As fans exited Allianz Field in St. Paul on a humid summer evening, the sun set on “Omnis”, a cylindrical bronze sculpture 12 feet high and 5 feet wide at the side northeast of the stadium.
Inside the sculpture, a light illuminated words spelling out 18 milestones in football history, from 600 BC in Xi’an, China, to 2019 in St. Paul, written in 42 languages, which reflect the values of the game. The words Acceptance, Patience, Competition, Sportsmanship, Justice, Rivalry, Ability, Honor, Tolerance, Integrity, Power and Teamwork are all etched into “Omnis”.
The sculpture, commissioned from artist Jim Sanborn by Dr. Bill McGuire, 74, owner of Minnesota United and former CEO of UnitedHealthcare, is a curious attempt to marry art and football. It sheds light on the latest vision of McGuire, one of America’s best-known billionaires who transformed the health insurance industry. He gave millions to the Walker Art Center and the Guthrie Theater. Now he has set his sights on football.
“When we talk about football, we’re talking about why it’s the game of the world,” McGuire said. “Football has no barriers. People of all races, colors and religions play, and there are lessons in football about diversity, acceptance, competition and equality.”
Football “can be a metaphor for a better society”, he added.
“One thing that Bill and I talked about a lot was his interest in community engagement and how football brings community together, just like art in general,” said Sanborn, who is best known for his work. “Kryptos”, a cryptographic sculpture at CIA Headquarters in Virginia. (It was included in “The Da Vinci Code” author Dan Brown’s 2009 novel, “The Lost Symbol”.)
Contemplating “Omnis”, McGuire said, “The art is good, and the best art evokes emotion.”
McGuire’s artistic legacy
When McGuire and his wife, Nadine, moved to the Twin Cities in November 1988, he joined UnitedHealthcare as executive vice president and she worked as a guide at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Together they nurtured their love for the visual and performing arts.
Both supported art in the Twin Cities. In 2005, they paid $8 million for the McGuire Theater at the Walker Art Center, and another $2 million for a commissioning and programming fund.
“Bill and Nadine want to make a strategic impact at key cultural moments,” said Philip Bither, Senior Curator of Performing Arts at the Walker Art Center. “And that’s what it clearly had for us – took the program and the type of artists we supported to a whole new level.”
The McGuire Family Foundation also supported Guthrie on the River with a $10 million donation for the theater and the adjacent Gold Medal Park.
“The vast green space adjacent to our building, Gold Medal Park, would not exist without Bill’s visionary proposal to the city to establish a historic park in the heart of the Mill District,” said Guthrie Artistic Director Joseph Haj. .
McGuire views art at the football stadium as no different from supporting it within the context of an art institution.
“You support art because of what it is,” McGuire said. “You can support someone who is the direct channel to organize performances at the Walker or buy art and exhibit art and make art available to people at their institution. Or you can bringing art like this directly into the community.”
McGuire was born in Troy, NY, and raised in League City, Texas. He completed medical school at the University of Texas at Galveston and moved to California and Colorado before landing in Minnesota. He first trained as a pulmonologist before turning to health insurance.
He made his fortune as CEO of UnitedHealth Group. The healthcare industry mogul has grown UnitedHealth Group from a $600 million HMO operator to a mammoth $70 billion enterprise.
“The things he did at United have become standards for the rest of the industry,” said Stephen Parente, president of the Minnesota Insurance Industry of Health Finance at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. “Insurance claims data is usually an accounting function, but he really got his staff to say, ‘Let’s use what we have and if we don’t have information, let’s get it to do things better. .'”
He was elected to the National Academy of Medicine for his work for the industry, which Parente said was “an unusual honor” for a health insurance executive.
McGuire was also renowned for his management style.
“We got this ‘bullshit bingo’ when we walked around the table,” Parente said. “If anything seemed too weird, we would just shout ‘Bullshit’. The guy was passionate…and he was a hell of a personality.”
In a backdated 2007 stock option scandal, the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that UnitedHealth hid more than $1 billion in stock option compensation between 1994 and 2005. McGuire agreed to pay a $468 million settlement, including a $7 million civil penalty and reimbursement to UnitedHealth for incentive and stock compensation received between 2003 and 2006. He also agreed not to be an officer or director of a public company for the next 10 years.
Pivot to football
McGuire wasn’t a football player growing up, but on a cold October evening in 2012, he found himself at a Minnesota Stars football game in Blaine. The crowd’s enthusiasm and absolute dedication to the game struck a chord.
At that time, he decided to buy the football team, bringing major league football to Minnesota. He purchased the Stars (formerly known as the Thunder) from the North American Soccer League in November 2012. In March 2013 he renamed it Minnesota United FC. Then he poured 250 million dollars into the creation of Allianz Field, in collaboration with the international architecture firm populous.
“His interests are incredibly diverse,” said Populous Principal and General Manager Bruce Miller. “He told me stories of chasing butterflies with his wife across Texas in their VW RV, and he has an incredible collection of butterflies.”
McGuire and his wife donated their rare butterfly collection, valued at $41 million, to the University of Florida. He and Miller also share an interest in fishing.
“That’s how he got into medical school, fishing in Galveston Bay,” Miller said.
The notoriously private McGuire avoided any personal questions and pivoted to talk about the giant letters on the south side of Allianz Field that spelled out ‘United’.
“It just says ‘United’, which leaves it up to you to decide what it might be,” he said. “Do people say ‘United’? Does ‘United’ represent the union of St. Paul and Minneapolis? Does ‘United’ represent the history of five professional football clubs in 1976 ?” United “not by name but by the common love and greatness of the game? Is it ‘United’ because you bring together a community that has hundreds of different backgrounds?”
Art makes you think.
“That’s what art does,” he said.