“No one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone,” Malcolm Gladwell writes in Outliers: The Story of Success. Gladwell, the sociology writer and media guru on business trends, isn’t the first to observe that the formula for success is complicated, requiring not just talent and work ethic, but a combustible combination of those things with milieu, patronage, timeliness, good sense, and good luck.

Ken Evenstad could be a case study in Gladwell’s book. He persevered through studies for a pharmacy degree that were disrupted by family tragedies as a young man. Then by chance, marriage put him in proximity to a business that matched his education, skills, and interests; further coincidence gave him the opportunity to buy it at precisely the moment when it dovetailed most effectively with his ambitions. His wife, Grace, helped propel him to success in the pharmaceutical field—and in another one, seemingly unrelated.

In 1969, Evenstad paid Grace’s uncle $1,500 for a languishing heart-drug business and transformed it. Upsher-Smith Laboratories, Inc., the private Maple Grove–based company, became a specialist in producing and marketing branded-generic medications for cardiac and other disorders. It now has 600 employees worldwide, manufacturing locations in Plymouth and Denver, and revenues of more than $250 million per year. Today, with Evenstad as chairman and CEO and his son, Mark, as vice chairman and president, it’s taking a new direction, developing original drugs and competing to treat neurological disorders including Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

But even as he built that business, in 1989, Ken Evenstad and his wife launched another venture. They bought 40 acres of rocky, stump-filled Oregon land, cleared it, planted vines, and opened a winery called Domaine Serene. Their Monogram—an estate-grown blend that Evenstad himself oversees—is definitely the most expensive pinot noir (at $225 a bottle) currently made in the Pacific Northwest, and arguably the most celebrated.

Gladwell’s paradigm emphasizes the degree to which outside factors contribute to the success of the individual. It can’t explain, though, the mysterious inner core of success—innate ability. So it comes only partway in explaining what Evenstad, a gruff, bear-shaped 66-year-old with a ruddy face and thick white hair, has done.

“My father is in tune with all sorts of things no one else can pick up on,” says Mark Evenstad. “I see it in the pharmacy business, the wine business, in investing. He has this sense like no one I’ve ever met.”

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