In early 2018 Dave Kvasager was in Monticello, sitting in on his first Peer Council, which is a group of monthly meetings that Enterprise Minnesota organizes to enable manufacturing to have a half-day’s worth of confidential conversations with other senior executives. It was very early in his tenure as a business development consultant for Enterprise Minnesota.
As he remembers it, Enterprise Minnesota’s president and CEO Bob Kill began the meeting by making a conversational reference to some staff turnover among his ranks.
“I don’t even know who my business developer is,” said Matt Hanson, president of Hanson Silos, a prominent member of the Council and a current member on Enterprise Minnesota’s board of directors. Kvasager shifted in his chair like a bridegroom whose father-in-law had forgotten his name. Hanson was his customer — not a great way for Kvasager to show his new boss how well he’d been polishing the apples of his most prominent new customers.
Kvasager doesn’t know to this day whether the good-humored Hanson was saying this at his expense. But he did know this: “I knew I had to learn to speak up more. It’s not always easy for me. I had to get more outgoing and talkative. Other people are much better at getting up and speaking in public. I’m still terrible at that.”
Most people might describe Kvasager’s workstyle as “quietly effective,” the kind of person who is happier to absorb a room by listening before offering consultative advice, not the type of dynamic demeanor that always leaves a memorable Name ID. “Dave gets the job done,” says Kill now. “People love to answer questions if you ask the right ones.”
The Monticello Peer Council also illustrated that he was trying to fill enormous shoes.
Kvasager was breaking into a cadre of deeply respected consultants. Bill Martinson, Sam Gould, and Rick Kvasager had been driving the highways and back roads of northwest Minnesota, advising small- to medium-sized manufacturers on behalf of Enterprise Minnesota for nearly 100 years between them. All engineers by training, whose friendly demeanors, deep experience, and results-oriented advice had created lasting relationships with manufacturers. Only Martinson has not surrendered to the temptations of retirement.
Joining Enterprise Minnesota as a 32-year-old, the younger Kvasager knew what he was getting into. He grew up in Alexandria with his dad’s long career at Enterprise Minnesota, but it wasn’t until he was grown and out of the house that he knew what his dad did for a living. “He didn’t talk a lot about what he did. My friends all thought he was in the CIA or something like that,” he recalls. Dave got a better sense of his dad’s occupation after he moved to Bloomington, where he first worked as a salesman for Patton Industrial Products after graduating from University of North Dakota’s business school in 2007. At his dad’s invitation, he attended the 2007 version of the State of Manufacturing® (SOM) survey rollout at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
“I went mostly for the food,” he admits today, but was introduced to Bob Kill for the first time and came away intrigued by the statewide prestige that Enterprise Minnesota consultants brought to their manufacturing clientele statewide.
After moving back to Alexandria to work a few years for a local manufacturer, Kvasager snuck in a couple of golf games with Kill, and, with his father’s encouragement, became more intrigued about the possibility of taking over for the senior Kvasager at Enterprise Minnesota. “My dad mentioned it to Bob, who liked the idea.” He says the transaction went quickly.
Along the way, the younger Kvasager let his style work for him, enjoying time to get to know customers and potential customers in a low-key personal way. “I like driving,” he says. “I like getting in front of people every day.”
“He’s a big believer that face-to-face contact beats everything,” Kill says. “And so am I.”