Investing in Futures

Banks or accounting firms could deal with having a state university with a strong college of business in their back yard in several ways. One safe and predictable approach would be to simply count their blessings, knowing that they likely will nab some good talent from the steady stream of graduates.

Or they could take a bigger-picture approach, which is what Abdo, Eick & Meyers, an accounting firm, and United Prairie Bank have chosen to do. Both companies are committed to supporting Minnesota State Mankato’s College of Business not only to benefit the University, but also their own businesses.

“One of the things I think all banks and small businesses see as a challenge for the future is quality staff,” says Scott Bradley, the chief executive officer of United Prairie Bank. “The College of Business fits our business model. They’re growing people who could fit in our organization, whether they’re credit analysts or business bankers or customer service representatives … We think there’s potential there to recruit some pretty good talent who wants to live and work in southern Minnesota.”

Founded by Minnesota State Mankato alumnus James G. Sneer in 1973, United Prairie has banks in 11 southern Minnesota cities, including Mankato. Sneer’s son Stuart, also a University alum, took over as bank president in 2002 and oversees the system with Bradley.

“We’re in a lot of communities that Minnesota State Mankato serves,” Bradley says. “A lot of people from the territories we serve go to Minnesota State Mankato. We think it’s important to give back and support the area.”

United Prairie Bank is providing financial support to both the Global Solutions Center and the Integrated Business Experience (IBE) program. Its gift to IBE creates a partnership that includes naming the program the United Prairie Bank Integrated Business Experience.

Bradley says that the real-world approach of the IBE program, which provides students with an opportunity to start real businesses as entrepreneurs would, helps students transition out of theory-based learning and into reality-based experiences. IBE provides the kind of education and experience that can come only from doing, not by discussing, he says. “It’s the real-world experience,” Bradley adds. “Education is wonderful and it’s important, but real-world integration is really where the rubber meets the road.”

Abdo, Eick & Meyers has been investing in the University’s business program for most of the firm’s 50 years in Mankato. Its founder, Joe Abdo, graduated from the University determined to run his own CPA firm, despite lucrative offers to work elsewhere. Today, the firm he started employs 110 people and operates offices in both Mankato and Edina. An estimated half of its employees are Minnesota State Mankato graduates.

Abdo, Eick & Meyers has supported Minnesota State Mankato in a number of ways over the years. It has offered financial support for scholarships and has had a presence on the College of Business advisory boards. The firm also recently pledged the lead gift toward the Advisory Council Executive Suite in the Global Solutions Center.

Don Kreye, the firm’s business development manager and current member of the College of Business Advisory Council, said the gift is a logical extension of Abdo, Eick & Meyers’ longtime association with the University. “The College of Business is making a significant impact in the current and future success of our firm and business community,” Kreye says. “We are contributing to that future success and the success of all the students and business leaders who will utilize the room.”

It’s their preparedness for market particulars that makes Minnesota State Mankato graduates ideal employees, says Steve McDonald, managing partner of the firm. It also helps that students at Minnesota State Mankato tend to be from the kind of places where Abdo, Eick & Meyers does business. McDonald said 35 percent of the company’s clients are municipal governments in towns with populations less than 10,000.

“It takes unique abilities to serve that client group,” McDonald says. “The attributes of the kid who attends Minnesota State Mankato match up well with what we’re looking for.

“It’s really important they can communicate with decision-makers, and communication is always a tough thing to match up,” McDonald adds. “We have found consistently that the group of kids who come here are able to go out relatively early on and handle themselves professionally and be able to get their point across and provide solutions and ideas.”