Rob Zeaske, CEO Second Harvest Heartland

Rob Zeaske, CEO Second Harvest Heartland

A man who truly lives with passion at the surface, Rob is the CEO of Second Harvest Heartland. Driven by mission-centric work, he brings his business smarts and charismatic style to the leadership role of the largest hunger relief agency in Minnesota, making a difference in the lives of thousands every day. The apparent internal wellspring of energy he taps into made Scouts Talent curious to learn more…

If you could try a different job for a day, what would you choose?

I would totally be on Broadway! I’m a lifelong singer, was in musical theater in high school and led my college a cappella group. I’d love a chance to be in a Broadway musical for just one night.

What advice would you give someone starting out in your industry?

Find a mission you’d love to work on every day. Nonprofits have many of the same challenges that for-profits do, but they have some different rewards. Be honest with yourself about what you’re really passionate about because bringing an authentic attachment to a mission everyday is infectious.

What is your mantra?

Be relentlessly positive. I try to remember this during tough times, crises and even difficult conversations. It keeps me focused on moving forward and trying to conduct myself in a way that shows respect and a problem-solving approach to others – even when I’m not feeling it myself.

How do you get yourself out of a slump?

I have a mentor who likes to “play Santa Claus” when he is down, and I’ve started doing the same. On those rough days I try to work overtime to make someone else’s day better with a phone call, thank you note or other random acts of kindness. It usually helps me and always brightens someone else’s day.

What has been the biggest shift you’ve noticed in your industry in the last decade?

Nonprofits in general have seen a large rise in the numbers of professional managers and leaders with general management backgrounds, which may also coincide with more donors seeking results and outcomes for their investments. Both trends seem healthy to me, as communities expect many nonprofits to mature.

Who has been most instrumental in your career?

I have a mentor for whom I’ve had the privilege of working twice for, and he’s made a huge impact on my career – both in how I view opportunities and how I behave as a manager and leader. He was the manager who has been simultaneously both my biggest cheerleader and biggest critic. In the right doses and formats, he earned many employees’ trust through his candor and encouragement. I still strive to be more like him today.

What is your go-to celebration meal, drink or tradition?

No celebration is real until I get to share it with my fantastic wife, Jessica. Our favorite local haunt is The Kenwood and many of the world’s problems have been solved (and a few celebrations commemorated) over a bottle of wine and a Kenwood Burger.


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