News and Events

Analyzing The Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal’s Largest Private and Public Companies Lists 2013

It’s that time of year again when we analyze the lists of large companies in our region. This year we’re using Tableau ™ software to create visualizations of the data. The data come from The Business Journal’s Book of Lists 2013.

Greater MSP uses the Forbes Global 2000 ranking to list major employers. This list ranks companies with over US$ 4.4 B in revenues. The first visualization looks at companies with revenues above that level. Companies are shown as private (blue) or public (orange), and the size of their box represents their revenue. You’ll note that last year’s blog on this pointed out the significant private companies in the MSP region that are private, and therefore “invisible” to lists like the Fortune 500 which only rank private companies.

ForbesGlobal2000-sizedCompaniesMSPClick here to open the interactive version in your browser. The tabs at the top of the screen move you between visualizations in this blog where you can mouse over companies and get their details.

The next visualization shows how these larger companies (dark green indicates the companies of “Forbes Global-2000 size”) rank compared to rest of the companies on the lists of the largest 100 private and 100 public companies in MSP. Note that the diverse ranking of Forbes Global 2000-Sized companies account for about ¾ of the revenue in this market. Follow-up questions include: how does this rank compared to other MSAs (Metropolitan Statistical Areas) in terms of diversity, bench strength, recession-resilience, and other measures of economic strength?

ForbesGlobal2000-sizedCompaniesAmongLargest200-MSPClick here to open the interactive version in your browser. The tabs at the top of the screen move you between visualizations in this blog where you can mouse over companies and get their details.

The final visualization shows the top 100 private and 100 public companies split again into private (blue) and public (orange). The important point here is to note the preponderance of private (blue) companies in the sub-Forbes Global-2000 zone in the lower right corner. This speaks to bench strength of entrepreneurial organizations, and the strength of the economy that constantly has mid-sized companies “waiting in the wings” to grow into larger companies.

ForbesGlobal2000-sizedCompaniesAmongLargest200MSPClick here to open the interactive version in your browser. The tabs at the top of the screen move you between visualizations in this blog where you can mouse over companies and get their details.

Harbinger or Outlier? Scott Berkun’s Keynote at Saturn 2013

Last week I attended Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute’s annual Saturn Software Engineering Conference in Minneapolis. Attendance was a new record high with 208 software engineers and architects from 20 different countries present.  Conference delegates represented countries as dispersed as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Peru, Argentina, and Brazil, as well as Europe, North America, and 19 representatives from South Korea.

The first day afternoon keynote was delivered by tech innovation author Scott Berkun (Making Things Happen, The Myths of Innovation).  He was talking about his new book (coming out in September, 2013) The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work (Jossey-Bass).  Here are my reflections:

  • He was the after lunch speaker.  This gets him bonus points in my book.  After a nice big conference lunch many folks are lethargic, or email is starting to pile up, or you need to return phone calls.  All of these factors combine to make it easy to “slip away” or give less than your full attention to the speaker, so Mr. Berkun had the challenge of keeping us all engaged.  He HAD to be entertaining.  I will report that he was enthralling.  He knows how to tell a story.  He knows how to use his visuals properly and professionally (to reinforce the point, but not to provide the full script), and he is a comfortable speaker which makes him easy to attend to.
  • I’m eagerly awaiting his book release in September.  So, given that book promotion is his main reason for speaking about this topic, he did his job.
  • I won’t steal his thunder by giving away his points, but I will give you my list of favorite quotes.  Agree or disagree as you please, they are provocative (another of his stated goals):
    • An excellent talent pool minimizes the need for methodology.
    • Whatever you do last will suck the most.
    • It is a fallacy to assume all developers are equal.
  • In summary, he was speaking at a Software Engineering conference, and telling a story that questions the need for process, methodology, and a lot that Software Engineers hold dear.  I truly cherish this kind of provocative keynote address, one that asks questions that challenge  the attendee’s dogma.  In my experience, it livens things up quite a bit!  Whether you agree or not, it expands the state of the art just to ask and consider such audacious questions.  And, this talk left me wondering if this is an “Après moi, le déluge[i]” moment?

This presentation will join my “Hall of Fame of Provocative Keynotes.”  Bravo Scott Berkum, bravo!

[i] A French quote meaning, “after me the torrent,” from the French Revolution indicating that you are just seeing the first part of the revolution that is about to arrive.

RapidMiner Introductory Tutorial Videos

RapidMiner Introductory Tutorial Videos

I’m getting ready to teach Data Analytics and Visualization in the Graduate Program in Software at the University of St. Thomas this spring.  I’m really excited about this course, and thrilled that 31 people registered within a week or two.  There is great energy around these topics.  I’m using two tools:  RapidMiner (from and R.

Since these tools are freely available for students they are priced right, but one of the challenges is that you get what you pay for in terms of training, explanations, etc.  RapidMiner is widely used in Europe.  It is a suite of hundreds of algorithms used in Data Mining and statistical analysis.  It uses a graphical programming environment that is easy to use and understand.  However there are a few techniques it is useful to understand to maximize using the tool.  So, I’m creating YouTube videos to show people how to get started.  They are online at:

  1. Installing RapidMiner
  2. Online Tutorials
  3. Extensions

Each is just a few minutes long.  Check them out and let me know what you think.

Overall, the best free training that I’ve found for RapidMiner are videos that various users have posted on YouTube.  I’m curating a list of useful videos that I’ll share with my class.  If you want a copy, please email me and I’ll send it to you.


Women In Defense MN Chapter Personal Security Seminar 9/10/2012

WID (Women in Defense) Minnesota Chapter presents:

Retired Navy SEAL Larry Yatch
Foreign Service & International Security Specialist:  Anne Yatch

Date/Time: Monday, September 10, 2012, 4:30 – 7:30 pm
Location: Sealed Mindset Firearms Studio, 5121 Winnetka Avenue N, Suite 110, New Hope, MN 55428
Cost: $40 (members), $45 (non-members) ($10 discount on 2-person team registered by 8/18)

Sponsorships available:  call Heidi 952-250-7292



Robert Stephens 3.0

In May 2012 I attended the inaugural MinneAnalytics: Predictive & Social Media Analytics and the world of ‘Big Data’ Conference at the Medtronic campus in Mounds View, MN.  I presented work from the Center of Excellence for Big Data (CoE4BD) with colleague Brad Rubin, Ph.D. in the Graduate Programs in Software at the University of St. Thomas.  Our session went well.


The highlight of my day was watching Robert Stephens @robertstephens in the first public, post Best Buy event at which I’ve seen him.

(Just for background, I first met Robert Stephens when my long-time collaborator Janelle Jurek introduced us over lunch in the 1990s.  Janelle said, “There’s this guy who used to do tech support for our computers at the U of M labs when I was a grad student. He has started a company called ‘Geek Squad,’ and he has some big ideas.”  Well, Robert Stephens had big ideas like the Grand Canyon is a creek bed!  He told us about his company, marketing and branding plans, his movie script, his book, you name it.  I was enthralled with his creativity and insight.  Over the years, from the fifth anniversary party at The Lounge to MHTA to the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce I never, ever missed a chance to hear him speak.  He is an audacious, edgy, insightful marketing genius.  And, although he often says, “I just make this sh!t up,” I know that although his presentations are always fresh and energetic, he has carefully crafted his message, and he always knows where he’s going.

Over the years, I watched Mr. Stephen’s presentations as a young-buck entrepreneur (Robert Stephens 1.0) with edgy metaphors.  For example between branding and religion – religions have been around for thousands of years, and yet are often based on a few guiding principles summarized in one book.  As he sold Geek Squad to Best Buy – in characteristic swagger he always says Geek Squad acquired Best Buy– his presentations became a bit more mainstream.  For instance,  the religion metaphor went away but his attitude remained.)

So, after leaving Best Buy as its Chief Technology Officer (Robert Stephens 2.0) in the spring of 2012, I enthusiastically anticipated Mr. Stephens’s presentation at Medtronic in May.  I was not disappointed (but then I’m a fan, I probably can’t be), and, although he claims the following, my observations are different:


Among the great points that Mr. Stephens made in this presentation were:

  1. Service is the only way to differentiate a brand.  The better brands can get at anticipation (which is way beyond simple “automation”) the better they will grow.
  2. Hot opportunities exist in dynamically dispatching excess capacity (think,,

These are great ideas, and, of course, the presentation was chock full of challenging concepts like “once is a hint, twice is a pattern, three times is a preference, and four times is a habit (lock in)” … but I’m not going to explain them all here.  I just want you to join me in the Robert Stephens fan club, and follow him for yourself. 😉

Summer Student Position 2012

Honeywell’s Lab has a new position open at our Golden Valley, Minnesota, facility, for
Software Research Intern/Student to collaborate with our lab scientists in realizing innovative applications using the latest software approaches, including SaaS, Cloud and Big Data architectures and solutions.

Your responsibilities will include:
• Work with a team of engineers to design innovative solutions
• Realize system concepts through implementation of research prototypes
• Work with engineers to create an exceptional user experience in the prototype
• Demonstrate the results to customers and Honeywell management

Desired Personal Attributes:
– Works successfully in teams
– Energetic and self-motivated
– Conscientious, ethical, and professional
– Adaptable to different problems and personalities
– Fast learner, eager to experiment
– Entrepreneurial spiritz

Basic qualifications:
– BS degree in Computer Science or closely related field.
– Experience with one or more of the following tools,or technologies:
C# / C++ / Java / HTML5 / Tableau / PHP / .Net / Python.
– Experience with data-driven programming. Designing and using interfaces to relational data and column stores or web-services; structured and unstructured data.
SQL / NoSQL / Ontologies/ XML / XSD / RDF / Hadoop

Preferred Qualifications:
– MS degree in Computer Science or closely related field, highly preferred.
– Strong background in knowledge representations, object-oriented programming, model-based software, web application development, procedural languages, data bases, data analysis, data visualization, and human computer interfaces.

Liana Kiff
Honeywell ACS Labs
Decision Support Technologies
763-954-6516 (Office)
612 222-5674 (BlackBerry)

Who Knew?! 2012/01/23

Click here for the full blog with company listings: Who-Knew-2012-01-23.

“Who knew?” is a phrase I’ve been using a lot lately. I used it when I learned about the long-term dynamism and resilience of Minnesota’s economy as detailed by the U of M Carlson School’s Professor Myles Shaver. As I’ve written before, we’re Minnesotans and we don’t brag, and that means it is sometimes easy to surprise us with our own success. Professor Shaver’s work details some of that success.

This week’s “who knew” moment came when I completed a joyful annual ritual. I bought and downloaded The Business Journal’s “Electronic Book of Lists (EBOL).” You may see the individual lists every week in The Business Journal, you may get their annual publication of the year’s lists, but you’re not really in business intelligence nirvana until you download the electronic version when it is available every January! I am in data visualization bliss right now! But, my “aha” moment this week didn’t come from a complex multivariate four-dimensional animation, just a simple sort. Yes, sort, one of the humblest of algorithms that introductory computer science students study, the kind of tool so ubiquitous as to render it trivial in some people’s minds. Here’s the deal: The EBOL lists the top one hundred publicly traded companies in our market, from UnitedHealth Group to Aetrium Inc. (originally published 4/1/2011). And it lists the largest privately held companies from famously large and famously private Cargill to the Dakota Electrical Association (originally published 5/20/2011). So, what would happen if you merged the two lists (private and public companies) and sorted the merged list? What would you expect? Cargill with $107 billion in revenue would beat UnitedHealth Group’s $94 billion in revenue, of course, but then you might expect the public companies to obliterate the private companies, right? That’s what I thought too. So imagine my surprise to see how well our local private companies did! In fact, the number 100 private company, Dakota Electric Association (annual revenues of $199 million), has revenues better than forty-four of the publicly held companies. That’s right, better than Digi International Inc. ($187 million), HickoryTech Corp.($162 million), Famous Dave’s of America Inc. ($148 million), Communications Systems Inc. ($120 million), and Stratasys Inc. ($117 million). It’s true, among the top twenty only four are privately held companies, but within the top fifty, public companies make a very respectable showing.

So what’s my conclusion? With the goal of every entrepreneur to “go public” and the goal of all investors to reach a stratospheric “liquidity event”, perhaps those of us who build businesses should be more circumspect and learn the (literally) valuable lesson from our local private companies who succeed quietly and privately on their own. “Who knew” it could be so rewarding?