The (Real) Power 50

The List
Al Coleman
Amanda Brinkman
Andrew Eklund
Cathy Connett
Christine Chalstrom
Chris Culp
Clarence Bethea
Dr Simone Ahuja
Dug Nichols
Ellen Valde
Eric Dayton
J Marie Fieger
Jeff Fritz
Judy Lysne
Kai Worrell
Liwanag Ojala
Mark Cohn
Marni Hockenberg
Matt Frauenshuh
Rassoul Dastmozd
Aleesha Webb
Heide Olson
Jack Fiterman
Justin Porter
Shawntera Hardy
Stacey Stratton
Stephanie Shimp
Amee McDonald
Andrew Dayton
Benjamin Jo VandenWymelenberg
Brenda Sallstrom
Brendon Schrader
Caren Schweitzer
Carlos Landreau
Dale Cook
David Burley
Don Ness
Jeff Martin
Jody Kern
Joy McBrien
Justin Grammens
Katherine Forrester Schneewind
Luz María Frías
Meghan Wilker
Nils Snyder
Nina Hale
Ryan Kanne
Terri Soutor
West Stringfellow
Wokie Weah
The (Real) Power 50 Alumni

The List

Among the masses of people who populate the workaday world are a select few who are the true engines of creativity, productivity and inspiration. Each year for the past four years we have methodically sought out these special people — slightly more than four dozen at a time — and have dubbed them the (Real) Power 50. The source of their power is passion, and indeed, all of them are quite passionate about their work and their lives. They all manifest their powers through three sorts of exemplary skills: Leadership, Networking and Getting Things Done. Accordingly, we present to you the 2016 class of the (Real) Power 50, sorted into their dominant skills.

The Leaders

Leadership is a dynamic combination of vision, charisma and care, which draws others to follow. Leaders give a sense of  meaning to all worthwhile projects, and thereby enable progress.

Al Coleman, Principal, Gray Plant Mooty

Amanda Brinkman, Chief Brand and Communications Officer, Deluxe

Andrew Eklund, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Ciceron

Cathy Connett, Chief Executive Officer, Sofia Fund

Christine Chalstrom, President and Chief Executive OfficerShepherd Data Services

Chris Culp, President and Founder, The Excelsior Group

Clarence Bethea, Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer, Upsie

Dr. Simone Ahuja, Founder, Owner and Innovation Strategist, Blood Orange

Dug Nichols, Chief Executive Officer, Kidizen

Ellen Valde, Assurance Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP

Eric Dayton, Co-Founder, North Corp | Askov Finlayson

J. Marie Fieger, President, Nemer Fieger

Jeff L Fritz, President, Insite | Storyworks1

Judy Lysne, President and Chief Executive Officer, Lifeworks Services

Kai WorrellChief Executive OfficerWorrell Design

Liwanag Ojala, Chief Executive Officer, CaringBridge

Mark A. Cohn, President and Chief Executive Officer, Aspirity Holdings LLC

Marni Hockenberg, Founder and Principal, Hockenberg Search

Matt Frauenshuh, Chief Executive Officer, Fourteen Foods

Rassoul Dastmozd, President and Chief Executive Officer, Saint Paul College

The Networkers

Networkers realize that beneath all the corporate charts, mission statements and bottom lines, business is really about people. Can you imagine how much vital energy is produced when the (Real) Power 50 network with each other?

Aleesha Webb, Vice President and Commerical Relationship Manager, Minnesota Bank & Trust

Heide Olson, Financial Architect and Chief Executive Officer, All in One Accounting

Jack Fiterman, Director of Strategic Acquisitions, Liberty Diversified International

Justin M.C. Porter, Vice President Operations, Kipsu

Shawntera Hardy, Co-Founder, Civic Eagle

Stacey Stratton, Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer, True Talent Group

Stephanie Shimp, Owner and Senior Vice President of Brand and Marketing , Blue Plate Restaurant Company

The Finishers

Great ideas are a dime a dozen, and incomplete efforts have yielded a mountain of has-beens and might-have-beens. Therefore, hail the Finishers, those who have mastered the art of Getting Things Done!

Amee McDonald, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, jabber logic

Andrew Dayton, Co-Founder, North Corp | Askov Finlayson

Ben Jo VandenWymelenberg, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, WOODCHUCK USA

Brenda Sallstrom, Co-founder and Principal, Envoi, LLC

Brendon Schrader, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Antenna

Caren Schweitzer, President, Creative Resources

Carlos Landreau, President, The Landreau Group

Dale Cook, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Learn to Live

David Burley, Owner and Chief Executive Officer, Blue Plate Restaurant Company

Don Ness, recent Mayor of Duluth (owner of Ness Partners), Ness Partners

Jeff Martin, Chief Executive Officer, Collective Genius

Jody Kern, Private Mortgage Banker, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage

Joy McBrien, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Fair Anita

Justin Grammens, Owner and Founder, Recursive Awesome, LLC

Katherine Forrester Schneewind, Owner and Wealth Management Advisor, Forrester and Associates

Luz María Frías, Vice President of Community Impact, The Minneapolis Foundation

Meghan Wilker, Chief Operating Officer, Clockwork

Nils Snyder, Senior Vice President, Colliers International

Nina Hale, Founder, Nina Hale, Inc.

Ryan Kanne, Director, U.S. Commercial Service

Terri Soutor, Chief Executive Officer, FastBridge Learning

West Stringfellow, Vice President of Internal Innovation and Operations, Target

Wokie Weah, President, Youthprise


Al Coleman

Principal, Corporate Group, Gray Plant Mooty


Al is a lawyer, author and educator who is dedicated to helping businesses, their owners and young professionals succeed. As a leader, he tries to give people the tools they need to succeed, then get out of the way. To express the importance of teamwork, Al cites an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” One of Al’s biggest sources of pride and joy is seeing those he has mentored become successful in their own right. Al avoids networking at all costs. Instead, he prefers to build relationships, ideally by hosting a dinner at home with his wife and friends.

Top nonprofits: U of M Law School Corporate Law Institute (Board), Raymond W. Cannon Education Foundation (Board), Twin Cities United Negro College Fund (Financial Supporter)

Amanda Brinkman

Chief Brand and Communications Officer, Deluxe

"Contagious enthusiast"

In putting together a team, Amanda sees value in people with deeper expertise than her own.

“As leader, it’s not my job to be the smartest in the room or the expert in every scenario,” she says. “It’s my job to provide the strategy, mission and overall vision, then let the talented team run with it.”

Amanda sees leadership as equal parts empowerment, inspiration and protection.

She thinks one key to her efficiency and effectiveness is her one-touch-rule: “If I’m thinking about something, reviewing something, discussing something, I act on it right away to keep things moving,” she says.

Top nonprofits: Children’s Cancer Research Fund, Make-A-Wish, Special Olympics

Andrew Eklund

Founder and CEO, Ciceron


If you hear a speech by Andrew, be assured that you are at its premiere. Although he frequently speaks before groups, Andrew never makes the same presentation twice.

He says doesn’t want his message to sound canned.

“I get to know my audience and customize the content,” he says. “Making that real connection is important to them and to me.”

In two decades leading the digital marketing agency that he founded, he’s learned his strengths, is frank about his weaknesses, and counts on his staff to balance them.

“I’m terrible with details,” he confesses. “Fortunately, I have a team that loves details, and we’ve become co-dependent.”

That plays into a key tenet of his leadership philosophy: “Give people the freedom to be amazing.”

Top nonprofits: MacPhail Center for Music, Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies

Cathy Connett

CEO and Managing Partner, Sofia Fund

"The optimizer"

In its ten-year history backing startups that are led by or serve women, the Sofia Fund has matured, and Cathy’s leadership role with the organization has too.

As the Sofia Fund has grown in both size and prestige, Cathy finds that she takes the big picture view on the front end that gets results in closing deals.

“Many of the things I work on today involve my ability to engage others and motivate them to strive toward their goals,” she says.

Although still identifying as a risk-taker, Cathy says her actions are based on analysis.

“We achieve the best outcomes by optimizing the skills and resources available to us,” she adds.

Top nonprofits: Women Venture, High Tech Kids

Christine Chalstrom

President and CEO, Shepherd Data Services Inc.

"Transformed Attorney"

After law school, Christine ran her own law practice. She switched up her career by founding a technology business to help attorneys solve their technical problems. Now she calls herself a “computer nerd.”

Christine prides hyterself on her role as mentor and sounding board for the people who report to her, but practices a hands-off style of management.

“Hire great people, let them know what the company needs, then get out of their way,” she advises.

When reviewing her company’s successes, she finds satisfaction beyond deals closed and clients signed.

“Every year, Shepherd sponsors a holiday party for just our employees. I love it because it allows all of us as a group to celebrate our accomplishments for the year,” she says.

Top nonprofits: Animal Humane Society, Mitchell Hamline School of Law, Global Rights for Women

Chris Culp

President, The Excelsior Group

"Real growth"

Moving backwards to get ahead.

It’s a technique that Chris employs on a regular basis, and has become one of his secrets to getting things done.

“Define the desired result and work backwards from there,” he says about his approach to being effective.

Chris’s business is hardly traveling in reverse. During his tenure at the full-service commercial real estate company that he co-founded with his father Kim in 2005, the Excelsior Group has expanded to 60 employees, with annual revenues growing by 1,000%.

“I surround myself with people with different strengths and perspectives,” Chris says, adding that he leads with high expectations — for the people on his team and for himself.

Top nonprofits: Sheridan Story, Keystone Community Services, Children’s Cancer Research Foundation

Clarence Bethea

Founder and CEO, Upsie

"Warranty disrupter"

Clarence’s company gives consumers a cheaper, streamlined way to buy warranties for the products that they buy. The Upsie smart phone app has the potential to change the way warranties are sold.

As an entrepreneur, Clarence has learned the importance of keeping the startup on its deadlines and its budget.

“It costs less to get things done now,” he notes.

Basketball shapes his thinking and his time; today he volunteers with youth leagues. Years playing the game, including at Bemidji State, taught him to focus on fundamentals, hustle on the court and see when to take a shot — knowledge that help him succeed in his business.

“You can’t build anything great without a great team,” he says.

Top nonprofits: Ujaama Place, youth basketball programs

Dr Simone Ahuja

Founder/Principal, Blood Orange

"Flexible Focus"

Simone is a hybrid: the American daughter of Indian immigrants. A background in filmmaking and dentistry. A global connector anchored by a young son.

She is also an improviser, on her feet to find solutions for clients who call on her from all parts of the world. Simone works to improve access — to health care, education and, in the corporate world, to innovation and execution.

She’s researched frugal innovation — what she calls “Jugaad Innovation,” which is the title of her book. Its core principle promotes flexibility in problem-solving, and that, in turn, creates clarity, she’s found.

Simone and her team have adapted to traveling to clients on short notice to lead workshops that offer them high value, thanks to the “dynamism, flexibility and focus on the client’s needs.”

Top nonprofits: Noora Health, Embrace, Acara Institute

Dug Nichols

Chief Executive Kid, Kidizen Inc.

"Can-do candor"

Making technology work for the greater good is Dug’s ultimate goal.

The lifelong entrepreneur prides himself on what he calls his “extreme candor” as a leader; he finds that being frank has been an effective way to empower his team.

“A good leader leads the people from above them,” he explains. “A great leader leads the people from within them.”

Dug takes the long view in evaluating his leadership methods, and his patience has paid off.

“Every time that someone whom I previously hired, managed and/or mentored takes a new leadership role, I take pride in knowing that in some way I contributed to that growth, creating another leader.”

Top nonprofits: Feed My Starving Children, NPR, Treehouse

Ellen Valde

Partner, PwC


Helping others to rise to join her at the partner level at PricewaterhouseCoopers. That’s one measure of success that Ellen points to when assessing her leadership role.

In her 25 years in public accounting, the versatile Ellen’s clients have ranged from the large, global, public businesses to family-owned and closely held companies.

Direct and determined in her dealings with clients and those she supervises, Ellen makes it a habit to put the toughest tasks and most difficult projects at the top of her To Do list.

That list might include any number of items necessary to seeing a project through.

“Digging in and helping the team in any way needed to meet a client’s deadline,” is how Ellen describes her approach.

Top nonprofits: Junior Achievement, The Minneapolis Foundation, United Way

Eric Dayton

Co-Founder and Principal, Askov Finlayson, The Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar


Eric never downplays the genuine pride he takes in his Minnesota roots.

A great-great grandson of George Draper Dayton, the founder of the Dayton’s retail empire, Eric represents the next generation of the family that played a major role in shaping the state. Alongside his business partner and younger brother Andrew, Eric demonstrates that pride by featuring home-grown ingredients and products in their restaurant, bar and men’s boutique.

Their company has grown to 100 employees, “a proud milestone,” according to Eric.

Eric is also proud of making the sitting governor a grandfather — Eric’s son Hugo, the freshest branch on the Dayton family tree, is Gov. Mark Dayton’s first grandchild.

Top nonprofits: Minneapolis Institute of Art, NRDC

J Marie Fieger

President, Nemer Fieger

"The door opener"

J. Marie’s work leading the agency that her father founded is built on opening doors for clients.

“We create meaningful advertising, public relations and creative campaigns that help grow their businesses,” she explains. 

J. Marie sees networking as a way to knock on other doors.

“Reaching out with good intentions enables brief encounters to grow into partnerships and friendships,” she’s found. She’s also committed to providing direction to her team members to ready each individual to cross their next threshold.

She credits her day-in-day-out efforts for her success in “opening the door for the next opportunity.”

Top nonprofits: Mind Body Solutions, Rebuilding Together Twin Cities, The United Way, American Diabetes Association

Jeff Fritz

President, Insite/Storyworks1

"The conductor"

Blending the diverse talents of individuals to create something big, Jeff likens his leadership to that of the leader of the orchestra.

“Potential is often waiting to be discovered,” he says.

He’s been brought in at a time of catastrophe for some projects, and that’s when he sees his most crucial role as being what he calls ‘the calm captain.’

“While some want to yell, wave arms and throw things, I’ve learned that a focused intensity can reset the team to bring out the best in everyone.”

He credits his own efforts to developing inner resources and becoming more mindful with contributing to his evolving success as a leader.

“I’m more focused on the common good, not just growth and profit.”

Top nonprofits: MESA, scouting, youth development

Judy Lysne

President and CEO, Lifeworks Services Inc.

"Opportunity Expander"

In her long career, Judy has witnessed sweeping changes in how people with disabilities are regarded. She’s seen their opportunities for education, work and independence expand beyond what she could have imagined when her work began.

Armed with a special education degree, Judy joined Lifeworks as a preschool teacher more than 40 years ago, then rose through the ranks to become its president.

Now retiring from the nonprofit that today serves 2,500 Minnesotans with disabilities, Judy leads with the human touch, noting that “perfectionism is the enemy” in getting things accomplished.

She uses the same technique to make connections, whether with clients or with business associates.

“Focus on being interested rather than worrying about being interesting,” she advises.

Top nonprofits: Nonprofit Insurance Trust

Kai Worrell

CEO, Worrell Design Inc.

"High energy empowerer"

Kai is a health care design consultant and digital health entrepreneur. He employs all of his energy and skills to improve healthcare, and that means motivating sharp-minded and talented people to attack the challenges and opportunities in this complex and important industry. Deadlines only sharpen his single-minded focus, as he sounds his battle cry: “Lead, follow or get out of the way!” He prefers to network on a one-on-one basis with other people who care as much as he does about improving the health care industry, and his favorite place to find such people is The Future Health 100 conference at The Aspen Institute. Kai’s advice for all networkers: “Show genuine interest in others.”

Top nonprofits: Children’s Hospital (Innovation Board Member)

Liwanag Ojala

CEO, CaringBridge

"Delivering value"

Networking events don’t exactly appeal to Liwanag. While she’s a proven connector who fosters introductions between her contacts, she finds it tricky to develop meaningful relationships at events.

“That’s just the spark to get started,” she says. “The follow-up meeting is my favorite. That’s when you can really listen and get to know someone.”

The daughter of Filipino immigrants, Liwanag and her siblings grew up watching their parents digging into work without delay.

“Do it now. We heard this constantly as kids,” she recalls. “If something needed to get done, do it now.”

It’s advice she continues to follow. While in a previous job, Liwanag had a critical role in closing a big deal — while caring for her newborn.

“The deal, my daughter and I all made it through!” she says.

Top nonprofit: Minnesota Public Radio

Mark Cohn

President and CEO, Aspirity Holdings

"The success-enabler"

Mark is a powerful advocate who describes leadership as the ability to enable people around him to be successful. Hence, his favorite saying about leadership: “Look around you. You have followers. You better learn the roles and responsibilities of leadership.” Accordingly, he defines success as seeing the people around him exceeding their own expectations. Mark prefers to do networking over a coffee or a meal, and he always tries to heed the wise words of Zig Zigler: “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” He doesn’t shy away from the tough jobs, and believes the way to really get things done is to do the hard tasks first. If Mark is nowhere to be seen, he may be underwater — scuba diving.

Top Nonprofits: Pinky Swear Foundation, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, 30-Days Foundation

Marni Hockenberg

President, Hockenberg Search

"Purple power"

Manufacturing could be a lonely field for a woman, but Marni doesn’t see it that way.

In 2012, she turned her energies to creating ‘Gears and Gadgets,’ a quarterly networking event that brings together a range of people in the Minnesota manufacturing industry to discuss trends and make peer-to-peer connections.

“I feel a great sense of accomplishment in doing my small part for our manufacturing community,” she says, adding, “It’s the backbone of our American economy.”

Marni recognizes that women often take on too much in an effort to please others, and she’s made the conscious decision not to do that. She’s proud that she is comfortable saying “No.”

“It’s better to turn down a request than to get so loaded up with responsibilities that you get stressed and miss deadlines,” she says.

Top nonprofits: Wounded Warrior Project, Sharing and Caring Hands, American Cancer Society

Matt Frauenshuh

CEO, Fourteen Foods

"Man on a (sweet) mission"

Matt is a value-driven entrepreneur who sees himself as a collaborative servant leader who wants to inspire his employees to similarly find significance in their lives. This magnanimous attitude exceeds his business borders with a concern for making a positive impact on the community. “Our culture is what defines our organizations,” he says. His leadership secret is for him and all his managers to learn to master all their job department functions. And since Matt’s business consists of more than 100 Dairy Queen franchises, it’s a good bet that he knows how to whip up a fantastic Blizzard in your favorite flavor.

Top nonprofits: Defending the Blue Line, Salvation Army, Crossview Lutheran Church

Rassoul Dastmozd

President and CEO, Saint Paul College

"Higher calling"

An immigrant himself, Rassoul arrived in Minnesota from his native Iran as a college student. His experience gives him a unique perspective on the students he now serves; many are new Americans or the first in their families to access higher education.

He’s also seen how college can not only alter the path that individual students walk, but can change the destiny of entire communities.

“Our graduates become the catalysts for economic prosperity in Minnesota,” he says, adding that leading Minnesota’s most diverse college continuously inspires him.

“I’m part of a team whose talents, expertise and dedication help students overcome obstacles and hardships every day,” he notes.

Top nonprofits: Neighborhood House, Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, United Hospital Association

Aleesha Webb

Commercial Relationship Manager, Minnesota Bank and Trust

"Not 'playing small'"

When connecting with peers, colleagues and customers, Aleesha relishes one-on-one conversations and seeks more than shop talk.

“I want to find out about their family, their passions,” she says. “I want to make meaningful introductions. Referrals I give are valuable because they are thoughtful.”

She augments traditional connections with digital ones.

“Linked In is my new happy hour,” she says. “Using social media as a branding and advertising tool has opened up a wider market of introduction and opportunities.’

She cites a poem by Marianne Williamson as a source of inspiration. “Our Deepest Fear” is associated with Nelson Mandela, who read it at his inauguration.

“Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” it reads. “Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world.”

Top nonprofits: Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Twin Cities, University of St. Thomas Alumni Association

Heide Olson

Founder and CEO, All in One Accounting Inc.

"Chads to clarity"

What Heide offers her clients is steadiness. She and her team step in and customize tools to provide financial oversight for companies in need of assistance — sometimes desperately so.

She is gratified when her work brings order to distressed situations, offering a recent example of a client who called after firing their controller.

“In short order we were able to streamline the accounting, leverage technology to gain efficiencies and cross-train the team, which resulted in the reduction of the controller role from full time to two days a week,” she says. “The client got a financial partner he could trust.”

While her company offers clients peace of mind, Heide has learned to maintain her own by prioritizing. She identifies what she calls “the highest use” of her time and then transitions other work to a trusted colleague.

Top nonprofits: Los Cabos Children’s Foundation, Hosanna Lutheran Church, Eastview Hockey Association

Jack Fiterman

Director of Strategic Accounts and Acquisitions, Liberty Diversified International

"Going fourth"

Jack’s first job at LDI was as a summer intern, working at the company’s production facility in Golden Valley. But he was hardly a newcomer to the business even then; Jack is the great-grandson of the company founder, a Russian immigrant who started small in 1918.

“I am extremely fortunate to be the fourth generation of a family held business that is committed to excellence,” Jack says of the near century-old company.

Now global in scope, LDI has gone through several iterations, but always with Liberty in the name — part homage to its founders’ patriotism, but also as an identifier for customers.

“If you take care of your people and your customers, everything else will take care of itself,” he says.

Top nonprofits: Minneapolis Jewish Federation Foundation, Big Willow Baseball, Herzl Camp Foundation

Justin Porter

Vice President of Operations, Kipsu

"Service with a text"

Working for a startup company with a mission of building online connections, Justin is busy making connections of his own.

He seeks those with depth, or that have the potential to deepen.

“It’s not networking, it’s relationship-building,” he says.

In one short year, Kipsu moved into bigger offices as its head count quintupled to keep up with demand for the company’s real time engagement services for hotels and shopping malls.

Managing that explosive growth has required decisive decision-making for the leaders of the service-oriented company.

“He who hesitates is lost,” Justin says. “The best way to motivate others is to start with yourself.”

Top nonprofits: MinneStar, Startup Digest Twin Cities

Shawntera Hardy

Co-Founder, Civic Eagle

"Civic elevator"

Elevating others. That’s the bottom line of all of the goals that Shawntera makes.

She’s serious about her work in the areas of policy design and implementation, and placemaking to create thriving communities.

“Profound humility, gratitude and a sense of responsibility comes with carrying the mantle of leadership,” she says.

Her most meaningful support comes from peers. 

“It’s a feeling of fulfillment when I get to stand in front of a room of powerful women of color, committed to elevating one another.”

Shawntera is becoming more skilled at distinguishing the urgent from the important when priorities shift.

“I’m a work in progress, striving toward excellence,” she says. “I stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Top nonprofits: Saint Paul YWCA, Wilder Foundation, Minneapolis Parks Foundation

[Editor’s note: It seems that we sure know how to pick them. After this issue went to print we learned that Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton named Shawntera Hardy as the new commissioner of DEED, the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. Congratulations to her! It looks like Gov. Dayton knows how to pick them, too.]


Stacey Stratton

President/CEO, True Talent Group

"Creative matchmaker"

Stacey lives in her niche. Her staffing company recruits top creative, marketing and interactive professionals and then places them in the businesses that need their talents. Under her leadership, the company has grown by 2,000%.

“The behind-the-scenes stories get me out of bed every day,” she says, citing Les Brown for a quote that has guided her: “Help others achieve their dreams and you will achieve your own.”

She has found that pivotal connections are best made face-to-face.

“You can’t meet anyone sitting at your desk,” she notes.

The work can be hectic, and Stacey finds release away from the office, recharging with outdoor activities including boating, gardening and golf.

Top nonprofits: Art Buddies, Dress for Success

Stephanie Shimp

Owner/CMO, Blue Plate Restaurant Company

"Kitchen magician"

“Life is messy and complicated,” Stephanie says, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I love being in on the action. I’m having a blast!”

Stephanie’s enthusiasm is as omnipresent as bottles of ketchup on the tables at her hip neighborhood restaurants. She leads with “zest and zeal” that extends to her customers, her employees and the food coming out of the kitchens.

As a busy executive, she says she has learned to delegate and reach out to ask for help. She has also become more patient in the way that she paces herself.

“You can do it all — just not all at once,” she adds.

Top nonprofits: People Serving People, CornerHouse, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota

Amee McDonald

Co-Founder and CEO, jabber logic

"Post-it procrastinator"

Amee is frank about how unforeseen events will inevitably complicate every project.

“No amount of planning or pushing through can solve that,” she says.

That’s when Amee, who describes herself as an introverted dreamer, walks away from technology and turns to Post-Its to map out a situation and update the details of her strategy.

An early riser, Amee finds she is most creative when the alarm sounds while it’s still dark. She also finds a deadline to be her best motivator.

“I live by a strict, packed schedule, but consistently push the most important things to 4 or 5 am the next day,” she says. “Is it possible to be a scheduled procrastinator?”

Top nonprofits: Family Wise, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Flip the Table

Andrew Dayton

Co-Founder, North Corp.

"Finding the fit"

Andrew and his brother Eric own the Bachelor Farmer and the Marvel Bar, and also are partners in Askov Finlayson, their North Loop men’s store that sells the kind of clothing and accessories that appeal to the brothers.

Seeking and sourcing those products, such as the boutique’s signature Explorer Pants, has been an exhilarating, albeit stressful, process.

“We had never made anything before and it had taken months of work and coordination with partners around the world to create them,” says Andrew, recalling the moment he first saw them. “I couldn’t believe that they actually fit.”

When asked for leadership advice, he cites grandfather Bruce Dayton, who was CEO of Dayton Hudson Corp. during its major expansion in the 1960s and ‘70s. He said, “You get what you inspect, not what you expect.”

Top nonprofits: Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Innocence Project of Minnesota

Benjamin Jo VandenWymelenberg


"Jumping into the job"

Skydiving, flying and motorcycling are Benjamin’s hobbies, and he brings his love of speed to the company that he founded, which is growing at a rapid pace.

He believes in the personal touch — and defines that quite literally. He has worked side-by-side with his assembly teams to deliver products on time, and he’s developed the practice of shaking the hand of every person in the room at every corporate event that he attends.

While he defines his leadership style as one that challenges the status quo, Benjamin is open to advice and counsel.

“The world’s best leaders know when to lead, and when to be led,” he says.

Top nonprofits: University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, American Forests

Brenda Sallstrom

Founder and Principal, Envoi LLC


In a task-oriented, detail-driven business, taking on the toughest task first — what Brenda terms ‘swallowing the frog,’ — has been central to the way that she accomplishes goals for herself and her clients.

Brenda believes her temperament, which she describes as naturally collaborative and cooperative, has helped her build relationships with her co-workers and the families that she serves.

She’s comfortable calling herself a dinosaur when it comes to social networking. She explains that early in her career, she learned that networking was defined by the way that she built relationships rather than by their sheer number.

“I still try to make as many face-to-face connections that I can,” she adds.

Top nonprofits: Allina Health, University of Minnesota Endowment

Brendon Schrader

Founder and CEO, Antenna

"Adrenaline fan"

Pulling out the stops to race to a deadline. Brendon has found that he performs well under such conditions, even relishing the adrenaline rush that drives the work at the end.

Before the deadline looms, Brendon has led by taking a big picture view of a project.

“An idea can only become a reality once it is broken down into organized, actionable elements,” he notes.

Brendon calls himself ambitious, but his ambition extends beyond growing his agency and his career to providing a satisfying workplace for his growing number of employees. He has used employee feedback to establish what his team collectively values.

“I try hard to practice the concept of servant leadership,” he says.

Top nonprofits: U of M Foundation, Parents for Heart, Good in the Hood

Caren Schweitzer

President, Creative Resources and Create for Retail

"Wearing many hats"

Starting, then running a business and expanding its customer base requires an entrepreneur to don an ever-expanding array of hats, Caren has found.

Observing that she tended to procrastinate in the areas where she felt weakest, Caren found a solution. She redoubled her efforts to delegate to people she describes as smarter than she is in those areas.

“That, in turn, has created a strong and empowered team,” she says.

Caren is a digger when it comes to finding the right deal, partnership or client to execute her vision.

“You often need to meet more people until you stumble upon The One,” she says.

Her work has given her a personal dividend — her daughter is now involved in the company, “a legacy bonus,” according to Schweitzer.

Top nonprofits: WBENC/WBDC Advisory Council, Minneapolis Jewish Federation, Enterprising Women

Carlos Landreau

President, The Landreau Group

"Fine-print reader"

Understanding the complexities of insurance law. It can be a hard sell to clients, Carlos has found, but the consequences for miscalculating the legal documents can be dire.

“Insurance documents are written by a lawyer for a lawyer,” he explains. “Understanding the contract is imperative, to see what the carrier is obligated to pay, prior to a claim, not after.”

Carlos says what he has come to respect most is hard work and integrity, in the people he works with and for.

Having lived near the ocean has given him a leadership motto. He quotes the ancient Latin writer Publilius Syrus, who said, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”

Top nonprofits: Latin Economic Development Council, Metropolitan Economic Development Association, Neighborhood Development Alliance

Dale Cook

Co-Founder and CEO, Learn to Live


Because Dale’s company helps people who are struggling with anxiety find help, he knows the importance and value of an attentive ear.

When asked for his best leadership advice, Dale cites the terse words of wisdom from Ernest Hemingway: “When people talk, listen completely.”

Before graduate school, Dale’s adventurous spirit led him to scale some of the highest mountains in the world, including Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya. Today, he finds he gets things done by taking a different view.

“Start by taking small steps and focus on what’s right in front of you,” he says.

Top nonprofits: DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade for Africa)

David Burley

CEO, Blue Plate Restaurant Company

"Bringing home the bacon"

As an avid pilot, scuba diver and dirt bike aficionado, David works up quite an appetite. Lucky for him, he now has ten Blue Plate restaurants to choose from when he’s back on dry land.

“No problems were ever solved whilst sleeping,” is his approach to getting things done.

A native Australian, David came of age working in restaurants, but is willing to go off the menu to find other key leaders. He recently hired the company’s CFO and COO — neither of whom had ever worked in day in a restaurant.

David savors his career in the hospitality industry, and finds there’s more to running a group of neighborhood eateries than simply cooking up first-rate food. He recently pushed the organization to undertake and complete strategic planning to map out its goals.

Top nonprofits: People Serving People

Don Ness

President, Ness Partners

"Public service"

Elected as mayor of Duluth at age 33, the popular Don Ness likely could have remained in office until AARP started pestering him with membership offers. 

But that was not his style. He chose not to run for a third term, and because of that, he says Duluth now has “a new, dynamic mayor who will accelerate our progress.”

That’s typical in the way the self-deprecating Don leads — by promoting the efforts and accomplishments of those he works with, then celebrating their successes.

“Own the problem, give away the credit,” is his advice on accomplishing goals. “If you’re sincere about doing well, people will notice and want to help.”

Calling himself “intentionally vulnerable,” Don wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to his hometown. “I love the city of Duluth and the creative, talented people who live here.”

Top nonprofits: Boys and Girls Club, Zeitgeist Arts, Safe Haven Shelter

Jeff Martin

CEO, Founder, Producer, Collective Genius

"Driving change"

Many people seem to get into their most memorable conversations while in their car. Jeff, fascinated with what makes tech leaders tick, gets behind the wheel of his Prius and puts top industry innovators in his passenger seat and records their chats.

The vibe is informal, but the topics are often deep and provocative.

The video versions of the driving chats are posted on YouTube.

Undoubtedly in producing these segments, Jeff takes in big ideas and new approaches that inform his work in his other business, a tech recruitment and placement agency.

“Leadership is about creating change that you believe in,” he says. “Together we can do more than we can alone.”

Top nonprofits: Organizations that support entrepreneurs

Jody Kern

Private Mortgage Banker, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage

"The disciplined executor"

Jody keeps a list of goals, and approaches it with purpose.

“Every day, do three things to move the goal forward,” she advises.

Jody finds personal pleasure as a footloose worldwide adventurer, roaming some of the less-traveled parts of the globe, but in her work she helps people put down roots through home ownership.

One of the most satisfying elements of her career has been watching some of the people she’s managed move their own careers along. She’s been in her field long enough to get a long view on her guidance. One of the most meaningful pieces of her collaborations has been “when direct reports from 20 years ago reach out to tell me how much my leadership has meant to them.”

Top nonprofits: Rotary Club of Edina, Builders Association of the Twin Cities Foundation, Cornerstone

Joy McBrien

CEO and Founder, Fair Anita

"The empath"

Joy’s natural empathy has led her to her work that varies.

But her every project has a through line that creates opportunities for women and girls, both internationally and in the Twin Cities.

From building a battered women’s shelter in Peru to her work at a girl-focused St. Paul middle school, Joy has learned to listen before taking action. She is intentional in the way that she makes connections.

“Someone told me men and women network differently,” she says. “Men enter a room and look for the most powerful person and try to talk to them. Women look for people they know or someone who looks safe. I remember this and try to challenge myself to go outside my comfort zone.”

Top nonprofits: Laura Jeffrey Academy, Out on a Limb Dance, Students Today Leaders Tomorrow

Justin Grammens

Founder, Recursive Awesome

"Tech fortunes"

In his work leading teams that develop and release mobile applications for high-profile and Fortune 100 companies, Justin works with complex ideas and problems.

But the advice that guides him came from a simple one line that he found in a fortune cookie that he cracked open years ago.

“Don’t be afraid to take that next big step,” it urged; Justin keeps the tiny slip of paper in his wallet to continuously remind himself to stay a courageous course.

It’s an approach that has been beneficial for his clients.

“My team gives our clients the opportunity to engage with users on mobile devices,” he says. “That gives them increased revenues and previously undiscovered products and services.”

Top nonprofits: IoT Fuse, CoderDojo Twin Cities, Mac Startups

Katherine Forrester Schneewind

Wealth Management Advisor, Northwestern Mutual

"Aiming high"

Katherine thinks she became a national leader in a male-dominated company because of her strong competitive drive, her willingness to take risks and her ability to keep her eye on the ball.

“Don’t be all things to all people,” she counsels. “Be very important to a few.”

That focus extends to her work habits, which involves “putting anything that can wait into a pile for the evening or weekend.”

Katherine values her close centers of influence who have referred clients to her — she considers that the ultimate compliment.

A big picture thinker, Katherine shares her vision with her staff, then allows them to self-police.

“I’m a get-it-done kind of gal,” she says.

Top nonprofits: Ridgeview Medical, University Good Samaritan, Humane Society

Luz María Frías

Vice President of Community Impact, The Minneapolis Foundation

"Advancing equity"

When a leader at a foundation talks about ‘wealth,’ you might think they are referring to the deep pockets of philanthropists.

Luz’s wealth is her expertise, an extensive background in human services, strategic planning, public policy, budget development and management.

“I am a collaborator and relationship-builder focused on promoting the best interests of our community,” she says.

That includes her work with donors. She persuaded one to make a major gift that increased the capital available to minority-owned businesses by millions of dollars. Those businesses, in turn, created jobs and strengthened the economic standing of families in the community.

“I build diverse teams and leverage their strengths to deploy resources in a way that advances equity,” she says.

Top nonprofits: Minnesota Women Lawyers, Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association, Health Partners

Meghan Wilker

COO, Clockwork

"Trust a must"

It’s not surprising that a top executive at a company named Clockwork would believe in cycles. In her work as a leader, speaker, writer and podcaster, Meghan has come to see how what goes around comes around.

“I trust that the good I try to put out into the world will come back to me when I need it,” she says.

Professing a love of dance, pop culture and movies, Meghan has a light heart, but her colleagues and clients never confuse that with her grit and determination in executing complex projects.

“I try not to take myself too seriously but I take my position seriously,” she says. “To do right by Clockwork and the people who work here.”

Top nonprofits: Hollywood Dance Scene, GiveMN, Still Kickin

Nils Snyder

Senior Vice President, Colliers International

"Borderline workaholic"

Known for being a hard worker, Nils enjoys rolling up his sleeves and looking at deals from every possible angle to make sure he gets the best results for his clients. His family supports him in his hard work; he returns the favor by coaching his children’s soccer teams. His personal sense of responsibility (“The Buck Stops Here”) gives him the persistence to conquer the most difficult projects, one problem-solving step at a time. His best networking advice comes from Ernest Hemingway: “When people talk, listen completely.” His favorite networking line is “How can I help?” If you’d like to run into Nils, look for events with the best desserts and an ample supply of Mountain Dew. (Now you know where he gets the energy to get things done!)

Top nonprofits: Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, Soccer Coach (4th grade boys / 2nd grade girls)

Nina Hale

Founder, Nina Hale Inc.

"Dream catcher"

Nina brings her natural curiosity to networking, and likes to ask the people she meets unexpected questions.

“I love learning about people and their dreams,” she says, “I hate schmoozing for work or money.”

An early expert in SEO and paid media, Nina began her career in agencies, then dreamed up the idea of starting her own. As a leader, she defines her job as hiring brilliant people then “pointing them to the horizon.”

After a day spent online and in her head, Nina keeps her balance with hands-on hobbies. A master upholsterer and apprentice tailor, she finds that meticulous creativity keeps her hale and hearty.

Top nonprofits: Walker Art Center, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North and South Dakota

Ryan Kanne

Director, U.S. Commerce Service

"Exporting excellence"

Helping Minnesota play on the worldwide stage, Ryan’s efforts help companies based in the state to boost the international exports of their products and services.

“I’m an advocate for Minnesota,” he says. “I like bringing people together and helping people solve their problems.”

That often means working to remove the obstacles that can block development or drive up export costs for businesses.

Ryan has adapted to keep up as the pace of global change gets ever faster. He works to keep his communications and expectations clear.

“I would rather lead change than be pulled by change,” he says.

Top nonprofits: Minnesota District Export Council, University of St. Thomas Alumni Board, Christ Presbyterian Church

Terri Soutor

CEO, FastBridge Learning

"The double checker"

Terri doesn’t believe in waiting until the eleventh hour to make decisions or give direction.

Once something has been identified that needs her attention, she goes after it and checks it off her list.

“If it lingers to the last minute, I lose the chance to be creative, strategic or thoughtful,” she says. “If you say you’re going to do something, get it done. I place high value on that approach from those who work with me and for me.”

FastBridge’s mission is to improve education for children, and she finds it gratifying when she’s seen positive learning outcomes resulting from her company’s efforts.
Like schools themselves, she keeps a focus on accountability.

“Check, check and double-check,” is a motto that she adopted from a family friend who was a wartime platoon leader. “Be clear and don’t assume anything.”

Top nonprofit: Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest

West Stringfellow

Vice President of Internal Innovation and Operations, Target

"Bullseye brain"

Breaking big problems into small problems. That’s West’s approach to getting things done, and he likes to find and hire people who’ve faced those problems before.

Then he gets out of their way.

“I build and lead badass teams who ideate, launch and iterate emotional products with the intent of disrupting industries,” he says.

You could say retail innovation is West’s second career. His first was agriculture; raised on his family’s Colorado ranch, he grew up completing chores before school.

“If I didn’t pick up the manure, it would be there the next day, more of a mess than if I’d done it the first time,” he recalls. “That taught me at young age that no chore is more tedious than doing yesterday’s work today.”

Top nonprofit: Humane Society

Wokie Weah

President and CEO, Youthprise

"Expanding decisions"

Wokie wants to do more than lead an organization that reaches underserved youth outside the classroom. She wants to amplify the voices of young people, and has made them key players in Youthprises’ high-level processes.

“I’m proud of my decision insisting that our investment decisions be made with their input,” she says. “This turned out to be what makes Youthprise distinctive.”

Born in Liberia, Wokie has built a career creating options and opportunities, calling herself a “determined champion of youth, diversity and equity.”

She credits her decisive nature with helping her accomplish her goals, and never loses sight of why she is working so hard.

“I truly believe that young people are the keepers of the dream,” she says.

Top nonprofits: Mission Impact Council, We Care International, SWAA-Liberia

The (Real) Power 50 Alumni

How has your selection as a (Real) Power 50 made a difference in your life?

Darin Lynch
Founder & CEO
Irish Titan
"It's helped me go to bed with a little more confidence after a bad day; and helped me go to bed with a little more humility after a good day."

Arleen Sullivan
Director of Community Banking
Anchor Bank
"It was a privilege to be selected...And, with privilege comes responsibility. I have since been more mindful about my leadership impact — in my organization and externally — sort of like a litmus test...What would an RP50 do?"

Wendy Nemitz
Ingenuity Marketing Group
"It was an honor to be selected with people I respect and admire. It really made me think, 'Wow, I have arrived.'"

Aaron Eggert
iSpace Furniture
"To be selected wi th a group of such great leaders and connectors, I was truly humbled. This honor was a catalyst to connect with some of the great business leaders in the Twin Cities."

Lars Leafblad
Co-founder and Principal
Ballinger | Leafblad, Inc.
"It makes me feel more accountable for nominating and recognizing others who are making a difference in our community."

Richard Anderson
Chief Cultural Officer
Imagine IT
"It is wonderful being acknowledged by our peers — but more importantly — it's a great opportunity to meet new connectors in the Twin Cities. People that get stuff done. People that appreciate the power of networking."

Jatin Setia
Executive Director
Twin Cities Film Fest
"The recognition has added value not only to my personal life, but also to my organization...The (Real) Power 50 has opened doors in the professional setting to expand my network and my organization’s outreach."

2013 Alumni

Andrew Borene
Beth Leonard
Bill Popp
Brian Wachtler
Cem Erdem
Dan Mallin
Daniel Gumnit
Dave Mona
Dave Moran
David Valentini
Eric Hawkinson
Erich Mische
Fred Badiyan
Greg Frandsen
Harvey Zuckman
Irene Fernando
Janel Goff
Jason Hammerberg
Jay Hammond
Jeff Weness
Jen Alstad
John Wooden
Joy Lindsay
Joyce Wisdom
Justin Hanratty
Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas
Kelly Larson
Lars Leafblad
Lisa Grimm
Louis Jambois
Louise Dickmeyer
Lucy Swift
Lynn Casey
Meghan AuBuchon
Michael Lacey
Michael Zenk
Mike Hedstrom
Mike Landstad
Nancy Anderson
Nena Lenz
Pam Borton
Philomena Morrissey Satre
Randy Feld
Rick Beeson
Scott Burns
Scott Mayer
Tami Paulsen
Ted Risdall
Tom Boerboom

2014 Alumni

Aaron Eggert
Alyssa Kreutzfeldt
Andrea Christenson
Arleen Sullivan
Björn Stansvik
Brandon Maves
Brian Mallaro
Carson Kipfer
Cathy Paper
Chico Ford
Chris Guertin
Dan Cramer
Dan Ferrise
Darin Lynch
David Annis
David Buelow
David Stillman
Dee Thibodeau
Ed Heil
Elizabeth Kessler
Elizabeth Patty
Eric LeBow
James Loffler
Jatin Setia
Jeff Stoebner
Jim Redpath
Jim Wolford
John Montague
John Stavig
John Wood
Jonathan Weinhagen
Justin Kaufenberg
Katie Clark Sieben
Kieran Folliard
Kimberly Lowe
Kristy Saum
Lori Wiese-Parks
Marcia Ballinger
Marty Nanne
Maureen Bausch
Michael Gorman
Nora Purmort
Rajiv Shah
Rich Anderson
Rick Polk
Steve Cramer
Steve Lepinski
Stuart Ackerberg
Tom Ahonen
Tom Kieffer

2015 Alumni

Aaron Hall
Dean Phillips
Heidi Re Gesell
Jill Lloyd
John Blank
Kim Plahn
Luis Moreno
Michael Langley
Myrna Marofsky
Steve Stoup
Alberto Monserrate
Amanda Downs
Anne Paape (Bjerken)
Barbara Hensley
Larry Yatch
Maura Steblay
Paul Jaeb
Ryan Burnet
Thompson Aderinkomi
Tony Barranco
Jaime Nolan
Laura Liu
Lili Hall
Marc Grossfield
Jon Freeland
Nick Hernandez
Rick Brimacomb
Ross Levin
Sara Beatty Ratner
Tomas Perez
Laura Kelly
Leslie Holman
Matt Arens
Matt Hilker
Mike Bromelkamp
Rob Metcalf
Ryan Broshar
Jamie Post Candee
Sue Kruskopf
Theresa Pesch
Bill Katter
Dan Collison
Dave Dickey
Rob Holt
Jake Spano
Jeanne Crain
Josh Stowers
Lori Spiess
Rachel Otten
Wendy Nemitz