While many teens spend the summer before their senior year of high school away on vacation or vegging out, successful Minneapolis entrepreneur Christine Lantinen had bigger plans. She completed boot camp.
Although she was nervous her high school classmates might forget her while she was gone, she had nothing to fear: Private Lantinen, 17, was crowned homecoming queen upon her return.
Suffice to say, Christine is not someone easily forgotten. Not then. Not now.
The president and owner of Maud Borup Inc. – a wholesale food gift manufacturer – Christine is a driven, smart and compassionate veteran whose name you won’t forget either.
An event you’ll never forget
A Minnesota native, Christine enlisted in the United States Army in 1991 at the age of sixteen. Her brother was in the Army at that time stationed in Germany and the country was in the midst of The Gulf War.
Her unit, she already knew, was deployed.
“My mom had to sign the enlistment paperwork because I was a minor,” Christine recalled. “She was crying in the kitchen. It was emotional and I’ll never forget it.”
Several factors influenced Christine’s major decision at such a young age: the need for college loan repayment, an accessible recruiter at her high school and her upbringing in a “family of service.” Her father was a veteran and four of her grandfather’s brothers all served in World War II.
One of those great-uncles wrote Christine a handwritten letter every day she was in boot camp.
Those letters and others from friends and family (all of whom were extremely supportive) helped her get through the grueling, life-changing two months.
“Pulling up to the retention center is an event you’ll never forget your whole life,” said Christine, who remembers wanting to go home two days into boot camp, realizing she couldn’t and then hunkering down and digging deep within herself.
When she returned to her hometown of Le Center as a high school senior/United States Army private, she had changed.
“I was definitely a different person in so many great ways,” Christine said. “Being seventeen and already having gone through basic training says a lot about you as a person.”
A decade of service
Christine received her Military Occupation Specialty (MOS) training the summer after her high school graduation: 91 Bravo medical specialist.
She was passionate about her work, especially serving as a field medic for the 945th Forward Surgical Team, which was the Army Reserve’s first “FST” team.
FST teams are critical, especially in trauma situations, with getting service members treatment within the ‘golden hour’ – the precious, potentially lifesaving, window of opportunity from the time of injury to the time one sees a doctor.
“Any forward team wants to know that a FST team is there with them on the front line if anything were to happen.” Christine said.
Companies within the 945th Forward Surgical Team would set up a hospital in an hour and run it for three days before packing up and being relieved by a new team. The process would then repeat.
“High speed individuals,” is how Christine described the men and women she worked with. “You had to be good at medical, but you also had to be good at physical training (PT) and you had to know how to survive in the field. It was a unique blend.”
Christine was a unique blend within the team, as well. During her ten years in the service she also was a full-time college student (she earned degrees in business and communications from Minnesota State University, Mankato) and worked full-time for several retailers, including the Minneapolis-based Target Corporation.
Her job at Target – which required international travel – was the impetus behind her decision to separate from the Army at age 26, after a decade of distinguished service.
“It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made; staying in or getting out,” Christine said. “It really came down to my career at the time.”
A month after hanging up her boots, September 11, 2001 happened.
“They served many tours after that,” said Christine, about her company. “It was great to know I had helped build such an amazing team.”
Create your own destiny
Like many veterans, Christine’s first job upon leaving the military was not the right fit. She was the sales and marketing director at a food gift company and found herself in a work climate that put profit above all else.
As someone who values relationships, positive leadership and the environment, this wasn’t her place.
“My ‘kick in the butt’ I call it, was getting fired,” Christine said. “From that moment on I knew that [entrepreneurship] was my destiny and I was just going for it. You need to listen to that little voice in the back of your head. You truly can create your own destiny.”
Destiny, for Christine, was Maud Borup.
Maud, like Christine, was a fearless and passionate Minnesotan who began her own business in 1907, before women could even receive permanent military status in the regular and reserve forces of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.
When Christine decided it was time to dig deep and go into business for herself, she found the perfect opportunity in the Maud Borup candy brand, which was for sale.
“I was really drawn to the history of the company,” Christine said. “It was started by a woman before women even had the right to vote. I felt like Maud was a pioneer in her time and the company was still meant to be led by a woman today.”
Christine bought Maud Borup in 2005 (with no equipment or employees) and has organically grown it by leaps and bounds every year since. From 2010 through 2012, sales at Maud Borup more than doubled as Christine led the food gift manufacturing company’s transition from a retail model to a wholesale one.
It is now a multi-million-dollar company that has 100 employees, its own production plant in Christine’s hometown of Le Center and plans to add to its portfolio of holdings. Christine also added, the majority of her workforce is women.
This year the company produced 5 million gift sets and brought 150 new items to market. Maud Borup’s gourmet sweet treats and savory snacks can be found at specialty and mass retailers nationwide, including Whole Foods, Walmart and Target. The company also holds the licensing rights to produce food, candy, and baking mixes for some of the largest brands in the world, including Peanuts®, Thomas Kinkade®, and Hell’s Kitchen®.
While many of the company’s products use its namesake’s original recipes, Christine has led its creation of many fresh, unique products like a “better for you” healthier line of baking mixes and eco eggs®.
These innovative eggs are patented, made in the United States from plants with 100% renewable content and are fully compostable after use. They are made from non-toxic, durable, plant-based plastic and have a secure closure.
eco eggs (and their companion product eco grass®) are revolutionary in helping combat the tons of emission and landfill waste that traditional plastic petroleum-based Easter eggs generate each year.
“Sustainability is really important to us as a company,” said Christine, not only about the products they produce, but how they produce and package them. “We have a list of over thirty-things we do as a company for the environment.”
Among them, the company uses geothermal heat, a wind turbine and recycled paper and packaging whenever possible.
“We’re always trying to reduce and reuse,” Christine said.
Giving back to the community is also an important facet of Maud Borup. The company actively supports many not-for-profits, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Minnesota–based Blair’s Tree of Hope, whose mission is to help the families of children who have been hospitalized with a life-threatening illness.
At a whole different level
Christine is aware she is very much like Maud Borup: a forerunner.
As a female business owner she is in the minority (in 2015, about 29 percent of America’s business owners were women), but as a veteran woman business owner she is even more of a rarity.
Per the Veteran Women-Owned Businesses NWBC Analysis of 2012 Survey of Business Owners, there are only 383,302 veteran women-owned businesses in the United States. Less than 4% of these businesses have more than one employee.
To women (and men) getting out of the military, Christine has simple, but powerful advice: be proud.
“So many military people I know are modest,” Christine said. “They don’t realize the value of what they have. For me seeing that on a resume – that service – automatically puts you at a whole different level in terms of accountability and trust.”
She encourages veterans to think broadly and with a creative, open mind when it comes to potential job and entrepreneurial opportunities after service.
“When you’re in the military you’ve been told what to do for a long time and when you get out, it’s your choice now,” Christine said. “So, what are you going to do with the rest of your life? You are in control and it’s your opportunity to really flourish and be what you want to be.”
Don’t let your MOS define your path, either she says.
“I was a medic and my life after the military was marketing, it was product, it was colorful,” Christine said. “A lot of things were different than what I learned in the military. Yet, foundationally, there were so many things I could take from it and still use today.”
One of those things is teamwork.
There’s no doubt about it – Christine is successful.
Among her awards and honors: 2017 Wonder Women Award from Twin Cities Business; 2016 Enterprising Women of the Year Award from Enterprising Women Magazine, 2015 Torch Award for Ethics Finalist from the Better Business Bureau and 2012 Young Business Owner Woman of the Year Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners.
However, Christine sees her successes as a business owner as a team effort; just like she did in the Army.
“The biggest part of our success [at Maud Borup] is being able to bring in people who can contribute, love the work and are passionate about what we do,” Christine said. “Without amazing people we wouldn’t be where we are today.”