The hater's guide to Minnesota's Fortune 500 companies

David Joles, Star Tribune

David Joles, Star Tribune


The Good
Target (Rank No. 38, $69.5 billion in revenue): Since ousting CEO Gregg Steinhafel (a Michele Bachmann fan and opponent of gay rights), Target has swung hard left on social issues. Last year, it affirmed that transgender customers would be allowed in the bathroom of their choice, sending knuckle-draggers in search of stores more open-minded to their bigotry.
Supervalu (No. 158, $17.5 billion): The money minders behind Cub and Rainbow have tense relations with their unions. But at least they have unions, unlike a lot of too-cool co-ops or those Hy-Vees invading the cities.
Ecolab (No. 211, $13.1 billion): A behemoth trafficking in the international chemical market sounds like a scandal waiting to happen. We’re still waiting. The proud “nerds” at Ecolab like keeping things clean, including their record.
C.H. Robinson (No. 212, $13.1 billion): This global shipping and logistics company quietly moves tons of products from points A to points B, tangibly improving consumers’ lives. Way more than can be said for others on this list.
Thrivent Financial (No. 316, $8.7 billion): A nonprofit money manager where the CEO makes pennies compared to other financial executives? It’s a miracle. Where Jesus would’ve banked, if he was into money.

The Bad
CHS (No. 93, $30.3 billion): In 2014, the feds sued to stop a joint venture between ConAgra, Cargill, Horizon, and CHS, the biggest farmer-rancher cooperative in America, alleging that it would have smothered competition in the grain market from Los Angeles to Minneapolis. Picture your wheat farmer wearing that Monopoly guy’s top hat.
US Bancorp (No. 125, $22.7 billion): In 2014, US Bank was fined $9 million and forced to repay $48 million after billing customers for credit and identity protection “services” they didn’t sign up for, and in many cases, didn’t receive.
Land O’ Lakes (No. 209, $13.2 billion): Last year, a consortium of farmer-owned dairy co-ops -- including Land O’Lakes -- settled a price-fixing lawsuit for $52 million. Their business model: Driving down supply by “retiring” -- i.e., killing -- some 500,000 dairy cows.
Ameriprise Financial (No. 239, $11.7 billion): If you judge a business by how it treats employees, be wary of Ameriprise. In 2011, employees sued their own firm for shoddy handling of company 401(k)s, accusing Ameriprise of using its plans to buy crappy, overpriced stocks that Ameriprise held in its own portfolio. In 2015, the company settled for $27.5 million, and agreed to limit previously generous compensation rewards for plan managers.
Xcel Energy (No. 256, $11.1 billion): Xcel and its platoon of lobbyists always seem to get their way. In May, the state approved a $244 million rate hike that runs through 2020. That’s around the time Xcel will come back for more, making everyone pay for its new natural gas plant, which the legislature approved this year, cutting out state agency oversight. Oh, to be a “regulated” monopoly.
St. Jude Medical Inc. (No. 434, $6 billion): This’ll be the last year Minnesota can claim St. Jude, which has been acquired by Illinois’ Abbot Laboratories. Good riddance. St. Jude made life-saving products (defibrillators and pacemakers), but also spent millions lobbying for repeal of the medical device tax, and buying up politicians like GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen until at last, and at your expense, it got its way.
Patterson Companies (No. 466, $5.5 billion): Last year, Texas database security expert Justin Shafer found an unprotected cache containing 22,000 patients’ dental records, names and all. He tried telling Patterson, parent company of the software firm with a gaping hole in its files. In a masterfully underhanded ass-covering move, Patterson turned Shafer in to the FBI, which raided his home. No charges were filed.

The Ugly
UnitedHealth (No. 6, $184.8 billion): In May, the Department of Justice sued the insurance giant, alleging it had fudged records of Medicare patients to make them look sicker, and thus charge more. The move rerouted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into the pockets of executives and shareholders, who could not possibly look sicker than they do right now.
Best Buy (No. 72, $39.4 billion): Busted gadgets from Best Buys across the country are flown to a huge facility in Kentucky, where techs are accused of cutting side deals with the FBI. According to a recent lawsuit, the feds asked the geeks to fish through people’s files, which they happily did, for as little as $500 or $1,000. Next time your laptop fails, consider breaking it to bits with a hammer.
3M (No. 94, $30.9 billion): Rid your mind of the image of quirky geeks inventing Scotch tape and the Post-it Note. 3M has been sued for contaminating water with potentially cancer-causing chemicals in New York, Alabama, and Minnesota. State Attorney General Lori Swanson has already spent seven years in court, accusing 3M of exposing upward of 125,000 Twin Cities residents to these chemicals, long after the company knew the risks.
General Mills (No. 165, $16.5 billion): In 2014, the corporation snuck language onto its website that said anyone who downloaded coupons, joined a sweepstakes, or even “liked” a company Facebook page was waiving their right to sue the company. The company backed off, saying it had been “misunderstood,” and was only seeking a “cost-effective means of resolving disputes.” There’s not enough sugar in the world to help you swallow that.
Hormel (No. 295, $9.5 billion): Hormel’s having trouble keeping up in the Asian market because many of its suppliers give piglets a growth-inducing substance banned in China. (China!) Hormel’s environmental record is also shitty, literally: It’s among the pork producers exploiting lax regulations in Iowa, where hog manure fertilizer often runs off farmland... and right into people’s drinking water.
Mosaic Company (No. 377, $7.1 billion): A pretty name for an ugly business. Mosaic mines for potash and phosphate, crop fertilizers that can contaminate surrounding air and water. Sometimes they cut out the middleman: In Florida, Mosaic has run afoul of EPA standards for air pollution (in 2013) and water pollution (2015), and has agreed to spend $2 billion and clean up 60 billion pounds of hazardous waste.

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