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The College of St. Scholastica

A worthwhile decision

“This degree opens doors.” That’s a solid endorsement from a leader who has been recognized as Twin Cities Business 2013 Person of the Year and Minnesota Monthly’s one of ten “Minnesotans of 2012.” And now, he has a masters in management from The College of St. Scholastica’s School of Business and Technology.

When Don Ness became mayor of Duluth at age 33, he had served on the city council for eight years and spent a decade as campaign manager for former congressman James Oberstar. He was also two years in to the masters in management program.

“I always felt the desire to get a master’s degree to continue learning and to prepare myself for my next career,” said Ness. “When I enrolled, I had turned 30 and was married with my first child. I knew I had to get to it, and the sooner the better.”

The masters in management program at CSS appealed to Ness for a number of reasons, including its convenient evening format.

He also wanted a degree that would be applicable to multiple career paths. Plus, the focus on values-based management fit with what he had come to learn about organizations: their health depends on the productivity of their people.

Prepared to lead today and for the next transition

Ness spent his first two years in office focused on leading the city through some tough challenges, including a $186 million unfunded retiree health care liability. As the city became healthier, he saw the opportunity to continue his degree.

The decision proved beneficial. Ness says there is no question that the lessons he learned at CSS have been valuable to his role. “With every class, I found takeaways I could apply to leading the city.”

He found the classes to be large enough to foster energy, discussion and debate and small enough for professors to give individual attention.

Ness says the most important thing he learned was the importance of culture. “We have a tendency to think about culture as heritage or imposed, but it is dynamic and ever changing. As leaders, we need to be deliberate about giving culture attention and directing it in a positive way.”

With a degree in hand, Ness is well prepared to lead today and to pursue tomorrow’s opportunities. “My professional growth has been enhanced by the program. I am convinced that having the degree and experience from CSS will present new opportunities for me.”

As mayor of Duluth, Ness says the city is fortunate to have convenient access to such a strong, vibrant management program for midcareer professionals. “Every manager who goes through the program comes away with insights that make their organizations healthier.”