Larry Laukka wasn’t expecting the bulldog.
Nobody could miss the symbolism, however, as the maroon-and-gold-clad pooch trotted toward him on stage at the University’s groundbreaking ceremonies for the new McNamara Alumni Center in 1997. For more than a decade, Laukka had spearheaded this project, tenaciously steering its planning and development through the University’s organizational labyrinth. Bulldog indeed.
Laukka Management Inc.
The Mission: Influencing the real estate development industry
To take on a project like this, you would have to love the University, and probably no one loves it more than Larry Laukka. Born and raised in Minnesota, he credits the U with literally changing his life. In particular, it was a class—geography, architecture, and sociology—and it was a professor—the legendary John Borchert.
“He made such an impression on me in that class, explaining how cities had developed since the beginning of time,” says Laukka, who graduated with a degree in economics in 1958. “I still credit that course with the opportunity I’ve had to practice the art of building communities. It was the trigger that landed me in this industry.”
“This industry” is real estate development. In the business for 50 years, Laukka has owned his own company, L.A. Laukka Development, since 1975. His imprint on Minnesota is pervasive. He has developed and built some 6,000 Twin Cities homes and home sites; including the Twin Cities’ first commercially successful townhouse community.
He added property management to his portfolio when he began developing townhomes and condominiums, promising residents that he would not just build their homes but would “stay with them and make it right,” forming the Laukka Management Inc. as a property management company that would make that happen.
To Laukka, being an entrepreneur is more about passionate living than about moneymaking. That’s why he has put his entrepreneurial expertise into volunteer service to his beloved University of Minnesota. He still considers the alumni center his proudest achievement, but when that was done, he couldn’t resist agreeing to oversee another project. This time, it was the Scholars Walk, the 2,200-foot campus pathway completed in 2004 to honor the University’s most distinguished scholars.
And he’s still at it. For the past half dozen years he’s been advising and directing the first phase of development for UMORE (University of Minnesota Outreach, Research and Education) Park, a 5,000-acre project in Dakota County, where the University intends to create a sustainable and environmental-friendly community that will be home to some 20,000 residents.
Laukka’s long and impressive story is a case study in successful entrepreneurship. Among its many lessons, two stand out. One is to cultivate relationships. Listening to Laukka is to hear about the people who have influenced him along the way, as far back as his kindergarten teacher, University benefactor Gertrude Luttgen. He remembers his high school chemistry teacher who inspired him so much that he stayed after school to work on experiments, missing the school bus and then needing a streetcar, a city bus, and a 10-block walk to get home. He remembers his paper route manager who had faith that he would “become something” one day. And of course, there was John Borchert.
“You run into the right people and you cultivate those relationships, maybe unknowingly, unwittingly,” says Laukka.
The other lesson is to find and follow your passion. “Get excited about something, whatever it is,” he says. “It may not be where you end up; most likely it will not be. But it may open up some doors. That’s what geography did for me. If you sit around waiting for someone to offer you a job or to get lucky, forget it. It’s not going to happen. “
“That’s what liberal arts does so well; it’s unlimited. Every subject in the world is touched there somehow. Keep on until you find something you like. When you find that, chase it! Tenacity, that’s the bulk of it. That’s the bulldog.”
"Be open to possibilities. If you're open, you'll see them. If you're not open, you won't. If you just say,'I'm going to become an engineer,' that's fine. Go do that. But if you're open, anything is possible."