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  • Writer's pictureRich Robb, CEO

Here Be Dragons

CEO Letter by Rich Robb

When I was a kid growing up in Saint Paul, Minnesota, I would occasionally pause to ponder this picture that hung on the wall of my family home. Its message was clear to my younger self: Despite your best efforts, you will not win all the time, and you must be prepared for disappointments and occasional defeat.


When I left Minnesota twenty years later, l brought the picture with me, and when I joined MN in 2006, it found a place on my desk. For a while, it was a great metaphor for my life as a new MN Project Manager.

My liege lords would assign a quest and off I would go, enthusiastically clapping my coconuts. I would return to the castle at Union Street and regale my fellow knights with tales of epic battles with tricky construction details, trickier clients, and endless punch lists. It was exhilarating and fun, even on those days when the dragon won.

But one day, after a string of particularly tough defeats, I found myself staring at the picture on my desk once again, and wondering if I had ever really understood it at all.

What if I had it all backward? What if, instead of seeing things through the eyes of the solitary knight, I considered the dragon’s perspective? For the dragon, it wasn’t “Some days the dragon wins!” It was, “Almost every day the knight loses!”

Why? Because dragons are incredibly powerful, for starters. They are also cunning. They live for a very long time. And they tenaciously collect and protect gold, of which they usually have a ton.

Given all these advantages, I realized that I would rather be a single tooth in a dragon than a whole but solitary knight—especially if that dragon could be one of the good guys, with a good heart and honorable intentions.


What would it mean to be a small but important part of something that was wise, powerful, and could outlive me by several lifetimes?

Thinking about MN as a whole organism freed me from my limited, self-absorbed, and quest-based way of thinking. Oddly enough, this was right around the time MN started looking into employee ownership. Now, in 2021, it is clear to me that MN has always had a dragon’s DNA. We’ve never been a cult of personality built around any one person; we have been a strong team committed to making good decisions for the benefit of the whole.

Employee ownership is a natural extension of our dragon genetics. Since we began the process six years ago, those who behave like solitary knights haven’t lasted, while those willing to be important parts of a larger, more powerful entity have not only stuck around, but have helped MN thrive.

A dragon is not whole if it is missing its head or its heart, tooth, or claws. The loss of one body part due to injury or illness affects the whole. Going forward, we must all play our part while striving for new challenges and roles. We will all be better for it and, let’s face it, it is the only way to keep a healthy dragon on top of the food chain.

This year marks our 40th anniversary. Forty years ago, I was that kid in Minnesota gazing at the dragon picture on a wall. Some of you were in California, Mexico, Guatemala, England, Turkey, India, and elsewhere. Some of us were just starting our careers with MN, while others weren’t even born yet. Forty years is an impressive age for any company, but it’s nothing in the lifetime of a dragon.

Let’s work together, as one, to keep our MN dragon healthy and strong.


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