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!