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  • Writer's pictureKate Lohnes

Reflections on building a family legacy

Family members honored at Twin Cities Business Awards celebration
Sam, Kate and Wes at the 2023 Twin Cities Business Family Business Awards on Oct. 25.

Many years ago, a young man named Ted decided he didn’t want to follow in his father or older brothers’ footsteps into law and academia. He dreamed instead of having his own business. He took over a small, failing manufacturing company, and with proper management, turned it around. He later bought two more failing companies and turned them around too, creating Upper Midwest Industries (UMI).

In 1988, Lilja Communications was founded by my mother, Mary Carlsen Lilja – Ted’s daughter – at a time when few women were starting companies like hers. I am now the proud second-generation owner of a strategic communications and content agency, working with impact-focused clients who are making a difference in their communities.

We also have our own imprint, Lilja Press, paired with Lifestories, where we capture the stories of families and businesses, shaping them into books and videos that can be shared with future generations.

This month, both UMI and Lilja Communications are being honored with a 2023 Twin Cities Business Family Business Award. Although we’re two very different companies, we are united by our family legacy of entrepreneurship, our shared history and values — like hard work, strong ethics, giving back, and indeed, in stepping back to make room for the next generation.

Over the past few months, I’ve worked closely with Wes, my brother, and Sam, my cousin, as we’ve explored our family businesses and our shared legacy. This work closely aligns with Lifestories, and I have a new appreciation for the importance of capturing foundational stories so they can be shared with future generations.

Thank you to Mary for paving the way for me, the next generation.

In closing, I’ll leave you with this quote:

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here." Sue Monk Kidd, Secret Life of Bees

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