Margaret Borgen gets satisfaction in helping people excel, which has led to a lifelong passion for improving education. 

The soft-spoken North Dakota native has had numerous roles in education in her life, including teacher, administrator and school board member. She’s held state and national leadership positions in education, and she currently  is is president of the Des Moines Public Schools Foundation. 

In 1986, she and her husband, Arden, launched Borgen Systems, a niche manufacturing company in Des Moines that specializes in high-end refrigerated display cases for grocery stores, but she may be better known in the community for leadership in education over the years.

“Public education really is a huge passion for me,” she said. “It really fits with my basic outlook of wanting to contribute to the best life possible for the most people possible.”  

Her first job out of college was teaching middle school in her hometown of Fargo, N.D. After several moves around the country, she and her husband landed in Iowa, where she initially served as director of an alternative high school that had just been launched in Webster City. 

“I sort of have a history of being related to startups,” she said. “I never planned that; when I look back, that’s how it is.”

One of her startups was founding the FINE Education Research Foundation in 2003, which managed to leverage an initial $100,000 in seed money into $3 million in state funding and matching private contributions to fill a gap in funding education research. She chaired the foundation’s board for five years. 

For the past three years, she has served on the charter board of the Des Moines Public Schools Foundation, which is now gearing up to raise money for elementary education.    

Borgen also has served on boards for the Des Moines A.M. Rotary Club, Employee & Family Resources Foundation and the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute. She previously served nine years on the Des Moines Public School Board, the National PTA board of directors and for five years on the Education Commission of the States board. 

Currently, she is vice president of the Heartland Area Education Agency. She’s also a founding member and vice president of the Des Moines Public Schools Library Support Group. 

As a small business owner, Borgen said, leveraging capital in the early days as a startup was undoubtedly the biggest challenge. The family-owned business now employs about 60 people, including six engineers who design the display cases manufactured at the company’s Bell Avenue plant. 

“We really wanted to have a place that would provide good jobs and a good place to work,” she said. “We have very low turnover in our professional personnel and in the factory, so I think we were able to achieve that.”

Whether it’s launching a small business or a new education organization, it helps to be optimistic, Borgen noted. 

“One has to be somewhat bold in taking on projects and being optimistic that they can work,” she said. “Even if other people don’t think they can work, sometimes they can.”