The Final Inductees represent a wide range of generations and impact. All were selected because of their stature in their era and their accomplishments.

These amazing women represent the entire state of Minnesota, more than 150 years of Minnesota history, and amazing contributions to our State’s economic success.

The following 25 women are the Inaugural Inductees into the Minnesota Women Business Owners Hall of Fame:

Sharon Avent

Sharon started working in her parents’ office-supply plant, Smead Manufacturing Company, in Hastings in 1965, at the age of 19. She began learning the business from the ground up and her responsibilities grew over the years. Working in many areas of the company built her knowledge and confidence. Sharon’s mettle was tested in 1986, when her brother, John Peter, died suddenly. Her mother, Ebba Hoffman, took half a year away from her work as the CEO of Smead to grieve. Sharon had to fill in. In 1998, Ebba officially handed over the title of CEO and president to Sharon.

Sharon’s ongoing innovations have continued to expand opportunities for Smead. Her consistent focus on the long-term has allowed her to manage the difficulties of a changing economy effectively. Today, she is the sole owner of this 100-plus year-old company that continues to be identified as one of the largest woman-owned manufacturers in the United States. Smead’s more than 2,000 filing and organizing products are sold in the U.S. and Canada by thousands of independent office products dealers, as well as by larger retailers like Office Depot, Staples, Office Max and Amazon. The majority of Smead products are manufactured in plants across the United States, including Minnesota, Georgia, Utah, South Carolina and Ohio.

In 2006, Sharon was named the Minnesota Women Business Owner of the Year by NAWBO-MN and she received the Career Achievement Award from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal. She received the 2011 Entrepreneurial Woman of the Year Award from the Women’s Business Development Center. Sharon has extensive civic involvement. She has served on the board of directors for Regina Hospital in Hastings, the Minnesota Historical Society and the Hastings School Foundation. Sharon has also been active in raising money for cancer research.

Constance L. Bakken

Connie graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Medical Technology and worked for six years in the laboratory of Abbott Northwestern Hospital. After marrying, she became a full-time mother to her four children. Connie’s career as an entrepreneur began at the age of 56 when she bought Citizens Independent Bank in St. Louis Park in 1980 on the advice of her divorce lawyer. He said she would need something to keep her busy after her divorce.


Connie grew the business assets of the Citizens Independent Bank from $44 million to over $300 million with four branches. In 1994, Connie received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Minnesota Chapter of NAWBO. For many years, from the late 1990’s through the early 2000’s, Connie was listed each year among the Top 25 Women Business Owners by City Business (now the Business Journal newspaper). By 2006, Connie’s bank was identified as the largest woman-owned bank in Minnesota. She was named one of eleven “Distinguished Women in Banking” by Northwestern Financial Review in1990 and has been honored with the Career Achievement Award from Women in Business.


Connie has been a member of several banking associations, as well as the National Association of Women Business Owners. She was also a member of Rotary. Connie has served as a director of Youth Encounter Foundation, the Foundation HealthSystem Minnesota and the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce. She has served on the board of directors of Presbyterian Homes Minnesota, Minnesota Bankers Association/MAIB, Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis and she was a trustee at Hamline University. Connie is a supporter of many community programs and non-profit organizations. She also advocates for women’s education and athletics in Minnesota.

LouAnne Berg

At age 20, LouAnne was a single mom on welfare with little education after high school. After working for a large company, she wanted a job where she could stay at home with her children. So in 1977, while pregnant with her second child, LouAnne and her husband started a steel erection business. They divorced in 1996, but under LouAnne’s sole ownership – a rarity for women at that time – J&L Steel & Electrical Services kept growing, and today it has close to $17 million in sales and nearly 110 employees.


For more than 30 years, LouAnne and her team have been installing reinforcing steel for highway and commercial construction projects. J&L has contributed to building projects such as the Mall of America and the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis. LouAnne’s firm has worked on more than 28 bridges including the new I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge in Minneapolis, that replaced the I-35W bridge that collapsed into the Mississippi River. In 2008 she expanded into electrical services and she is a founding partner of Ascent Companies – a commercial construction, real estate and development company.


LouAnne is a two-time past president and founding member of the Association of Women Contractors, which supports women-owned businesses in the construction industry. LouAnne is the second woman ever to serve on the board of the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota, and she has also served as a member of the University of St. Catherine’s Entrepreneurial Roundtable. LouAnne was named the 2005 Minnesota Woman Business Owner of the Year by NAWBO-MN. Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal named her a Top 25 Women Business Owner in 2008 and one of 25 Women Industry Leaders the following year. LouAnne was a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in Upper Midwest Region in 2010.

Jill Blashack Strahan

Jill started her first business, Care With Flair Gifts & Gift Baskets in 1989, when she was 30 years old. Wanting a more flexible schedule to spend time with her son, she began Tastefully Simple in a 1,200-square-foot shed with a concrete floor and no running water. To fuel her growth, in 1995 she invested her personal savings in the business, along with an investment from her founding partner, Joani Nielson, and a $20,000 Small Business Administration loan.


In 1998 her revenues reached the $1 million mark, but that same year, both Jill’s husband and brother died. In those dark times, she devoted her energies to raising her son and growing her company. Tastefully Simple, Inc. topped the $100 million dollar in sales mark in 2006. Today, the Alexandria-based business has over 350 team members working at their nearly 180,000-square-foot headquarters. They also have nearly 30,000 sales consultants located in all fifty states. With revenues of over $120 million, the company offers 60 food products, plus a number of gifts, collections and hard goods.


Jill is one of Minnesota’s most highly-honored entrepreneurs. She has appeared as the Number 2 ranked company on Fast Company magazine’s Top 25 Women Business Builders’ list and in 2000 was the Ernst & Young Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year for Minnesota and the Dakotas. In 2003, she earned a finalist spot for the national Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. She earned a Minnesota Entrepreneurial Success Award from the U. S. Small Business Administration in 2004. Jill was inducted into the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame in 2006. She was named the Entrepreneur of the Year by Minnesota Entrepreneurs in 2007. Twin Cities Business called Jill one of the “200 Minnesotans You Should Know” in 2010.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson

As the daughter of legendary Minnesota entrepreneur Curt Carlson, Marilyn didn’t envision herself in a corner office. Upon graduating from college in 1961, she worked as a securities analyst at Paine Webber where the firm asked her to sign correspondence as “M. C. Nelson,” to mask her gender. After volunteering in many community leadership roles over the years, she found herself at a turning point when her daughter Juliet died. Marilyn then began working in the family business in 1986 at the age of 47. Just over a decade later, she was named the company’s CEO and she assumed the role of chairman in 1999. Marilyn stepped down from this role in 2013.


With operations in over 150 countries, more than 170,000 people work under the Carlson brands worldwide. Marilyn guided the expansion of this global travel and hospitality enterprise, which is one of the largest private companies in the country, to a peak of combined system-wide sales of nearly $40 billion in 2007. Marilyn has appeared on Forbes magazine’s list as one of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” and she was named one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News and World Report. Marilyn has co-chaired the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. She has served on several boards, including ExxonMobil and the Mayo Foundation. In 2002, she was appointed by President George W. Bush to chair the National Women’s Business Council.


Marilyn has received numerous awards including being named Entrepreneur of the Decade by the Women Presidents’ Organization and receiving the WomenVenture Lifetime Achievement Award. Marilyn was inducted into the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest Business Hall of Fame in 2008.

Judi Devin

Judi’s entrepreneurial interest started at age 12 when she sold over 500 boxes of Girl Scout cookies in one week, on her own with no parental help, and set a local sales record. After working in New York and doing a stint as the first woman manager in a new start-up division at Control Data Corporation, Judi founded Medium Well Done in 1979 at the age of 33. She was the first woman in the Twin Cities to have an entrepreneurial business in this media industry sector without a male partner. This was the first of the three businesses she started. Judi is at the forefront of combining technology with educational media methods and she has earned Master Teacher and Thought-Leader status. She has earned a reputation and trust level with clients including Neiman Marcus, 3M, Pfizer, General Mills, Walt Disney Co., the Motion Picture Academy (The Oscars), as well as the Super Bowl. One of her entertainment clients recently entrusted her to manage a $32 million, multi-year project.


Judi was the president of Minnesota NAWBO in 1986 and served as a national officer for National NAWBO where she helped dramatically grow the organization. She was recognized by the U.S. Small Business Administration and National NAWBO for helping ensure the passage of the Women’s Business Ownership Act by Congress (H.R. 5050) in 1988 that gave women entrepreneurs statistical recognition and eliminated discriminatory state lending practices by banks that had required a male relative’s signature on a business loan.


Judi was a finalist for Minnesota Entrepreneur of the Year and was named a Marvelous Minnesotan by the Governor in 1987. In 2011, she was conferred a Distinguished Alumni Award by the University of Minnesota for her lifetime of contributions to education, business entrepreneurship, and community through her leadership.

Dorothy Dolphin

Born in a small town west of Des Moines, with dreams of becoming an actress, Dorothy was studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, when she came to Minneapolis to visit a friend. Here she met a banker named Bill Dolphin and they married. Dorothy then assumed the traditional role as wife and mother. In 1960, Bill died suddenly and the 28-year old widow was left with three small children and no insurance. To support her family, Dorothy went to work selling jewelry, radio ads and Tupperware before landing a job at Employers Overload selling temporary-help services.


In 1969, Dorothy found out she was doing the same work as the men in the company for half the pay. Taking $1,500 from her savings, she launched Dolphin Temporary and Permanent Staffing with a used desk, a single phone, and a two-line classified ad in the Minneapolis Tribune. By 2001, Dolphin Staffing was Minnesota’s largest independently owned employment service company providing quality clerical, legal, medical and technical temporary employees to numerous Fortune 500 corporations. Over the years, Dorothy expanded from staffing into banking and hospitality businesses. The three divisions of Dolphin Group Companies operated businesses in 35 locations including Germany and generated more than $75 million in revenue with 7,500 employees and independent contractors. Dorothy also expanded the 21st Century Banks group to assets of $400 million.


In 1993, Dorothy received the John F. Cade Entrepreneurial Award from the University of St. Thomas. She received the Woman of Distinction Award in 1994 from Minneapolis-St. Paul magazine. She also appeared on the cover of Corporate Report magazine. She was inducted into the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame in 2001. Dorothy died in 2007 at the age of 87.

Kay Fredericks

After graduating from St. Cloud State University in 1965, Kay taught kindergarten in a White Bear Lake elementary school. She could not find the displays she wanted to create a visually stimulating classroom environment so she designed and made her own. These products were unique, unlike anything that existed in American classrooms at that time. They sparked the interest of other teachers and Kay began making materials for others to use. In 1967, at the age of 24, Kay put her teaching career on hold, took $700 from her savings, built a homemade silk screen press, borrowed a basement, and launched the business with a co-founder. Today Kay still serves as president and CEO of TREND enterprises, Inc. She has built an empire that has 300 employees and operates out of two locations selling 3,200 proprietary products. Over the years, Kay’s products have been sold in 56 countries around the world.


Kay has served on the board of directors of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Northeast Bank, and was the Chair of the Board of Trustees of Hamline University. She was appointed to serve on the Advisory Council on Small Business, Agriculture and Labor for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Kay also served on the Governor’s Council on Entrepreneurship and Innovation.


In 1991, Kay was named the Minnesota Woman Business Owner of the Year by NAWBO-MN and in 1997 received the chapter’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2002 she received the Women in Business Award from the Minnesota Business Journal. She has been recognized with major service awards from Educational Dealers Magazine and the National School Supply and Equipment Association. Kay also has been honored by the Northern Star Council of the Boy Scouts of America for her leadership and philanthropy.

Ebba Hoffman

Born before women had the right to vote, and in a home with no electricity, Ebba had little formal education. During World War II, she worked as a supervisor in the department that made gun prisms for Honeywell. By 1944, she had married, and Ebba was firmly entrenched in her role as a housewife with no dealings in her husband’s Hastings-based business, Smead. When her husband Harold died suddenly in 1955, the newly widowed homemaker, with two young children and an eighth-grade education, suddenly found herself at the helm of this debt-burdened office products company. Smead’s future was unexpectedly very much in doubt.


As a single mother running a complex business, over the next 43 years, the decisive and savvy Ebba steered Smead Manufacturing Company out of the crippling financial situation, through the era’s gender biases, past competitors, and into a position as one of Minnesota’s greatest, and quietest, success stories. Amid all the executive decision making and company development, Ebba also managed to raise a family and deal with the grief of the unexpected death of her son, John Peter. Ebba was a self-taught, confident business person who was literally thrown into the CEO role at a time when women were not often seen in companies in roles other than as secretaries, and were certainly not seen in the corner office.


Over the course of her leadership, Smead grew from roughly $4 million to over $300 million in sales when she passed it on to her daughter, Sharon Avent. The company had more than 2,000 employees nationwide and a reputation as an office-products powerhouse. Ebba died in 1999 at the age of 87. She was posthumously inducted into the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame in 2000.

Jill J. Johnson

Jill was 8 years old when she started working in her family’s auto body repair shop. After completing her MBA and working in the management consulting division of one of the world’s largest CPA firms, Jill fulfilled her dream of establishing her own business. Today Jill is president and founder of Johnson Consulting Services, a leading management consulting firm based in Minneapolis that specializes in strategy development. An award-winning consultant since 1982, Jill has personally impacted over $3 billion worth of business decisions for clients in 21 states, as well as in Europe and Asia.


Jill was president of NAWBO-MN in 1990 and served for three years on the National NAWBO board of directors. Jill was elected as a Minnesota delegate to the 1995 White House Conference on Small Business. She has been on the board of directors of many organizations including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce. Jill is currently serving on her second federal board for the U.S. Small Business Administration. She is also chair of the Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development’s State Small Business Development Center Advisory Board.


At age 29, Jill was named Minnesota’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Jill was honored as National NAWBO’s National Women’s Business Advocate of the Year in 1993. She was named the National Woman Business Owner Advocate of the Year in 1994 by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Jill is one few people nationwide to have ever received this dual honor from the SBA. She is the only Minnesota woman to have ever earned either of these national awards. The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal named Jill one of 25 Women Industry Leaders in 2010.  She has twice been honored by Finance and Commerce as One of the Top Women in Finance in 2011 and 2013.

Marlene Johnson

In 1970, at the age of 24, Marlene and a business partner started an advertising and public relations firm known as Split Infinitive, Inc. in St. Paul. After the partnership ended, Marlene focused on meeting the needs of privately held community banks, non-profits and small businesses. Major accounts included Western State Bank, Minneapolis YWCA and several state agencies. Her firm grew to 10 employees and by 1982 Marlene was a member of the exclusive Committee of 200, an invitation only membership organization of the world’s most successful women entrepreneurs and corporate leaders.


Marlene was one of the co-founders of NAWBO in Minnesota, the nation’s first chapter. She served as the first president of the Minnesota chapter from 1977 to 1981 and went on to serve as the National NAWBO president from 1981-1982. Marlene is the only Minnesota woman to ever serve in that capacity. She was co-chair of the Minnesota delegation to the 1980 White House Conference on Small Business. In 1980, she was named one of 10 Outstanding Young Minnesotans by the Minnesota Jaycees. Marlene served on the boards of the Landmark Center, Spring Hill Center and the Minnesota Outward Bound School.


Marlene left life as an entrepreneur when she was tapped to run for public office. In 1983 she was sworn in as the first female Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota and she held this elected position until 1991. In 1994, Marlene became the associate administrator of the General Services Administration. She currently serves as CEO of NAFSA, a Washington, DC-based organization involved in the field of international education in higher education, with a staff of 85 and an annual budget of $14 million. Marlene serves on the Board of the Advisory Council of the U.S.-China Education Trust and the Senior Advisory Council of Business for Diplomatic Action.

Barb King

Barb, a food science graduate from Iowa State University, and her husband, Steve King, quit jobs to start building playground equipment for parks and schools from their garage in 1971. Under Barb’s leadership, Landscape Structures, Inc. grew into a leading innovator in the playground industry. They produced more than 1,200 products sold throughout the world in their 350,000-plus square foot manufacturing and distribution plant. At the time of Barb’s death in 2008, Landscape Structures was one of Minnesota’s largest woman-owned businesses with more than $100 million in revenue and more than 300 employees. She was 62 years old.


Barb served on the boards of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., the Landscape Architecture Foundation, the Minnesota chapter of NAWBO and the National Recreation and Park Association Board of Trustees. Barb founded the Säjai Foundation to promote healthy lifestyles. Barb was awarded membership into the highly exclusive Committee of 200 (C-200), an invitation only membership organization of the world’s most successful women entrepreneurs and corporate leaders. From 1997-1999, Barb also served as the president of NAWBO-MN.


In 1994, Barb received the Minnesota Small Business Person of the Year award from the U.S. Small Business Administration and was named the Small Business Person of the Year for its six-state Midwest region. In 2000, Barb was named the Minnesota Woman Business Owner of the Year by NAWBO-MN. She was awarded the Blue Chip Enterprise runner-up honors. Barb and Steve were named Minnesota’s Entrepreneurs of the Year by Ernst and Young, Inc. magazine and the law firm of Gray Plant Mooty; they were also recognized with a national honorable mention in the manufacturing category. Barb was inducted into the National Institute of Entrepreneurs and as an honorary member of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Lorelei Kraft

With no formal business training and as a single mom, Lorelei became a serial entrepreneur of two rural businesses which both achieved multi-million dollar revenues. Lorelei started Candle Enterprises in 1970. What began as a hobby became a million-dollar business, selling its products internationally to 6,000 stores and to such retail giants as Walt Disney, Coldwater Creek, and JC Penney. Lorelei also founded the award-winning Village of the Smoky Hills in Osage. Built from scratch in an astounding five weeks and five days in 1984, it had 100,000 visitors in its first season. The Village was created to help combat the more than 20% unemployment in her northwestern region of Minnesota by creating employment, a market for quality crafts, and a regional tourist draw. Lorelei’s businesses impacted her rural region with $53 million in revenues, 600 employees, and a half million visitors.


Lorelei has served on the Board of Directors of the North Country Museum of Arts, the Board of the Nemeth Art Center, and was appointed twice to the Minnesota State Tourism Advisory Council. Lorelei was active in lobbying for small business, including being elected as a delegate to the White House Conference on Small Business. She is a passionate advocate for women’s equality in the workplace and society. She has been featured in numerous national magazines and is a #1 best-selling author and popular speaker on leadership and innovation.


The Village received the Governor’s Award for Regional Economic Development in 1984, and the Travel Marketing Award two years in a row. In 1985, Lorelei was named the Minnesota Woman Business Owner of the Year by NAWBO-MN, the only rural woman to ever receive this award. She was the recipient of the Governor’s Entrepreneurship Award in 1988 and the Minnesota National Association of Women Business Owners Vision Award in 2011.

Peggy Lauritsen

Peggy was inspired by all that she saw growing up on an entrepreneurial family farm. A love of nature and four years of fine art study cultivated her appreciation for design. She started Peggy Lauritsen Design Group as a freelance artist in 1980, at the age of 25. Today her company, now known as PLDG, is one of Minnesota’s most highly regarded branding and design firms with revenues of $3 million and 17 full-time and contract employees. Over the past 33 years, her firm has built an impressive and diverse client list that includes Fortune 500 companies, nonprofit organizations, public institutions and small businesses. PLDG’s prestigious client roster includes some of Minnesota’s most widely known companies including Ecolab, Medtronic, Thrivent, United Healthcare, Optum Health, the Jeremiah Program and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.


Peggy was instrumental in developing and executing the public relations strategy that the Minnesota chapter of NAWBO implemented in the early 1990’s that propelled the organization, and its women entrepreneurs, into the mainstream of the Minnesota business media. She was a NAWBO board member for seven years and served as president of NAWBO-MN from 1995 to 1997. Peggy also served on the Advisory Board for the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development’s Statewide Women-Owned Business Study.


Peggy’s firm has received numerous awards for their work, locally, nationally and internationally. In 1991, the Minnesota Chapter of NAWBO named Peggy their Woman Business Owner Advocate of the Year. She received the Minnesota Women in Business Advocate of the Year award in 1997 from the U.S. Small Business Administration. NAWBO-MN named Peggy the Minnesota Women Business Owner of the Year in 2001 and then awarded her with their Lifetime Achievement award in 2006.

Susan McCloskey

Founded in 1991 when Sue was 46 years old, Office Plan began as a refurbisher of modular office systems and morphed into a full service office furniture dealer offering interior design, move management, installation, as well as new and used furniture. Environmental responsibility was one of her firm’s top priorities and Sue was a pioneer in the recycling movement. Under Sue’s leadership, the company generated nearly $9 million in revenue and had almost 50 employees in the 1990s. Major clients for the firm included Patterson Dental, University of Minnesota, CP Rail and Digital River. Sue was named the Minnesota Small Businessperson of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration in 1998.


Since selling Office Plan in 2001, Sue has been extremely active in giving back to the small business community. She was a founder of the International Institute of Women Entrepreneurs at the University of St. Catherine. Her advocacy efforts on behalf of women entrepreneurs also resulted in Sue being selected as the Minnesota Women in Business Champion in 2006 by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Sue has also been active in the St. Paul SCORE chapter serving as both a counselor to a variety of businesses, as well as a popular speaker appearing at the Going into Business workshops. Her leadership expertise was recognized and Sue became the Chair of her SCORE Chapter in 2012.


Sue has served on the as chair and member of the board of directors of the Office Furniture Recyclers Forum and she was chair and a board member of Minnesota Waste Wise, a nonprofit affiliate of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. In 1998, the Kauffman Foundation selected her as their Outstanding FasTrac Graduate. Sue’s firm was honored by Minnesota ARC as their Employer of the Year in 1999. She was also the recipient of the Derham Hall Alumnae Associate Carondelot Award in 2006.

Miranda Moss

Born in Washington, D.C., Miranda has always embraced change and innovation. At the age of 25, while working in the Dayton’s advertising department, Miranda started freelancing on the side as an artist/designer from her home-based studio. When she was 39 years old, her first business partner told her one day in 1979 that they were going to start a business and expand what she was doing at home. They added an additional partner, Hideki Yamamoto, who eventually became Miranda’s husband. When her original partner, who was the rainmaker, left the business, Miranda had to reinvent her company again. She retrenched and learned how to sell.


At its peak, Yamamoto Moss generated $12 million dollars in design fees (the equivalent to $120 million in an advertising agency) and 100 employees. For several years her firm was identified as one of the fastest growing companies in Minnesota. Her company occupied three buildings in the Minneapolis warehouse district. Yamamoto Moss, Inc. offered a full range of services: research and analysis, branding, communications design, interactive design, exhibition design and packaging. Miranda developed an innovative approach to expand the firm’s reach to develop global alliance partnerships with design firms in London, Tokyo, Singapore and China to service client needs in international communications. Major clients included 3M, Pillsbury, Royal Caribbean International, Allina, American Express, United Healthcare, General Mills, Northwest Airlines and Marshall Fields.


Miranda won the Minnesota Woman Business Owner of the Year award from NAWBO-MN in 1996. By the time she sold her company in 2007, Miranda had earned a nearly 30-year reputation as a world-class graphic designer. She had earned design awards from Print magazine, Design USA, Graphis, the One show, as well as an environmental design award from the city of Minneapolis.

Carolyn Olson

In the 1960s, Carolyn devoted herself to raising four children and being a volunteer. But when she started working part-time, she found she was a natural in the people-centered market research industry. After working in the business for nearly 20 years, she decided to leave the employment of an industry giant in 1984 to start her own company, CJOlson Market Research, Inc., at the age of 50.


Carolyn’s company had many international client engagements that took her around the world to conduct projects in Norway, as well as in London, Paris, Frankfurt, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. Her client list included General Mills, Ecolab, Fingerhut and Pizza Hut. The Minnesota Department of Transportation was also a major client for CJOlson. Her firm conducted the initial quantitative research needed for decisions regarding Light Rail in the Twin Cities. Carolyn’s firm also conducted intercept interviews at the Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport to gather critical data that was used in the decision making process for the development of the shopping and eating areas of the airport. Revenues for her professional service firm topped one million dollars. Carolyn successfully operated her company until she sold it in 2004.


Carolyn donated her professional services to National NAWBO and the National Women Business Owners Foundation in 1992 to complete a national market research study. This survey provided the national organization with a credible report and verifiable information to use with its corporate partners and the media to explain the growth of women’s business ownership and its economic impact on our nation. As a result of her work on this national study and her long-time advocacy for women business owners, Carolyn received the Minnesota NAWBO Lifetime Achievement Award winner in 2001. 

Elizabeth C. Quinlan

Born during the Civil War, and with schooling that ended by the 6th or 8th grade, Elizabeth C. Quinlan grew into one of the nation’s most successful businesswomen of the early 20th century. Elizabeth was just 10 years old when she started working in her family’s confectionary and notions shop.


In 1894, Fred Young and Elizabeth, who had worked together as clerks at a local dry goods store, used a $10,000 stake to open the Young-Quinlan Store to sell ready-to-wear garments for women. It was the first store of its kind west of the Mississippi. Fred’s involvement was essential in allowing Elizabeth to open her business dream. In the 1890s women were unable to get a bank loan and there were legal issues impacting the ability of women to own property. The store experienced a devastating fire in 1911 and Fred died later that year. Elizabeth rebounded and bought his stock from his relatives, thus making her the sole owner and one of few women business owners in Minnesota.


A legend in the world of ladies’ fashion, Elizabeth ran a multi-million dollar enterprise by the 1920’s. She built the elegant Young-Quinlan Building in downtown Minneapolis that became the template for the Neiman-Marcus expansion in Dallas. Elizabeth supported charities and cultural groups. In 1933, she was the only woman to serve on the board of the National Recovery Act. In the mid-1930s, Fortune magazine called her “The Foremost Woman Specialty Executive in America” and Time magazine identified her as “one of the most distinguished business women in the United States.” She ran the company until it was sold in 1945. Elizabeth died in 1947 at the age of 84. She left half of her estate to establish the Elizabeth C. Quinlan Foundation, which continues to operate to this day.

Belva Rasmussen

Belva hails from the Caribbean island of Aruba, where her father, grandfather and great-grandfather were bankers. Her father exposed Belva to the banking industry at a young age and her first job was working summers at the Caribbean Mercantile Bank while she was a teenager. Not surprisingly, she married a banker, Walter Rasmussen, who owned Northeast Bank in Minneapolis.


Belva went onto the Northeast Bank board of directors in 1986. However, her banking heritage was put to the ultimate test when she took over as CEO and chairwoman of the bank in 1991 after Walter suffered a stroke and later died. Under her command, Northeast Bank’s assets grew from $95 million in 1990 to reach $400 million. She built the bank into three operating locations in Minnesota: Minneapolis, Columbia Heights, and Coon Rapids. In 1997, the Rasmussen family also owned Odyssey Travel.


Belva is one of the few female banking heads in the state and is a legend in the banking and financial services industry. In 2000, Northeast Bank was recognized with the Organization of the Year Award by Financial Women International for its support of women in the financial services industry. Belva was named one of the Top 25 “Heavy Hitters in Banking & Finance” in 2002. That same year, she was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Minnesota NAWBO Chapter. She has received numerous honors including the Independent Community Bankers of America Grand National Community Bank Service Award, the Spirit of Chrysalis Award, the Finance & Commerce Twin Cities Top Women Finance Award and the Financial Women International Corporation of the Year. Under Belva’s leadership in community giving, Northeast Bank received the prestigious National Jefferson Award in November of 2012.

Ann Rockler Jackson

When she was 8 years old, Ann opened up envelopes for catalog requests and helped package products for shipping for her father’s woodworking catalog company. At the age of 19, Ann left college in 1969 to join his business full-time. She was promoted to president in 1974 and helped transform the firm with under $1 million in sales and no retail stores into a company with a vast world-wide reach. Ann later completed her college degree in 1981 and is currently working on two masters degrees.


Ann’s commitment to her customers has been at the core of her success. Her focus on growth stayed constant despite the unexpected death of Gary Rockler, her brother and business partner, in 1987. Today Rockler Companies, Inc., based in Medina, has grown from 8 employees to 470 employees, with an extensive e-commerce site. Under Ann’s leadership, it has expanded to 29 retail stores, and a global distribution offering 20,000 products to meet the needs of hobbyist and professional woodworkers. The company has more than $100 million in sales and distributes several million catalogs each year.


Ann has been a longtime member of NAWBO. She is currently a member of the Committee of 200 (C-200) and Young Presidents Organization/World Presidents Organization — both invitation only membership organizations of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and corporate leaders. Ann currently serves on the board of DRG, Inc., and has served on the boards of directors of Park Nicollet Health Services and the Greater Twin Cities United Way. She also served for twenty years on the Undergraduate Advisory Board of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. Ann is also a member of the Midwest Direct Marketing Association. In 1996, this organization awarded Ann the William H. Holes Long Term Achievement Award for distinguished service, dedication and outstanding contribution to the direct marketing industry. In 1994, Ann was named the Minnesota Woman Business Owner of the Year by NAWBO-MN and she received the chapter’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004. She was also a runner-up for the Ernst and Young — Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Susan Sands

Educated as a social worker, Susan founded Colby, Sands & Associates at the age of 28 with a business partner to counsel companies on team building and ending sex-role stereotyping. In 1979, Sands started S&B Properties after restoring a deteriorated building she and her husband had purchased. She has since helped numerous non-profit and community-based groups meet their real estate needs. She was instrumental in developing the Women’s Building in St. Paul and the Building for Women in Duluth. Susan has been involved in at least 25 building projects that have an estimated construction value of nearly $60 million.


Susan is widely known for her work on economic equality for women. Considered one of the Founding Mothers who established NAWBO in Minnesota in 1977, Susan’s vision in starting the nation’s first NAWBO chapter has evolved into a legacy that has transformed the perceptions of women business owners in this state. Susan is a change agent in everything she does – whether helping women learn about accounting during the early NAWBO years or persuading the Pioneer Press in 1973 not to identify her in an article only as Mrs. William Sands.


Susan served on the National NAWBO Board of Directors in 1990. She served on the boards of directors of many organizations and has chaired the boards of the James J. Hill Reference Library, the Jeremiah Program, District Energy St. Paul and the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches. She has served on the boards of Western Bank and the F.R. Bigelow Foundation. Susan received the YWCA St. Paul’s Outstanding Achievement Award for leadership in Business in 1984. In 1996, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Minnesota Chapter of NAWBO. Susan received the Carlson School’s Outstanding Achievement Award from the University of Minnesota in 2010.

Gae Veit

After working for years as an office manager in her former in-laws’ small construction companies, Gae gained nearly 20 years of experience before starting her own company. Using a $1,000 investment, Gae founded the Loretto-based Shingobee Builders, Inc. in 1980 at the age of 38 because she saw an opportunity for women in the male-dominated construction field. A member of the Crow Creek band of Sioux Indians, Gae named her company Shingobee, after the Sioux word for “beautiful evergreen tree.” Some of the major of clients of Gae’s commercial and industrial construction firm included Qwest, McDonald’s Target, US West, Northern States Power Co., the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Tribe and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Revenues peaked at nearly $70 million and she had over 110 employees. Gae sold the business in 2007.

Gae was a co-founder of the Minnesota American Indian Chamber of Commerce, served as a member of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council and has been an active mentor to several minority business owners. She also served as a board member of the Metropolitan Economic Development Association.


Gae was selected as the 1990 Minnesota Entrepreneur of the Year in the construction/real estate division, and she was named the Midwest region’s Small Business Person of the Year for 1990 by the U.S. Small Business Administration. In 1991, President George Bush honored her at the White House with the National Female Entrepreneur of the Year award. Gae was a recipient of the 2000 National Excellence in Construction Award from Associated Builders and Contractors, and the same year, she received the 2000 Glass Ceiling Award from Minnesota Women’s Consortium. In 2003, the U.S. Small Business Administration named Gae the Entrepreneurial Success Award winner for the Midwest Region.

Geraldine Vogt

In 1973, at the age of 28, Gerry was a stay-at-home-mom who took a simple family recipe for potato salad and founded Mrs. Gerry’s Kitchen, Inc. in Albert Lea when her husband needed salads on his Schweigert truck to sell to stores on his meat route. When two major grocery warehouse chains called the same week and said, “We need your salads, and we need them now,” Gerry knew she was ready to expand, but there were very few women working in manufacturing in the 1970’s. Gerry’s company has grown from three products to today producing 119 Mrs. Gerry’s Brand products and 31 private labeled products. Her company produces 27 million pounds of food each year in her 122,000 square foot production facility. With revenues of over $40 million, Mrs. Gerry’s has 175 regular and seasonal employees. The company’s distribution network includes a 17-state area, utilizing a direct sales force and broker network, with products being sold to clients including industry giants SuperValu, Nash Finch and Sysco.


In 1988, Gerry became the first woman to serve as the chair of the board of directors for the Albert Lea – Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce. She chaired the Foundation board at Riverland Community College and the United Way of Freeborn County. Gerry also served on the Minnesota Advisory Council of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the board of directors of First Bank – Albert Lea and the Naeve Hospital Board.


Gerry received a Special Recognition Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration in 1988. She was a finalist in the 1992 Entrepreneur of the Year competition sponsored by Ernst & Young, Inc. magazine and Merrill Lynch. In 2011, Mrs. Gerry’s Kitchen was a finalist at the Minnesota Family Business Awards hosted by Twin Cities Business Magazine.

Reiko Weston

After starving in Japan after the end of WWII – her father had been an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy and there was no work available to him to support his family – Reiko immigrated to Minnesota as a GI bride after she met and married a Minneapolitan. She began studying mathematics at the University of Minnesota. Her parents followed her to America and needed something to do to keep busy. In 1959, Reiko opened a very small Japanese restaurant in downtown Minneapolis and called it FujiYa, which translated means, “second to none.” Initially Reiko’s parents operated the restaurant. However, as it became overwhelming for them, she took over its management and dropped out of school.


Reiko dreamed for years of creating a restaurant near running water, a proper setting for a traditional Japanese restaurant. In 1968 she achieved her dream when she moved FujiYa into a location that had wonderful views of the Mississippi River, the lock, and famed Stone Arch Bridge. Her success was transcendent and by 1978, revenues for FujiYa reached the $1 million mark. Reiko continued to expand her business to multiple locations and launched the state’s first sushi bar. By 1982, her restaurant empire employed more than 100 people and had revenues of nearly $3 million.


Reiko Weston wasn’t just a pioneering minority businesswoman in a time where race and gender stacked the deck against her from the start. She was also a visionary who saw the appeal of the Mississippi riverfront when the rest of the city had turned its back on the area. In 1979, Reiko was named Minnesota’s Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Reiko died in 1988 at the age of 59.