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Cheri Beranek '85 to Give 2024 Commencement Address

Published Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Cheri Beranek '85
Cheri Beranek '85

Southwest Minnesota State University is proud to announce this year’s commencement speaker is Ms. Cheri Beranek, Class of 1985.

A New Ulm, Minnesota native, Beranek came to Southwest in 1981 thanks to a generous scholarship offer from President Jon Wefald. She majored in Marketing and was involved on campus in student government as the PR coordinator and in Forensics, traveling across the country with teammates and coach, Robert Ridley.

She worked closely with Ridley, managing the Forensics operating budget, running the photo lab, and coaching first-year speech participants.

What I liked about working for Ridley is he did set the bar very high, but he set very clear expectations and so you knew how what you were meant to do,” Beranek said. “I also learned from him what it was like to work for someone who is very secure in their world. Later on, I worked for someone who was very insecure and could see what a difference that made for the success of those who work for you.”

“He'd push you to be the best you could be, and sometimes he pushed it a little bit too hard because each of us was different. But he only wanted us to reach the top and for us to exceed our own limitations. He opened a lot of doors for me within the university and myself.”

The highlights of her Forensics participation including her two top-10 finishes at Nationals during her junior year. The experiences prepared her well for her career.

We competed against the big-name schools in Arizona, Florida, and Texas. Seeing firsthand that this small school from southwestern Minnesota could compete with the largest names in the country was the foundation for me and my career,” she continued. “That experience gives you the confidence that you really can do anything, and I’ve carried that with me.”

“I learned from Professor Ridley that you could be anything you choose to be. But if you didn't make the choice, you were simply going to flounder,” Beranek explained. “I set high expectations for myself, and I've set very high expectations for the people who work for me.”

Today she is president and CEO for Clearfield, Inc., a fiber optic product supplier based in Minneapolis, Minn., known as the ‘fiber to anywhere’ company. She is a founding member of the company and was named CEO at the inception of Clearfield in 2008. The company trades on Nasdaq: CLFD.   Twice in the last 10 years, Clearfield was the top gainer in stock value for companies based in Minnesota. The company currently trades at a market cap of approximately $500 million. 

“I look at my company and I know I can choose not to be average. We compete against some of the largest companies in the world because we've chosen to do what we do better than the others.

“I was named CEO because I could identify the value proposition of a product line, find a niche market, and make the company profitable,” she said. “I didn't have a background in optical fiber. I didn't have the pedigree in technology. But I do have the marketing skills, the communication skills, and the leadership skills to drive the company forward.”

Her extensive leadership experience and insightful management style drive the company’s success. Under her direction, Clearfield has recorded 14 years of profitability and has gained Forbes recognition as America’s Best Small Company three times, the most recent in 2022, ranking 4th in Forbes Top 100 Small Cap Company listing.

By focusing on the fiber market, Beranek has guided Clearfield into a multi-national business with more than 400 employees and over 1,200 customers, as a leading provider of fiber protection, fiber management, and fiber delivery solutions that enable rapid and cost-effective broadband deployment.

Prior to Clearfield, Beranek held a variety of executive-level positions with emerging high-growth technology companies, including Americable, Transition Networks, Tricord Systems, and Digi International. She also has extensive non-profit experience including: the City of Fargo, the Metropolitan Planning Commission of Fargo/Moorhead, and North Dakota State University.

In addition to being a published author and public speaker at industry events, Beranek has been recognized with numerous awards and honors, including being named an Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2023 Award winner, induction into the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame in 2021, the 2016 Minnesota Technology Executive of the Year by Tech.MN, 2016 Female Executive of the Year in New York City by the International Stevie Awards, 2012 Women in Wireline from Fierce Telecom, Stevie Awards for Business in 2011 for Best Executive for non-services businesses and the 2009 Turn-Around of the Year, as well as the Twin Cities Business Journal’s Industry Leader Award in 2009 and Women to Watch award in 2004.

“My work at Clearfield enables the lifestyle that better broadband provides, and we enable it for communities like the one in which I grew up,” said Beranek. “For many years, optical fiber and high-speed broadband were wishes and wants, but the pandemic proved that these were absolute necessities, particularly in rural areas. I’m proud to say that those are the communities we serve.”

Beranek has long believed in the foundation that a strong education provides.  In addition to earning her Master of Science in 1987, each of her four children have strong educations, including two doctorates and an emerging MBA.  Beranek resides with her husband, Greg Johnson, in Minnetonka. She will give the commencement speech to the Class of 2024 on Saturday, May 4 at the 10:00 am ceremony.


Photo courtesy of Clearfield, Inc. by Julie Kiernan Photography

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