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A model of innovation

The Biomedical Discovery District's gateway plaza is named in honor of the late Carl N. Platou, M.H.A., in recognition of his role in creating the new research park. (Photo: Travis Anderson)

Discovery district’s plaza honors longtime U ambassador

Carl N. Platou, M.H.A., was an unwavering optimist. He was also an accomplished health care innovator, a consummate people person, and a decorated veteran who survived World War II against staggering odds. His unique relationship with the University of Minnesota spanned more than 70 years, and the Biomedical Discovery District now coming to fruition on the East Bank campus is tangible proof of his tenacity.

Platou advocated for years to secure the state bonding authorization needed to break ground for the district. He then turned to raising the private dollars needed to equip and populate the cluster of research facilities just north of TCF Bank Stadium.

With the completion of the cancer and cardiovascular research building in 2013, the Biomedical Discovery District will become home to nearly 1,000 faculty and staff working in 700,000 square feet of collaborative research space.

In recognition of Platou’s role in creating this economy-boosting incubator for new ideas and discoveries, the district’s gateway plaza was named in his honor at a groundbreaking celebration on May 9. Twenty days later, Platou died of pancreatic cancer.

Very serious stuff

Platou liked to poke fun at himself by recalling his disastrous debut as a freshman at the University. Inspired by four uncles, all of them physicians, he dreamed of becoming a doctor. But at the end of his first term, he had a rude awakening. “I got three Ds, an F, and an incomplete,” he recalled.

“My uncle Erling said, ‘Maybe you should be a hospital administrator.’”

It was 1943. Instead of changing majors, Platou joined the paratroops and was shipped to the Pacific as a demolition expert. “Very serious stuff,” he noted in a recent interview. “Out of a hundred of us who started, 10 lived.”

When Platou returned to the University in 1945, he earned a degree in social psychology in three years. “In those days you were so glad to be alive, you just studied all the time,” he said. Then he earned a master’s degree in hospital administration from the School of Public Health — one of the first awarded by the University. Soon after, in 1952, he accepted an administrative position at Fairview Hospital.

Platou quickly rose to president and CEO and continued to serve in that capacity until he retired in 1988. He saw the potential for transformative change early in his career and eventually grew Fairview from a single hospital into a fully integrated regional health care system that became a model for innovation nationwide.

Platou’s association with the University was rekindled in 2005 when he was named senior adviser to the dean of the Medical School. He helped create the Dean’s Board of Visitors, an advisory council made up of community leaders, and was the driving force behind the board’s efforts to promote the concept of the biomedical research district to state policymakers.

“Carl has a real knack for bringing people together, for engaging the right people at the right time to get something done,” Walter Mondale, a member of the board, wrote in a letter supporting the naming of the discovery district’s Platou Plaza. “Carl has built bridges between civic leaders, the business community, higher education, and state government, and together we have accomplished a great thing that none of us could have accomplished alone.”

By Kristine Mortensen

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