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The 1999 Outstanding Directors

We profile four local executives who have made big contributions as outside directors on the boards of local companies—and take a special look at one who has made a lasting impact on numerous firms over the course of his career.

By Margaret Kaeter
From Twin Cities Business Monthly, October 1999

Five business people. All successful and beyond the need for accolades and gratitude. Combined, they’ve made a large mark on the world of business. Retired from business or still leading their own corporations, they’ve put in their dues.

Yet, for these five men, the recipients of this year’s Outstanding Director awards, there is no rest. The nature of their success demands they bring their experience and expertise to others. "If you don’t give back, it seems like a useless proposition," says Winston Wallin, echoing the words of all five award recipients. Wallin is former president, CEO, and chairman of the board for Medtronic Corporation, and this year’s Lifetime Achievement award winner. "What’s the purpose of having business knowledge if you don’t help the next generation?"

"You value your contribution if you feel you have helped, particularly in times of need," adds Mike Wright, CEO and chairman of SUPERVALU, Inc., and an outstanding director from Musicland Stores Corporation. "A lot of being a director is a governance
situation where you want to make sure the company has sound management and reasonable objectives, and they’re measured against those objectives. It’s important in a public company because you’re ensuring its value for the stakeholders."

Life as a director is not always easy, they admit. "The best ones work hard," says Raymond Good, a retired businessman and a board member for Great Plains Software. "They read the information they’re given. They ask questions and talk with the CEO between meetings. They don’t just accept fees and go away until the next meeting."

Adds Mark Sheffert, chairman and CEO of Manchester Companies, Inc., and an outstanding director from Medical Graphics Corporation and Telident: "The hardest part is maintaining a balance. It’s easy to get mired in the operation of a company, but a director must articulate the future of the organization and manage the resources."

Indeed. It all comes back to value for the shareholders, says Donald Wegmiller, president and CEO of Healthcare Compensation Strategies and an outstanding director for Minnesota Power, Inc., and LecTec Corporation. "The bottom line is the represent the shareholders. If you are active, supportive, and inquisitive, and if you extend yourself to be a contributing board member, then you are representing the shareholders well."

A demanding job, but someone has to do it. These give were judged this year’s most motivated, committed, and knowledgeable outside directors in the state.

Mark W. Sheffert

"I have an unwavering commitment to restoring shareholder value," says Mark Sheffert, CEO of Minneapolis-based Manchester Companies, Inc., "I’m a steward of the shareholders’ money; I take that seriously."

Sheffert has served on 26 boards in his years as a Twin Cities businessman. "Serving on boards is part of the dues for being a successful business person," he says. "You have a responsibility to contribute if you can, to share your knowledge and ideals.

"If you are going to serve on a board and represent the shareholders, you have to learn about the company, its markets, how it delivers products, etc." he adds. "Board meetings should not necessarily be congenial. You have to insist on a healthy dialogue
about where the company is going. You have to ask tough questions and push for the answers."

His experience at Medical Graphics is a perfect example. "Medical Graphics was a troubled company," he explains. "I joined the board in March, 1997; the year before it had lost $10 million. We needed to refocus the company, take out expenses, and provide new leadership. It required the board to be tough-minded. We had to have
singleness of purpose so we could make believers of the employees, lenders, suppliers and most importantly, the customers."

"That focus is what makes Sheffert a strong director," says John Penn, CEO and vice chairman of Satellite Industries, Inc., in Minneapolis and a fellow Medical Graphics board member. "He deployed a back-to-the-basics focus on the company’s core technologies and marketplace. The effect has been a dramatic improvement in operating results that position the company for a bright future."

Telident was facing similar problems when Sheffert joined its board in 1994. Under his leadership, the board changed management and refocused its business strategy. "He has been key in Telident’s strengthening of its board, management, and planning," says Willis Drake, a fellow Telident board member. "Telident’s improved balance sheet and turn to ‘first profitability’ can be traced in no small measure to his uncommon effectiveness as a Telident director."

Sheffert has specialized in the business of organizational renewal, which frequently lands him on the boards of companies with financial problems. "The important thing is to explain- if it’s bad news- what you are going to do as opposed to just laying it out there."
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