Inspiring Conversations: The Art of Creating Renaissance

This discussion features Paul Grangaard, the Chairman and CEO of Faribault Woolen Mill Co. and former CEO of Allen Edmonds, two roles he assumed after leaving senior leadership roles in financial services. Paul’s leadership has transformed these iconic businesses, which are also the cornerstones of their home communities. His leadership ensured that those families dependent on the success of these enterprises could continue to be engaged and employed in the craft they love in a sustainable way.

To review the pre-event materials, go here. The event recap, video and podcast recordings are below.


  • You bring your whole self to the job. You cannot hire someone’s productivity and not expect the rest of that person. You hire their wholeness, from their capabilities to their personality and interests, which greatly contribute to their vision and work ethic. (5:58)
  • Instead of holding a “defeatist” attitude, think of positivity and growth. Instead of focusing on “those jobs never returning,” think of the Winston Churchill quote, “Never, ever give up.” (16:10)
  • America has gotten off track in making the shareholder the most important constituent. By treating employees as the most important constituents of your business, you create an atmosphere of enjoyment, where your workers have a bounce in their step. As a result, customers are more likely to be happy as well. (19:10)
  • “If you can afford to be gracious, you should be.” (Paul Grangaard quoting his mentor David Crosby, 24:42)
  • “My career was full of serendipities—things that I didn’t expect to happen—and I came out of college thinking that I was going to manage my career, and my career has been way more fun…way more enriching because I let serendipities happen to me, and I went with them.” (Paul Grangaard, 26:58)
  • “Having more than one kind of tool in your toolbox is very helpful in a long term career.” (Paul Grangaard, 28:41)
  • “No job is perfect for you. You’re not perfect for any job. It is a question of molding each other to the right experience.” (Paul Grangaard, 29:35)
  • “Failure is a part of innovation and creativity. If you’re in a room where you can be fired for a small failure, you’re not going to dream.” (Paul Grangaard, 31:38)
  • Today, people in the business-world tend to be too sharp-edged, and quick to point out faults in another. We must realize our human and make mistakes, which is an idea grounded in faith. We shouldn’t hate sinners because we are all sinners. (32:15)
  • Surround yourself with good people—gain a lot of mentors. Nobody is perfect. Take the best things from your best mentors, as well as learn from their own mistakes. (46:57)

Event Recap

The Inspiring Conversations Series featured a discussion about transformative leadership and advocations with guest speaker Paul Grangaard, the Chairman and CEO of Faribault Woolen Mill Co. and former CEO of Allen Edmonds. This virtual event was led by Tom Schreier, the founding director of the Inspired Leadership Initiative. Through this discussion, Grangaard spoke about the connection between job and identity, the importance of community, and the intersection of faith, vocation, and occupation.

In the beginning of the discussion, Grangaard touched on the importance of art, both in his career and in his life. Speaking about his leadership journey, he recounted a point in his career where he only projected himself as serious and strictly-business. However, as his co-workers began to ask “What happened to Grangaard?”, he realized that “You bring your whole self to a job,” not simply your productivity and services. Emphasizing the importance of the whole self, Grangaard touched on the importance of music and art in his life. In 1979, he had the opportunity to study in Florence, Italy, which completely changed his life. He discovered the beauty of art through his constant exposure to art history, architecture, and design, which would later help him in the manufacturing business. Additionally, during his career in investment banking, he was blessed with travelling to Frankfurt, Germany, where he further realized his love for history, language, and art.

Grangaard further spoke about the connection between career and identity. He emphasized the beauty of realizing that you are never the smartest in the room; surrounding yourself with talented individuals only elevates a business. In fact, at the company Piper Jaffray, Grangaard, Schrier, and previous Inspiring Conversations speaker Paul Karos lead together as great friends, fostering a culture of good-natured fun in addition to efficiency and productivity. Grangaard was very successful in his investment banking career, but greatly missed Florence. In his eyes, Florence was a place as well as an idea. Luckily, he discovered the idea of Florence in Allen Edmonds Shoe Corporation; the smell of the plant brought back memories of a market in Florence. His joyful passion as well as his attention to detail allowed him to thrive in this environment, with the capability of telling the difference between a “pretty good shoe and a beautiful shoe.” 

Next, Grangaard touched on the importance of community and placing a continual focus on others. He emphasized that a job is one’s calling and everyone is called to serve others. When he arrived at Allen Edmonds, they were bankrupt and on the verge of being sold as a brand. Grangaard emphasized that he “felt a calling” to save those jobs. Avoiding what he called a “defeatist attitude” that manufacturing jobs will permanently leave America, Grangaard changed his strategy and approach, growing their ecommerce business and going direct to consumers instead of relying on the wholesale channel. By focusing on growth and positivity, he was able to triple employment in Port Washington in the nine years they were there.

In speaking of the intersection of faith, vocation, and occupation, Grangaard spoke about how his faith values allowed him to place his employees and customers at the forefront of his business. He realized that, if he focused his attention on building a culture where people are valued, where their opinions mattered—Treating customers and employers as the most important constituents inherently leads to growth, since you create an atmosphere of universal enjoyment.

In the Q&A portion of the virtual event, Grangaard answered a wide range of questions, touching on topics such as his advice for young people choosing a career path as well as effective leadership. He explained the importance of discovering a balance in your career. Similar to Grangaard’s love for art and language, he called viewers to “have more than one kind of tool in your toolbox,” in order to succeed and flourish. At the end of the discussion, Grangaard gave young people a few final words of advice: In choosing your future job, place importance on 1) the people you are working with, and 2) using and nourishing your talents.

View the discussion recorded on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, with Tom Schreier and special guest Paul Grangaard.

Listen to the discussion:

Other recaps:

Part 2: Inspiring Girls to Achieve

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