Jeff Thom – 2008 Business Person Of The Year

The post-game television interview we all have witnessed: Famous football quarterback after tossing a key touchdown strike giving credit to his teammates for an emotional victory in The Big Game. Yet that made-for-TV, locker-room speech sometimes seems canned, even obligatory, as if spreading the love around had more to do with the player maintaining an image than a true appreciation of his teammates’ contributions.

With genuineness pressing around every syllable, Jeff Thom, founder and co-owner of $20 million-plus and 55-employee All American Foods, gave due credit in this Business Person of the Year 2008 interview to a number of people for his success.

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Todd Snell – Runner-Up – 2007 Business Person Of The Year

Todd Snell grew up inside Rivieras and Electras.

Similar to being a military child, he moved from town to town along with his mother and two brothers whenever his dad received marching orders from General Motors headquarters. The Snells followed their father to Minneapolis, Billings, Duluth, and Chicago, all before Todd started the sixth grade.

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Tom Fallenstein – Runner-Up – 2007 Business Person Of The Year

The orange tuxedo—complete with top hat, cane and shiny shoes—is a dead ringer for the one Jim Carrey wore in the movie Dumb and Dumber. But when Tom Fallenstein puts it on to conduct a tour of Costumes Galore, his 9,000-square-foot business in downtown Mankato, the suit is the only similarity to Carrey’s ridiculously stupid character.

At 25, Fallenstein is president and CEO of a company doing more than $2 million in sales in 2006, including $1 million in October alone. Almost 99 percent of that business was conducted online, not out of the storefront he and his family operate on the south end of Mankato’s Front Street. And therein lies Fallenstein’s genius: He’s figured out how to work the Web.

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Bob Coughlan – Runner-Up – 2006 Business Person of the Year

Last fall, some friends in Bob Coughlan’s ballroom dancing class mentioned they were taking a weekend trip to Philadelphia for a teacher’s conference. Coughlan, the great-grandson of T.R. Coughlan, who founded Mankato Kasota Stone in 1885, immediately offered his input on the couple’s itinerary while in the city of brotherly love.

“If you’re going to Philly, you have to go see the Philadelphia Museum of Art,” he told the couple. “My grandfather supplied the stone for that building.”

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Chad Surprenant – Runner-Up – 2005 Business Person of the Year

In the mid-’70s, young Chad Surprenant’s chin is barely above the kitchen table and almost every evening at dinner he’s engaged in conversational repartee with his parents and three older siblings. They discuss and debate politics, current events, and aspects of their family business. Quite an introduction to the world of ideas. Chad grows up being heard and treated as an equal at home though he’s the baby, eight years younger than his closest sibling. In other words, he is being nurtured by a rock-solid phalanx of maturity.

Today, Surprenant is trying to recreate at I&S Engineers & Architects this same “kitchen table” atmosphere. To a great extent he’s succeeding.

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Lori Wightman – Runner-Up – 2005 Business Person of the Year

Lori Wightman had no intention of staying in New Ulm.

When she accepted an assignment from Allina Health Systems in July 2002 to serve as interim president of New Ulm Medical Center, she intended to keep it exactly that. “I figured I’d be here six months, that I’d just keep things held together until a new president could be found,” Wightman says. “I didn’t necessarily want to stay in New Ulm.”

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