Staff Directory 6134703

Lee Schafer

Columnist | Business
Phone: 612-673-4302

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
Lee Schafer in his home office in St. Paul.

Schafer: What do you really need to retire?

Columnist Lee Schafer signs off grateful for the richness of life.
Aaron Kardell

Schafer: How doing business can be a bit more like Christmas morning

One successful entrepreneur in Minneapolis is telling a lot of people: Thanks.
File photo of backed up eastbound traffic on I-94 near Dewey St. N. in St. Paul.

Schafer: There won't soon be another opportunity to rethink the I-94 corridor

The central cities have bore the cost of helping connect those in the suburbs to job opportunities. How can a reimagined I-94 help those who live in Minneapolis and St. Paul?
Honeywell’s quantum-computing division, founded in Minnesota, is being spun off in a merger with a U.K. company to become Quantinuum.

Schafer: The fruits of Honeywell's long-game dedication to quantum computer now being seen

Planting seeds — be it time, money or effort — today may not show up for years, but the wait can be worthwhile.
Leslie Holman, chief executive of Pinnacle Performance Group.

Schafer: Strategy without execution is a vision with no plan

Most business consultants want to help companies develop strategy because it's fun and gives bigger fees. But the Pinnacle Performance Group thinks the messy details are what really matter.
At its latest measure, inflation is running north of 6% per year.

Schafer: Inflation is making us uneasy, so how can we find gratitude?

By most economic measures, we have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. So why do we feel so crabby?
John Hoeschen, owner of St. Paul Corner Drug, made sure prescriptions didn’t slow while making room for customers to get vaccinations.

Schafer: Investing in Minnesota small business is a winning bet

That's where the economic recovery is bubbling up.
Ryan Cos., developers of the Highland Bridge project on the site of the old Ford Motor plant in St. Paul, have put some plans on hold following the ap

Schafer: St. Paul rent control vote turns builders, bankers away from capital city

The Twin Cities needs new multifamily housing and capital is flooding in for projects. St. Paul's voters just assured the city won't get it.
Once you set aside volatile commodities like oil and gasoline, no prices for consumer goods have shot up as much this year as those for cars.

Schafer: Soaring used car prices could have an outsized effect on rural Minnesota

Cars are a larger percentage of household expenses in many rural Minnesota counties. Inflationary prices for used cars could hurt family finances more there.
Trucks lined up next to containers at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, Calif.

Schafer: Our supply-chain problems have a simple explanation: We're still buying stuff

The list of factors contributing to our clogged supply chain is long, but the reason really isn't that complicated.
Canadian David Card, Israeli-American Joshua Angrist and Dutch-American Guido Imbens won the Nobel Prize in economics this month for insights into the

Schafer: The award goes to economists who try to figure out how the world really works

For years, the leaders of the Otto Bremer Trust have argued they are in the investment business, not philanthropy. The conflict over its ownership of

Schafer: Otto Bremer trustees ripped out the brakes, hit the gas and crashed

Around the Twin Cities, executives and board members at for-profit and nonprofits alike for years marveled and muttered over the audacious makeover of one of Minnesota's largest charities.
A 2022 Volvo XC40 Recharge sat in the Xcel Energy display at the Denver auto show last month.

Schafer: Gas car, EV or how about no car?

With a 13-year-old car in the garage, our columnist is taking a serious look at options for something new — including not getting a car at all.
Wind turbines stand in the Taunus region near Frankfurt, Germany. Environmentally conscious investing is a trend but some professionals have been prac

Schafer: ESG investing now is everywhere, meaning we've got another DIY project

Hospital prices are becoming publicly available, revealing just how varied they can be for patients using different insurers.

Schafer: We already knew hospital pricing was a mess, so now what?

Even as treatment prices become easier to find, it's unclear that patients will take the time to make comparisons.
Duolingo, maker of a language-learning app, is one of the for-profit education companies to watch these days, say executives at a Twin Cities investme

Schafer: After all these years, for-profit education is just getting started

While the landscape is dotted with failed ventures, plenty of capital is still flowing to the for-profit education sector.
Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Schafer: How the Minneapolis Fed influenced the rest of the Fed on poverty and unemployment

Minneapolis Fed Neel Kashkari's efforts have had an effect on current decisions regarding interest rates and inflation.
Harvey Weinstein, shown in a 2018 file photo, required employees to sign nondisclosure agreements that extended to “the personal, social or business

Schafer: Maybe these NDAs really protect only the bad employers

Nondisclosure agreements limit the flow of information about employers in ways that have gotten too extreme.
FILE - A Target employee returns shopping carts from the parking lot, in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, June 16, 2020. Target Corp. says it's permanently incre

Schafer: Target's stock buybacks represent a bet it will be more valuable in the future

Corporate share repurchases are often seen as a sign of short-term thinking, but they're actually the reverse.
UnitedHealth Group is so big that its purchase of Preferred One, one of Minnesota’s top providers of health insurance, didn’t merit disclosure to

Schafer: Time we ask if the big companies are getting a little too big

Geoff Martha became chief executive of Medtronic in April 2020.

Schafer: CEO Martha is bringing the hustle back to Medtronic

Geoff Martha became CEO of the nation's largest medical-device company just as coronavirus spread across the land. His first job was to quintuple production of respiratory ventilators.
The investment debacle at Hmong College Prep Academy renewed a drive in the Legislature for more accountability of Minnesota’s charter schools. Here

Schafer: The seeds of investment fiascos are always the same

The tale of a big loss at Hmong College Prep Academy sure looks like someone was sold a tall tale.
Money for a down payment is a significant obstacle for many people in the home-buying process.

Schafer: The maze to get down payment assistance must be simplified

The gap in homeownership in Minnesota could be narrowed, maybe significantly, if these programs were made more simple and uniform.
UNITED STATES - MARCH 10: Charles W. Scharf, CEO of Wells Fargo, arrives to testify during the House Financial Services Committee hearing titled Holdi

Schafer: It's OK for banks to make money, if it means their customers are doing well

Credit loss accounting is an important measure of bank health and was a telltale sign of how the pandemic affected the economy.
Pressure has been growing for raising pay at the low end of the wage scale. This rally for a higher minimum wage was held at the Minnesota State Capit

Schafer: CEO pay is broken, but what about low-wage pay?

The debate over the outsized pay to executives is going nowhere. But the action at the low end of the wage spectrum is interesting.
The averages look eye-popping, but they don’t tell the whole story about the “greatest wealth transfer.”

Schafer: The biggest transfer of wealth in history is underway, for some

Some well-off boomers are going to be turning over a big slug of wealth to some very lucky millennials.
An artist’s rendering of the Lexington Station apartments, proposed for a site on Lexington Parkway in St. Paul.

Schafer: Rent control is always popular, but it never works

In St. Paul, there are a lot of people who can't afford the rent. Putting rules on landlords won't solve that.

Schafer: How a hugely valuable startup succeeded without inventing anything

Bright Health went public last week in Minnesota's biggest-ever IPO.
Even C-suite executives are deciding to work remotely more often as the pandemic comes to an end, relying on Zoom and other technologies to connect.

Schafer: Good luck with management by Zooming around

Bosses can learn a lot by wandering around the office.
As the end of the pandemic arrives, some businesses are finding that the challenges they faced before it happened are still there.

Schafer: Back to normal means the normal challenges are back, too

The news that General Mills is cutting jobs after its stellar response to the pandemic, and the results that followed, shows that going back to where things were was never going to be easy.
Americans can become richer on paper as their assets appreciate and still pay no federal income tax.

Schafer: Making a lot of money and being rich are not the same thing

An attention-grabbing article on the income taxes paid, or not paid, by some of America's wealthiest people framed its analysis poorly.
Some bosses are worried that hybrid work could lead to misplaced priorities and inefficiency.

Schafer: Let's keep hybrid work from being the worst of both worlds

The best workplaces will have people connecting all the time with each other across the organization chart.
After investment values rose this past year, some people can afford to retire. But that’s not the total explanation for why employment is rebounding

Schafer: Retirement trends show that work just might not be worth it

The cost of work has gone up and pay is still catching up.
Kaltuma Hassan, owner of Bismillah Grocery & Coffee shop, is shown in a photo taken a few weeks after the establishment was burned in the riots on Lak

Schafer: Developers should look beyond destruction and see waiting customers

The opportunity on Lake Street and in the other damaged areas still exists.
Best Buy took several measures to shore up the company’s finances during the pandemic year.

Schafer: For Minnesota's biggest companies, share buybacks signal recovery from downturn

Others may get worked up about the effects of share buybacks, but they don't give me heartburn the way that, for instance, executive compensation does.
Shopify CEO Tobias Lutke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in May 2018 in Toronto. Lutke stressed to employees in a memo that Shopify is a b

Schafer: Workplace can't be just about work, so employees need an outlet

Keeping the conversation from spiraling into forever wars isn't just up to the managers, though.
Enjoy Technology sends knowledgeable sales representatives, depicted in this company-provided image by the woman on the left, to meet with consumers i

Schafer: Commerce at home is the newest 'New Era in Retailing'

Loup Ventures of Minneapolis thinks one of its portfolio companies called Enjoy, about to go public, represents the next thing in retail.

Schafer: Why cars, chips, lumber and other goods are suddenly more expensive

Small changes in end-user buying lead to bigger swings in the operations of suppliers down the value chain.
The Kwai Tsing Container Terminals in Hong Kong on April 7, 2020.

Schafer: Supply chain shows its resilience in pandemic

The case for long supply chains remains intact, so long as they are flexible and adaptable.
A Wells Fargo bank branch in New York City.

Schafer: Banks resist racial-equity audits, but they shouldn't

Wells Fargo and other big banks have recommended shareholders vote down racial-equity audit proposals.

Schafer: How bosses can prevent employee churn at pandemic's end

Workers have reported high levels of burnout.

Schafer: There's good reason to believe Glen Taylor's Timberwolves pledge

Taylor's efforts to keep the NBA team in Minneapolis should be successful.
Andrew Dayton by Liz Banfield

Schafer: A Dayton brother tackles a new horizon, efficiency in philanthropy

Constellation Fund is built on the notion that relying on objective evidence is the way to direct money into the most promising programs.
Houses usually are built by hand, one at a time and on-site. Because of how this model works, bigger homes are more profitable.

Schafer: Mpls. Fed economist explains how modern monopolies hurt workers

The kind of monopolists described in this research don't just charge a lot for their product. They keep far lower-cost substitutes from ever reaching consumers.

Schafer: Another week, another scandal unmasks an investor with a gambler's mind

Archegos Capital Management seems pretty typical of what you might call modern Wall Street.
Marine veteran Raymond Dutrieuille, 59, received a dose of COVID-19 vaccine recently at the Minneapolis VA.

Schafer: As vaccine rollout makes progress, you can feel the mood change

We are stuck in the In Between Time — approaching normal for some, not close to normal for others and plenty of stress in managing both.

Schafer: An actual investment produces something, and the rest is gambling


Schafer: How Gravie nudged into insurance, keeps finding capital


Schafer: There's value in offices, even if Target says it's declining


Schafer: As inflation looms, the bond run ends and investors scramble

Archie Black, who has been President and CEO of SPS Commerce since 2001, was photographed at the company Tuesday, May 19, 2015 in downtown Minneapolis

Schafer: How a St. Thomas professor helps execs learn 'historical recovery'


Schafer: Sure, retirement savings for many held up in 2020. We should still do better.

Delta Airlines is extending its middle seat blocking policy through April 30.

Schafer: How Delta fared better than other airlines while leaving middle seats open

Aaron Kardell, founder and chief executive of the Minneapolis software firm HomeSpotter LLC, has taken up an unexpected hobby: coding.

Schafer: Why the search for satisfaction at work is crucial and sometimes elusive


Schafer: Walz's strategy for EVs could leave dealers stranded with models

The governor's desire to change Minnesota's auto market relies too much on rules rather than incentives.

Schafer: The difference between relief and stimulus is all the difference

K-tel headquarters in Plymouth, when the company announced interest in e-commerce.

Schafer: Objectives are new, but the action on Robinhood last week wasn't


Schafer: Why 'blank check' companies are all the rage

Armando Camacho, new Wilder Foundation CEO.

Schafer: In a tough year, donors came through for Minnesota's charities


Schafer: How Kinetic, a new networking site from Minnesota, aims to stand out

Americans don’t trust businesses, don’t trust nonprofits, don’t trust their media sources of information and they really don’t trust their gov

Schafer: Distrust is all around, especially in America

People protesting the presidential election results inside the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. The Capitol building was placed on lo

Schafer: If last week's chaos can't get CEOs involved for the civic good, what can?


Schafer: Office life will change, but the need for offices won't

Schafer: I couldn't finish my annual financial review, so I started thinking bigger


Schafer: What's behind the big decision Bob Dylan just made

A Help Wanted sign is posted at a Designer Eyes store in Miami.

Schafer: America has a dropout problem, and I'm not talking about schools

Black Friday shoppers file into Best Buy for the electronics retailer's early 5 a.m. opening Friday in Richfield.

Schafer: Two Minnesota retail giants pay their workers when it counts most

Of 13 big retailers reviewed by research staff of the Washington, D.C. -based Brookings Institution, Best Buy was the top giver of additional compensation to front-line workers.
Al Lindell, head election judge, handed an "I voted" sticker to a voter from behind a plexiglass barrier as voters gathered for the election Tuesday a

Schafer: Election revealed an economic paradox: Those doing well voted for change

What was already a very divided country remains one. And one of the biggest dividing lines is economic.
A for sale sign outside an Edina home in July 2014.

Schafer: Why the well-off should be thankful for good fortune

In the past 30 years, the share of wealth held by the bottom half of American households has been cut in half to less than 2%.
This artist's rendition shows Dollar General's planned DGX store on the Nicollet Mall.

Schafer: Why Dollar General's store in downtown Minneapolis could be a good thing

Target on Lake Street in Minneapolis. Its "drive up" service is booming. It allows customers to order over a smartphone and drive to the store once al

Schafer: Industry leader says e-commerce changes at retailers is here to stay

Jim Paulsen of the Leuthold Group.

Schafer: We all have COVID fatigue, yet there's reason for optimism

Officials work on ballots at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration and Elections Headquarters, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Lawrenceville, near Atlanta.

Schafer: You are on your own financially in America, voters said once again