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Framing the Future:

Minnesota Swede, T. Michael Davis of Scandia-Germania-Davis, PLLC, opens doors to Scandinavian opportunities. Growing up as a Scandinavian-American in Minnesota usually means learning traditions, mannerisms, even stereotypes, that make the community unique.

Minnesota Swede, T. Michael Davis of Scandia-Germania-Davis, PLLC, opens doors to Scandinavian opportunities. Growing up as a Scandinavian-American in Minnesota usually means learning traditions, mannerisms, even stereotypes, that make the community unique.
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For T. Michael Davis, an attorney who specializes in business and intellectual property law, the community is at once an opportunity and, at times, its own obstacle.

“There has always been a conflict within Scandinavians and Scandinavian-Americans. We’re very alike,” Davis said. “We in the Midwest have the old stereotypes of Scandinavia because of our ancestors. It was a tough place to make a living. There was not enough land for farms, end of story. Scandinavian-Americans believe what they left behind was less successful. Scandinavians think the same about us, that people that really succeed in the U.S. live in New York or California, never Minnesota or the upper Midwest.”

Born into a “typical” Swedish-American family, Davis is anything but typical. The president of the board of the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce, Davis is also a member of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce and has been a member of the Norwegian Consulate’s Business Advisory Board. He also participates in the Finnish, Danish, German, and Austrian-American business communities. He said being a part of the Scandinavian community and a lawyer specializing in work in the Nordic region and northern Europe gives him the chance to build success and tear down stereotypes on both sides of the Atlantic.

Old stereotypes don’t apply
“What I’d like people to know is the old stereotypes just don’t apply,” he said. “The upper Midwest, which includes Minnesota, has the fourth-largest economy in the world, while Scandinavia leads the world in developing and using technology. Minnesota has more Fortune 500 companies per capita than any other state. People have succeeded wildly here. The heart of the medical device industry worldwide, for example, is Minnesota. Some of the biggest agro companies like General Mills, Pillsbury, General Foods, and Cargill are Minnesota-based, but it’s not just agricultural, it’s all high tech, just like in Scandinavia. That’s the message that needs to be understood.”

Davis found the perfect venue to spread the message of the opportunities in both Minnesota and Scandinavia two years ago when he got to know Dale Wahlstrom, chief executive officer of the Bio Business Alliance of Minnesota. At the time, Wahlstrom was winding down a 25-year career at Medtronic, one of the leading medical device companies in the world. Davis invited Wahlstrom to speak at the 2006 SACC Entrepreneurial Days seminar in Chicago. There, Wahlstrom saw the advances Swedish companies had made, while Scandinavian companies got the chance to see what Minnesota had to offer.

“Dale got hooked in,” Davis said. “He got to see up close the great things that can happen through contacts in the Nordic region once you are plugged into the right network. Within a year he signed a letter of intent with Uppsala Bio as well as a cartful of Swedish companies that want to locate in, check out, or pair up with Minnesota companies. Now his work includes Norway and even Japan."

Keeping doors open
Davis works to spread the message of opportunity in just about all of his endeavors. Fluent in Swedish and German as well as Danish and Norwegian, the Stillwater, Minnesota native specializes in opening doors for Nordic and northern European companies to do business in the U.S., especially Minnesota. After working for high profile law firms in Minnesota and Norway, he opened his own firm in 2003. He said it’s simply an example of how keeping doors open can lead to new opportunities.

“I started out as an art major at Gustavus Adolphus College in southern Minnesota, but I was always interested in languages,” he said. “I lived in Sweden during my sophomore year, started to learn that art is intellectual property. It was kind of a logical choice to eventually go on to law school. I didn’t want to be a teacher. I wanted something that would allow me to be creative and travel.”

Davis ventured into law after graduating with both a Masters degree in Public Administration in 1994 from the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Syracuse University and a Juris Doctorate with a Certificate in International Law from the Syracuse University College of Law. His first job was with Oslo, Norway-based law firm Føyen & Co. He also worked in New York, and then landed as an Associate Attorney, from 1999 to 2001, with Patterson, Thuente, Skaar and Christensen, P.A., a mid-sized intellectual property law firm located in Minneapolis.

Throughout that time, Davis built a network among corporate clients as well as other law firms. He said the fact he can coordinate business and other client needs across oceans and languages is an outgrowth of where he grew up.

“Most small law firms aren’t doing business internationally,” he said. “Even when the language at a client company is English, the knowledge of language and culture allows an ability to trust and understand at a much deeper level. I find it opens doors.”

And that is Davis’ real business. As a member of several Scandinavian chambers of commerce in Minneapolis, he said he feels a “kinship” not only with Minnesota Scandinavians but those living in the “old country.”

Minnesotan citizen of the world
“I try to make myself available and be a part of all communities,” he said. His own Swedish heritage isn’t a barrier but an avenue to his working with Norwegian, Danish, Finnish or even Icelandic groups.

“As Nordics, we’re open, and trust is important. Most people that don’t know me wonder if I was born in Sweden,” he said. “When I go to events people will speak in Swedish or Norwegian. Most people don’t know I’m not Swedish (born). It’s not a problem at all.”

The world of intellectual property law radically changed just as Davis graduated from Law School when the Internet went public. As a lawyer specializing not only in “I-P” but in Nordic firms, Davis says the rapid Scandinavian acceptance of the Internet in both business and personal life created entirely new areas of intellectual property law in every field.

Opportunities and change
Davis was also involved in the fight to keep the Swedish and Norwegian Consulates in Minneapolis open as full service consulates, a battle that ultimately saw the Swedish government and then the Norwegian make the consulates honorary. While Davis sees the negative fallout over the decisions, he said he’s hopeful. Minnesotans are more than aware of the possibilities of doing business with their ancestral homelands.

Minnesota, like Scandinavia, is a leader in energy technologies and was among the first states to emphasize alternate fuels. “We’re creating a global International Renewable Institute with Minnesota State University and Albany State University in New York,” he said. “Plus we’re holding the International Bio-Energy Days here in Minnesota. People will get the chance to see the newest technology up close where they can touch it and learn about it. The idea is to hook up American companies with Swedish companies.”

How ever well those connections go, Davis said he remains all too aware of one battle he must continue to fight.

“We all need a reality check; this isn’t the old days – our regions are among the most successful in the world,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a very hard sell, though. We’re too alike. We have the same history. We think Scandinavians are over-focused on the coasts of America and they think we’re over-focused on England and China. We think they’re our cousins but just live in small, meaningless countries and they think the same, that we’re meaningless people living in an area they just fly over. It’s a real shame when you realize we both sit atop world-leading areas [of innovation and beneficial development].”

“Reality, though, is beginning to catch up with the facts.”

Written by Chipp Reid
Photographed by Henrik Olund

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