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Plaza Park Bank

Tara (Tollefson) Gronhovd
Plaza Park Bank

Class of 2008

Tara (Tollefson) Gronhovd had made her mark as the chief executive of a consulting firm called The Buzz Company when she was inducted into the Class of 2008.

What are you doing now?

I am the vice president of operations as well as the marketing director at Plaza Park Bank. I office from our Sartell location.

How did the 5 Under 40 award affect your life?

It is a humbling and motivating experience to realize that others respect your work. I look at the 5 Under 40 alumni and am consistently impressed with the caliber of leaders in our community. The title isn't just an honor, it's a responsibility to continue to improve ourselves, our companies and our community.

Other big changes since you received the award?

Shut down The Buzz Company in 2011 when I realized the business model was not viable long term. Started with Plaza Park Bank in 2010; promoted to vice president of operations in 2015. Launched faith-based jewelry line at J. F. Kruse Jewelers called Becoming. Married my husband, Dale Gronhovd; we're now expecting in September 2015.

What will make the St. Cloud area greater in coming years?

The upcoming generation of leadership is busier than ever — we'll all need to be intentional in using time to invest in our community while we grow our families and careers. Making St. Cloud Greater is as simple as each of us committing to one thing to make our community better.

2008 Interview

Originally ran: January 1, 2009

When Tara Tollefson has to deliver bad news, she presents it cheerfully. She shows business owners the great opportunity they have to improve, even if it's hard for them to hear negative feedback. She's been told she does this well.

Tollefson is founder and owner of The Buzz Co., a company unlike any other in the St. Cloud area. It does qualitative research on companies to show them how they can improve the customer experience. Her company tells businesses what they are and aren't doing well, and how they can generate more positive word-of-mouth (or buzz), and ultimately, more profits.

Tollefson uses customer feedback and secret shoppers to let businesses know how they're doing. The research usually takes about two to three months, and clients get concrete feedback. Unlike most secret shoppers, these people are in the market for the type of business she is researching, so the feedback businesses get is authentic. She works with every kind of business, from insurance to schools, banks and restaurants.

And the research is thorough. She developed her own research methods, using her sociology education and other work experiences to create a new way of bringing feedback to businesses.

But to truly understand The Buzz Co., one must first get to know Tollefson. She has faced adversity head-on, which might explain why she is good at showing businesses the opportunities within problems. 

During her first year in college she became pregnant with her son. She had him at age 19 and raised him as a single mom. But she still graduated in just four years — with honors. 

"I think you deal with whatever God gives to you," she said.

Tollefson has taken what she's been given and has run with it. Her first job out of college was a major gifts fundraiser for the College of St. Benedict. She stayed there for more than three years but decided that wasn't what she wanted long term.

She has always been passionate about entrepreneurship and small businesses, partly because she watched her father manage three businesses while she grew up. But she didn't quite know she'd be a business owner, at least not until after she had more work experience.

After a tough year in direct sales, she sobbed to her life coach that she wasn't good at anything. The coach asked questions that helped Tollefson think about her dream job. Hmm. She knew she wanted to help small businesses. She knew she loved research. She pondered.

One day Fairview Gardens asked her if she would be its consultant. She agreed to commit one hour a week. They would talk about the business and ways it could improve.

A light went on and that's how The Buzz Co. was born. She created an opportunity from a problem.

That's what she does with businesses every day. Sometimes, she says, businesses need to hear that feedback, even if they don't always want it. Sometimes they need a reason to change, to be shocked into action, she said. 

Tollefson has some strategies for taking action during her own stressful times: She breaks duties into baby steps to control the process. She tells herself she will not fail.

And she takes action. Some of the best advice she's ever received is "Don't be paralyzed by not knowing," she said. 

The adversity she has faced in life has helped her succeed. Tollefson seems confident but remains humble and grateful. 

"Challenges are opportunities," she said.

Age: 32.

Job: Founder/owner, The Buzz Co.

Hometown: Watertown, S.D.

Education: Bachelor's degree in sociology from the College of St. Benedict.

Community involvement: YMCA board member, various volunteer work and was president of the local BNI networking group for 18 months.

What she does for fun: Painting, taking private dance lessons, watching action movies, listening to mixes on her iPod (everything from the Beastie Boys to Fiona Apple).

Fact: She does not drink coffee; she calls herself "naturally caffeinated."

What's in her desk drawer: Flash drive, three-hole puncher, dental floss, data cords, chocolate, hand lotion and a flashlight.

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