Alumni Memories: Mike Hoffman, ’02 MBA

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

While many working adults take up the notion of going back to school, few among us can attest to actually doing it. We have long days at the office, families to care for, and hobbies that fill our hours outside of work.

Impressive, then, that Mike Hoffman—chairman and CEO of the Bloomington, Minn.-based Toro Co.—carved out time in his schedule to get his advanced degree. In fact, he earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees as he moved up the ranks from a service representative position, which he started at in 1977; through sales, marketing, and divisional management; to the CEO position, to which he was elected in 2005. “I didn’t go back just to advance my career,” says the soft-spoken Hoffman. “I went back because it had been a personal goal, an ongoing commitment to lifelong learning.”

He chose the Carlson School due to the strength of its Executive MBA program, as well as its respect for an executive’s most valued commodity: time. From 2000 to 2002, he attended classes every other weekend, and all day Friday and Saturday—all while running Toro’s consumer business and helping to raise a family. At the time, students in the Executive MBA program were placed in study groups that worked together inside and outside of class for the entire two years. (Today, group members are rotated between their first and second years). The name of Hoffman’s group of five: the Outliers.

“I was fortunate to end up with a group of people with a lot of diversity,” he says, noting that its members worked for the Mayo Clinic, Guidant, 3M, and Thompson West. “The group process is really an important part of the experience. The dynamic in the learning was very good, so it just [made] the experience much richer.”

Today, he and his former group members continue to meet about once a year to catch up, and Hoffman remains involved with the school as a member of the Carlson School Board of Overseers. His commitment is a result of the dedication he saw from the school during his time there as a student—and continues to see. “This is a very choreographed program,” he says. “They’re sensitive to the executive audience. It allows people to focus on the learning.”