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Graves’ political calculation reflects his business mindset

When Graves bolted from the 2014 race, his decision reflects the way of thinking that he’s employed for years to decide which business opportunities are worth his time and money.

Jim Graves joining supporters at the Wild West Day's parade in Zimmerman.

Democrat Jim Graves built a profitable hospitality business by pursuing the right strategies at the right times and having the self-confidence to make timely decisions.

To succeed in the highly competitive hotel industry, you must constantly survey the marketplace and adapt your business to changing customer behavior.

When Graves bolted from the 6th Congressional District race on Friday, the political calculation he made reflects the business mindset that he’s employed for years to decide which opportunities are worth his time and money.

After GOP lightning rod Michele Bachmann declared Wednesday that she would not seek a fifth term in office, Graves initially appeared stunned because Bachmann had been campaigning in her district over the Memorial Day weekend.

Suddenly, long odds

However, once he had time to assess the reality of the situation, Graves recognized that 2014 would be a dramatically different political contest. While he came within about 4,300 votes of ousting the controversial Bachmann last year, Graves would face long odds in defeating a new Republican candidate in the state’s most conservative congressional district.

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So he bowed out of the race.

Harvard Business Review, in this month’s edition, published a cover story that analyzes the rapidly changing business cycle, and the article could also be used to understand Graves’ behavior in the 6th District. The author argues that it is difficult for most businesses to hang on to a competitive advantage over the long haul, so they constantly must reinvent their strategies and pursue a “transient advantage” in the short-term.

A company launches its competitive advantage by clearly identifying an opportunity, and author Rita Gunther McGrath wrote that resources are mobilized and the business idea is brought to scale in the ramp-up phase.

In the case of Graves, he was a political newcomer in the last election cycle. But he recognized that Bachmann had accumulated political baggage, was potentially vulnerable at the ballot box and he had assets that he could deploy. He had deep roots in St. Cloud, moderate politics, a successful business narrative and his own money that he could spend on a campaign.

The ‘exploitation’ phase: late 2012

In business parlance, the next phase for a company with a “transient advantage” is exploitation. The author wrote that at the point of exploitation that the firm “captures profits and share, and forces competitors to react.” The Graves “exploitation” phase was clearly in the final weeks of the 2012 campaign when he was gaining momentum and came exceedingly close to upsetting Bachmann in her central Minnesota district.

If the company’s advantage is weakened, McGrath’s analysis calls for a reconfiguration and a reassessment of the business strategy.

In some cases, she wrote, “the advantage is completely eroded, compelling the company to begin a disengagement process.”


On Friday, Minnesota voters witnessed the Graves “disengagement process.” He simply stepped away from the race, declaring it “mission accomplished” because Bachmann chose to take herself out of the running.

To manage the “disengagement” process, the Harvard Business Review article stated, “you need people who can be candid and tough-minded and can make emotionally difficult decisions.”

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Graves is a businessman who entered the political world and nearly defeated a GOP presidential candidate and prolific fundraiser.

In the final analysis, Graves wasn’t seduced by politics. He walked back into the business world, where he can devote his energy to competing in the marketplace.

Fedor can be reached at She is on Twitter @LizFedor