After earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota ­– Twin Cities, Laura Tofte gained employment with Chanhassen, Minnesota-based Controls Products Inc., a temperature and humidity controls manufacturer, where her career progressed quite rapidly.

“I joined their HR department to help with recruiting and hiring," she said. "After about a year I moved into their inside sales department and then quickly moved into outside sales and was responsible for sales to HVAC distributors around the country. The owner of Control Products was an amazing person. He took the time to teach me not only about temperature and humidity but about how to push myself into roles that might not initially be comfortable. He passed away a few years ago after fighting a long battle with cancer, but I am very thankful for his willingness to invest in me.”

While working at Control Products, Tofte found herself traveling quite a bit, demonstrating the effectiveness of the company’s Freeze Alarm and other products.

“My first stop at Auer Steel was one of about 100 lunch and learns I did around the country that year, so it didn’t really stand out,” said Tofte, 39. “However, at HARDI in San Francisco in 2004, I was introduced to a few Auer Steel executives at the opening reception — actually by an employee of one of our competitors — and we chatted for a while and then went about our separate ways. The week following HARDI, I got a call from the general manager of Auer Steel, who asked me if I wanted to meet for coffee to talk about a marketing role. The rest is history.”

While her opinion may be biased, Tofte insists she has the best boss in all of the HVAC industry.

“Since day one, he has taken the time to mentor me and to help me through sometimes even very uncomfortable career transitions,” she said. “He has taught me that you don’t always have to be the most knowledgeable in a certain area to be the ‘boss,’ instead, each person brings his or her own unique value – and you need to own that and capitalize on that.”

In her position, Tofte said she cherishes the people she’s met, and those she continues to meet.

“I have met some of the most wonderful people in this business,” she said. “Coworkers, reps, manufacturers, customers, etc., have changed my life. They are some of my closest friends. As people have moved from job to job throughout the years, they've often asked why I stay at Auer Steel, but I always tell them that this industry is filled with hard working, family-oriented, thankful people — what more could I ask for in a career choice?”

Tofte hopes to transition back into a sales capacity, where she can work more closely with the company’s territory managers and customers.

“I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career that I have been offered opportunities that have furthered my career,” she said. “My attitude has always been, ‘I will do whatever you need me to do.’ So far that has worked out pretty well.”

Tofte believes hard work pays off, regardless of a person’s age or experience.

“In every company, you can tell the people who are passionate about what they do and the people who approach their work as a job,” she said. “There are many similarities in the go getters of yesterday and the go getters of today. We are very fortunate at Auer Steel to have a really strong group of younger people coming up through the ranks, which makes me excited for our future.”

As a manager, Tofte adheres to the mantra, “Lead from Behind.”

“When I moved into the sales manager role, I took my boss’s job, which made me very nervous,” she said. “He is one of the most technologically knowledgeable HVAC brains in the country. Even the product managers at Bryant/Carrier would call him to discuss solutions, and here I was replacing him, which sounds impossible, right? I learned from him that my skill set would be different and valued in a different way than his. He led from the front as a teacher, and my leadership style has been developed as a learner. I tend to let others be the experts in their areas, while I focus on my own areas and lead by making sure we are all on the same page and moving in the same direction. If you ask my husband, he’d also say I am a cheerleader. I like to have fun and to provide earned praise.”

When not working, Tofte enjoys spending time with her three girls, running with her husband, and visiting Orange Theory Fitness.

“My husband and I are both very competitive, so it feeds our desire to stay healthy and keep pushing ourselves to new fitness levels," she said. "It’s fun and something we enjoy doing together.”

Publication date: 01/09/18