I’m proof that just about anybody who can fog a beer glass can get an M.B.A. It just took me a couple decades.
I entered St. Thomas as an undergraduate, thinking about a business degree in 1971. I dropped out in 1972. I returned and got an evening M.B.A. in 1990, when the downtown "campus" was a vacant department store.
I’m also proof that anybody can be a VP of a public company. But that’s for another column!
Regardless, business school helped me with the nomenclature of commerce and introduced me to many interesting faculty and students – most of whom worked in business.
As a business scribe at the Star Tribune, off and on for 25 years, it’s interesting to write about business men and women, from the $1,000 suits in the financial district, to suburban technologists and the heart-and-hands entrepreneurs of the inner city.
I’m always tripping over St. Thomas people. Two of my favorites are Dave Koch, a working-class kid and baseball player out of Wayzata in the 1940s, and the now the retired boss of globe-spanning Graco Inc. And Bill Roddy, a Chicago kid and hoops player of the late 1970s, who, with his wife, Gail, walked away from a commercial career to work with our toughest juvenile offenders.
Koch was a solid CEO, who over about 40 years as employee, executive and chairman of the board, led Graco to prosperity and expansion – and great personal wealth.
He also speaks in humility about smarter guys he hired and his greatest strategic move. "I sat next to Barbara Gray in high school," he once told me. Barbara Gray, who became Dave’s wife, was the daughter of one of the two founders. The Gray brothers invented a grease gun in the 1930s that worked in cold weather. They started a company that now equips factories around the globe. They didn’t live to enjoy the riches. Graco went public in the 1960s under Koch.
The Kochs’ have been models of philanthropy. They belie a recent study by Newtithing, a business-oriented group that found that America’s wealthiest donate to charity only about 1.4 percent annually of their millions.
"My wife and I have or will allocate to charities and schools all that we have left," Koch once told me. "Our goal, to a significant degree, has been to share our wealth. We plan to have zero money at the time of death."
In 1997, Bill Roddy, a one-time banker and health club executive, and his wife, Gail, decided to turn their volunteering with hard-core offenders at the Hennepin County Home School for juveniles, into their career.
They will never make six-figure incomes at this. But they are changing lives and saving millions for taxpayers, according to a recent analysis of their Osiris Organization.
The Roddys, classy, soft-spoken people, mentor and teach more than 100 kids a year, most of whom hailed from lousy homes, about PCs, success and civility – in class, on the basketball court and at dinners the Roddys cook with Home School teens.
Osiris, which runs on a $320,000 annual budget from the county and private donors, also has several full-time instructors and about 25 teen instructors. They are former offenders who operate part-time computer labs in several inner-city Minneapolis parks.
"I guess I just followed my heart," said Bill Roddy, 49, who had all the tickets to be a six-figure salesman or corporate manager. "We have no children. But this is almost like being a parent of many, many children. We just love these young people."
More than 70 percent of the kids mentored by Osiris complete high school and go on to further schooling or employment. That’s stunning considering that more than half of most Home School residents return to crime and adult incarceration, costing taxpayers $50,000-plus annually.
Peter Heegard, the retired investment manager who now spends most of his time volunteering and encouraging philanthropy, recently lauded the Roddys in his "Investment Letter for Minnesota Philanthropists."
Heegard, using conservative assumptions, estimated that Osiris is saving Minnesota taxpayers at least $1.7 million annually thanks to reduced recidivism and income taxes generated by Osiris graduates. It’s a return on the budget of Osiris of more than 400 percent annually in saved public expenditure.
Koch and Roddy are two of many St. Thomas graduates who have distinguished themselves by focusing not just on making the next buck for themselves – but using their gifts to provide a tremendous return to their stakeholders and this community.