Dean Benson Phillips was born on January 20, 1969, in St. Paul, Minnesota to DeeDee and Artie Pfefer. Artie never met his son. He was a U.S. Army captain killed in action in Vietnam when Dean was six months old. His mother was just 24 and they moved in with Dean’s great-grandparents for the first three years of his life.
In 1972, DeeDee later married Eddie Phillips, heir to the Phillips Distilling Company. “From Jay Phillips, whose name adorns The Phillips-Wangensteen Building at the University of Minnesota, The Phillips Eye Institute, and The Jay Phillips Center for Multifaith Learning, to Abigail Van Buren, aka Dear Abby, aka Grandma, who shared advice with millions around the world and was a pioneer for human rights,” Phillips said, he was “blessed with extraordinary role models who taught me that success is to be measured not by how much one collects, rather by how much one shares.”
In the early 1970s, Phillips moved to Edina, where he attended Highlands Elementary School, spent summer afternoons playing baseball and winters playing hockey. During high school at The Blake School in Hopkins, Phillips bussed tables, started a mobile carwash service, interned at an architectural firm, and worked in the print shop at his family’s distribution business. He graduated in 1987 and went to Brown, earning his degree in 1991.
Phillips moved back to Minnesota and joined a start-up business that produced cycling apparel and equipment. A few years, he joined the family business and picked orders in the warehouse; made Phillips vodka, schnapps and liqueurs in the rectifying plant; worked on the bottling line; and eventually trained as a sales representative. Eventually, he was entrusted with developing international sales and traveled the world selling the company’s brands.
He completed his MBA at the University of Minnesota in 2000 and was promoted to CEO of Phillips Distilling Company. Following the death of his father, Phillips left the company and joined a small gelato business in which he had invested, ultimately building Talenti Gelato into one of the top-selling ice cream brands in the country. In 2015, he and a partner opened Penny’s Coffee.
Phillips served as a regent at Saint Johns University and Board Chair of Allina Health, the operator of Abbott Northwestern, Mercy-Unity and United Hospitals. In 2013, he helped bring WE Day, the global youth-empowerment initiative, to Minnesota. Phillips also chair the boards of his family charitable foundations.
In the 2018 elections, Phillips ran for the United States House of Representatives in Minnesota’s 3rd congressional district. He won the race against incumbent Erik Paulsen with 55.6% of the vote. When he took office in 2019, he became the first Democrat to hold this seat since 1961.
Phillips says he is focused on campaign finance, electoral and ethics reforms, healthcare costs, global climate change and gun violence.
Phillips is the divorced father of two daughters, Daniela and Pia, and lives in Deephaven with his partner Annalise.