitals and doctors have your health records. Should app makers get them too?

What the conflict really boils down to is differing notions of security when it comes to patient information. And money, too.
John Stumpf was a small-town Minnesota banker before he became the disgraced former CEO of Wells Fargo.

Schafer: Three years on, the Wells Fargo scandal is still breathtaking

Thousands of people at the bank knew better. Even the friends and family of Wells Fargo senior executives knew better.

Schafer: Taking a cue from activist investors

The best idea for dealing with this kind of hedge-fund shareholder seems too valuable to not share. And easy, too.
There are benefits to a college education besides making more money. And in some ways, the financial benefits are still there.

Schafer: Investing in college doesn't always pay

The thing that matters is whether you got value out of what you paid for.
The latest slowdown in manufacturing is tied to the trade war.

Schafer: Manufacturing has become a weak spot in a healthy economy

The latest of the very closely watched purchasing managers index readings just confirmed what we have been hearing for a while, that American manufacturing went…
Mayo Clinic.

Schafer: For Mayo and other nonprofits, operating in the black is about survival, not greed

We have to once again talk about how it just isn’t possible to have a greedy nonprofit, never mind what presidential candidate Bernie Sanders might…
Activist investor Mick McGuire checked into the Buffalo Wild Wings annual meeting in 2017.

Schafer: For activist investors, real change can be elusive

What really matters is whether the management team generates a return on the capital that exceeds what it costs to get the money in the first place.
Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network."

Schafer: Best business movie of the decade? "The Social Network" about Facebook

Without counting documentaries, a list of 10 was way too ambitious.
Neel Kashkari, here in a 2015 file image, is president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Schafer: Minneapolis Fed's Kashkari plans a steady course in 2020 — with voting, on Twitter

Neel Kashkari thinks he attracts critics mostly because he's both active and open to mixing it up a little himself on Twitter.