MOORHEAD, Minn.-Successful entrepreneur and hotel magnate Gary Tharaldson shared stories from his business career during an event at Minnesota State University Moorhead on Monday, April 16, wowing his audience with tales of how a boy who grew up near Dazey, N.D., on a farm that didn't have running water built a company that was sold to its employees in 1999 for about $1 billion.
About 15 years later, those employees walked away with about $600 million when they sold the company, providing many with a significant retirement fund, according to Tharaldson.
He said creating the employee stock ownership plan that made that possible is one of his proudest accomplishments in a career that is still going strong and is now chronicled in a book titled, "Open Secrets of Success: the Gary Tharaldson Story," which is available on Amazon and was written by Patrick J. McCloskey.
Tharaldson said the book reflects his long-held practice of answering questions anytime people ask him how he has gotten to where he is.
When it comes to building hotels, Tharaldson's formula is simple: he teams only with high-quality brands like Marriott and only builds in areas where demographics almost guarantee success.
To help ensure that, he said he determines who the major competitors are in a community and then builds hotels with about 20 percent fewer rooms, which he says usually results in higher occupancy rates and above-average profit margins, usually around 40 percent.
"I stack the deck for myself," Tharaldson said, adding that success comes in many forms, and for him, it's not necessarily making lots of money.
"If you're truly doing what you love to do, then you're successful," he said.
Asked what he feels are his strongest talents, Tharaldson listed attitude and a willingness to learn, as well as adopting a common sense approach to most things.
When he struggled to come up with a third talent, his wife, Connie, supplied the rest.
"He never gives up," she said. "He finds a way to keep going and never, ever, gives up."
Tharaldson told the audience, which was mainly MSUM students, that a major part of what has made his hotels successful is that employees were given a stake in whether the business succeeded or not.
"They acted like owners. They took pride in everything they did, knowing someday there would be a payday," Tharaldson said.