John Folkestad

Normandale Alumnus John Folkestad

Five Questions with John Folkestad

When John Folkestad graduated from Normandale in 1987 with his Associate’s Degree in Accounting, he couldn’t have predicted the success his future held. In 2002, Folkestad co-founded SALO, LLC, a staffing and recruiting firm specializing in financial and accounting employees and helped grow it from a two-person operation to a thriving company with more than 300 employees. He and Co-founder Amy Langer were named "Emerging Entrepreneurs of the Year" in 2006 by Ernst & Young. And, in 2007, SALO was named to Inc. Magazine's 500 List of America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies.

Through all that success, however, Folkestad still clearly recalls the path he followed to get where he is now—and the important role Normandale played in helping him get there.

In 1985, Folkestad was deciding where to go to college. His sister had gone to Normandale and completed her Associates Degree moving on to St. Cloud State where she majored in teaching.

Folkestad was told by his sister that Normandale offered smaller class sizes and was a great educational environment. Folkestad had earned a scholarship from a Bloomington bank and knew he wanted to work full-time while he went to school. Normandale allowed him to do that, and the path to an extremely successful career as one of the top business recruiters in Twin Cities began.

After graduating from Normandale, Folkestad followed his sister’s path and went to St. Cloud State where he received his B.S. in Accounting. He then worked three years as an auditor at Deloitte and four years as division director at Accountemps before moving on to work for an international staffing company that he helped start. Folkestad had a great deal of success there, claiming multiple "Million Dollar Milestone" awards.

However, Folkestad had bigger ideas about how he wanted run a company, which led him to co-found SALO.

A little less than six years ago, Folkestad helped found Oberon LLC, which places senior -level human resource professionals on a project or interim basis. He also helped to found Numberworks LLC, which places staff level accounting and finance professionals on a project or interim basis.

We recently had the opportunity to talk with Folkestad about why Normandale was a good option for him, how it is an experience that others can benefit from, and to hear about some of his personal philosophies that led to him founding his own business.

What made you start your own business?

"Before I started my own company I wasn’t always able to keep the promises I wanted to when I was recruiting workers. Through that process, I think you begin to wear out your welcome when you are trying to get quality people to work for you on projects.

When we created SALO, I wanted to make sure we provided great benefits for the employees we were recruiting to work for us. When we started the company I paid people’s benefits before I paid myself. Our first employees were people I had been working with for years whose work I knew and I had strong loyalty to. I was able to attract some phenomenal workers to our company.

I look at it this way: strong people have many choices. You have to honor that. If you don’t, it is at your own peril."

How does it make you feel to be able to change the culture of the industry in which you are working?

"It was our 10th anniversary this fall (2012). Our company has been thoughtful and smart about the decisions we have made. We try to take care of people, because it is so much more expensive to recruit people than hold onto successful ones.

I want to work with people I lose sleep over trying to keep rather than having people that I don’t worry about."

Why did you go to Normandale?

"My older sister went there and had a great experience. I had decided to go into Accounting, and I knew I was going to have to pay for most of my education.

Going to Normandale was affordable, and it allowed me to go to school and work full-time.

I graduated nearly debt-free, and got as good an education in my first two years at Normandale as I would have anywhere else."

What was the experience of working full-time while going to Normandale like?

"We have a program at SALO LLC where inner-city kids work in our company while they are going to high school. It is amazing to see how fast these kids mature. This was the effect it had on me as well.

Having the focus of working and going to school kept me on task, and I witnessed many others who did the same thing while I was at Normandale.

It was great to see some of the stuff I was doing at work pop up in my Accounting classes. Going to Normandale kept my costs down while paying for a great education. It was a really great place to go. I would go back and do it all over again."

How do you view your overall experience at Normandale?

"Normandale is a great option for entrepreneurial people. I wanted an education that gave me the skills to make a living. I wanted to get right to the meat of the courses, and learn the skills I needed to succeed, and Normandale’s classes provided that type of environment.

I worked full-time, lived at home, and paid for my education. I gained a good ‘real-world’ education through that experience.

Normandale is great, affordable option for people who are concerned about money to get a quality education."