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Transitioning from public to private sectors

Moving from a high-profile position in the state legislature to the private industry has been quite the journey for Margaret Anderson-Kelliher. She says the key is to keep your focus and stay in the moment...

By Mike Felmlee, CEO the Prouty Project

Margaret Anderson Kelliher joined the Minnesota High tech Association (MHTA) this year as its president and CEO following a twelve-year legislative career where she served two terms as Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Characterized as the “calm inside the storm” by Star Tribune, Margaret has demonstrated she is a strong, pragmatic leader. She guided passage of a nation-leading renewable energy standard, built a broad coalition to enact Minnesota’s first comprehensive transportation funding bill in twenty years and was a champion of the state’s new Angel Investment tax Credit.

We’ve enjoyed watching her navigate the transition between the Minnesota legislature and running the business of MHTA.

What was it like after you realized you had lost the DFL bid for the gubernatorial race to Mark Dayton last summer?

Keep in mind that on the night of the primary I had a huge lead around mid-night only to see it slip away around 3:00 a.m. When I realized what was happening I simply drove around Lake of the Isles and had a good cry. Then, I gave myself a 2-week self-imposed black out period where I simply unplugged from public view and intentionally stayed away from the news. This was extremely difficult for me to do as I’m a news junkie. But, it allowed me some space and some time to heal.

What was it like recognizing you were going to be out of a job in 4 months?

The first realization is that I had a responsibility to the state of Minnesota to fulfill my term as Speaker of the House, which I did gladly. Then, like most of us, the realization of knowing I had two children and a husband to support set in. I started exploring my options right away.

What leadership lessons have you learned from your experiences as a legislator that you can apply to the business world?

I think the ability to focus and to be in the moment with everyone you meet is important. If you ever had an opportunity to shake President Clinton’s hand you’d know what I mean. He has such a gift that you leave knowing he was totally focused on you for that brief moment.

I also think great leaders have a passion for making a difference and the courage when they see a wrong to do everything in their power to right it. As I think about it, the best thing that ever happened to me was when the DFL lost its majority under the Ventura Administration in 1998. We couldn’t rely on the majority position to do our work. We had to do it with negotiation and compromise.

And, let’s not lose sight about the importance of laughing to help ease the strain of living through tough times. I think it’s difficult for leaders in either the public or private sectors to set the tone and inspire hope without a sense of humor.

One last thought, as a leader I believe it’s very important to understand the financial statements of your organization. When I joined the legislature I focused on knowing everything I could about the state budget. This served me well as I became the Speaker of the House.

You could do a lot of things in both the public and private sectors, why did you choose MHTA?

People ask me this question all the time. I was drawn to MHTA because what it does is so vitally important. I’m not sure people really understand or appreciate the importance of high technology in the State of Minnesota. MHTA started 33 years ago in the age of big supercomputers and has evolved to where technology is everywhere today.

Minnesotans in rural areas of Minnesota need to be connected as much as those that live in urban areas. And, did you know that technical professionals enjoy salaries averaging $79,000 a year more than $24,000 higher than non technical professionals?

In essence, MHTA helps to fuel prosperity for the state of Minnesota. I want to be a part of that. Thus, MHTA is a great fit for me.

Any other words of wisdom?

One of the best practices I introduced into the legislature was asking each legislator to complete this sentence:

“A successful session is _________________.” 

It was amazing how this simple affirmation helped us negotiate and compromise both within the DFL party and between parties. I continue to use it today within both my professional and personal lives. It really does work!

Mike Felmlee, CEO: Mike is the CEO at the Prouty Project and he works with management teams, boards of directors, and teams to facilitate strategic planning,team, leadership development, and executive retreats. Mike leads the firm’s healthcare and nonprofit practices and has 28 years of financial and operational management experience in the healthcare, manufacturing, and public accounting industries.

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