Class of 2010
Robert Mahowald represents the fourth generation in a family business. He has been involved in the Sartell Rotary Club, Cub Scouts, Central Minnesota Habitat for Humanity and Catholic Charities.
What are you doing now?
Managing partner, Mahowald Insurance Agency, St. Cloud.
How did the 5 Under 40 award affect your life?
I get to be part of a cohort that forms part of the St. Cloud area's next generation of leaders.
Other big changes since you received the award?
Our firm continues to grow and evolve, and we are deliberately building a culture that puts the well-being of our employees, our clients and our business partners at the center of everything we do.
What will make the St. Cloud area greater in coming years?
I am very excited for the partnership between the city of St. Cloud and the St. Cloud Area Family YMCA. This new facility will accelerate our community's quest for increased health and wellness, and it will do so across the continuum of age, ethnicity, ability and income.
Originally ran: January 7, 2011
If there's anything Bob Mahowald absolutely needs in his work, it's meaning.
Mahowald attended the U.S. Military Academy and spent seven years as an infantry officer. At U.S. Military Academy, he learned from its motto — duty, honor, country. He went to Iraq, leaving Sept. 11, 2005 — the day he found out his wife was pregnant with their second child. His daughter was born while he was in Iraq, which was hard, he said. He decided to leave the Army to spend time with his family.
He's now a partner and agent at Mahowald Insurance Agency, which his great-grandfather started in 1930. He said he finds significance in his work by knowing the agency provides a good life for 117 people — 36 employees and their families. Mahowald also sees the agency helps businesses and individuals during tough times, such as fires or accidents.
"Some people struggle to find meaning in what they do," he said. "We help them when things are not going very well."
Although he sees the bigger picture now, it doesn't mean his path has been perfect. He said his time at U.S. Military Academy was marred by a struggle with his negative mind, mired in details and failing to take full advantage of opportunities there. He found a place between the best and the worst, he said.
You might think Mahowald finds his work easy, given his list of accomplishments. Since he began working at the agency in 2006, he created a new organizational structure that spreads out operation responsibility. He created separate budgets for business units, which feed into a master budget. He has helped make the business more digital and mobile using smart phones, laptops, remote access and paperless document management. He also developed and refined the company's metric-based bonus plan. This got individual and agency goals on the same page and rewarded employees for their efforts. He also developed and implemented customer and employee surveys so the company could get data on its shortcomings and plan improvements.
All the while, he worked toward his MBA, completing the work last spring at the University of St. Thomas.
Mahowald sees the agency's work as risk management, and they take a consultative approach as agents become part of clients' businesses — not only doing insurance work.
Laura Tomczik, account executive who has been with the agency almost 17 years, works alongside Mahowald. She said he creates an environment where people are empowered to do their jobs, openly say what they think and take risks without fear of repercussion.
"He wants to have it be a fun place to work. I think that kind of leadership style is nice," she said.
She said he implemented a document management system that changed daily work flow. He led the change, explaining directly and honestly what it was doing and why. But during training, he also had workers wear Hawaiian clothes, food was served and the office was decorated. It worked, which she said is hard to do at an agency where some people have been there 40 years.
"He's smart, he has a great sense of humor, and he's just very open to looking at things in a different way," she said. "I think that he's brought some new energy to the agency."
Mahowald's wife, Marissa Mahowald, said he's driven in his work and always gives "more than 100 percent."
The couple has three children — ages 7, 5 and 2 — and they like to get outside and play with the kids. They both have a passion for running.
Mahowald also likes Calvin and Hobbes, and has a comic inside a nearby cupboard. Comic relief seems important to Mahowald, who cracks jokes and sprinkles self-deprecating humor in his conversations.
Because even though he finds his work meaningful, it doesn't always have to be so serious.
JOB: Partner, agent at Mahowald Insurance Agency.
RESIDENCE: Sartell, which is also his hometown.
EDUCATION: U.S. Military Academy; MBA from University of St. Thomas.
INVOLVEMENT: President-elect of the Sartell Rotary Club. Cub Scout Den Leader for Cub Scout Troop 11 in Sartell. Board member, St. John's Preparatory School alumni board. Volunteer service with the United Way of Central Minnesota, Central Minnesota Habitat for Humanity, Catholic Charities, Give It Get It and others. Instructor, Junior Achievement. He donates blood with the Red Cross regularly.
MANAGEMENT PHILOSOPHY: He claims not to be a great manager. But he said he tries to listen, be empathetic and identify solutions to problems. He values openness, honesty and collaboration. Management, he said, is different from leadership. "(Leaders) give people hope," Mahowald said. "They need hope in a brighter future."