Meet Lois Sonstegard. President and Founder of Build2Morrow and Academy for Entrepreneur Success
April 6, 2021
MK: Lois, tell us about yourself and your story. What experiences influenced who you are and what you do?
LS: Mine is a “tale of two stories.” I grew up in post-war Japan. I saw a people and a nation rebuild itself after the devastation of war.
My parents arrived in Japan five years after World War II with a passion for bringing healing. My mother had been a prisoner in a Japanese prison camp in the Philippine Islands. I watched the transformation in my mother and my Japanese friends as we all experienced our shared need to understand one another and build a new future. I lived both cultures and both experiences. This early experience fundamentally shaped what I do, how I make it, and its impact on people and organizations.
My first real job was as Director of Women’s Health Care Services at the University of Minnesota Hospitals. One of my responsibilities was to work with end-stage cancer patients. All possible research surgeries and treatment protocols were used, yet outcomes were poor. Relying on my mother’s stories from her prison camp experience, I developed a program founded on creating hope where there seemed to be none. You see, one of the stories my mother talked about from the prison camp was that people knew when at night, someone would not be alive in the morning. “How, you might ask.” It was by how they said “good-night.” Their good night was hollow, empty, and without hope. Drawing upon this, we built hope into our program. The results were incredible. Our mortality rates improved.
A second experience that shaped me was working at Texas Tech University, School of Medicine. We were tasked with building regional programs to decrease mortality rates among women and children in the West Texas area. There were many challenges among the “experts,” community leaders, local hospital leaders, and education. This experience taught me that if you want to influence a situation positively, you need to lay all judgment aside and find ways to empower people. Here, I began to learn the fundamentals of collaboration.
A third experience that fundamentally shaped my journey was the premature birth of my first child. There were many medical challenges, and as he entered school, we were told he would never read, write, or do the math and find alternative paths for him. I began to study the brain to discover alternative ways to teach him. He is now CFO of a Fortune 5 company and has his CPA and MBA.
From him, I learned to plan for the worst and build for the future. Even the experts can be wrong.
The fourth experience that shaped my career was starting a manufacturing company and taking it globally. I developed proprietary products (have approximately 45 patents and trademarks) and sold them worldwide. Through this experience, I learned distribution systems, collaboration, appreciation for cultural differences, and how to partner with many different people.
Today, I am focused on helping organizations build collaborative partnerships.
MK: Your story is truly inspiring and it sounds like you overcame a lot along the way. Tell us more about some of the challenges you experienced and what you took away from them.
LS: Certainly, the journey has not been smooth. There were many challenges.
First, “It can’t be done.” At the University of Minnesota, the experts said everything was being done. There was nothing else that could be done. At that time, the brain’s role and the mindset of people were not part of the calculation. I learned to research, develop alliances and trust what was unfolding.
“If the experts tell you there is no hope, why do you keep trying?” I hear that repeatedly as I worked with my son. It was true; the experts offered no hope, so I didn’t look for solutions in the areas in which research had already been conducted. I knew I had to forge new territory. I also learned I had to be honest, always looking for what wasn’t working, knowing that I may have to abandon some of my dreams while persevering.
“That’s not your experience set”. I heard that repeatedly as I built my start-up manufacturing company. It was true; I had never created a start-up, I didn’t know how to raise capital and build distribution channels. This experience taught me not to focus on what I didn’t know but to focus on what I did know. I was very good at looking for solutions and building relationships. I could leverage those skills to develop the other tools I needed.
Most importantly, I learned that if I wanted to make the impossible possible, I would need to reach beyond my own limiting beliefs and doubts.
MK: Those are very insightful takeaways. Now, talking about your business, how would you articulate the value you provide?
LS: I bring an understanding of how to build effective collaborative business partnerships both domestically and globally. Collaboration, I believe will be the new capital of exchange. Real collaboration takes unique skills and mindset.
I help good leaders build collaborative partnerships by:
Helping companies define the desired collaborative partnership
Helping companies know with whom to collaborate and understand how to build effective collaborative partnerships
Providing a framework to evaluate who is a good collaborative partner
Preparing the mindset of leaders for success
Building shared outcomes among key stakeholders, especially, the Board of Directors.
MK: And what are the values driving you forward?
LS: The values that drive me and my organization are: Know always the bare truth, vision of people moving from fear of “losing out” if they collaborate, to a driving passion for creating more than we ever dreamed possible because we dared to collaborate and partner.
MK: When you think of your criteria for success, how specific do you get? And what is your criteria?
LS: Success for me is defined by one word: Impact. If we don’t have an impact on people’s lives, organizations in which we work, our communities, our world, then for what good is what we have done?
Here are some of the criteria I use:
The number of lives changed in a positive way.
The number of organizations we have helped to build business partnerships and a larger ecosystem of collaborative partnerships.
The number of community organizations in which we helped build collaborative partnerships.
The number of people we have inspired to passionately choose to make an impact in their own places of work, communities, and environment.
MK: What are the goals you have for your business?
LS: The goal for this year is to formalize our understanding of who is a good collaborative partner. Not everyone can build collaborative partnerships. This year we will begin research in this area to better define the “who”.
Our goal in next three years is to become the go-to resource for building collaborative partnerships.
MK: You have achieved exceptional things. Where do you get inspiration from? Any recommendations to our readers?
LS: Victor Frankl: Man’s Search for Meaning
Marshall Goldsmith — all his books, his seminars
Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference
Today’s Featured Guest:
President and Founder
Build2Morrow and Academy for Entrepreneur Success