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Ethics fostered by rural upbringing shaped Florness' success

RIVER FALLS --Dan Florness actually had hoped to play euchre with friends the day former Ellsworth High School classmate Paul Solyntjes talked him into attending a career fair at UW-River Falls.

Florness remembers having had a great conversation about hockey when the recruiter with the international accounting firm of Peat Marwick brought the discussion back to Florness' future and offered him the internship. The move shaped his career and helped bring him to his position as a key executive in a $3 billion publicly-held company.

Florness, 48, son of Adeline and the late Ken Florness of Bay City, shared his life story with students at UW-River Falls Tuesday as "Executive in Residence," a day-long visit hosted by the College of Business and Economics.

Florness drew national attention recently when he was named among the Wall Street Journal's Top 10 Chief Financial Officers--a distinction linked to his somewhat unique role with Fastenal as both Executive Vice-President and CFO.

"I'm responsible for the checkbook" and asking the question--"Do we have the cash to pull this off?", Florness explained to 200-plus business students, faculty and guests at an hour-long talk at the University Center.

He described Winona-based Fastenal as a "store-based industrial supplier--a fancy way of saying we sell nuts and bolts."

Fastenal has grown 10-fold since Florness shelved a dream of moving to Chicago and, instead, accepted Fastenal founder Bob Kierlin's invitation to join the company 16 years ago. Along with financial oversight, Florness is responsible for the property management associated with 2,600 retail stores in 20 countries, relationships with 4,000 suppliers, a fleet of 6,000 vehicles and semi-trailer, new product development and investor relations.

Florness is modest about his success, much of which he attributes to parents who inspired him to a habit of lifelong reading, independence fostered by growing up on a farm a mile from the nearest neighbor, a good education and exposure to farmers who are natural risk-takers.

"I was surrounded by entrepreneurs; people who took their life savings and dropped it in the ground every year, expecting it to grow," said Florness, paraphrasing investment guru Warren Buffett.

"My father had an insatiable appetite to read. When the newspaper arrived, he'd take an hour or two in the middle of the day and read it."

For more please read the May 1 print version of the Herald.