These individuals hold positions of considerable power; we’re waiting to see how well they’ll use their influence to effect positive results and, ideally, exceed expectations.

November 14, 2014

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Al Franken Al Franken
U.S. senator

Al Franken has gone serious on Minnesotans since becoming a politician. In his first term, Franken wrestled with premium policies in the Affordable Care Act and privacy issues in the digital age. Accused of a “Rose Garden” strategy in his contest with Mike McFadden, Democrat Franken will be tested in a second term as the Senate deals with complex international challenges, but Minnesotans probably want Franken to lead on bread-and-butter economic issues.

Bernadeia Johnson Bernadeia Johnson
Minneapolis Public Schools

Being in charge of the Minneapolis schools has never been easy. The job carries very high turnover and your primary constituent groups are often at odds with one another. One of the newer challenges that Johnson, who’s been superintendent since mid-2010, will have to handle adroitly is the how the district awarded $405,000 in no-bid contracts to a community organization that was supposed to boost black student achievement. Will she bring much-needed transparency to the way the district does business or end up another short-termer without meaningful impact?

Bill Pohlad Bill Pohlad
River Road Entertainment

The highest-profile of banking legend Carl Pohlad’s dynamic but low-profile sons, Bill Pohlad has built a reputation as a producer (financier, really) of high-quality Hollywood films, and as an occasional director, currently of the acclaimed Brian Wilson biopic, Love & Mercy. With a foot in both L.A. and Minneapolis, Pohlad is ideally suited to play a guiding role in developing a sustainable industry presence in Minnesota, a win that has consistently slipped out of the region’s grasp in recent decades, as Hollywood chased public subsidies all over the globe. The question is, will he play this part?

Eric Kaler Eric Kaler
University of Minnesota

Eric Kaler has broken new ground in working with corporate partners to land funding for the U of M, such as September’s announcement that Land O’Lakes Inc. would donate $25 million to support Gopher athletics and academic scholarships. But his main task remains convincing the Minnesota Legislature that he is eliminating bureaucratic deadweight as he seeks to restore pre-recession levels of funding. Kaler has committed to cutting $90 million in administrative spending over six years.

Hubert Joly Hubert Joly
President and CEO
Best Buy

Hubert Joly, tapped to turn around Best Buy in 2012, has accomplished half of what he was hired to do for the struggling electronics retailer, but the jury is still out on the other half. He has proven adept at cutting costs—$95 million in Q1 2015 alone, leading to increased profit margins and a stock surge. But his other goal of reviving same-store sales in the face online competition remains elusive. Such sales fell 2.7 percent in the second quarter.

Brian Cornell Brian Cornell
Chairman and CEO
Target Corp.

As Target’s first-ever CEO from outside the company, Brian Cornell has one of the most daunting tasks in Minnesota business history: Restoring consumer confidence in the iconic retailer after a period of strategic freefall that resulted in the resignation of predecessor Gregg Steinhafel. He must stem a loss of customer traffic that produced a 32 percent decline in net income last year, and a troubled Canadian expansion. With no experience in turnarounds, Cornell will be under intense scrutiny to successfully aggregate Target’s bricks-and-mortar presence and its oft-criticized online channel.

Dave MacLennan Dave MacLennan
President and CEO

MacLennan, named Cargill’s new CEO last year, has a fight on his hands to bounce back from a rough fiscal 2014, which saw a 19 percent drop in earnings to $1.87 billion. Things didn’t get much better with a 26 percent fall-off in the company’s first quarter of fiscal ’15. In response, MacLennan has pledged to jettison non-core business units while investing in areas where Cargill can lead, and also cutting administrative costs and offshoring more jobs.

Julie Sullivan Julie Sullivan
University of St. Thomas

In her second year as president of Minnesota’s largest private university, Julie Sullivan is elevating the St. Thomas profile to a national level. As the first woman to lead the Catholic college, she’s also striving to make its campuses more diverse—in her words, “a microcosm of the world.” She’s outspoken about the erosion of the American middle class. Working with a new business school dean to expand the school’s connection to companies, she wants students to leave the gothic, Kasota stone campus and learn by doing through internships.

Ken Powell Ken Powell
Chairman and CEO
General Mills

Powell last year was preaching the mantra of “innovation over acquisition” to stem General Mills’ sales and earnings slide, as consumers continued to move away from its traditional packaged food lines toward organic/natural brands. But in September he announced the acquisition of Annie’s Inc., a maker of natural macaroni and cheese, shortly before revealing a 25 percent plunge in profits for the first quarter. In the meantime, he has promised to cut $100 million in costs by 2017.

Jon McTaggart Jon McTaggart
American Public Media Group (APMG)

The affable, low-profile successor to the polarizing Bill Kling, McTaggart—an MPR lifer—has the challenge of guiding APMG through the decline of terrestrial radio and the growth of internet broadcasting. His domain extends beyond Minnesota to radio networks in Los Angeles and Miami, plus several related for- and nonprofit businesses. (APMG generated $152 million in revenue during FY2014—up $4 million from FY13. Public support was up, while earned revenue and government aid was down.) Inheriting this legacy in a time of massive technological change and economic decline may seem like a questionable prize, but following a founder/visionary isn’t often a cakewalk.

Michael Langley Michael Langley
Greater MSP

Langley, a former Westinghouse exec and U.S. Navy pilot, succeeded in raising $15 million from dozens of private-sector investors and partner organizations to fund the regional economic development and marketing agency for three years. In 2011, its first year, Greater MSP claimed to have closed 17 economic development transactions, with 30 more in 2012 (resulting in 4,000 jobs), but it remains unclear how many were due to others’ efforts. Langley was also closely involved in the bid to land the 2018 Super Bowl. His efforts are praised by political leaders, but Greater MSP’s success will be measured by continued private backing.

Kevin Smith
Interim president and CEO
Minnesota Orchestra

Smith assumed interim leadership of the Minnesota Orchestra after the longest labor lockout in American symphony orchestra history and immediately reeled in $13.2 million in private donations, including an extraordinary anonymous gift of $10 million. This year’s labor settlement resulted in a 15 percent pay cut for musicians, but Smith still must show he can eliminate the recurring annual deficits that put the orchestra in a shaky financial position in the first place.

Mark Bozek Mark Bozek
ValueVision Media Inc.

Bozek landed his new job amid controversy, after a bruising proxy battle waged by activist investors against the previous management of Eden Prairie-based ValueVision. The home shopping TV operation is big, with revenue of $640 million and 1,100 employees, but has ranked a distant third in its industry for years. Bozek, a veteran of competitors QVC and Home Shopping Network, is looking to reverse years of losses with a new emphasis on proprietary products available only on its ShopHQ channel. One new face on ShopHQ: iconoclastic billionaire Mark Cuban, who is pitching goods from companies he’s backed.

R.T. Rybak R.T. Rybak
Executive director
Generation Next

After serving Minneapolis as mayor for 12 years, R.T. Rybak has moved to the nonprofit sector to tackle the most vexing problem in his city—the education achievement gap between whites and students of color. He’s leading an effort called Generation Next, which aligns resources from the nonprofit, private and public sectors to boost student achievement. If Rybak succeeds, high school graduation rates in Minneapolis and St. Paul will increase.

Sam Duncan Sam Duncan
President and CEO

Nearly two years after being hired to lead struggling SuperValu, Sam Duncan has proved to be the “cost-cutter-in-chief” he was expected to be—one of his first moves was to slash 600 Minnesota jobs as part of a selloff of five retail grocery chains. That downsizing quickly returned the company to the black after billions in losses and signaled a refocusing on its core wholesaling business. Challenges remain: SuperValu revealed two data breaches, and sales at most of its traditional grocery chains remain weak.

Mark Dayton Mark Dayton
State of Minnesota

From birth, Mark Dayton was expected to carry on his family’s tradition of leadership. But the Blake School goalie chose government service over retailing as a career path. After inheriting a projected budget deficit in 2010, Minnesota voters rewarded Dayton in November for moving the state onto a more secure fiscal footing. In his second term, voters will look for him to tackle Minnesota’s educational achievement gap and deteriorating road system and to improve its business climate.

Scott Leitz Scott Leitz

Despite the revelation that Leitz was on probation following a drunken driving conviction, his probationary period as the leader of the MNsure health insurance exchange ended in May when the agency’s board promoted him to permanent CEO. Credited with steering MNsure’s glitch-plagued website toward stability after the resignation of his predecessor, he announced in October that more than 364,000 Minnesotans had obtained coverage through the exchange, reducing the state’s uninsured rate from 8.2 to 4.9 percent.

Omar Ishrak Omar Ishrak
Chairman and CEO
Medtronic Inc.

The CEO job at one of Minnesota’s most august corporations has become a hot seat this year. When the company announced plans to acquire Ireland-based med-tech company Covidien and move its legal headquarters to Ireland, the company became something of a poster child for overseas corporate tax inversion. That said, the company’s low-key leader has had the company’s sales performing well in 2014, particularly in heart products. Can he overcome the distractions and keep Medtronic pumping?

Rene Sanchez Rene Sanchez
Star Tribune

Being the editor of a major-market daily has not been a great title in recent decades, as it has involved presiding over endless budget cuts and series after series of staff buyouts and layoffs. Add bankruptcy, at the Star Tribune. But Rene Sanchez, a Washington Post alum who took over from Nancy Barnes last year, may be one of the lucky ones. His paper’s costs already are Chapter 11-slimmed, reader and revenue erosion is modest as dailies go, and it has, in Glen Taylor, a new owner more focused on community than earnings. Sanchez’s challenge is to maintain the paper’s recent dynamism and manage the inevitable atrophy.

Steve Cramer Steve Cramer
Minneapolis Downtown Council

Minneapolis pol turned public-minded inside player, Steve Cramer seems destined for a long run at the influential council, which may not run downtown, but certainly pays the freight. The downtown apartment boom and countless new stadia are gifts that uniquely benefit downtown and the council, which largely represents the business community’s interests (and funds the Downtown Improvement District), will reap the benefits of all the dynamism they create. Yet Cramer will see his mettle tested on the ambitious reinvention of Nicollet Mall and the unending quest to add vitality to downtown’s skyway-riddled streetscape.

Steven Rosenstone
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU)

As baby boomers retire, many Minnesota employers are looking to the MnSCU system to supply them with the next generation of workers. Steven Rosenstone, who became chancellor in 2011, is attempting to steer seven state universities and 24 community and technical colleges to offer programs that benefit students and employers. His key challenges include strains with faculty, which served him with a recent vote of “no confidence,” and about 40 percent of Minnesota community and technical college students who need remedial work before they can begin college-level work.

Trudy Rautio Trudy Rautio
President and CEO

Rautio was tapped by Carlson board chairwoman Marilyn Carlson Nelson in 2012, and it’s now apparent her job is to reinvigorate the company’s travel and hospitality roots after a recession that hit the hotel industry hard. Rautio in May engineered the sale of the TGI Fridays, and the next month announced the acquisition of a 100 percent ownership stake in Carlson Wagonlit Travel. Her goal: More cash to invest in the Radisson hotel chain and to solidify Carlson’s position in the travel space.

Zygi Wilf Zygi Wilf
Owner and chairman
Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings owner has shown he can accomplish gargantuan feats, such as shepherding approval of the team’s new stadium and landing the 2018 Super Bowl. He also is prone to public relations gaffes, such as the backlash that followed his initial low-key response to child abuse charges leveled at star running back Adrian Peterson. In the eyes of his public and private partners, Wilf’s efforts to repair the Vikings’ tarnished reputation in the years ahead will likely define his legacy.


These individuals are No. 1 at their game, each the leading all-star within his or her industry or profession nationally and in some cases, internationally.

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