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I had to share this cool story about North Dakota’s own Doug Burgum by Dave Kolpack, AP writer. Governor Hoeven awarded Burgum, the man responsible for Great Plains software success, North Dakota’s highest honor on Friday.
FARGO, N.D. — A philanthropist and former Microsoft Corp. executive who built a big-time company with small-town people is the recipient of North Dakota’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider award.
Gov. John Hoeven presented Doug Burgum with the award during a surprise ceremony Friday at Microsoft’s Fargo campus, where Burgum served as the company’s senior vice president. Burgum is the 37th person to receive the award, given first in 1961 to entertainer Lawrence Welk.
Burgum fought back tears during much of a presentation, which included video messages from Microsoft founder Bill Gates and current Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Burgum had built his previous company, Great Plains Software, Inc., into a billion-dollar company before selling it to Microsoft.
“Wow. I’m humbled, I’m grateful and I really appreciate it,” said Burgum, joking that he would have shaved if he had known about the ceremony. “I thought I was coming out here to get a tour with some people.”
Burgum, 53, a native of Arthur, a town of about 400 people in southeastern North Dakota, talked about his small-town roots and told the audience about a pledge he made with friends who attended high schools in the state’s Class B division.
“Look, we’re going build a world-class company, and we’re going to build it with Class B kids,” Burgum said.
Burgum joined Great Plains, in 1983, when it was still a startup. He became its chairman and chief executive officer, and he and his family bought a large share of it.
Microsoft bought Great Plains in 2001 for $1.1 billion in stock, and Burgum worked for Microsoft until 2007.
Gates and Ballmer said Burgum’s contributions were critical to developing Microsoft’s business applications. Burgum taught everyone about customer service, strong work ethic and commitment to the well-being of others, they said.
“I think he’s probably embarrassed by all the attention tonight, but it’s well-deserved,” Gates said.
Ballmer talked about the time he and Burgum were working on their master’s degrees at Stanford, and Gates asked Ballmer to drop out of school and join his startup company, Microsoft.
“Doug told me I would be nuts to take the job,” Ballmer said. “Doug told me he was going to go work for a startup called Great Plains Software in Fargo. It was my turn to tell him he was nuts.
“In the end, things worked out pretty well for both of us,” he said.
Longtime Great Plains employee Jodi Uecker-Rust said one of Burgum’s strongest assets is building relationships, not only with the “really big dogs” around the globe, but everyone who works for him. She remembered when Burgum smashed eggs in his own face during a presentation about a software project that failed.
“How many of us would stand on stage in front of 3,000 people and hit eggs on their head?” Uecker-Rust said.
Much of Burgum’s charitable work has revolved around the development of downtown Fargo. In 1996, he founded the Kilbourne Group, named for his mother, who grew up in Fargo. The company has invested more than $14 million in nearly 244,000 square feet of space in the downtown area.
Burgum also created the Arthur Ventures Growth Fund, a regional venture capital fund that invests in businesses, and the Doug Burgum Family Fund, a charity focused on youth and education.
Burgum said others deserve credit for his accomplishments.
“People who know me well know I have been surrounded by an incredible group of people,” he said.