At 21, Norm Dean was a fresh-faced young man who, straight out of college, had been hired to manage 60 employees at the Utah Parks Co. on the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
“I did a terrible job,” Dean said chuckling as he recounted the tale of his first attempt in the business world. But Dean does not discount this experience as a failure.
“I’ll never forget what the man who was supervising me told me, ‘You have to learn one thing about handling employees: you have to embrace them and hold them at arm’s length at the same time,’” Dean said.
Now, 70 years later, at the age of 91, Dean is still at work, sort of. He sits at a large desk in his office, pictures of loved ones scattered throughout the bookshelf behind him. Dean is technically a retired businessman and entrepreneur, but still shares an office with his wife of 40 years, Bonnie, a marketing consultant.
Today, Dean serves on two boards, one for a company called Loan Star Uranium, which explores uranium in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and the other is the Water and Sewer Board for the City of Greeley.
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.
That would be an understatement.
Dean over the years has had investments and partnerships in dozens of businesses, and he served on innumerable boards. At one time, he managed more than 2,700 employees. Dean is the epitome of an entrepreneur. Yet Dean remains humble, suggesting that it was his association with other great business contemporaries that made him the man he is today.
“I’m just an ordinary guy,” he said.
Beyond colleagues, Dean also attributes a lot of his success to his mother and father. “They urged me to achieve and to accomplish something.” But it wasn’t always that Dean’s parents urged him toward business. Dean initially studied medicine when he enrolled at the University of Utah. “My mother always said we ought to have a doctor in the family,” Dean joked. “I wasn’t cut out for medicine, so I shifted over to business.”
Born in Heber City, Utah, Dean was the son of a small businessman. After college, he went to Cornell University for graduate work in business, but was unable to complete his degree after he began serving in the Navy during World War II.
In 1946, after leaving military duty, Dean landed in Greeley, where the father of his first wife hired him to work in the men’s clothing business at Hibbs Clothing Store.
“During that 10 years, I guess that’s where my beginning as an entrepreneur started,” he said. “I branched out.”
His curiosity and drive led him to become a part of the banking business by serving on the board of Weld County Bank.
“The man who owned the bank asked if I would leave the clothing business and come and run the bank,” he said. “Eventually, I became the head of the bank and then we joined the United Banks of Colorado where I also served on the board of directors.”
He worked in banking for 28 years and also found himself involved in side ventures. Some of his work included operating 13 banks in Montana and investing in 14 McDonalds restaurants in New Mexico.
“I kept getting into one business after another,” he said. “Some were successful, some were moderately successful and some were failures.”
After Dean officially retired, he dabbled in a few other businesses, including a nursing home management company, a financial services company, the cattle business, and Alaris Medical, which is where he was able to make what he believes was one of his greatest contributions as a businessman.
“We built medical devices; they’re life-saving,” he said. “They contribute to the welfare of mankind.”
And that’s not something a lot of businessmen or women can say.