Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ed Spencer…. the Total Package

As we approach the opening of the baseball season, we will occasionally hear the phrase “total package” in reference to that rare player who excels in all facets of the game.  To Twins fans, it was Kirby Puckett; to the Yankees a DiMaggio or Mantle while a Cardinal fan (me) will cite Stan Musial.  When applied properly, it is the mark of a Hall of Famer.

Today it refers to Edson Spencer who passed away last Sunday.  In everything he engaged, he excelled; a Rhodes Scholar from Williams College, an athlete, World War II veteran, engineer with Honeywell rising to become its CEO in 1973.  That alone represents a brilliant career.

But Ed Spencer was more than a story of success.   He was the person we all wanted to be.  He radiated warmth, acceptance, intelligence, modesty and he treated all people in the same engaging way whether it be the waitress, the cab driver, or a fellow CEO.  Everyone was important.

If there be one characteristic that could summarize this man it would be his impeccable sense of honesty.  He was the gold standard.  I would submit that it was this extraordinary virtue that drove him to dedicate such a large portion of his life to public service.

He understood the power of “we” over “I” and his commitment to honesty compelled him to lead by example.  Yes, he was given gifts of talent but he worked hard to develop them.  And when successful, he dedicated his life to working for the betterment of the lives of others.  By serving as chairman of the Ford Foundation, a leader in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and assuming major roles in the Mayo Clinic and the Minneapolis Foundation, Ed Spencer directly affected millions of people all over the world and in such a positive and uplifting way.  In spite of that enormous load, he devoted additional energy and resources to serving on the Board at Carleton College and working with the University of Minnesota.  And yet he found time to help lead the old Republican Party in Hennepin County and launch numerous political careers.

This marvelous man had an impact on everyone he met and every task he took on.  I cannot imagine a leadership post where he would not have excelled from President of the United States to managing an athletic program.

Yes, Ed Spencer was the “total package”.  Absolutely.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

John Cowles, Jr. - A Continuing Legacy


Legacies are largely defined by contribution to the well-being of others and have duration based on quality and value.  If that is true, John Cowles, Jr. will have left a meaningful and enduring legacy.  There can be little doubt about the lead role he played in defining our quality of life.

I remember arriving in Minneapolis in the fall of 1957 to do post-graduate work at the University of Minnesota.  That was the birth of a long love affair.  I further recall my disappointing impression of downtown Minneapolis.  It was a little more than another Albany or Wichita.  I hesitate to use the word dreary but would certainly suggest that the city was showing its age.

Eight years later as a newly elected member of the City Council and its soon-to-be Chairman of the Engineering Committee, I received a call from the office of John Cowles, Jr. at the Star Tribune requesting a meeting.  Nervous and inexperienced, I was ushered into a large conference room packed with people including John Cowles, Jr. and his management team and the top executives of Minneapolis led by the Daytons.

Jack McHugh, head of the Downtown Council and President of Northwest Bank, and his staff took over the meeting and introduced the Nicollet Mall Project.  Virtually every detail had been buttoned down and now the marketing effort was to begin.

Forty-seven years later, I still marvel at this business-civic leadership.  What vision, what boldness, what commitment.

I would contend that that project started Minneapolis on the path to today’s splendid city.

And John Cowles, Jr., as publisher of the Star Tribune, knew the importance of media leadership and personal involvement.  He saw Minneapolis not as it was, but as it could be and he committed all his energy and resources to building a modern and vibrant city.  You may say he was the last of the crusading editors.

That is why his fingerprints are on virtually every project from the Guthrie to the Cowles Dance Center in downtown Minneapolis.

But he also understood the value of shared leadership and competent staff.  The result was a newspaper of national stature.  His editorial and news personnel reflected the finest in journalism and he was not reluctant to unleash a Barbara Flanagan with her joyful creativity and enthusiasm for a vibrant and active downtown.

That marvelous film, It’s a Wonderful Life, taught us the meaning and value of community and John Cowles, Jr. lived it in every facet of his life.  This kind and modest man always brought out the best in us and made us a far, far better community.

His presence will always be with us and our gratitude will be demonstrated in our commitment to community.

Thank you, John, for being the finest.