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CEOs on college: Area chief executives talk about their college majors and experiences

Time:2018-09-24 18:01wine - Red wine life health Click:

About area Talk Their College

Our thanks to the executives for answering our questions and offering such useful and honest observations!

Tom Dennis

Editor, Prairie Business 



Dave Goodin

President and CEO

MDU Resources Group

Bismarck, N.D.

PB: You went to North Dakota State University, is that right?

A: Yes. I got my undergrad at NDSU.

PB: How did you wind up there, and how did you choose electrical engineering as a major?

A: Really, a high-school guidance counselor pointed me in that direction. I still remember; Jim Bjorklund was his name. I’d been thinking, well, maybe I’ll be an electrician; in fact, I probably would have been a finish carpenter. I liked working with wood.

But he said, you know, given your grades and scores, why don't you give college a try? If it doesn’t work out, you can always fall back on a two-year associate degree or something.

I thought, Yeah, well, I'll give it a shot. And who knows?

It stuck, I guess.

PB: You used your major after graduation?

A: So I started as a field engineer for Montana Dakota Utilities out in Dickinson, N.D. I worked my way up to supervising, then moved to Bismarck and ultimately worked on our electric system control center, which is where we coordinate with all of our power plants.

And then about 15 years after getting my engineering degree, I thought I should go for the MBA and complement my technical background.

That really added to my financial skills.

And I’ll add one more chapter, which is that at about the 25-year mark in my career, I got the chance to attend the two-month Harvard Advanced Management Program. It’s a very international event – about 150 people, about a third of whom are U.S.-based and two-thirds are international students.

The reason I even bring that up is your question about “Lessons learned.”

First, people sometimes ask me, what did you learn in engineering school? My answer always is, it's a method of problem solving, and not necessarily by getting out a calculator.

As my career advanced, it involved working with people – people of different backgrounds, different stakeholders and constituents, finding a way to solve multi-dimensional problems.

And at Harvard, one of my takeaways from there was, “You’ve got to make sure you have the right people on the bus.” The right folks in the right roles – that’s how effective an organization can be when it's done correctly, or how ineffective if it's not done very well.

PB: What are your thoughts about the liberal arts?

A: I learned technical skills as an engineer, and financial skills with my MBA. But I also took history, English and writing; and for me, those skills in speaking and presentation and ideas are some of the most important today.

At MDU, we always look for folks who are just very well-rounded. And of course, if you're a team player and you provide value, other teams see that, too. And your ability to get things done is highly important in our business.


Brad Wehe

COO and CEO-designate

Altru Health System

Grand Forks, N.D.

PB: You were trained initially as a physical therapist. How did that come about?

A: People's pathways are all different. During my undergraduate years, I switched from accounting to pre-law to pre-medicine. I finally figured out that science was my interest. So I got my B.S. in biology from Mayville State University, and then applied to physical therapy school.

I got accepted at the Mayo Clinic’s program and proceeded down that route.

PB: How did you wind up in administration?

A: What I've realized is that as I progressed, I had a broader and broader view of helping people and influencing change. In other words, when you're working with a patient, it's one on one. When you're a supervisor, you're supervising a team of people, which I found very rewarding.

So it's bigger change, and it becomes more so as you work your way through levels of leadership.

But I'm still seeing patients; I've always kept that piece of my career. Typically a few times a month, I'll be in the clinic for a few hours, treating patients. It keeps me grounded.

PB: What lessons have stayed with you from physical therapy school?

A: It was the last day of class at the Mayo Clinic. Our program director was speaking to us, and of course we all felt pretty good about ourselves, now that we were graduating.

And he told us very specifically, “You need to understand that the knowledge you have right now is just the tip of the iceberg.

“There is so much more to learn. And it is outside of the textbooks.”

He was talking about our interaction with patients, with families, with communities. So he really encouraged us to be open and to keep learning. I’ve always remembered that; I completed my MBA a year ago with that in mind.

When I look back, I see that my core knowledge of physical therapy was vital. But I also think of the things I’ve learned outside of textbooks, and I remember the program director saying just that. It has served me well.


Brian Hayer

President and CEO

Warner & Co. Insurance

Fargo, N.D.

PB: Arizona State, eh?

A: Yes. Arizona State in Tempe. I went there in 1982, graduated in 1986.

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