When Dawn Loberg was a relatively new business developer at Enterprise Minnesota, she decided to visit a company that had long ceased using consulting services. The company CEO began a tour of his plant by saying, “I don’t see anywhere Enterprise Minnesota can help us.”

Friendly, but definitive.

Undaunted, Loberg completed the tour and kept up the outreach with the CEO and his leadership team. “I knew they were going to be expanding,” she says. “I was just trying to create a relationship. My role is to understand what the company is trying to achieve in three to five years and then help bring them the resources they need to get there.”

In the intervening years, with Loberg’s guidance, the company understood where Enterprise Minnesota’s consultants could play a role in its growth. They’ve helped the company map its strategy, improve productivity through lean work, introduce two value stream mappings, and moderate several Kaizen events. Enterprise Minnesota also partners with them to organize employee development for all company leaders.

The lesson: The most enduring customer relationships are never based on telling the customers what they want to hear.

“I feel like I am a trusted advisor to all my clients,” Loberg says. “I meet with them even if we’re not delivering a service; I get to know what’s important to them. They know I really want to help them be successful. And sometimes that means delivering a really hard message.”

Now entering her seventh year as a St. Cloud-based business developer at Enterprise Minnesota, Loberg received this year’s “Esteemed Colleague” award. It is an MVP honor bestowed by coworkers to the colleague who brings substantial value while reflecting the organization’s culture and priorities.

Loberg grew up in Lombard, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, where one of her primary interests revolved around studying the piano. She began lessons at age five and culminated her high school years studying at the Hillsdale College Conservatory of Music. For college, she landed in Winona to attend St. Mary’s College.  Part of the school’s attraction was the school’s faith community and small size. “I still talk with my college friends three to four times per week. I like being a bigger fish in a smaller sea. It’s important to me to be able to make a difference,” she recalls.

She told a St. Mary’s admissions officer that her post-college ambition was to be a concert pianist or play in a piano bar. “I’m not kidding,” she says. Paternal guidance helped her settle on dual marketing and management majors while she satisfied her musical cravings by playing classical music on a piano in the student union and in a few rogue bands.

Loberg graduated from St. Mary’s and spent a year selling electric typewriters (prior to the invention of computers) before she upgraded to a company selling data networks and phone systems. In her second year, she won a national sales competition that earned her a round at the famed Augusta National, a Georgia-based golf course whose fame evolved from hosting the Masters Tournament and (at the time) for its notorious male-only policies. Loberg took her mother as her guest golfer. “We could golf, but we couldn’t go in the clubhouse,” she remembers.

The visibility of successful job performance prompted executives at Northwestern Bell (now US West) to recruit her into a position where Loberg managed the data, voice, and strategic planning for the top Fortune 50 companies in Minneapolis. “I remember when we closed the deal with the Timberwolves and the Target Center. The US West president, vice president, and I dressed up in Timberwolves’ attire to attend the contract signing.”  She likes to make work fun.

When, newly married, she moved to Wahpeton in 1990, US West created a job for her where, for the next seven years, she oversaw sales, installation, network, and technical design for the company’s $30 million North Dakota market.

Her North Dakota experience gave Loberg an enduring appetite for mentoring employees — and now client companies — and growing their potential. “It’s always been extremely rewarding for me,” she says.

And then a personal tragedy forced Loberg to reexamine her own professional trajectory. A baby boy, Ryan, was born stillborn at 39 weeks. “Work meant nothing,” she recalls. “I just wanted to invest in my family.” So, she “retired” and stayed home for 17 years.

Being a stay-at-home mom, however, didn’t mean idleness. From her home office, Loberg raised monies to create a local park in Breckenridge and ran a part-time nutrition business. When she moved to Sartell, she served on the board of her church and volunteered marketing services to help the local Catholic school develop their preschool into a feeder program for the school, increasing enrollment from 11 kids per class to two sections per class over five years. She put together a team to help raise $100,000 in 10 days to build a new school playground, with a statue of Jesus, at age 13, welcoming the children to the playground.

And then, in 2016, someone alerted her to a position at Enterprise Minnesota. Intrigued by the consulting model that would tangibly help small- to medium-sized manufacturers grow, she was also attracted to how the prosperity of her clients would benefit their home communities.

“I learned living in Wahpeton and Breckenridge that loyalty to community and helping economic development really affects everybody. I looked at this job and saw how it would help small manufacturers in all these small towns. It’s helping them grow. It’s helping their employees stay. It’s helping fund the schools. I so appreciate what our manufacturers do for their communities.”

Loberg’s colleagues also like to talk about how her personal involvement in communities extends that mission.

Among her extracurriculars is her commitment to helping 17-to-25-year-old women who have been homeless find their way in the job market. “I want them to understand that they have developed huge life skills from their life experience, even being homeless. I think that women, and I’m going to say women in general, sell themselves short. I probably learned more communication, how to influence without authority, and soft skills staying home than I would have in the workplace.” She currently coaches eight to 12 protégés a year.

Featured story in the Winter 2023 issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine.

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