Q&A

Last month, GHSP Inc. officially opened a new 7,000-square-foot technology hub at 6 Sherman Ave. in Grand Haven, where the company will offer its automotive and appliance engineering teams more freedom and flexibility to innovate. The Grand Haven-based GHSP, a division of JSJ Corp., recognized that it must create products outside of its traditional scope if it wants to remain globally competitive. After just a few weeks at the hub, the company already has started working on a new technology that it will debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. GHSP Chief Engineer Ian Sage spoke with MiBiz about the planning and strategy that went into creating the tech hub.

New Jersey native Diana Schad is now leading the Grand Rapids-based Family Business Alliance as its CEO. The former Washington, D.C. lawyer — whose husband, Matt Schad, runs the family-owned Nucraft Furniture Co. — believes that family-owned businesses tend to operate very differently from other companies and therefore require specialized advocacy and research. Schad spoke with MiBiz on these topics, as well as her desire to diversify the Family Business Alliance’s membership. 

Stacie Behler wants to see more women in top leadership roles at West Michigan companies and nonprofits. The Meijer executive in charge of public affairs and corporate communications — and the retailer’s former senior legal counsel — was recently honored by the Michigan Women’s Foundation with its Woman of Courage and Achievement award. The statewide organization focuses on accelerating women’s entrepreneurship, developing the next generation of women leaders and furthering policy issues relevant to women in the state, including a campaign to end the backlog of untested rape kits in Detroit. In accepting the award, Behler put particular emphasis on the mentoring and development of young women and nurturing more female business leaders. She discussed the topics before a crowd of more than 800 people in mid April when she received the award, as well as in an interview with MiBiz following the luncheon ceremony. 

As a veteran long-form journalist and the deputy editor of Leafly, a marijuana-focused news organization, Bruce Barcott closely tracks the states and municipalities legalizing cannabis and the various issues that come along with it. Barcott will be the guest speaker at an event  in Grand Rapids on Friday, April 20 hosted by marijuana consulting firm Canna Communications LLC. Prior to his talk, Barcott spoke with MiBiz about several of the industry trends he’s watching, as well as what states should be doing when it comes to regulating recreational marijuana, an initiative that’s likely to appear on Michigan’s November ballot.

Since last fall, Jen Bradshaw has engaged clients of Holland-based Paragon Recruiting in monthly virtual focus groups to share ideas and best practices. Recently, she asked participants how they attract and keep talent, a top issue for all employers in today’s tight labor market and one that’s especially acute for the technology sector Paragon serves. The clients told her that workplace culture and perks — such as paid training and certification, unlimited paid time off, flexible hours, and variety in the tasks and projects employees are assigned — often matter more to people than wages. Bradshaw spoke with MiBiz about the findings.

Kalamazoo-based Zeigler Automotive Group ranked as the 62nd largest dealership group in the U.S. with 15,090 new car sales in 2017, according to an annual ranking in Automotive News. Last year, the company generated $1.08 billion in revenue with 23 stores in West Michigan and the Chicago area and one it just sold in New York. Despite projections for slowing auto sales nationally, President Aaron Zeigler said the dealership group has experienced a strong start to 2018 with sales up more than 20 percent in January and February and with business on track for an all-time company record month in March. “It isn’t even close,” he said during a recent interview at the new Zeigler Motorsports store in Comstock Township. He spoke with MiBiz about the car dealer business and his company’s success through an intentional focus on leadership training. 

In 2016, reporters from The Indianapolis Star began publishing the “Out of Balance” investigative series that looked into years of sexual abuse allegations involving the USA Gymnastics organization. The investigation helped uncover the crimes of Larry Nassar, an athletic doctor at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University who is now serving essentially a life sentence for child sexual abuse and child pornography charges. Since the proceedings started, more than 250 former patients have said Nassar abused them. Marisa Kwiatkowski, one of The Indianapolis Star reporters who helped to expose Nassar, graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2005 and previously worked for the Grand Haven Tribune. Kwiatkowski returns to her alma mater on March 26 to discuss her involvement in the series at an event at Loosemore Auditorium. She spoke with MiBiz about the need for strong investigative journalism and other topics.

After nearly 20 years, Rob Collier plans to leave the role of president and CEO of the Council of Michigan Foundations, which is based in Grand Haven. But before Collier departs the position by the end of 2018, he’s still got “a lot of mischief that has to be created yet this year.” In his final months, Collier says he hopes to focus on a couple of key policy issues that are top of mind not only for the Council’s nonprofit and foundation membership, but also for its corporate philanthropic partners. In an interview with MiBiz, Collier also talked about how to prepare the next generation of leadership at the Council.

Vander Mill owner Paul Vander Heide has helped put Michigan cider on the map. The growing Grand Rapids-based hard cider producer makes more than 250,000 gallons a year and sells its portfolio of brands in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. With his election as president of the United States Association of Cider Makers during CiderCon this month, Vander Heide wants to help professionalize and grow the overall opportunity for the diverse cider industry. Over a couple rounds of ciders at Vander Mill’s Grand Rapids taproom, he spoke with MiBiz about the next steps he would like to see for his company, the USACM and the industry as a whole.

With a multi-million dollar gift to Western Michigan University’s Haworth College of Business to open a financial wellness center on campus, Todd Sanford wants to raise financial literacy and also bring more people into the field of financial planning. Like many business sectors right now, financial planning faces a growing talent shortage. Sanford, the founder and CEO of Sanford Financial Services Inc. in Portage, spoke with MiBiz about how the Sanford Center for Financial Planning and Wellness hopes to address the talent shortage when it opens this fall.

Ryan Kilpatrick hopes to lend his experience in economic development to a new housing initiative in Ottawa County. After four years as a senior community assistance specialist at the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Kilpatrick departed from the organization this month to become the first executive director of Ottawa Housing Next, a public-private partnership tasked with bringing more affordable housing options to Ottawa County, the state’s fastest growing municipality. Before making the transition, Kilpatrick spoke with MiBiz about how the organization hopes to tackle the need for affordable housing in the lakeshore community.

Like so many other industries, the nonprofit sector is being disrupted. But it’s not technology or automation that is sparking change. Instead, it’s young donors who are shaking up philanthropic giving and how nonprofits operate. MiBiz spoke about emerging disruption in the sector with Michael Moody, co-author of a new book called “Generation Impact: How Next Gen Donors are Revolutionizing Giving.” Moody will be the keynote speaker of NextGen Nonprofits, a new MiBiz event for nonprofit executives, staff and board members on Jan. 24 in Grand Rapids.

On Dec. 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) expects to vote on whether to put an end to net neutrality, a group of regulations that forces internet providers to enable public access to all content or applications. As the issue gains national attention, MiBiz asked David Tarrien, an associate professor at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, about who wins and loses if net neutrality is struck down. Tarrien teaches introduction to law, advanced writing, and research and writing, among other subjects.

The retail industry has been on a wild ride for 2017, both in West Michigan and nationally, as around 5,000 stores reportedly closed up shop. As such, many industry experts believe this year saw e-commerce take its biggest bite out of traditional brick-and-mortar retail. But as retailers gear up for the holiday shopping season, William Hallan with the Lansing-based Michigan Retailers Association contends the broader industry will continue to evolve. Hallan, who projects a strong holiday shopping season this year, spoke with MiBiz regarding his membership’s outlook for the rest of 2017 and beyond.

Angel investors offer a potential option for an entrepreneur behind an innovation or startup business who needs capital to take off. Michigan now has 10 angel investment groups, including Muskegon Angels and Holland-based Grand Angels, which this summer formed an affiliate in Kalamazoo, Ka-Zoo Angels, and looks to add others around the state. The 10 groups combined had more than 340 members at the end of 2016. MiBiz spoke with Grand Angels President Tim Parker about what angel investors seek in an investment prospect and the advice for startup companies that may be considering an angel investment.

Dr. Bill Pink is Grand Rapids Community College’s 10th president, replacing Dr. Steven Ender who retired in May. Pink has been with GRCC since 2015, having served as the college’s vice president and dean of workforce development. Prior to GRCC, Pink was vice president of academic affairs at Oklahoma State University. An educator for 25 years, Pink’s background includes an associate degree from York College in Nebraska, a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma Christian University, a master’s degree from the University of Central Oklahoma and a doctorate from the University of Oklahoma. Pink spoke with MiBiz about the need for GRCC to stay relevant for employers and how the college is designing courses to make that a reality.

After 15 years away from Baker College of Muskegon, Dr. Aaron Maike has returned to campus, taking over duties as president in the market. Maike, who’s been with Baker College for two decades, most recently served as president of the Owosso campus, where he’s been since 2014. In Muskegon, he replaces Lee Coggin, who retired earlier this month. Maike’s educational background includes a bachelor of science in accounting from Northern Michigan University, an MBA in finance from Baker College, and a doctorate in business administration from Trident University International. Maike spoke with MiBiz about his journey back to West Michigan and his confidence in Baker College’s future.

When Roberta King decided it was time for a career change, she wanted to make sure her next phase involved something unique. The long-time vice president of public relations and marketing at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation ultimately decided the niche market of medical and legal recreational marijuana needed a “premier national and international communications firm.” King recruited fellow marketing and branding veteran Dottie Rhodes and the two officially launched Canna Communications LLC in late August. King spoke with MiBiz regarding the opportunities in the industry, ranging from consulting with startup businesses in the complex marijuana industry to organizing advocacy campaigns.

Gary Allore took over this month as president and CEO of Mercy Health Muskegon with a deep knowledge of the region’s health care market. Allore has worked for nearly 30 years for the Catholic Health system’s local and regional operations. He previously served as regional chief financial officer for Mercy Health West Michigan, which includes Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids. In his new role, he succeeds Greg Loomis, who retired in June, as Mercy Health Muskegon continues construction on a $271 million expansion and faces new competition from Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health’s move into the market over the last two years. The 54-year-old Muskegon native spoke with MiBiz about his new role as CEO.

Detroit-based law firm Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP recently launched a formal practice group focusing on the rapidly growing autonomous vehicle industry. The firm, which maintains offices in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Lansing, recently hired Steve Wernikoff to co-chair the practice with Tom Appledorn, a partner in the firm’s intellectual property group. Wernikoff formerly served as an enforcement director for the Federal Trade Commission’s Office of Technology Research and Investigation. MiBiz spoke with Wernikoff and Appledorn about the firm’s goals with the new practice group, the matters it plans to work on and the future of autonomous vehicle technology.

Hundreds of private equity investors, advisers specializing in M&A and finance and other business professionals will be in Grand Rapids this week for the Great Lakes Capital Connection. The two-day conference, hosted for the first time by the Western Michigan chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth, involves keynote speakers, panel discussions, and private networking events to create collaboration across the region. MiBiz spoke with ACG West Michigan President Rabih Jamal, a managing partner at DWH LLC in Grand Rapids, about the event and his perspectives on the present conditions for accessing capital.

Bill Melvin grew up around motorsports, so it seems only natural that being a gearhead would translate into his professional life. Melvin owns and operates Liquid Asset Partners, a Grand Rapids-based asset liquidation firm. The company specializes in selling assets of distressed companies, healthy companies looking to offload old equipment and inventory and business owners looking to transition out of their business. Lately, Liquid Asset Partners has taken a slightly different path, acquiring two iconic names in motorsports: motorcycle manufacturer Eric Buell Racing, headquartered in East Troy, Wis., and most recently Braselton, Ga.-based Skip Barber Racing School. Melvin spoke with MiBiz about his company’s decision to acquire these organizations as well as his business model and future plans.

Martha Gonzalez-Cortes has leveraged an educational background in cultural anthropology into a career focused on helping people — often those from marginalized communities. A West Michigan native from Oceana County, Gonzalez-Cortes joined the Kalamazoo Community Foundation at midyear to serve as the organization’s vice president for community investment. With a 20-year career in public service, Gonzalez-Cortes most recently served as the community relations director for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Previously, she was CEO of the Hispanic Center of West Michigan and state director of the Office of Migrant Affairs during part of the Granholm administration. Gonzalez-Cortes spoke with MiBiz about her new role in Kalamazoo and her outlook for how she can help effect change through philanthropy in Southwest Michigan.

While manufacturers have avoided the attention of hackers in past, the industry has risen to near the top of cyber criminals’ hit lists. As such, many manufacturers are finding their organizations woefully underprepared to combat the ominous threat of cyber attacks. Ryan Bonner works with Brighton-based Brightline Technologies Inc. to educate manufacturers on I.T. matters ranging from cloud management to regulatory compliance and security. Last week, Bonner participated in a cybersecurity webinar hosted by MiBiz and Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center-West. [Editor’s note: Visit mibiz.com/cybersecurity to view the webinar.] After the webinar, he talked about new cybersecurity regulations from the Department of Defense and manufacturers’ exposure to cyber threats.

Dr. Edward Montgomery began his tenure as Western Michigan University’s ninth president last week, taking over from former President John Dunn who stepped down after a decade in the role. Montgomery joins WMU after a career in a variety of positions both within and outside academia. An economist by training, Mongomery most recently served as the dean of the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. He also worked in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, serving as the “Auto Recovery Czar” during the latter president’s term in office. Less than two days into his new position, Montgomery spoke with MiBiz about his background in higher education and his plans for the university going forward.

After about eight years away, Jeff Mason has returned to the Michigan Economic Development Corp. Having previously worked at the state’s top economic development organization as a senior vice president for business development, he left in 2009 to head up the University Research Corridor, an alliance of Michigan’s three major research institutions. He’s rejoining the MEDC as its president and CEO, where he’ll lead an organization that’s grown into new focus areas, specifically community development. Mason spoke with MiBiz about these organizational shifts and the new economic development tools the state legislature recently passed to help make Michigan more competitive.

Justine Burdette took over leadership of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center-West early this year after the organization’s long-time director, Bill Small, departed to pursue a career in education. With a background in liberal arts and art history, Burdette — who worked as an executive assistant to Small — brings a new perspective and problem-solving skills to guide MMTC-West through the next evolution of manufacturing. Burdette believes manufacturers will need to integrate new connected technologies, cybersecurity and other measures to compete in the future. She spoke with MiBiz about what skills she brings to the table and her long-term outlook for the organization.

The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) has struggled in recent years amid budget cuts, staff reductions and a breach of public trust after an automated computer system falsely accused 20,000 residents of fraud over a two-year span. Michelle Beebe aims to change that. Beebe was appointed to lead the UIA in late April, following the state’s decision to reassign the former director Sharon Moffett-Massey in the wake of the false-fraud allegations. Beebe comes to Michigan from Utah where she led that state’s unemployment agency since December 2014. After three weeks on the job, Beebe spoke with MiBiz about the challenges the UIA faces in Michigan and how she plans to help improve the agency.

As the co-owners of Zeeland-based trucking, warehousing and logistics firm Inontime Inc., Jon Lanning and business partner Eric Bruins have tried to build a culture based on trust and entrepreneurship, where every one of the more than 300 employees has a sense of ownership. That culture earned the two executives the Small Business People of the Year honor for the state of Michigan, as awarded by the U.S. Small Business Association. Lanning spoke with MiBiz about the role culture played in enabling growth for the company that has annual revenues in excess of $25 million, and how the general business climate affects small business executives.

As Michigan continues its attempts to foster and grow a high-technology sector, the state’s economic development organization has started to assess what it can do to help. To that end, the Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) last month approved a new $1 million Early Stage Proof of Concept Fund aimed at commercializing technology at the state’s research institutions. Denise Graves, director of university relations at the MEDC, spoke with MiBiz regarding the new fund and where it fits in the broader Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) program, which aims to accelerate the biomedical, life sciences, advanced transportation, advanced materials and agricultural biotech industries.

As it turns 20 years old this year, Noto’s Old World Italian Dining has plans to grow. The longtime Italian eatery and banquet center in Cascade Township has brought on self-proclaimed celebrity chef Robert Hesse to assist with that growth strategy. A veteran of reality television show Hell’s Kitchen with fellow chef Gordon Ramsay, Hesse is open about his past as a drug addict and drug dealer who also suffered two heart attacks and eventually lost approximately 400 pounds. Hesse spoke with MiBiz about what he believes he can lend to the food culture in West Michigan.

Steven Wybo doesn’t see much of a happy ending for the vast majority of brick-and-mortar retail stores. The senior managing partner in the Birmingham office of international turnaround and restructuring firm Conway MacKenzie Inc. says the impending demise of West Michigan-based retailers like MC Sports and Family Christian Stores is indicative of the trends impacting larger mall anchors. In particular, they bear too much fixed cost and have to contend with ever-changing consumer trends. Wybo spoke with MiBiz regarding recent closures and the very limited number of options he sees for retail.

With most experts predicting a surge in defense and infrastructure spending based on the Trump administration’s recent proposals, manufacturers likely will have more opportunities to vie for federal contracts. However, the process of actually finalizing a contract with the federal government is far from easy, said Sue Tellier, owner of JetCo Solutions LLC. The Grand Rapids-based consulting firm assists companies in the aerospace, defense, professional services and other industries in sourcing procurement contracts with the federal government. Roughly 20 percent of the company’s clients work in the aerospace industry. Tellier spoke with MiBiz regarding some best practices for companies pursuing government contracts.

On June 30, John Dunn will step down as president of Western Michigan University after a decade on the job. Over the course of his tenure, Dunn ushered in a new era for the Kalamazoo-based university, playing a key role in striking a partnership with the Cooley Law School and creating the private Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine. Under Dunn, WMU increased its minority enrollment from 10 percent of the student body in 2007 to 22 percent now. At the same time, WMU’s international student population doubled to 1,833 students. During a visit to Grand Rapids as part of a 10-day farewell tour across the state, Dunn spoke with MiBiz about his accomplishments at WMU and his plans for retirement.

Last month, Laura Bell took on the role of CEO at Comstock-based Bell’s Brewery Inc., the company her father started in 1985 when she was 2 months old. The second-generation leader spoke with MiBiz about what it’s like to run a family-owned business, her vision for the company and why independence still matters in craft beer.

As the automotive industry adopts new technologies like autonomous driving, suppliers need to find opportunities to add value. For Yanfeng Automotive Interiors, that opportunity comes from flexible seating, smart surfaces and other technology, said Bryan Nyeholt, vice president of global product and process. Yanfeng, which formed in 2014 after Johnson Controls Inc. spun off the majority of its automotive interiors business to Shanghai-based Yanfeng Automotive Trim Systems Co. Ltd., manufactures a variety of interior components including instrument panels, door panels and consoles. Nyeholt is the keynote speaker for the annual Automotive Supplier Symposium, hosted by Grand Valley State University’s Van Andel Global Trade Center on March 9 at the Richard M. DeVos Center in Grand Rapids. Nyeholt spoke to MiBiz prior to the event about the benefits of the joint venture and how disruptive trends in the automotive industry are driving interior design. 

After spending the early part of her career as a communicator with the United Nations and the U.S. Treasury Department, Kara Alaimo witnessed glaring disconnects between organizations and people communicating across different cultures. Her new book, “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to practice global public relations and strategic communication,” seeks to shed some light on those differences and help people communicate more effectively. The book is built on interviews with senior communications professionals from 31 different countries and divides the globe into 10 distinct cultural units. Alaimo will visit Grand Valley State University as part of its APR Speakers Series on Feb. 13 to discuss her research and book. Alaimo spoke with MiBiz  prior to the event about how businesses should prepare to communicate across borders in an increasingly globalized and hostile world. 

As the story goes, Jim Koch found his great-great grandfather’s lager recipe and decided to get into the beer industry. More than three decades later, the craft brewing pioneer and founder of The Boston Beer Company Inc. became perhaps the first craft beer billionaire based on the success of Samuel Adams Boston Lager. In the Harvard graduate’s 2016 book, “Quench Your Own Thirst: Business Lessons Learned Over a Beer or Two,” Koch discusses the management techniques he used to help grow Boston Beer (Nasdaq: SAM) into the fifth-largest U.S. brewery by sales volume. After addressing the Michigan Brewers Guild’s Winter Conference in Kalamazoo this month, Koch joined MiBiz over a beer to discuss the state of the ever-changing industry. 

When Andrew Haan takes over in early February as president of Downtown Kalamazoo Inc. (DKI), he’ll continue the organization’s focus on encouraging growth in Southwest Michigan’s largest downtown market. Haan, who currently serves as an associate director in Gov. Rick Snyder’s Office of Urban Initiatives, spoke with MiBiz about the recently proposed investments in and around downtown Kalamazoo and what will continue to propel the city’s growth.

While beginning farmers often start their operations with a passion for local food and agriculture, many struggle with the day-to-day financials and other intricacies of running a business. Tom Cary, manager of the Beginning Farmer Program at Michigan State University,  aims to remedy that. The program hosts a series of Farmer Field School workshops to help prepare people to manage the business side of their farms. The program will hold a farm labor roundtable to discuss best practices in attracting, retaining and managing employees on Wednesday, Dec. 14 from 1-4 p.m. at the MSU Student Organic Farm at 3291 College Road in Holt. Cary spoke with MiBiz prior to the workshop about some of the main issues facing new farmers. 

Beginning Jan. 9, 2017, Jim Gill will take over as CEO of the growing Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids. Having previously worked as the COO and CFO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority in Pittsburgh, Gill will take over an airport going through major renovations and adding flights amid record passenger counts. Gill spoke with MiBiz about his hopes to engage a changing airline industry in continuing the success the Ford airport has enjoyed in recent years. 

Dr. Sam Tsemberis wants you to know that ending homelessness isn’t very complicated. Simply put, it just requires providing people with housing. The clinical psychologist and founder of New York City-based Pathways Housing First visited Grand Rapids in mid November to meet with organizations that provide services for the city’s homeless population, as well as to give a talk at Fountain Street Church. He also sat down with MiBiz to discuss his housing-first model and how Grand Rapids could end homelessness in a year if the city were to commit to it. 

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