Photos by Hillary Ehlen and special to Bison Illustrated
Penny McLagan is one of the most accomplished high jumpers in NDSU history. Now an MBA holder and CFO of EW Wylie Corporation, her accomplishments have gone above even her highest jump.
In the history of North Dakota State women’s track & field, there are very few athletes who have eclipsed the accolades of Penny McLagan. While the Bison track & field teams have thrived for years, there may not be a more successful individual athlete. In McLagan’s estimation, her professional accomplishments have amassed all of the things she did on the field at NDSU. Yet, she does not relinquish her Bison pride and allegiance to the city of Fargo.
McLagan came to the school as one of the best high jumpers in North Dakota high school history. A graduate of Bismarck High School, she set the state record for high jump in 1989, a mark that stood until 2013. She only continued to dominate the high jump in her time at NDSU.
McLagan finished her Bison career in 1995 without ever missing an NCAA Division II National meet, qualifying a total of eight times. She also went on to break the school record for the indoor high jump in 1993, a record that held up until 2011. McLagan also dominated the North Central Conference, winning the high jump crown in 1991, 1993 and 1994. Perhaps her greatest accomplishments at NDSU were her four All-American distinctions and her Division II National Championship in 1993. That national victory in the high jump was only the second in school history at the time and the first national championship for then-coach Jerry Gores.
These phenomenal performances led to McLagan being inducted into the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012. While she attended several Hall of Fame ceremonies for others, McLagan found it odd to get such an incredible honor. “It was surreal, going back and seeing everyone. I have gone back and seen several of my teammates and the women’s basketball team shared a locker room with us back then, so we got to know a lot of them too,” she said. “It was definitely a lot easier to see them up there giving the speech though. Being up there is kind of cool but it’s also very surreal.”
After NDSU, McLagan (then Ensrud) married Tim McLagan, who she met at NDSU and was also on the men’s track & field team. For the newlyweds, it was an easy decision to stay in Fargo after graduation. “We got married and it just made sense to stay in Fargo and I have a lot of family in the area: aunts, uncles, cousins and my parents were here too,” she said. The couple also found Fargo to be a perfect place to raise their three children.
Somewhere between graduating, getting married and having children, McLagan was working toward her CPA (Certified Public Accountant). With a business degree from NDSU, she had planned on doing accounting work in her professional career. However, what was not in the cards was going back to NDSU for her MBA.
“The company I was working for at the time came out with a tuition reimbursement program. I was actually trying to convince my boss to go back and get his MBA and he really didn’t take to it,” she said. “But the more I looked at it and researched it, I wanted to go back. So then I just did it myself and my boss did end up going back too.”
McLagan received her MBA from North Dakota State in 2005. From there she went on to work for DMI Industries and then Integrity Windows. Though MBA holders are in high demand in the professional sphere, McLagan says Fargo was where she wanted to be. “LinkedIn is an interesting thing because it seems like every month someone searches you and leaves you a message about job opportunities,” she said. “Those can come from anywhere from Detroit Lakes to all over the country. But I guess I never looked anywhere outside of Fargo.” Much of this had to do with the comfortability of Fargo that McLagan and her family had gotten accustomed too.
“Fargo just feels like home,” she said. “With my husband and I meeting in Fargo at NDSU. We got married, stayed and raised our kids here. My parents and my brother actually moved from Bismarck to here, so even more family is here now. It’s just comfortable and safe and it’s home.”
What did catch McLagan off guard was a job opening she saw one day while reading the newspaper online. She had always known of EW Wylie Corporation thanks to her previous work at DMI Industries, but she never entertained working there. “I was previously at DMI Industries which was an Ottertail Company and so I was familiar with Wylie because it was also an Ottertail Company,” she said. “I just happened to see the opening on the Forum website and I clicked on it. On a whim, I sent my resume in and it didn’t seem too long after that I got the job.”
That job was to become the Chief Financial Officer for EW Wylie Corporation, whose parent company is Daseke out of Dallas, Texas. To date, Daseke is the largest public open deck flatbed company and EW Wylie has their corporate office in West Fargo. Luckily for McLagan, it is the perfect job for her. “I absolutely love it, it’s that culture and job that you absolutely love,” she said. “I look through the financial statements each month and make sure we’re going in the right direction on a day-to-day basis. You look at metrics and see where the company is going. On a broader level, I look at where the company is going in the future.”
Because EW Wylie is a public company, it has several sister companies. It is up to McLagan, company President Scott Hoppe and the executive team to decide where the company can grow in the future.
McLagan even uses the core values instilled in her while at NDSU in her day-to-day duties at EW Wylie. “It’s working as a team. That flows greatly into a professional setting,” she said. “You always have to look for teams and form teams as you are working. From being part of the Bison family, you kind of naturally look for who is going to be a good teammate and who will work with you to get projects done in a work setting.”
When asked about the idea of Bison pride, something McLagan still holds close, she opted to tell a story of her sister and brother. “My sister and brother live out on the East Coast. For gifts and stuff like that we would send them Bison gear,” she said. “They are both well traveled and they’ll both wear different jerseys and things from other schools, but whether they are in Australia or anywhere in the country, their Bison gear gets the most comments. It feels like a giant family.”
She also hinted at the idea of Bison pride when speaking to alumni who may be thinking of coming back to Fargo. “I just think of NDSU and how much it has changed,” she said. “The differences are great, but it still feels very much the same. It’s the Bison pride that stays true.”
Fargo has become Penny McLagan’s home. While she came here to excel in athletics and academics, she left North Dakota State with much more. That is what has kept her in Fargo for so long, the opportunity for personal and professional success.
Be sure to look for the print edition of our special Alumni issue on magazine stands or in your mailbox later this month.