T. Denny Sanford was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, December 23, 1935, at the height of the Great Depression. He started working at age 8, helping in his father’s clothing distribution company. As a teen, he spent summers selling his father’s clothing to retail stores. After graduating from St. Paul Central High School, he attended the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, where he graduated in 1958, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology.
Soon after completing his undergraduate degree, Mr. Sanford was recruited by Armstrong Cork Company for a job in sales and marketing management. In 1960, he left Armstrong Cork to found a manufacturers’ representative company promoting technical products through architects and engineers, initially in the north central US, then nationally. In 1964, he formed a regional distribution company that also expanded nationally.
In 1971, Mr. Sanford acquired a 50-year-old specialty chemical company that specialized in architectural sealants, coatings and adhesive products from Sears & Roebuck. A year later he took the company known as “Contech” (for its construction technology products) public. Contech grew from 50 to 350 employees and its R & D team developed many innovative products. It worked with architects across the US and around the world on large commercial and industrial construction projects. Mr. Sanford sold Contech in 1982. In 1983, Mr. Sanford created a venture capital fund to help young entrepreneurs establish promising businesses. The fund continues in operation and, to date, has financed 28 companies, of which 18 have become public corporations. In 1986, he purchased United National Bank, which was renamed First Premier Bank. Under his leadership First Premier Bank, of which he is a majority owner, has grown into a company with assets of almost $1 billion. His other Sioux Falls business, Premier Bankcard Inc., has become a national leader in the credit card industry. Both companies are now controlled through United National Corp, Sioux Falls, his holding company.
In 2001, Mr. Sanford established the Sanford Foundation for charitable giving. In the years since, he has distinguished himself in the field of philanthropy by donating money to causes and organizations close to his heart. By 2005, he ranked 14th on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of America’s Most-Generous Donors, with donations that year alone of more than $70.5 million to U.S. charitable causes, including $20 million to the Sioux Valley health system for use in expansion projects involving the University of South Dakota School of Medicine. In 2006, he was named to the BusinessWeek Top 50 list of most generous philanthropists in the United States.
Among Mr. Sanford’s most significant contributions has been $16 million to support construction of Sanford Children’s Hospital, scheduled to open in 2009. He also gave $15 million to the Mayo Foundation, in Rochester, Minn, some $10 million to create a new pediatric outpatient center at the Mayo Clinic and the remaining $5 million to support joint research by Mayo Clinic and Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls. Mr. Sanford is a generous donor to various child welfare, community and health related charities in the U.S., including $70 million to the Homestake Mine Project in South Dakota and significant gifts to the Children’s Home Society in Sioux Falls and the United Way.
Mr. Sanford is an avid sportsman, with interests that include golf, snow skiing, and sailboat racing.