Staff Directory 6134703

Lee Schafer

Columnist | Business
Phone: 612-673-4302

Lee Schafer joined the Star Tribune as a columnist in 2012 after 15 years in business, including leading his own consulting practice and serving on corporate boards of directors. He's twice been named the best in business columnist by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, most recently for his work in 2017.


Schafer grew up on a southwest Minnesota cattle farm and studied history and economics at Macalester College. He received his masters degree from Northwestern University and worked as a writer and editor for a regional business monthly before returning to business. His work included investment banking but he had the most fun advising CEOs on growth strategy. He lives in St. Paul with his wife Tanya Bell, a real estate development consultant and civic leader, and they have three adult daughters. He's also been active as a volunteer, including for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, Neighborhood House and Urban Homeworks.
Recent content from Lee Schafer
One out of three millennials said they were planning to look for a new job once the pandemic eases, according to the Prudential Pulse of the American

Schafer: How bosses can prevent employee churn at pandemic's end

Workers have reported high levels of burnout.
Glen Taylor in his North Mankato office. (GLEN STUBBE/Star Tribune)

Schafer: There's good reason to believe Glen Taylor's Timberwolves pledge

Taylor's efforts to keep the NBA team in Minneapolis should be successful.
Andrew Dayton wants  to fight poverty in the Twin Cities.

Schafer: A Dayton brother tackles a new horizon, efficiency in philanthropy

Constellation Fund is built on the notion that relying on objective evidence is the way to direct money into the most promising programs.
Houses usually are built by hand, one at a time and on-site. Because of how this model works, bigger homes are more profitable.

Schafer: Mpls. Fed economist explains how modern monopolies hurt workers

The kind of monopolists described in this research don't just charge a lot for their product. They keep far lower-cost substitutes from ever reaching consumers.
Banks at first tried working together, hoping to resolve the looming Archegos crisis, then a free-for-all resulted. File photo of pedestrians outside

Schafer: Another week, another scandal unmasks an investor with a gambler's mind

Archegos Capital Management seems pretty typical of what you might call modern Wall Street.
Marine veteran Raymond Dutrieuille, 59, received a dose of COVID-19 vaccine recently at the Minneapolis VA.

Schafer: As vaccine rollout makes progress, you can feel the mood change

We are stuck in the In Between Time — approaching normal for some, not close to normal for others and plenty of stress in managing both.
Schafer: An actual investment produces something, and the rest is gambling

Schafer: An actual investment produces something, and the rest is gambling

The sports-card collector and dealer Rob Hunegs said his market is as hot as it has been in 30 years."The market is also fluctuating, much…
Abir Sen, chairman of Gravie

Schafer: How Gravie nudged into insurance, keeps finding capital

Minneapolis health insurance firm Gravie got its start in 2013 and it's still progressing nicely, as it's just about to announce that it's closed on…
Target is leaving its City Center offices in favor of a “Flex for Your Day” approach for the 3,500 employees who work there. The company will reli

Schafer: There's value in offices, even if Target says it's declining

It might be easy to forget, after hearing Target Corp. say last week that it will empty a huge downtown office tower, that Minneapolis before…
A 40-year bull market in bonds is coming to an end and that's leading to a rotation of investments in stocks.

Schafer: As inflation looms, the bond run ends and investors scramble

Investment analyst Michael Batnick, blogging at the Irrelevant Investor this week, posted what he called the most important chart of the decade. It had nothing…
SPS Commerce CEO Archie Black encourages executives and business owners to first look inside their own businesses before jumping into a high-profile p

Schafer: How a St. Thomas professor helps execs learn 'historical recovery'

If business executives are still puzzling over how to make a difference on racial injustice, they can start by going back to class. That's what…
Minnesota’s power companies don’t really count on wind turbines to contribute much during cold snaps.

Schafer: Wind turbines aren't a problem, but there are some on the road to carbon-free power

Three electric space heaters were running at our house the whole weekend of Valentine's Day, when it dropped to 19 below zero here in the…
In contrast to the 2008 recession, retirement savings weren't hurt in the 2020 downturn. But many people who were put out of work last year were i

Schafer: Sure, retirement savings for many held up in 2020. We should still do better.

Sometimes even the good news stories in this era of COVID-19 don't turn out to be all that good, and so it is with the…
Delta Airlines is extending its middle seat blocking policy through April 30.

Schafer: How Delta fared better than other airlines while leaving middle seats open

A lot of people must only care about price when buying airline tickets.Nothing else explains why there's not only travel websites such as Expedia but…
Aaron Kardell, founder and chief executive of the Minneapolis software firm HomeSpotter LLC, has taken up an unexpected hobby: coding.

Schafer: Why the search for satisfaction at work is crucial and sometimes elusive

Aaron Kardell, founder and chief executive of the Minneapolis software firm HomeSpotter LLC, thinks he might have written his first computer program when he was…
Gov. Tim Walz, at a press conference last month.

Schafer: Walz's strategy for EVs could leave dealers stranded with models

The governor's desire to change Minnesota's auto market relies too much on rules rather than incentives.
The weathered sign at Mendota Work Camp No. 1.

Schafer: The difference between relief and stimulus is all the difference

The historical marker is weathered to the point it is mostly gone. And there's not much else to see but a stone chimney.But any regulars…
K-tel headquarters in Plymouth, when the company announced interest in e-commerce.

Schafer: Objectives are new, but the action on Robinhood last week wasn't

Last Thursday, the stock trading firm Robinhood Markets inadvertently said it would block its users from purchasing the shares of Best Buy Co., traded under…
Omar Ishrak, shown at his first Medtronic shareholders in 2011. Photo by Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune.

Schafer: Why 'blank check' companies are all the rage

Back before Omar Ishrak retired last year as the chief executive of Medtronic PLC, run out of Fridley, it's unlikely the board ever gave him…
Armando Camacho, who took over as the Wilder Foundation’s CEO last summer.

Schafer: In a tough year, donors came through for Minnesota's charities

Donors to Minnesota nonprofits were surprisingly generous last year.The total from Give to the Max Day in November blew through the previous donation record,…
Kris Eul, co-founder of Kinetic

Schafer: How Kinetic, a new networking site from Minnesota, aims to stand out

The social media site LinkedIn stopped being useful the day I logged on to find someone I knew who could introduce me to a consultant…
Americans don’t trust businesses, don’t trust nonprofits, don’t trust their media sources of information and they really don’t trust their gov

Schafer: Distrust is all around, especially in America

The authors of the annual Edelman report on people's trust in major institutions should be forgiven for declaring a bankruptcy in their most recent annual…
Decided when to sell is a huge moment for any business owner, and not even the pandemic stands in the way for some.

Schafer: It may not look like the right time, but plenty of business owners head for the exits

It made sense when consultant Julie Keyes said last week that the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the plans of baby boomers who had hoped to…
People protesting the presidential election results inside the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. The Capitol building was placed on lo

Schafer: If last week's chaos can't get CEOs involved for the civic good, what can?

The breathtaking actions of the mob incited by President Donald Trump to rush the Capitol Wednesday made it nearly impossible to keep your eyes off…
No one can be sure that emptied-out downtown Minneapolis will stay that way for long after the pandemic abates.

Schafer: Office life will change, but the need for offices won't

One item that stood out in this typically slow season for business news is the sale of a downtown Minneapolis parking lot to the global…
Schafer: I couldn't finish my annual financial review, so I started thinking bigger

Schafer: I couldn't finish my annual financial review, so I started thinking bigger

Earlier this year I took my annual financial planning and year-in-review tasks off the to-do list.The only real goal left after about the Fourth of…
FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2012, file photo, Bob Dylan performs in Los Angeles. Universal Music Publishing Group is buying legendary singer Bob Dylan’s

Schafer: What's behind the big decision Bob Dylan just made

Universal Music Group's recent announcement that it acquired the song catalog of Bob Dylan was light on details, like how much it paid, and…
A Help Wanted sign is posted at a Designer Eyes store in Miami.

Schafer: America has a dropout problem, and I'm not talking about schools

About 4 million fewer Americans are in the workforce now than at the start of the year.This is not about unemployment. About 19 million…
Black Friday shoppers file into Best Buy for the electronics retailer's early 5 a.m. opening Friday in Richfield.

Schafer: Two Minnesota retail giants pay their workers when it counts most

Of 13 big retailers reviewed by research staff of the Washington, D.C. -based Brookings Institution, Best Buy was the top giver of additional compensation to front-line workers.
Al Lindell, head election judge, handed an "I voted" sticker to a voter from behind a plexiglass barrier as voters gathered for the election Tuesday a

Schafer: Election revealed an economic paradox: Those doing well voted for change

What was already a very divided country remains one. And one of the biggest dividing lines is economic.
A for sale sign outside an Edina home in July 2014.

Schafer: Why the well-off should be thankful for good fortune

In the past 30 years, the share of wealth held by the bottom half of American households has been cut in half to less than 2%.
This artist’s rendition shows Dollar General’s planned DGX store on the Nicollet Mall.

Schafer: Why Dollar General's store in downtown Minneapolis could be a good thing

Dollar General might have taken the place of Walmart as a retailer thought to both serve its customers well yet make communities worse. For those…
Target on Lake Street in Minneapolis. Its "drive up” service is booming. It allows customers to order over a smartphone and drive to the store once

Schafer: Industry leader says e-commerce changes at retailers is here to stay

The pandemic has brought at least five years of progress in the transition to shopping online in eight or nine months — or maybe it’s…
Jim Paulsen of the Leuthold Group.

Schafer: We all have COVID fatigue, yet there's reason for optimism

It doesn’t seem easy to tell the difference between COVID fatigue and depression. What constitutes the real differences is best left to the pros, but…
Officials work on ballots at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration and Elections Headquarters, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Lawrenceville, near Atlanta.

Schafer: You are on your own financially in America, voters said once again

Those looking for a clear-cut election decision must have been disappointed last week, with more divided government both in Washington and here in Minnesota. Yet…
Foundations, as rich as they are, often use their money to “seed” programs.

At a moment of great need, how wide should charities and foundations open their wallets?

Philanthropy is another industry, if you could call it one, debating what to do now when doing business as usual just has to be wrong.…
A congressional panel criticized the Treasury's early execution of the Paycheck Protection Program. But for many small businesses, access to the bailo

Why the PPP bailout worked for some small businesses and not others

A congressional staff report this month on the Paycheck Protection Program didn't have much good to say about the Treasury Department's execution of it. The…
Thompson Aderinkomi, co-founder and CEO of Twin Cities-based Nice Healthcare and a founder of a few previous companies, said you could succeed without

Schafer: Virtual conference Remo relies on good old-fashioned art of storytelling

And curiously, the virtual technology seemed to bring the stories more to life.
Xcel Energy’s Sherco Power Plant in Becker, Minn.

Schafer: What looks like a giveaway to Google is actually a bet against decline in Becker

As much as people hate taxpayer assistance for big businesses like Google, doing nothing won't be popular, either.
A Zara store posted a large "Now Hiring," sign in its window in Miami Beach, Fla.

Schafer: People giving up on work is another sign that this recession is worse

And it's a message that employers and policymakers ought to be thinking more about.
As the temperature crosses below the 45-degree threshold, more restaurants are going to be relying on their delivery and takeout business.

Schafer: Winter is coming, and the restaurant owners all know it

Minnesotans shouldn't treat this like a normal winter.

Schafer: Venture capitalists willing to fund insurance startups who try to crawl over 'wall'

These firms are very much still startups, and you can hear a little Silicon Valley-style language in how they talk about themselves.
Paul John Scott

Schafer: Debut novel by Rochester author takes on big pharma issues

It wouldn't be possible to write so clearly about a complex industry without a deep understanding of it.
In 2019, Cleveland-Cliffs celebrated the completion of the company's DR-Grade Pellet Project at Northshore Mining in Silver Bay, Minn.

Schafer: It would be nice to say the latest big deal in steel is good for Minnesota

Honestly, it's too hard to tell yet what the Cleveland-Cliffs-ArcelorMittal transaction means.
Big companies have held up better than small ones in the pandemic-induced recession. File photo of the New York Stock Exchange.

Why bigger companies are faring fairly well in this downturn

The strong stock market in 2020 has been one of the biggest surprises in a year full of them, and we've heard the explanations, from…
The idea of new deal is that Allina Health will get a significant amount of its revenue based on how well it keeps 130,000 members of Blue Cross and B

Schafer: How Allina, Blue Cross define the 'value-based' trend sweeping health care

It's a term that's close to meaningless to an industry outsider.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter has pushed is a form of guaranteed income for St. Paul residents: a program where low-income households could receive $50

Schafer: From the left and right, ideas flow for an income floor

Economist Milton Friedman and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter share an idea.
Six months after the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in earnest, few of us knew that many would still be working at home.

Schafer: We are working harder to adjust to the here and now of the pandemic

Six months into the pandemic in the U.S., the picture does not look that much clearer.

Schafer: Private equity won't fill Minnesota's pension gap

There's no quick and low-cost way to sell the private assets and no real-time price for what they are worth.
An affiliate of Walton Street Capital of Chicago bought the Hilton in downtown Minneapolis for $143 million, renovated part of the building and then r

Schafer: Home real estate may be immune to the pandemic, but commercial properties aren't

It's easy to guess where it's really painful, with social distancing keeping lots of people from shopping in stores or staying in hotels.
Attorney Joe Cotchett, left, gestures beside Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, right, and his wife Janet Hill during a zoom media conference on Thursday

Schafer: Pandemic-driven virtual conferences may be here to stay

The marketers at Minnesota’s media companies came up with clever State Fair T-shirts this year after all, like Minnesota Public Radio’s “The Great…
People shopped at a Target in Brooklyn, N.Y., in May. Target reported record growth in the second quarter.

Schafer: Diverging effects of the pandemic visible in the numbers at Target, Walmart

It has long been understood that these two companies have a different core customer, even with a big overlap in merchandise at similar prices.
Rob Weber, co-founder and managing partner of Great North Labs, in a 2019 file photo.

Schafer: Can a downturn actually be the right time to start a business?

Recessions do seem to create more incentive for potential customers to look for cheaper or more efficient ways to do things.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, expecting a huge NFL payday, is pushing to play this season.

Schafer: Will it take a pandemic to finally change college sports?

Without money, the unfairness in the way risks and rewards were spread around gets exposed.
Caesar Russell, cycling instructor for Wellbeats, a St. Louis Park-based firm that offers videos and other online fitness programs.

Schafer: The best-kept secret in town? An at-home workout provider takes off in the pandemic

Usage of the fitness and wellness coaching service of Wellbeats skyrocketed, but this was not some sort of accident.
Terry Rasmussen, CEO of Thrivent Financial, shown in 2019.

Schafer: How Thrivent is gently raising its distinctive profile in a moment of change

A new marketing campaign aims to build more awareness of Thrivent as a financial services business that remains interested in helping people live a life of greater purpose.
The once-beloved SuperAmerica stores here aren’t even called SuperAmerica anymore. They got rebranded to Speedway.

Schafer: SuperAmerica, a well-liked Minnesota brand, has seen six owners churn through in a decade

Even for a time swirling with deals, this recent history seems absurd.

Lack of diversity among top executives contributes to racial wealth gap

Wealth inequality does not get nearly the attention it deserves, and nothing like the focus on income inequality.It's the hand-wringing over the role played by…
For nearly a decade, home prices have been rising in the U.S. and coronavirus hasn't stopped them.

Schafer: Think the stock market has made big moves? Take a look at home values

What's happened since the beginning of the pandemic this year isn't exactly a normal recession.
Mark Meadows, left, and Steven Mnuchin are working to put together a new stimulus bill.

Schafer: Here's why the $600 weekly jobless benefit meant so much to the U.S. economy

Even if Congress and the White House decided to continue the benefit, odds are slim it remains $600 per week.
Menards employee Bob LaCasse followed protocol as he passed a sign explaining it to customers.

Schafer: We might wear our masks yet if behavioral science is correct

Making decisions, over and over throughout a day, can use up our capacity for self-control.
President Donald Trump signed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act in the Oval Office in April.

Schafer: Big law firms embraced small-business loan program, and for good reason

It wasn't about making sure the rock stars kept getting paid but ensuring the crew members did.
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates on stage during a video portion of the 1995 Windows 95 Launch Event on the company’s campus in Redmond, Wash.

Schafer: Stock market rising on the indispensable companies

The boomers and Xers remember when Microsoft was so dominant that a federal judge ordered it broken up. That year of peak Microsoft…
Minnesota Twins pitcher Devin Smeltzer and teammates during a workout at Target Field earlier this week.

Schafer: How major league teams can still make money in front of empty stands

Is this the year that sports moves closer to completing its transition from an in-person experience to a reality TV show?
Best Buy headquarters in Richfield

Schafer: Work from home is not about the place

The reasons some employers canned flexible work programs were what you would expect. Yet those seem like correctable management mistakes.
Some companies are starting to adjust their financial results to account for the effects of COVID-19.

Schafer: An adjustment here, an adjustment there, soon you're talking real money

It's no defense of adjusting numbers for the virus to point out that investors see adjusted financial information all the time
Nurse Sarah Neva entered a patient's room at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul in May. M Health Fairview converted the hospital to treat only COVID-19 pat

Schafer: As threat vigilance ends, a new way of work is taking shape

The worst days of the spread of infection in our country’s COVID-19 pandemic were not in April after all. They were last week. There was…
Mary Grove

New VC firm focuses on Minnesota's bread and butter, and some software

Staking out a well-defined position in venture capital doesn’t look to be easy. Until a track record emerges of generating better returns than the alternatives…
The charitable trust that controls a majority of the Bremer Bank's shares argues that a sale would provide more money to fulfill its philanthropic mis

What is Bremer Financial worth? Well, it's complicated

The latest annual tax form called the 990 for the Otto Bremer Trust is now on the St. Paul foundation’s website, and very…
The MOA opened again this month for the first time since mid-March, where most shoppers wore face masks Wednesday, June 10, 2020, in Bloomington, MN.]

Schafer: How to coax holdouts to don a mask? Take a page from the Spartans

When you think about the health of the group as a whole, wearing a mask makes perfect sense.
Rendering shows the Control Data Corp. Northside plant in Minneapolis before its construction in 1967 and 1968. The plant closed when the company decl

Schafer: The last time Minneapolis rioted, one large company did more than just talk about change

Reminders of the one-time giant Control Data Corp. (CDC) can be seen all over the Twin Cities, from a street named Computer Avenue in Edina…
The pandemic recession may soon be over with a giant unemployment rate and a long road back to the economy as it was before. File photo of a career ex

Schafer: So the job market came back in May, but it was still awful

It was the second-worst month in the more than 27 years that layoff announcements of U.S. employers have been tracked.
Tynise Underwood pushed preschooler Kamiyah Henry on a scooter at a New Horizon Academy childcare center in north Minneapolis in March.

Schafer: Stress in child care will affect recovery from pandemic

In addition to being kept safe, active and fed, kids in a high-quality child care program are building skills that will help them do well once they get to kindergarten.
A single rose stands out on the burnt remains of twin bookstores Uncle Hugo's and Uncle Edgar's in Minneapolis on Tuesday. Someone had sprinkled roses

Schafer: All around Lake Street, hundreds of business owners now face difficult choices

Even with donations and GoFundMe fundraising, it could take years for this commercial corridor in the state's largest city to fully come back.
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Schafer: More savings looks like a good thing, but it's not

Since the last recession ended in 2009, Americans have generally saved about 5% of what they made. That held up until March, when the savings…