Unsung Heroes: The Women Behind Minnesota’s Most Successful Companies

Unsung Heroes: The Women Behind Minnesota’s Most Successful Companies

In 2013, our CEO and owner, Buffie Blesi, attended the inaugural Minnesota Women Business Owners Hall of Fame induction ceremony. During the event, she was struck by how many successful companies in the Twin Cities are run by women and how few of those women are recognized for their accomplishments. Finally, an organization like the Minnesota Women Business Owners Hall of Fame was creating an avenue for these powerful female voices in business to recognize, celebrate, and love themselves.

For this week of Women’s History Month, we want to highlight a couple of those powerful voices that most profoundly impacted Buffie when she heard their story at that first induction ceremony just five years ago: Mother-daughter team, Ebba Hoffman and Sharon Avent.

Ebba Hoffman grew up in a time before women had the right to vote. By 1944, she had married, and was firmly entrenched in her role as a housewife with no dealings in her husband’s Hastings-based business, Smead. When her husband died suddenly in 1955, the newly widowed homemaker, with two young children and an eighth-grade education, found herself at the helm of his debt-burdened office products company.

Over the next 43 years, Ebba steered the Smead Manufacturing Company out of a crippling financial situation, through the era’s gender biases, past competitors, and into a position as one of Minnesota’s greatest, and quietest, success stories. Under her savvy leadership, Smead grew from roughly $4 million to over $300 million in sales. When she passed the business on to her daughter, Sharon Avent. The company had gained a nationwide reputation as an office-products powerhouse.

With her many ongoing innovations, Sharon continued to expand upon her mother’s work. Today, she is the sole owner of this 100-plus year-old company that continues to be identified as one of the largest woman-owned manufacturers in the United States with more than 2,000 filing and organizing products sold in the U.S. and Canada by large retailers such as Office Depot, Staples, Office Max and Amazon.

Ebba and Sharon have a remarkable story, but they aren’t the only Minnesota business women to reach great heights. Click here to read more stories of success from the most powerful voices in Minnesota business. You may be surprised to discover just how many major companies are headed by a woman CEO!

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Best-Selling Music in MN History: The Andrews Sisters

Best-Selling Music in MN History: The Andrews Sisters

It’s Women’s History Month and of course we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to highlight this powerful singing trio that became one of the best-selling musical groups to ever emerge from Minnesota! Nicknamed “The Queens of the Jukebox Machines” for their many hit records, the Andrews Sisters were an American close harmony singing group of the swing and boogie-woogie eras. The group consisted of three sisters from Minneapolis: Patty, Maxene and LaVerne. Known for their precise harmonies and perfectly syncopated dance moves, the girls reached heights of worldwide fame and set staggering sales records. Their musical influence continues to inspire modern musicians, such as Christina Aguilera and Bette Midler.

Among their many achievements, The Andrews Sisters were the first female group to achieve a Gold Record award and became one of the best-selling female vocal groups of all time with somewhere between 75 and 100 million records sold. Of their billboard top 100 hit songs, they are most known for “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” and “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.” They were even among the inaugural inductees to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame upon its opening in 1998.

Andrews Sisters Fun Facts:

  • During World War II, the sisters Entertained extensively with frequent concert appearances at military bases in America, Italy and Africa, visiting Army, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard bases, war zones, hospital and munitions factories.
  • They appeared in more films than any other singing group in show business history.
  • They recorded 47 songs with Bing Crosby, 23 of which charted on Billboard, including three million-selling platters, “Don’t Fence Me In”/”The Three Caballeros,” “South America, Take It Away”/”Get Your Kicks on Route 66-!” and “Jingle Bells”/”Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.”


It’s Women’s History Month! Here’s How We’re Celebrating…

It’s Women’s History Month! Here’s How We’re Celebrating…

March is Women’s History Month! We plan to celebrate this month by doing what we do best: highlighting some of Minnesota’s most powerful female voices in music, business, theater and community. Next week, we’ll kick off the month with a look at some of the most influential female musicians in our state’s history. The following week, we’ll dive into the world of Minnesota business, after that comes theater, and last but not least, community.


So come along for the ride as we find inspiration in the past, present, and future of Minnesota Women’s History. While our Minnesota cities might seem small, there’s no doubt that our Minnesota women have made big contributions to the world.


Stay tuned for stories of talented women who Rock What They Got! And we would love to hear from you too, so don’t forget to take some time this month and share about the historical female figures who inspire you the most.



Who We Are: Meet the Woman Behind the “Rock What You Got” Curtain

Who We Are: Meet the Woman Behind the “Rock What You Got” Curtain

Behind every great idea, there’s a passionate individual. As we enter the final week of preparations for Rock What You Got, we wanted to get a little personal, to pull back the curtain behind our very own “Wizard”. Today, we want to introduce you to the woman who has the courage, heart and brains to take on this monumental event.

The lineup of unique experiences and interactive opportunities explains it all. It takes a village to put together this one-of-a-kind event, but leading that village is one innovative champion for women in Minnesota. Her name is Buffie Blesi, and her title is CIO (chief inspiration officer).

Ten years ago, Blesi left the male-dominated world of banking and finance and incorporated her own business. In the years since, she’s coached more than 175 (mostly women) business owners, opened another business, and purchased the Twin Cities Women’s Expo and rebranded it into Rock What You Got.

“Buying this event and attempting to completely change it, along with the minds of those who have strong opinions about it, has been both rewarding and frustrating,” says Blesi. “But I am truly grateful to all of the amazing and powerful women who trusted me and agreed to be a part of this crazy mission.”

That mission? To be a guide and catalyst to help every woman fulfill their dreams and potential. Whether it’s small business, a professional career, or family life,  Blesi has been and continues to be a fierce advocate for women.  That is why she is determined to revolutionize this expo— to provide women with experiences, relationships and introduce us to the community we deserve. Celebrating  ourselves and lifting each other up with the goal of transforming this event into a festival of women rocking what they’ve got without ever apologizing for it.

Perhaps you’ve felt guilty for the decisions you’ve made in life. Perhaps you’ve found yourself saying “sorry” for your success or your drive to achieve. Perhaps you’re looking for more substance and meaningful connections in life. If you are a woman,  you can likely relate to Buffie Blesi on her journey. And thanks to her vision, you can take comfort in knowing you’re not alone.

Join our unique line up of special guests on Jan. 25 and 26 at the Earle Brown Heritage Center. Tickets are on sale now!

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“…We Got All The Mad Love That They Want”

“…We Got All The Mad Love That They Want”

The holiday season is over and we’re all working to get back into the swing of a routine. It’s a new year, filled with fresh perspective and redefined goals. We should be filled with excitement and a renewed sense of purpose. Instead many of us are exhausted from the holiday gatherings, lack of vitamin D, and the constant struggle to stay relevant in a time when we must fight to show our true selves.

Acclaimed musician, Chastity Brown, knows all about the struggle to stand by her true identity in the face of adversity. Raised in Tennessee, Chastity made a drastic change when she chose Minnesota as her new home base. It’s a transition that has come with a specific set of challenges and a finite focus on self-love throughout it all. Her powerful force is exactly why our team at Rock What You Got (RWYG) presented by Twin Cities Women’s Expo selected her to headline our first concert series.

Her newest single, Mad Love was inspired by a confrontation Chastity had with a white supremacist in western Wisconsin. The songs powerful lyrics convey a message of resilient authenticity in the midst of an ever-changing societal climate.

“Wouldn’t be so hard/if I got my way/I’d get far from these crowds/though they scream and shout and hate/like they’re/like they’re angry with themselves/cause we/we got/all the mad love/that they want.”

Chastity stands by her values to choose love in the face of hate. This powerful anthem of acceptance encourages us to abandon our fear, hold tight to our light, and join her in casting positivity into the world.


It won’t come as a surprise that we jumped at the chance to bring this message of hope and love to RWYG LIVE! presented by City Pages on Friday, Jan. 25 at the Earle Brown Heritage Center. Chastity Brown will headline an incredible lineup of women performers as we celebrate our authentic selves and one another, just as we are today! Tickets to the show include a 2-Day Pass to all RWYG experiences.

Put yourself on the path to acceptance by participating in our various performances, guest speakers and interactive experiences. Join us on January 25 and 26. And check back here over the next several weeks as we invite you to Rock What You Got!

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