As fans streamed out of Allianz Field in St. Paul on a humid summer evening, the sun set on "Omnis," a 12-foot-tall, 5-foot-wide cylindrical bronze sculpture on the northeast side of the stadium.
Inside the sculpture, a light illuminated words spelling out 18 milestones in the history of soccer, from 600 B.C. in Xi'an, China, through 2019 in St. Paul, written in 42 languages, that reflect the game's values. 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 the Minnesota United and former CEO of UnitedHealthcare, is a curious attempt at marrying art and soccer. It illuminates the latest vision of McGuire, one of America's best-known billionaires who transformed the health insurance industry. He's given millions to the Walker Art Center and the Guthrie Theater. Now he's set his sights on soccer.
"When we talk about soccer, we talk about why it is the world's game," McGuire said. "Soccer has no barriers. People of every race and color and religion play, and there are lessons in soccer about diversity, acceptance, competition and equality."
Soccer "may be a metaphor for a better society," he added.
"One thing Bill and I talked about a lot was his interest in engaging community and how soccer brings community together, and so does art more broadly speaking," 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.")
Gazing at "Omnis," McGuire said, "Art is good and the best art evokes emotion."
The McGuire arts legacy
When McGuire and his wife, Nadine, moved to the Twin Cities in November 1988, he joined UnitedHealthcare as an executive vice president, and she worked as a docent at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Together, they nurtured their love for the visual and performing arts.
The two have supported art throughout the Twin Cities. In 2005, they shelled out $8 million for the McGuire Theater at the Walker Art Center, and another $2 million toward a commissioning and programming fund.
"Bill and Nadine are interested in having a strategic impact in key moments in the cultural field," Walker Art Center Senior Curator of Performing Arts Philip Bither said. "And that's what it clearly had for us — pushed the program and kind of artists we supported to a whole other level."
The McGuire Family Foundation also supported Guthrie on the River with a $10 million gift toward the theater and adjacent Gold Medal Park.
"The expansive green space adjacent to our building, Gold Medal Park, wouldn't exist had it not been for Bill's visionary proposal to the city to establish a landmark park in the heart of the Mill District," Guthrie Artistic Director Joseph Haj said.
McGuire envisions art at the soccer stadium as no different from supporting it in the context of an arts institution.
"You support art because of what it is," McGuire said. "You can give your support to someone who is the direct conduit to put on performances at the Walker or buy art and display art and make art available to people at their institution. Or you can bring art like this right into the community."
McGuire was born in Troy, N.Y., and grew up 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 originally was trained as a pulmonologist before pivoting to health insurance.
He made his fortune as CEO of UnitedHealth Group. The health care industry magnate grew UnitedHealth Group from a $600 million HMO operator to a $70 billion mammoth company.
"The things he did at United became standards for the rest of the industry," said Stephen Parente, Minnesota Insurance Industry Chair of Health Finance at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. "Insurance claims data is typically an accounting function, but he really got his staff to say, 'Let's use what we have and if we don't have information get it to do things better.'"
He was elected to the National Academy of Medicine because of what he did for the industry, which Parente said was "an unusual honor" for a health insurance executive.
McGuire also had a reputation for his managerial style.
"We had this 'bullshit bingo' when we went around the table," Parente said. "If something sounded too weird we just yell out 'Bullshit.' The guy was passionate … and he was quite a personality."
In a 2007 stock option backdating scandal, the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that UnitedHealth concealed 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 equity-based compensation received between 2003 and 2006. He also agreed to not serve as an officer or director of a public company for the next 10 years.
Pivot to soccer
McGuire wasn't a soccer guy growing up, but on a chilly October evening in 2012, he found himself at a Minnesota Stars soccer game in Blaine. The crowd's enthusiasm and absolute devotion to the game struck a chord.
Right then and there he decided to buy the soccer team, bringing major league soccer to Minnesota. He bought 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 into the creation of Allianz Field, working with the international architecture firm Populous.
"His interests are incredibly diverse," Populous Senior Principal and Managing Director Bruce Miller said. "He told me stories about chasing butterflies with his wife across Texas in their VW camper, and he has an incredible butterfly collection."
McGuire and his wife donated their rare butterfly collection, valued at $41 million, to the University of Florida. He and Miller share an interest in fishing as well.
"That's how he put himself through medical school, through fishing in Galveston Bay," Miller said.
The notoriously private McGuire avoided any personal questions and pivoted to talking about the giant letters on the south side of Allianz Field that spelled out "United."
"It just says 'United,' which leaves for you to decide what it could be," he said. "Is it people saying 'United'? Is this 'United' representing the united of St. Paul and Minneapolis? Is it 'United' representing the history of five professional soccer clubs back in 1976? 'United' not by name but by the common love and greatness of the game? Is it 'United' because you are uniting a community that has hundreds of different origins?"
Art makes you think.
"That's what art does," he said.