Wheelock Whitney

Photography by Travis Anderson

Wheelock Whitney

For Lifetime Achievement

Watch Acceptance Speech

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Selected Board Service

IDS/American Express Financial Advisors 1975-2000
Minnesota Vikings 1987-1998
Minnesota Twins 1965-1986
H.B. Fuller 1965-1972
J.M. Dain & Co. 1960-1972

At age 89, Wheelock Whitney hasn’t served on a board for 14 years. But he still has strong, informed opinions about what makes a good director, observations he expresses with a firm geniality. And with his distinguished board and business career, Whitney’s is a voice worthy of attention.

Whitney is a Minnesota business and civic legend, with a career spanning seven decades. In 1956, the St. Cloud-born, Yale-educated young man joined Minneapolis investment firm J.M. Dain & Co., becoming its CEO and chairman in 1963 at age 37. For the next 10 years, he grew Dain into one of the largest investment firms in the Upper Midwest, culminating with the company going public in 1972 with a listing on the New York Stock Exchange. As a civic leader, he helped bring Major League Baseball to Minnesota and co-founded the Johnson Institute (now part of Hazelden), a nonprofit devoted to treating alcoholism and drug addiction. And that’s just a small sampling of his innumerable civic projects. In addition, he was a board member with the Minnesota Twins, Vikings and North Stars.

In the for-profit world, the company whose direction he most influenced as a board member was industrial coatings producer H.B. Fuller, where he served from 1965 to 1972. He worked with CEO Elmer L. Andersen, a former Minnesota governor and Whitney’s good friend. With his experience in the equities market, Whitney helped guide the company’s transition from private to public company in 1968. The added investment from the public markets helped Fuller expand globally. By 1970, it had 10 plants outside of the U.S.

Whitney also helped Andersen work with a new corporate constituency. “Elmer was a politician, and he was very much in favor of being good to your employees,” Whitney recalls. “He spent more time worrying about that. I said, ‘Well, maybe that is true when you are the CEO, but the director has to be responsible to the shareholders.’ ”

In addition to Fuller, Whitney served for a quarter-century on the board of IDS, which became American Express Financial Advisors, and is now Ameriprise. There, he says, he pushed for the company to place greater emphasis on the performance of its mutual funds.

But the company Whitney is most associated with is Dain, which became Dain Bosworth. (It was purchased by Canadian bank RBC in 2000.) “Wheelock has been a hero of mine for as long as I’ve known him—since the early 1960s,” says Richard McFarland, retired chairman at RBC Wealth Management. McFarland was with St. Paul investment firm Kalman & Co. when it merged with Dain in 1967; the two men then served together on the Dain board. Among the many traits that McFarland admires is Whitney’s broad vision as a leader. “He was the one who said that if we were going to survive, we had to merge,” says McFarland, who succeeded Whitney as head of Dain in 1972, when Whitney left to pursue political and civic ambitions.

Whitney didn’t serve as the Dain board’s rubber stamp. For instance, he was the only board member to vote against a motion in the 1960s to sell the Dain Tower (now the Rand Tower), then company headquarters. But to Whitney, that independence was essential.

“Oftentimes today, directors [at large companies] are more interested in their own compensation than they are in the shareholders of the company,” Whitney says. A director’s most important function, he adds, is to select the CEO of the company, to monitor the performance of the CEO and to get a new CEO if the present one is not fulfilling the job the way the directors think is warranted.

“Every year, a company has to make forecasts as to what they are going to do the following year,” he says. “The board should be examining how close the projections were . . . How the earnings perform compared to the forecasts that were made is something that should be reviewed in great detail.” He also thinks that directors should not let CEOs shift responsibility for bad performance (or major problems, like data breaches) to underlings or vendors.

Whitney’s advice to directors who wish to serve companies and shareholders responsibly: Prepare, and be ready with tough questions.

Michael J. Dolan

For service to Fastenal Co.

Read Story | Watch Acceptance Speech

Janel Haugarth

For service to Valspar Corp.

Read Story | Watch Acceptance Speech

Lois Martin

For service to ADC Telecommunications

Read Story | Watch Acceptance Speech

Dennis Monroe

For service to Nystrom Inc.

Read Story | Watch Acceptance Speech

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