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OUR OPINION: N.D. loses a business legend

Gene Dahl was entrepreneurial when entrepreneurial wasn't cool. Dahl, who died Wednesday in Fargo, was a UND graduate and former schoolteacher who acted as a driving force behind three well-known North Dakota manufacturers -- Bobcat, Steiger Trac...

Gene Dahl was entrepreneurial when entrepreneurial wasn't cool.

Dahl, who died Wednesday in Fargo, was a UND graduate and former schoolteacher who acted as a driving force behind three well-known North Dakota manufacturers -- Bobcat, Steiger Tractor and Concord. Two of these evolved into Fortune 500 firms; as one admirer noted, "few people anywhere in the world have grown two Fortune 500 companies."

Dahl served in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead noted Thursday.

Dahl graduated from UND with math and chemistry degrees and served as a schoolteacher for a year. He then joined Melroe Manufacturing -- now Bobcat -- in his hometown of Gwinner, N.D.

"Dahl and his four brothers-in-law built up the company before selling it to Clark Equipment Co. in 1970," according to the Forum story.

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"Dahl then joined Fargo's Steiger Co., a pioneer in big four-wheel-drive tractors, providing both leadership and capital to the company.

"At its peak, Steiger employed more than 1,200 people in Fargo. ...

"Steiger, under Dahl's leadership, established one of the first employee stock ownership plans in the nation."

Concord Inc. came next; the company -- which Dahl and his sons helped found -- made air drillers, tools used for precision planting. In 1995, the company had annual sales of about $25 million, and it was sold to Case Corp. of Wisconsin a year later.

Dahl also served two terms in the North Dakota House of Representatives, the Forum story noted.

With that as background, no wonder Dahl was inducted in 1990 into the North Dakota Entrepreneur Hall of Fame.

"First a teacher, Dahl joined the Melroe family in 1950 to build the largest manufacturing company in North Dakota," Dahl's Hall of Fame citation reads.

"When Melroe was sold to Clark Equipment in 1969, he joined Steiger as CEO and chairman. Sales increased from $3 million to $105 million in six years, and the company became a world leader in the manufacture of four-wheel-drive tractors.

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"He served as Chairman of Concord, Inc., a manufacturer of minimum-till farm equipment from 1977 until its sale to Case Corp. in early 1996. He also co-founded First Dakota Capital, North Dakota's first venture capital firm."

UND awarded Dahl an honorary degree in 1999.

Dahl also was an early supporter of the Center for Innovation at the university and served as the first chairman of the center's board.

"He was a great guy," one colleague of Dahl's said in the Forum story. "He was my teacher, my mentor and my best friend," said another.

What an inspiring life story. North Dakota will miss Gene Dahl.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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