I was born January 19, 1969 at the U.S. Army hospital in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. My mother moved me back to St. Paul, Minnesota, shortly thereafter, where I stayed until college. My younger brother was born in 1972 and a sister followed seven years later. I started kindergarten at Linwood Elementary in St. Paul in 1974 and attended classes there until the school closed after my fourth grade. I attended Randolph Heights Elementary for fifth and sixth grades, followed by Ramsey Junior High School and St. Paul Central High School.
My parents worked for the same companies for 30+ years: my father with New York Life Insurance Company and my mother with Northwest Airlines. Both are now retired and still live in the same house in the Crocus Hill neighborhood of St. Paul where I was raised. My first job was working part-time at the local Knowlan’s grocery store on Grand Avenue, where I worked all through high school. After receiving my driver’s license, I also worked late nights at the Target store in Roseville (the old Store #1).
My mother’s occupation allowed us to travel throughout my lifetime. Strangely enough, we always seemed to go to the same places over and over again. Southern California and Florida (Disneyland and Walt Disney World, respectively) were common destinations. I started ski lessons at age nine with my uncle in northern Idaho, which became a spring ritual for more than 20 years. Family friends in Atlanta provided for several trips to Dixie, including the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville. My uncle and grandparents followed with a trip to the 1986 World’s Fair in Vancouver. After high school, I made my first trip to the east coast, visiting friends going to college in Boston and Hanover, New Hampshire.
My pre-college education covered a wide range of interests. In junior high, I was a member of the debate team and arrived early each morning to play with the brand new Apple II computers. This was also the start of my German language studies, which continued through high school and college. In high school, I focused on advanced placement classes in science and mathematics, but also had a fondness for history. I took more than eight semesters of history and created my own independent study on the history of classical music.
High school was also the time I discovered organized athletics. I lettered in three sports: cross-country, track and alpine skiing. The cross-country meets were three miles in length and held at Como Park in St. Paul. My track event was the 800 meters, which I ran in about 2:12. True alpine skiing in Minnesota is difficult to find and our meets at Birch Park were nothing compared to races in the west. Collegiate sports were much more advanced than I was prepared for, but skiing and running are sports that I still love to this day. I’ve completed twenty-six marathons so far: Twin Cities (1995, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013), Grandma’s (1997, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2016), Walt Disney World (2000, 2009, 2013, 2014), Chicago (2003), Eau Claire (2010), Fargo (2012), New York City (2014) and Des Moines (2015).
During my senior year of high school, I applied to only four colleges: Harvard, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy. I received a letter of nomination from my congressman for the Naval Academy, but did not make the final cut. RPI offered me a position in their mathematics program, but the cost was prohibitive and I could not attend. At the last minute, I applied to the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks (UND). My intention was to study aerospace engineering and become a licensed pilot through a new training academy there that was partially funded by Northwest Airlines.
I started my studies at UND in the fall of 1987 and quickly disliked the experience. My high school sweetheart, who would become my wife, was attending classes at St. Cloud State University. Using my mother’s flight benefits, I flew home every weekend to be with my girlfriend. A shortage of housing at UND meant I started college living in a hotel room for several months (the free donuts were a plus, though). When dorm space finally opened up, I had to share a room with four other people. Two of them were hockey players and both ended up playing in the NHL (Murray Baron and Neil Eisenhut).
My future wife and I both disliked our college choices and we elected to transfer to the University of Wisconsin at Madison our sophomore year. She studied communications and I studied finance and management. I lived in my own apartment for most of the three years and worked as a games room supervisor in the student union. It was a very fun job that involved inventory tracking, ordering, cash management, bowling alley maintenance and lots of pool, ping pong and video game “training.”
During a winter break from college, I worked in the “Sons and Daughters” program at Northwest Airlines. It was a paid internship program for children of employees that was discontinued shortly after my last year of eligibility. As a temporary stores clerk, I was assigned the task of identifying all obsolete Republic Airlines inventory and disposing of it. I also worked two additional summers in the program, the first as a passenger refunds clerk and the second as a freight credit clerk. The former job involved researching international lost ticket claims, while the latter dealt with mailing invoices and retrieving copies of disputed shipments.
I graduated from Madison in 1991 and moved back to St. Paul with my girlfriend. We lived in downtown St. Paul at Galtier Plaza and became engaged shortly thereafter. She went to work full-time at her former summer job with Knox Lumber in St. Paul, while I was offered my old clerk job in the freight credit department at Northwest Airlines. There was a management hiring freeze in place at the time, but I wanted to continue to receive flight benefits and get my foot in the door. I started the day after graduation as a new accounts coordinator for freight credit.
That year became very busy. My fiancée and I were planning a May 1992 wedding at the Como Conservatory in St. Paul. I took a second job in the evenings working as a student loan collector in downtown St. Paul. On December 14, 1991, we went to the courthouse in St. Paul and eloped. With my wife’s new flight benefits, we left that day for Disneyland. It took our parents a few years to recover, but it was worth it.
The next year we moved to an apartment in Eagan, Minnesota. I quit the student loan job and became a commercial collector at Northwest. I decided to return to school at night and earn a Masters degree. I enrolled in the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, originally with an accounting focus. After several introductory courses, I changed my concentration to management information systems.
While studying for my MBA, I was promoted into management at Northwest, becoming one of the company’s youngest managers at age 24. As Manager, General Credit, I was responsible for a staff of seven and multiple general ledger accounts totaling more than half a billion dollars. I became a department technical resource as well, helping with computer troubleshooting and writing several database reporting systems. One was used to track employee returned checks, while another was used as monthly documentation for a receivables financing deal involving millions of dollars in receivables (which I named after the infamous Roman emperor Nero: Northwest Economic Recovery Offensive).
With no children and no mortgage payment, my wife and I took the opportunity to travel the world. We took trips to London (multiple times), Paris, Vienna, Singapore, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, Alaska and San Francisco. Business trips took me to London, New York, New Jersey, Tokyo, Chicago and Washington, D.C. I continued my annual ski trips to Schweitzer in Idaho and finally took a real ski trip to Colorado. Live music at venues such as First Avenue in Minneapolis was also a passion during this period.
After a few more years of renting, we started house shopping. We decided to build a new townhouse in Eagan, about two miles from our old apartment. It was a great experience and cost a lot less than we were paying for rent. The townhouse was a little small, but was perfect for two people. My wife changed jobs and started working for the Catholic Aid Association, a fraternal life insurance company located in Arden Hills, Minnesota (now Catholic United Financial). I finished my MBA and started looking for a new job that had more of a systems focus.
In September 1996, I was offered the position of technology specialist with the fuel department at Northwest. This department was basically a company within a company and I reported directly to the president. The job was like running my own IT department for a small business: many hats for many different duties. Tasks ranged from purchasing and installations to training, system administration and disaster recovery. The department was recognized as one of the best airline fuel departments in the world.
A few years later, the duties of my boss were expanded to include several other areas. At the same time, I was recruited by a major advertising agency in downtown Minneapolis to become the manager of their server farm. The environment there was incredible and I was ready to turn in my resignation to Northwest. Then the unusual happened: Northwest countered with a large offer and promotion in title. I became a senior technology specialist and remained with the department for several more years. My duties expanded to match those of my boss and I supported the graphics, corporate communications and purchasing departments in addition to the fuel area.
During this time, I traveled to various trade shows and conferences as a representative of Northwest: Comdex, MacWorld, Seybold and the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. I also became active in intranet design and was asked to join a corporate-wide intranet advisory council. The intranet site for the fuel department was one of the best in the company and was used as a model for other departments.
Shortly before the birth of our first child, I founded a new media development company called Golden Links Publishing. My intent was to find something I could work on part-time that would combine my interests of golf, photography and technology. I started playing golf later in life, but quickly became engrossed. My plan was to create the ultimate pictorial guide to Minnesota golf courses. After two years of research, design and photography, a retail CD-ROM called Minnesota Golden Links was released at the 1999 Great Minnesota Golf Show in Minneapolis.
Sales of the CD were not as high as I had anticipated and steep production costs meant there would be no further CD editions. We looked at our existing library of photographs (which had grown to almost 10,000 images), along with our database of information, and decided to re-purpose the media for the Internet. In 1999, average Internet connection speeds were too slow to display the large, high-resolution pictures found on the CD. By 2000, faster speeds and better file compression allowed us to successfully launch GoldenLinksGolf.com in time for the 2000 golf season. With course profiles for more than 350 courses, it became very popular and traffic grew throughout the season.
Despite the growth in viewership, on-line advertising revenue was nearly non-existent. For the 2001 season, I elected to continue adding features to the site, while lowering expenses as much as possible. Tournament coverage, profiles of western Wisconsin courses, regional golf news and a hole in one registry were all very well received and traffic continued to grow. Efforts to secure a site sponsor to underwrite operating expenses faltered, however, and the site was shut down in February 2002. The site files were purchased later in the year by the owner of TwinCitiesGolf.com and were incorporated into that site.
While never a money earner, the Golden Links Publishing experience proved valuable in other ways. I learned tools such as Photoshop and Illustrator and photographed many beautiful parts of the state (using digital and 35mm equipment). I made many contacts throughout the industry and raised my profile through publication of my photographs in several newspapers. I licensed my work to top courses, including Interlachen Country Club, Hazeltine National Golf Club, TPC Twin Cities and Legends Club. I continue to volunteer web design time to the annual Tapemark Charity Pro-Am tournament held at Southview Country Club in West St. Paul. Golden Links Publishing also led to several small business consulting contracts involving web design and network troubleshooting.
After the birth of our first child, our traveling dropped off significantly. We started to focus on trips within the state and annual events, such as the Minnesota State Fair. I have attended every state fair since I was born and it remains one of my favorite places to go. The list of food goes on forever and takes a larger bankroll every year: pronto pups, onion rings, corn on the cob, cheese curds, vanilla shakes, mini-donuts, Sweet Martha cookies and macaroni and cheese on a stick. We also enjoy the Renaissance Festival in Shakopee every few years.
The North Shore of Lake Superior has been a family destination for more than forty years. My parents rent the same cabin outside of Grand Marais, Minnesota, every summer. We love the area – Duluth, Two Harbors, Lutsen and Grand Portage all have fun things to do and see. Grand Marais always provides a relaxing break from the stress (and allergies) of the Twin Cities.
My wife left the Catholic Aid Association and moved to United Hospital in St. Paul shortly before the birth of our second child. We sold our townhouse and built a new two-story house in Eagan about a mile away from our old house. The building process went smoothly again, despite a hundred year storm that flooded the newly poured foundation with about four feet of water.
In 2001, the airline industry started to reach one of its low cycles again and my boss of five years was let go, along with a number of other very good people. After September 11, further cuts were looming and I starting looking for a new position. I was recruited by a division of the maintenance organization and accepted the position of Manager, Line Maintenance Automation. I quickly learned several free development tools (Apache, PHP and MySQL) and began developing low-cost, dynamic Web sites.
My projects included a real-time aircraft maintenance reporting system, on-line video training for mechanics, an on-line parts tracking system for the Pacific, reporting of inoperable equipment by aircraft, fuel on board reporting, on-line manual access and an aircraft damage reporting system. I also developed a new project tracking system so that all stakeholders could monitor progress of their projects from any web browser. Despite the favorable reaction to all of these projects, the desire to cut costs finally caught up to me in August 2002, and my nearly eleven-year career with Northwest Airlines came to an end.
My post-Northwest years began by taking my old company, Golden Links Publishing, and renaming it 7 Minute Miles, Inc. I began technology consulting with several clients and was offered a full-time position with one of them in the summer of 2003. I joined Studio 4 Enterprises in St. Paul as Managing Director/Technology Specialist, responsible primarily for the day-to-day technology operations of a small charter school called the High School for Recording Arts (HSRA).
I designed a new web-based student management information system for HSRA that continues to evolve with new functionality each year. With grant funding, I helped HSRA obtain and install new technology infrastructure, including a modern phone system, wiring upgrades, improved internet access and additional servers for mail and internet services.
In late 2004, Studio 4 focused on expanding their services beyond HSRA. A major investment in server hardware was made in early 2005 and placed in a data center in Seattle. I hired two employees to work for me and my title changed to Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Studio 4. We signed a contract in 2007 with a charter school in Los Angeles that became HSRA LA and I traveled about once a month to California.
Things started to change at work in 2008: my two employees left for other jobs, the school in California didn’t work out as planned and I decided it was time to leave HSRA at the end of the 2008-09 school year to try something new.
On August 28, 2009, I started a new company called 7 Minute Miles, LLC, that specialized in web publishing and technology consulting. After about a month, I met Charles Edge of 318, Inc. at an Apple Consultants Network meeting and decided to join his firm as a technology consultant. While working for 318, I assisted clients from across the country and traveled often, visiting California, Colorado, Arizona, Nebraska, Michigan and Wisconsin. These projects included server installations, system imaging, mass deployments, web server administration and remote systems support.
After six months, an opportunity arose in northern Minnesota that was too good to pass up. Fortune Bay Resort Casino on beautiful Lake Vermilion had an opening for an IT director. I applied, interviewed and was offered the job the next day. My new gaming career officially began on July 12, 2010. I did one last job for 318 in Arizona that summer before starting full time at Fortune Bay.
Learning the casino and hospitality world was fascinating. The resort had 173 hotel rooms, a marina, RV park, pool, arcade, buffet, steakhouse, deli, Tim Hortons Cafe & Bake Shop and one of the best golf courses in the country. The Bois Forte tribe has a development corporation that owns several other businesses in addition to the resort, including a radio station in Ely (WELY) and convenience stores in Tower and Nett Lake. The casino had ten blackjack tables, a poker room and approximately 777 slot machines.
Managing the IT department in this organization was a great learning experience. Several of the larger systems used were unique to the industry (Oasis), while others were common among hotels (Opera) and restaurants (Micros). When I first arrived, bandwidth and power reliability were major concerns. While the latter is still a concern, there are now high-speed fiber lines to that remote location that have improved things drastically. I built another private intranet to capture organizational knowledge and amassed a huge library of scanned marketing materials from properties in Minnesota and other jurisdictions in the United States.
Visiting and studying other casino resorts was one of my favorite learning exercises. I loved seeing how different properties compared, what games they chose, how they lay out their casino floor, what promotions they use to attract players and what other amenities they offer guests. I was also been lucky enough to attend many different industry trade events, including the Global Gaming Expo (G2E), the Indian Gaming Tradeshow (NIGA), iGaming North America and user conferences for Oasis and Micros. Some of these events move around, so I was able to visit new casinos in Nevada, California and Arizona (in addition to Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin).
Since Fortune Bay was a mid-size property, I was able to assist with many non-IT areas that I also found very rewarding, including live concert production, marketing, restaurant operations and the many different aspects of running a top 100 golf course. With my finance and business background, I also liked looking at slot analysis, budgeting and strategic planning. In addition, I served on the Technology Advisory Council at Hibbing Community College as a way to help with recruiting in a challenging job market.
While I loved working at the resort, I spent way too many hours on the road commuting back and forth between Lake Vermilion and the Twin Cities (where the rest of the family stayed). It was a three and a half hour drive (in good weather) and I usually left early on Monday mornings and returned late on Thursday nights. I stayed at many different places during my five-plus years in the Northland: the hotel, a house owned by the resort, a rented house at the other end of the lake and at a friend’s cabin on Birch Point. I missed the family during the week and it was time to return home. My last day at Fortune Bay was October 28, 2015.
The next chapter will unfold shortly – stay tuned…
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