My Most Unforgettable Person

For a story for Twin Cities Business magazine, I asked prominent Twin Cities businesspeople this question: Who is the most unforgettable person you have ever worked with? This person may have been a boss, a subordinate, a peer or an external business partner (but not a family member). He or she may have been a mentor, a tyrant or an inspiration. Here are four compelling stories from a former governor, a best-selling author, a world-renowned investor and CEO, and the founder and chairman emeritus of one of the top retail tire chains in the country.


Chairman of the board, RiverSource Funds
and former two-term Governor of Minnesota

arne-carlsonIn the Fall of 1956, I was invited by Professor James MacGregor Burns of Williams College to join him at a dinner with Eleanor Roosevelt at a hotel in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Obviously, I was deeply flattered. She was the most deeply respected woman in the world and even though her husband had passed on eleven years earlier, she was immensely active in the United Nations and had a nationally syndicated column entitled My Day. She was a relatively large woman wearing a long shawl, but when she came into the room it was her captivating smile that instantly drew me towards her. During the conversation I was so impressed by her level of candor, lack of ego, and deep concern for the future. Although advanced in years, her thought process reflected energy and creativity. If there is anything I took from that moment it was her enormous sense of decency. Today’s more polarizing world clearly needs more Eleanor Roosevelts who have the ability to reach beyond the moment and embrace the realization that our world is one.


New York Times #1 best-selling author
and chairman of
MackayMitchell Envelope Company

harvey-mackayWhen I was interviewing Lou Holtz for the Gophers head football coaching job back in 1984, I picked him up at the airport, along with his wife and three children, and hid him at the downtown Marriott Hotel. After a day and a half of interviews, he said he wanted to talk it over with his wife and children. He came out three hours and forty-five minutes later. I still remember this like it was yesterday. He said, “I’ll accept the head football coaching job at the University of Minnesota under the following condition. Starting with the popcorn sellers to the ticket takers to the trainers to the managers to the secretaries to the public relations, advertising and sales promotion people—If all those people are not committed to excellence, I will fire every single one of them.” I looked at him and said, “You’re hired.”

I don’t think the state of Minnesota has ever had an outsider come in and absolutely energize the school with such a positive impact. I’ve had an opportunity to observe Lou for the better part of 20 years. He’s still my closest friend today outside of my family. I sincerely believe that he could run a billion-dollar company. If you rank his leadership, strategy, tactics, planning, goal-setting and motivation skills on a scale of one to ten, he’d be a twelve. He made me better just from being around him. I’ve implemented all his team concepts at Mackay Envelope Company. He’s always said his guiding philosophy is, ‘Do the right thing,’ and wow, does he practice it. Lou Holtz has had a gigantic influence on me.


Chairman, Jacobs Industries

irwin-jacobsObviously, it’s Carl Pohlad. I can’t come up with anybody who’d be a close second to him. Carl represents everything to me—a mentor, a partner, a teacher. He’s like my surrogate father, but he’s my buddy, too. I met Carl in 1975 when I wanted to buy Grain Belt Breweries. It was the first deal I was going to do outside of our family business. I was looking for $4 million, which was all the money in the world. I didn’t know Carl, but Denny Mathisen, a lawyer who knew us both, took me to meet Carl at five o’clock one afternoon. Denny said, “Irwin, Carl does not like long stories. So make this short and sweet and get to the point.” About 15 minutes into the presentation, Carl said, “You’d better stop.” I said, “You don’t like this, Mr. Pohlad?” He said, “No, this one you’ve got. Go look for the next one.” I walked out of his office, turned to Denny and said, “Did this really happen or was it a dream?” Denny said, “That’s the way he does business, Irwin.” That was the last deal where Carl was my banker; we became business partners after that. But business aside, I have so much admiration and respect for this human being. Carl has quietly been very philanthropic and has been more meaningful to our society than he’ll ever get credit for. He is clearly the epitome of what I consider to be the number one person in the Twin Cities business community.


Author of The Big Book of Small Business and former CEO of Tires Plus

gegax-tomAfter starting Tires Plus with three converted service stations, I approached Jack McClard, a representative for FMC Equipment, for pricing on automotive equipment. We ended up adding Jack’s equipment to our wholesale division and becoming his biggest distributor. Jack and I also became very close friends. Jack was always fair with his employees, but if they were pushing him to do something he thought would hurt the company, boy, he put his foot down. I mentioned once how tough he was on them, and he said, “Tom, if I did what they wanted me to, I’d go out of business. Then everyone would say, ‘Old Jack was a nice guy, but he didn’t know how to run a business.’” I’ll never forget that. What I learned from Jack is that there’s a middle ground between being a dictator or a doormat, and that’s being warm-hearted but tough-minded.

I learned that lesson so well that it ended up damaging our friendship. About ten years in, one of Jack’s rivals offered us a package of product lines that would save us $100,000 annually. I called Jack and asked if he could match the offer. He tried but came up well short. “I hate to do this, Jack,” I said, “but one of our principles is to give the best value to our customers and shareholders, so I’ve gotta go with the other guy’s offer.” There was more at stake than dollars. I felt the eyes of my people on me, watching to see if I would walk my talk. We were still friends after that but he didn’t look at me the same way. It really hurt him. I felt badly when he died a few years later, but if I had to do it all over again, I would have to have made the same decision.

Click here to see all my posts featuring Tom Gegax.


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For an inscribed copy, click here to e-mail Phil for information.

Click here to visit the Through God’s Eyes website.

Click on the link below to download a FREE 28-page chapter!

Click here to read endorsements from authors and thought leaders.

Click here to read unsolicited testimonials from readers.

Click here to ask Phil to add you to his e-mail list for updates on his blog and books.

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