Christine Lantinen of Maud Borup: “Women are strong”

Women are strong, creative thinkers and are always juggling so many things. We don’t allow the ball to be dropped, and we are passionate about what we do. These are ideal traits of a leader. As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Lantinen. […]

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Women are strong, creative thinkers and are always juggling so many things. We don’t allow the ball to be dropped, and we are passionate about what we do. These are ideal traits of a leader.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Lantinen.

As president and owner of Maud Borup, Christine Lantinen led the transformation and growth of the company, changing the business model from direct-to-consumer to wholesale. In its first year, the company grew from 100,000 dollars to 2 million dollars, and it now is a 30 million dollars company on track to reach 100 million dollars in less than six years with 20%+ growth per year.

She sets an example in the industry for how manufacturing companies can be profitable while focusing on social and environmental issues that balance people and product with profit.

Prior to Maud Borup, Christine served 10 years in the Army. She also worked in management positions at Target and a food gift company until she fulfilled her dream of owning her own business.

Christine is an alumna of the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ program, which identifies ambitious women entrepreneurs and provides them with the guidance, resources and access they need to unlock their full potential.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Maud Borup is a 114-year-old sustainable, woman-owned, veteran-owned confections company specializing in gourmet candy, confections and food gifts. Maud Borup started the company in 1907 before women had the right to vote, and it has been primarily women-owned.

I spent 10 years as an Army medic and afterward worked for Target Corporation in sourcing and then as a sales director for a food gift company. In 2005, on a Friday, I was told the company could no longer afford my salary and was let go. I contacted the owner of Maud Borup and met with her the next morning, offering to purchase the brand based on a sales royalty payout over the next two years. By that Monday, I was contacting buyers and informing them of the purchase and that we looked forward to showing them our new line. We made bold moves to transform the company from a direct-to-consumer model to a business-to-business model to achieve the exponential growth envisioned. Closing iconic retail stores was difficult, but this was the catalyst for growth. The company grew from 100,000 dollars to 2 million dollars within months after the purchase. Now, Maud Borup is a 30 million dollars company on track to becoming a 100 million dollars company in less than six years, achieving 20%+ growth each year.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

After purchasing Maud Borup, I thought it would get easier as the company became more established in the industry. But in many ways, it gets harder as we grow. New challenges are exciting challenges, like opening our manufacturing facility in my hometown to provide jobs and help the community where I was raised. This year, we built a 6 million dollars expansion onto our manufacturing facility, added new production capabilities, hired more people, and increased our on-site warehousing — all during the pandemic.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Months after purchasing Maud Borup, we had over 2 million dollars in sales but had no money to buy the raw materials needed to manufacture the products. When I went to banks to get a loan, they wanted a formal written business plan. I didn’t have one. Every bank refused to loan us the money we needed to get started. At that moment, I knew we needed to get creative to move forward. Lesson learned — prepare a formal written business plan first.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My dad’s friend, Karl Bohn, a businessman from Savage, Minnesota, attended bank meetings with me to help secure a loan that would be used to manufacture the 2 million dollars in products that we had just sold. After one meeting, we walked out of the door as Karl yelled to the banker, “She has more in her savings account than what you’re willing to loan her!” Karl ended up pledging a piece of farmland against my loan to secure it. He believed in me and has been an inspiration from the beginning. He taught me how to pursue unconventional routes when things need to get done.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The Art of Happiness by the 14th Dalai Lama taught me that true happiness is achieved from within through training your mind to be thankful.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Every day, I say, “life is not fair,” out loud to remind myself that regardless of what happens that day, we will think creatively, explore new ideas, and get things done. Nothing is owed to anyone. You need to make it happen, and it is important to be thankful for the good things that come to us each day.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Our mission statement speaks directly to our social and environmental commitment as a company. We promote business practices that respect the earth, are committed to a sustainable future, and take steps to improve the environmental well-being of the community. We asked everyone in the company to look at their departments and make suggestions to become more sustainable, resulting in over 35 changes in processes and procedures — from small things like recycling and reducing catalog deliveries to achieving zero landfill waste this year, which turns our discarded material into energy used to heat over 4,000 homes in the community.

We’re also in the process of completing our B Corp certification, which holds companies to the highest standards for social and environmental responsibility, balancing people and purpose with profit.

Last, we have created a diverse ecosystem that empowers women and allows everyone to feel safe and respected, and values their opinions.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

We often hold ourselves back with negative thoughts and fear of failure. We question if we can really do it. Over the years, I’ve seen this changing. Women are no longer settling for support roles. There are resources available to help women think through their ideas, gain insights on funding, and navigate challenges along the way. Women are amazing, strong, creative, and resilient. They aren’t afraid to ask for help. And when you get a group of women together, great things happen.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

With 75% of Maud Borup being women, our goal is to empower women at every level within the company. We cross-train employees to help enrich their skill sets, which helps make them more valuable because there is flexibility to move them where needed if someone is out sick or we have demand in certain areas of production. But, this also gives them an understanding of various aspects of business and makes them more valuable to go out and pursue opportunities to advance themselves. Our hope is that they will want to stay with the company, but we understand, support, and encourage the desire to start a business or advance to opportunities that will help fulfill their personal goals and dreams. We recently started an internship program and hired two female engineers who are learning all aspects of manufacturing while working on key projects that advance the company.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Women are strong, creative thinkers and are always juggling so many things. We don’t allow the ball to be dropped, and we are passionate about what we do. These are ideal traits of a leader.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

  1. Teach girls to lead from a young age — When my daughter wanted to join the Girl Scouts, I became a troop leader with the goal of bringing out the inner strength and ability each one of us has inside to pursue interests and dreams. My creativity is called upon to ensure an environment for learning with the freedom for each girl to express herself through peer interactions, fun projects, and field trips.
  2. Surround women with mentors — My husband and I sponsored a female foreign exchange student. While living in our house, she saw how hard and how fun it was to grow a family business. She became inspired to help whenever she could. After more than 10 years, we are still in contact, and she reflects back on how that experience has shaped her thinking and approach to so many issues.
  3. Give women access to capital — It would be great to have bankers understand that although women may think differently or have different approaches to business that may not fit a traditional style, they can still be a viable opportunity that should be supported.
  4. Teach them about entrepreneurship — It’s great that there are organizations specifically focused on helping women think through their business plans, funding, and leadership styles. Spending time with these mentors helped me think through ideas and understand core business processes.
  5. Build confidence — Looking back through history, women have played significant roles that proved their strength and capability. The cultural icon, Rosie the Riveter, displaying her muscle-flexed arm and saying, “We can do it!,” empowered women to take on jobs only men had held while they were called to war and still inspires us today.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

When I bought Maud Borup, I wanted to give back to the community where I was raised. Our manufacturing facility was established in Le Center, Minnesota, with the goal of creating jobs and empowering women. Women had the great dexterity and attention to detail that our giftable products required, creating beautiful bows and embellishments. Today, Maud Borup relies on women not only on the production floor, but also to lead in key management areas such as human resources, shipping, logistics, warehousing, public relations, marketing, sales, certifications, and purchasing. Over 75% of our workforce are women. We recently started an internship program and hired two female engineers to build and work on equipment that is key to our business success. Our workforce is diverse, with 75% identifying as people of color and employees ranging from 17 to almost 80 years of age.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

There are two people that come to mind. I’d love to talk with Elon Musk. I am obsessed with sustainability and renewability, so I would geek out over the things he’s working on. The other person would be Maud Borup, the company’s namesake. I’d love to hear how she got the inspiration and strength to start this company in 1907 before women had the right to vote.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Over the years, Maud Borup has been included in media stories about women-owned and veteran-owned companies, manufacturing, and sustainability. If you look online, you can always learn more about our next endeavor.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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