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Jonathan Guenthner, board member of The Network, eats popcorn as Wayne Puetz gives a presentation on his career during The Network’s My Biggest Break lecture Wednesday at Logan Luxury Theatres in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

Speakers: Innovation key to success

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Innovation, opportunity and hard work have helped drive two Mitchell community leaders in successful business careers.

Wayne Puetz and Jerry Thomsen spoke Wednesday to a group of young professionals called The Network during its ongoing series “My Biggest Break.”

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Puetz, of Puetz Corp. and Wayne and Mary’s Nutrition Center, and Thomsen, formerly of Trail King Industries, both commended the 80 or more people who attended the event. They said networking is one of the best practices to become successful.

The men had similar messages of not being afraid to try new things, innovation is key, ethics is important and hard work is valued.

Both men were born into companies run by their fathers, but parted with those professions to explore their options. Puetz’s father built Puetz Construction in Mitchell, but Puetz didn’t feel that was right for him after high school.

“I encourage you to not give up trying different things,” he said.

Puetz studied engineering, general education and studied three years to be a priest. He eventually got a degree in psychology, entered the Sioux Falls school system, opened a health food store and now he’s in construction.

“Have faith there’s an answer there someplace,” he said to laughter.

Puetz’s two businesses are now based on challenges and innovation. He first encountered a health food store in Florida when a doctor sent him there to ease the symptoms of his multiple sclerosis. He found a regimen that worked for him, which gave him one of his first big breaks.

He and his wife, Mary, ventured into the health food store business, starting out in Sioux Falls. It was successful, but another store they opened in Sioux City, Iowa, was not. They eventually opened a store in Mitchell and sold the Sioux Falls store to a cousin.

When Puetz rejoined the family company in 1977, he had a short learning curve — four days. His dad went to Arizona and left him in charge, he said, but they worked their way through it.

Innovation has marked the success of Puetz Corp., including its design-build, construction management and construction management at risk techniques. The company did its first design-build project in 1986 by being responsible for both design and construction. From there, it was able to hire its own on-staff architects and grow into construction management — Puetz oversees a project and its contractors, but doesn’t do the construction. Construction management at risk means it manages projects for public entities like cities and school districts.

Puetz put an emphasis on the philosophical basis of his business, saying to treat everyone with fairness, dignity and respect. He also emphasized the value of a good support system. That has been passed down to his son, Mark, a minority owner in Puetz Corp.

“Our ethics is very important,” he said. “I would say we market ethics, market responsibility.”

He said none of the business ventures would have happened had he not had great support and equal hard work from his wife, Mary.

Thomsen, too, said without unfailing support from his wife, Pam, his career wouldn’t have been as successful.

“I spent 30 years of my life traveling,” he said. “I was gone a lot. While I was gone, she held it all together. If there is no support, that becomes a problem.”

Thomsen, who started welding and servicing equipment at Trail King in middle school, said the company started in his parents’ home with a dream. It quickly gained momentum and moved to a business location at Sanborn Boulevard and First Avenue.

Thomsen left Mitchell and got a business management degree and eventually came back to Mitchell to run his father’s business, Trail King Industries, of which he became president in 1988 at age 30. But he started at the lower ranks — scheduling production, traffic, shipping trailers, working in the shop and sales. He soon was promoted and helped build a multimillion-dollar business.

He said his first big break came in his move back to Mitchell. He used his positions at Trail King to show he wasn’t just the boss’ son.

In 1995, his next big break was selling Trail King to a company called Carlisle, which still owns the nationally-known trailer manufacturer. Although both positive and negative results came from the sale, Thomsen said it was overall a good decision.

Now, Thomsen and his wife own and operate several businesses in Mitchell and instilled the entrepreneurial spirit in their children. Their daughter started her own business when she came back to town and their sons bought their own business as well.

Thomsen gave the group a few guidelines by which to operate — honesty and integrity, a positive attitude, commitment and persistence, a competitive spirit, leadership skills, encouragement, be an agent of change, team-building and continuing education.

By carrying these in professional and personal scenarios, Thomsen said anyone can be successful.

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