New leaders at the helm at Innovance after long tenures of former executives

Published 5:28 pm Friday, March 1, 2024

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After at least 30 years of leadership at Innovance, two executive leaders have retired from the company.

Chief Executive Officer Mike Larson retired Jan. 1, while Chief Financial Officer Steve Tufte retired Thursday. Both will continue to serve on the Innovance board of directors.

“Innovance extends its heartfelt gratitude to Mike and Steve for their exceptional contributions and wishes them both a well-deserved and fulfilling retirement,” the company said in a news release. “Under their thoughtful and determined leadership, Innovance has nearly tripled revenue, and the Employee-Owners Share Value has gone up nearly nine-fold.”

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The new CEO and president is Merritt Becker, who started Jan. 1, and the new CFO is Steve Borgerding, who started in the role Friday.

Tufte said when he started, the company only had two facilities, its location on Front Street and its location in Hayward. Now, the holding company has five 100% employee-owned manufacturing companies in Minnesota and Wisconsin, including Almco, Lou-Rich, Mass Finishing, Panels Plus and its newest acquisition, Jorgensen Conveyor and Filtration Solutions.

Tufte said he has enjoyed being a part of all of the different operations through the company over the years, which kept things interesting.

“(In) the CFO role that I’ve had — you kind of touch everything,” he said. “We’re still small enough where you do get involved with everything and you’re not just totally focused there. That’s probably been the most enjoyable part is you get to see all the different operations and you do get fairly involved in them.”

He noted that everything he did over the years was for the employee owners.

Innovance in the news release stated Larson had been a “pivotal part of the company’s journey, bringing a wealth of experience and dedication to his role over his years of service.” It said Tufte’s “expertise in financial strategy and planning has been a cornerstone of the Innovance’s success.”

Becker said under Tufte and Larson’s tenure, they not only established the Innovance as it is known today, but they oversaw the growth from when the Employee Stock Ownership Plan was formed. They have also been directly involved with various efforts in community service through youth groups and other educational efforts.

Because of these efforts, Innovance has established two scholarships in their honor that will support studies in manufacturing, engineering and accounting at Riverland Community College. The first year they will be awarded is in 2025.

Becker, who had three months of transition with Larson before his retirement, has a background in manufacturing and distribution both domestically and globally at several different publicly traded companies.

He hails from Indiana and said when he retired from his former company, he specifically sought an ESOP in the Midwest. After doing an extensive search and through a mutual connection between a former colleague, he came across Innovance and thought it would be a good opportunity.

Borgerding has a finance background, involving banking and financial analysis with a Minneapolis-based publicly traded company, as well as 20 years with Hormel Foods, most recently in the investor relations department.

“When the opportunity came to move into a leadership role and advance, I think a lot of the same, employee-focused organizations, like Hormel, really intrigued me,” he said.

As of this week, there are 483 employees in the companies under Innovance.

The men said they hope to continue in the same success that their predecessors brought as they carry the company into the future.

“They set the bar pretty high, and Steve and I have a huge task to continue that growth,” Becker said. “How we’re going to do it is continue to evaluate our portfolio. We will add more machine tool manufacturing to balance out our very successful contract manufacturing services we have here at Lou-Rich.”

As that grows, the value for the ESOP grows, he said.

“It’s all about continuing what’s been successful in the past … whether it’s by investments internally or looking at opportunities outside through acquisition,” Borgerding said.