Where are they now: From Red Wing to Wall Street
Growing up in Red Wing, Phil Duff knew the city's streets well. The son of former Republican Eagle owner and Publisher Philip Sheridan Duff Jr., Duff spent a portion of his childhood delivering papers throughout his family's neighborhood, located just south of the Red Wing Golf Course.
The hardest part, Duff remembers, was trekking up and down West Avenue on his way to and from the newspaper's downtown office.
"I had to ride my bike over the big hill down to the newspaper," he said. "Riding back over that big hill was always a pain in the neck."
Duff also did short stints in the paper's newsroom and press room in the summers. But after graduating from Central High School in 1975, Duff didn't really consider sticking around his father's newspaper business. Or around Red Wing, for that matter.
Instead, Duff followed a different path that had also originated in Goodhue County: skiing.
"Our household, growing up, had revolved around ski racing," Duff said, adding that he began skiing at Welch Village when he was 3 or years old.
As a teenager, Duff was part of a ski team that traveled to competitions across the country. That was how he ended up studying at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.: he was looking for a college where he could continue his ski racing career.
"I had applied to all the colleges in New England that had Division I ski racing teams, of which Harvard was one," Duff said.
Ski racing also played a part in how Duff chose his math major. He was purposely looking for a course of study that didn't require undergraduates to write a thesis. With the grueling traveling schedule Harvard's ski team kept, Duff said he just didn't have enough time to write in-depth papers.
Now, as the owner of the start-up firm Evergold Life Services and former CFO of Morgan Stanley, Duff said he rarely gets back to Minnesota. But he said the values he learned in the Midwest have stayed with him.
"Work hard, play hard. But always do it honestly," he said.
After graduating from Harvard in 1979, Duff found himself back in Minnesota, though not by choice. He was hired by grain exporting company Louis Dreyfus as a trader and was placed on the floor of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, where he would spend the next three years.
That job, he said, was an excellent hands-on lesson in supply and demand. It was also where he met his wife, Amy, who was working for one of Louis Dreyfus' competitors.
"Amy was the only female trader (at the time)," Duff said.
They married in 1981. A short time later, a grain embargo cut the United States' grain exports drastically.
"The consequence of the grain embargo really took the fun out of that job. That catalyzed me to go to business school," Duff said.
Duff added that he decided on business because he liked its competitive nature.
"It was very similar to all the sports that I had been involved in," he said. "You train at it and try to get better. You're always dealing with uncertain outcomes."
Duff enrolled in the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During the summer between his two years at Sloan, Duff worked in the mergers and acquisition department at Morgan Stanley.
"Morgan Stanley was unequivocally the leading investment bank. The mergers and acquisition team in Morgan Stanley was the elite of the elite," Duff remembered.
During the previous spring, all six New England states passed legislation that allowed banks to merge across state lines.
"That summer, I worked on five bank mergers," he said.
The company hired Duff full time once he graduated. By the time he was 30 years old, he was managing the firm's investment banking for financial institutions. For the first four or five years of his career, Duff said he worked 110 hours a week.
"You do it day to day," he said of how he handled the long hours. "Certainly at times, I thought I made the biggest mistake of my life. But it was also an enormous amount of great experience."
In 1993, when he was in his mid-thirties, Duff was named chief financial officer of Morgan Stanley.
"I had a $400 million to $500 million revenue business that I was responsible for," he said.
It was a job, Duff said, he may not have been totally prepared for.
"You kind of learn by doing and you make mistakes," he said.
Over the next four years, Duff oversaw the company's expansion into Asia and helped broker Morgan Stanley's merger with Dean Witter Discover, a retail asset management firm.
"I (had) increasing interest in asset management," Duff said.
In 1998, Duff left Morgan Stanley to become the president and CFO of New York City-based Tiger Management. Two years later, he started Front Point Partners, which specialized in investment diversification strategies.
"It worked terrifically," Duff said, "in some respects, maybe it worked too well."
Duff sold the company to his "old colleagues" at the end of 2006. He started a new asset management company, Duff Capital Advisors, in the spring of 2008, just as the economy was headed for recession.
"Nothing ever works perfectly ... all the time," Duff said. "We got hit by the same tsunami as the rest of the world."
Currently, Duff is in the process of merging his current company, Massif Partners, with a French-Canadian to form Evergold Life Services. The company will merge financial care and health care, Duff said, to help people "prepare for getting older successfully."
"We're creating this new category," he said. "To me it's so much more intellectually stimulating to build new things.
"I've been really lucky," Duff added. "Throughout my career, I've been fortunate enough to get to do things and lead things before I've deserved to get to do them."