SPECIAL REPORT: Laws, Regulations Crunching Businesses Trying to Survive

(Editor’s Note: First in a series detailing the issues business owners face as they navigate the COVID-19 crisis.)

As states around the country have begun to relax stay-at-home orders put in place to battle the spread of COVID-19, businesses and their employees are chomping at the bit to reopen and get back to work.

Or are they?

Of course they are, but owners know that, in the new post-COVID era, things aren’t going to be business-as-usual. Most states are going to add new requirements for the safety and health of workers and customers, and experts say a general fear about coming back too soon is likely to cause fear in workers returning to their jobs.

According to Timothy Williams, Vice Chairman of Pinkerton, a global provider of corporate risk management services and solutions, it’s largely a fear of the unknown.

“There’s a great deal of anxiety,” Williams said. “There’s so much we don’t know. We have generally accepted protocols to deal with other crises. We understand how to deal with an earthquake or a tornado. But there are still so many unknowns and so many variables with (COVID) that we’re going to have to be exceptionally patient as we reopen the economy.”

The anxiety is coming in waves from several different directions. Employers are concerned, for instance, about being able to comply with new safety standards that are almost certain to be imposed when they’re allowed to reopen.

Workplace safety the biggest concern
Having workers report back to a safe environment is going to be one of the paramount obligations for employers. Businesses will likely have to have adequate personal protective equipment in place, as well as policies about cleanliness and sanitization.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations are certainly going to affect how companies do business. According to information on the OSHA website (www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/standards.html), some of the more relevant requirements include:

  • OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards, which require using gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection when job hazards warrant it.
  • When respirators are necessary to protect workers, employers must implement a comprehensive respiratory protection program in accordance with the Respiratory Protection standard.
  • The General Duty Clause requires employers to furnish to each worker “employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

Denise Navarro, President/CEO of Houston, Texas-based Logical Innovations, Inc., said the requirements will likely vary by industry, but will still likely be, at a minimum, a financial stressor.

“For instance, I have noted that some businesses are restructuring and redesigning office layouts to accommodate continued social distancing,” Navarro said. “This could lead to additional costs and limited space.”

Workplace safety standards are going to be a focus. According to information provided by the Michigan OSHA, more than 300 workplace complaints were received March 30-31 alone.

What will new standards look like?
Steve Girard, a labor attorney with Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Clark Hill PLC, said OSHA inspectors will look at employers who had COVID-19-positive employees and ask if the company “did everything they could do” to protect employees. If OSHA determines such wasn’t the case, Girard warned, companies could face citations.

The problem with that, he said, is it’ll be an after-the-fact determination of whether companies did everything they could against a virus nobody has ever seen.

“You’re going have investigators after the fact doing some Monday morning quarterbacking and saying ‘you could have done more,’” Girard said.

What safety standards may be required is still a bit of an unknown, and most businesses are already setting up to meet projected requirements as best they can.

For instance, Mid-West Instrument – which develops proprietary designs manufactured for Original Equipment Manufacturers – is already, among other actions, voluntarily testing employees for temperatures at the start of shifts; locking visitors out of the building; requiring staffers to clean their own work areas; placing hand sanitizer throughout the building; offering cloth masks to every employee; and suspended all work-related travel.

Can business keep up with evolving standards?
Because Mid-West Instrument was identified as an “essential” business, the company has remained open during the stay-at-home order, and has only laid off two of its 40 employees. But business is down, and the company is waiting to hear about its loan under the Paycheck Protection Program.

More: Construction, Real Estate Activity Next Up for Reopening

More: Claims Continue to Flow as U.S. Unemployment Passes 30 Million

More: Town Hall Answers Questions as Businesses Get Ready to Re-Engage

Meanwhile, company officials worry about what the requirements will look like when the stay-at-home order is finally eased.

“As this is rapidly changing we do not know what new requirements may be implemented,” said Mid-West Instrument President Mike Lueck. “We are concerned that impractical safety requirements may be imposed which far exceed CDC recommendations.”

Workplace rules changed to benefit the employee could be problematic for employers, as well. For instance, Whitmer signed an executive order last month saying businesses can’t punish workers who stay home when either they or their close contacts are sick.

And Clark Hill’s Girard said worker’s compensation will likely be another big issue for essential employers operating now and non-essential employers when they reopen. Rules were changed last month, Girard said, that employers of first responders and healthcare providers who contract COVID-19 must prove by what Girard called “objective evidence” that the worker didn’t get it on the job before denying a claim.

Legal and political challenges are popping up over how states and individual companies are handling the pandemic. For instance, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was sued by a couple of business groups and by a state legislator for establishing a stay-at-home order (a judge ruled in favor of the legislator and issued a stay in that legislator’s favor).

An employee of a Tuscon, Arizona electrical company was recently awarded $1,600 because the company denied him paid sick leave after he was told by a doctor to self-quarantine.

And there was a lawsuit filed by a director of Eastern Airlines who was fired just days after requesting time off to tend to an 11-year-old child.

Lois M. Kosch, a partner in the employment law practice group for California-based Wilson Turner Kosmo LLP whose practice emphasizes the litigation of harassment, discrimination, wrongful termination, and wage and hour matters, said that, while the DOL wasn’t doing much enforcement at first, they are now.

“Enforcement actions are happening, whether from the government or private attorneys, so (businesses) should keep those obligations in mind,” Kosch said.

She said some 187 new labor laws have been passed as a result of COVID-19. For instance, the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act mandates paid sick leave and paid time off to take care of children.

There are also obligations under the Family Medical Leave Act to accommodate employees who have child care challenges. That law, Kosch said, entitles employees up to two-thirds of their regular pay, up to $200 per day.

That’s not going to help businesses already looking at balance sheets that aren’t exactly balanced.

“These additional costs in benefits and required payroll additives add to the already-stressed bottom line for some businesses that have been ‘on hold’ during this crisis,” said Logial Innvoations’ Navarro.

To pay unemployment or not to pay, that is the question
Unemployment assistance is turning out to be a double-edged sword. While it provides compensation for workers who lose their jobs, the additional $600 provided by the federal CARES Act can also make it easier for workers to stay off the job because the compensation is often better, particularly in some retail and restaurant businesses.

If the employer tries to bring them back, and they refuse because the money is less, the employee then loses the right to unemployment.

Kosch said recently updated guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor determined workers in that situation are not authorized to collect unemployment, including the $600 federal supplement.

But Dan West, president of the Livonia, Mich., Chamber of Commerce, said he’s still hearing from business owners there are “a lot of concerns” about workers coming back, particularly among restaurant owners.

“Restaurants had to lay off all their wait staff, so a lot of them have taken jobs at Amazon, Walmart, what have you, and may not come back,” West said. “I’m hearing owners are looking for means of bringing people back part-time so they can still get unemployment. There’s really no incentive to come back if they’re making more (on unemployment).”

Kosch pointed out that they won’t be, at least not for long.

“Without (the $600 federal incentive) they wouldn’t be making more than if they were working,” Kosch said. “I think letting people know if they decide not to come back to work when work has been offered to them they’re going to lose that federal supplement … might be a powerful motivator.”

The other thing about which business owners have expressed concern is a question of what the rules will look like when they are finally allowed to reopen. Governors in states like Georgia, Tennessee and Texas have already issued guidelines for re-engagement.

That’s a good thing, according to West.

“The uncertainty is the biggest thing … business people are planners,” he said. “Right now, that uncertainty makes it hard for them to plan. And they can’t work right now, and that makes it even more frustrating for them.”

New requirements could slow productivity
But it’s not just the state rules that trouble some business owners. Ted Barker, the president of Livonia, Mich.-based Shaw Construction and Management Company that employs some 20 workers, said he received a list of 20 requirements the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council wants him to follow when reopening.

Among them are requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE), a specified COVID-19 site supervisor, asking employees to self-identify if they have symptoms, and having running water – “A lot of our sites don’t have running water,” Barker said — and soap on job sites.

“They feel this is a good baseline for future work in this environment and that it will provide the governor with assurance that the Michigan construction industry has the infrastructure, culture and training resources to safely return to work beyond the critical infrastructure projects currently underway,” Barker said. “The (COVID requirements) will cost dollars and has the strong possibility of slowing down productivity, which again will cost dollars to all involved. But I don’t know how we can get clearance to work without trying to inforce a new set of guidelines, either.”

Crisis could crush morale
What owners should really be concerned about, according to Pinkerton’s Williams, is the culture that will exist once restrictions are eased. Morale could be a problem, and business leaders are going to have to be acutely aware of the emotional states of their employees.

“There’s a lot of anxiety around the world, let alone in the United States, about ‘do I have a job,’ ‘do I want to go back to work when I can get paid a little more in the interim?’

“Some have lost coworkers and relatives and haven’t had the chance to grieve,” Williams added. “You’ve got a lot of emotions coming into this, and a lot of fear, because it’s a scenario where we don’t have complete information and may never have.”

Mid-West Instrument’s Lueck agrees about the morale, and says Michigan officials, including Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, haven’t helped the situation with what he calls “aggressive statements.”

“This has been a real issue due to … their total lack of recognition of critical manufacturers supplying to medical gas industry, oil and gas, power generation, military and safe distribution of drinking water,” Lueck said. “This has raised the stress level of many employees who question if we should remain open even though almost all of our products support industries listed (as) essential critical infrastructure workers.”

Fear will also play a role as workers return with concerns about contracting COVID-19 in the workplace. Sonya Bielecki, owner of HR Professional Support Services and a consultant for Express Employment Professionals, doesn’t believe there’s any way to completely reduce an employee’s fear of COVID-19 or the chance they’ll contract it in the workplace.

She said company leadership, “regardless of their personal opinions on COVID-19,” must present a coordinated message to the staff. The other idea she suggests is for employers to prepare a formal communication to workers outlining all of the safety steps they’ve taken.

“If you can prove to an employee that you’ve made CDC and OSHA requirements happen and you’re taking all the steps to keep them safe, that’ll reduce a lot of fears,” Bielecki said. “But the communication has to go out before their return.”

Pinkerton’s Williams agreed communication is the key when there are so many of what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called “unknown unknowns,” things we don’t know that we don’t know.

“That’s perfect for how we are today … It’s not going to be easy,” Williams said. “Communicating with employees several times a day routinely with current information about what we know and what we don’t know would help a great deal with morale.

“If we can be extraordinarily patient in these times with ourselves, with our customers … I think that will keep the security issues at a minimum, and it’s really going to pay off in morale issues,” he added. “People are on edge, anxious. We’re in uncharted territory for our generation. That’s why that ‘high-touch’ (by telephone and conference calls) and very frequent communications that are forthright is going to be very important.”

Maddin Hauser Adds New Associate

Southfield-based law firm Maddin Hauser announced its addition of Victoria Bellamy as associate in th eCorporate and Employment, and the Complex Litigation and Risk Advisory Practice Groups. She previously served as a summer intern with the firm.

Center for Computer Resources and Business Communications Systems Merger Creates New Tech Company

A merger has been announced today between the Center for Computer Resources (CCR) and Business Communications Systems (BCS). Together the two firms will become Antares Technology Solutions (ATS), providing a full suite of computer technology managed IT services.

More PPP Money Getting to Small Businesses; Policy Changes Coming

If the goal of the latest round of Paycheck Protection Program loans was to get more help to small businesses, it appears to be working.

According to statistics released by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the share of PPP loans going to small businesses is up some 60%, with other similar statistics also trending up.

In a release issued Monday, SBA officials said the Biden administration is taking steps to “further promote equitable relief for America’s mom-and-pop businesses.”

The latest round of Paycheck Protection Program funding opened one month ago and officials say the administration has “succeeded in making major improvements” to the program’s implementation:

  • For businesses with fewer than 10 employees, the share of fuding is up nearly 60%.
  • For businesses in rural communities, the share of funding is up nearly 30%.
  • The share of funding distributed through Community Development Financial Institutions and Minority Depository Institutions is up more than 40%.

“The SBA is a frontline agency working to create an inclusive economy, focused on reaching women-owned, minority-owned, low- and moderate-income, rural, and other underserved communities in meaningful ways,” said SBA Senior Advisor Michael Roth. “While reported data illustrates we have made real strides in ensuring these funds are reaching underserved communities, we believe we can still do better.

“The important policy changes we are announcing further ensure inclusivity and integrity by increasing access and much-needed aid to Main Street businesses that anchor our neighborhoods and help families build wealth,” Roth added.  

Officials said steps taken by the administration “demonstrate the commitment to racial and gender equity, reaching low and moderate-income, rural, urban, and other underserved areas.”

The SBA will:

  • Establish a 14-day, exclusive PPP loan application period for businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 20 employees.
  • Allow sole proprietors, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals to receive more financial support by revising the PPP’s funding formula for these categories of applicants.
  • Eliminate an exclusionary restriction on PPP access for small business owners with prior non-fraud felony convictions, consistent with a bipartisan congressional proposal.
  • Eliminate PPP access restrictions on small business owners who have struggled to make federal student loan payments by eliminating federal student loan debt delinquency and default as disqualifiers to participating in the PPP.
  • Ensure access for non-citizen small business owners who are lawful U.S. residents by clarifying that they may use Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to apply for the PPP. 

The 14-day exclusivity period starts at 9 a.m. Wednesday, while the other four changes will be implemented by the first week of March. The SBA is working on the program changes and will communicate details throughout this week.

Officials said these actions will “help to lay the foundation for a robust and equitable recovery for small businesses across the country.”

According to the SBA, small businesses employ nearly half of the American workforce; they create 2-out-of-3 net new private-sector jobs; they reinvest 68% of revenues to build and sustain communities.

Borrowers can apply for the Paycheck Protection Program by downloading the First Draw PPP loan application or Second Draw PPP loan application and working with a participating PPP lender through the SBA Lender Match tool. Updated PPP information, including forms, guidance, and resources is available at www.sba.gov/ppp and www.treasury.gov/cares.

Awards Recognize Nation’s Best and Brightest in Wellness Winners

Companies around the country put a lot of effort into providing a healthy environment for their employees, and in the last year, there’s been an especially big push to do just that.

Some companies do it better than others, and the National Association for Business Resources each year honors those who do it best.

The NABR recently recognized its 2020 Nation’s Best and Brightest in Wellness winners, rewarding companies that promote employee well-being, worksite health and wellness.

“Throughout the year of 2020, the Nation’s Best and Brightest in Wellness winners have demonstrated leadership and forward thinking as they pivoted their business and workforce through Covid-19,” said Jennifer Kluge, President and CEO, Best and Brightest Programs. “As the conversation and focus have shifted, our Best and Brightest winning companies have also been a voice for important actions regarding Well-being and Racial Justice. It is in these unique times that the Best and Brightest in Wellness winners excel and share their knowledge with others.”

These national winning companies were evaluated by an assessment created and administered by SynBella, the nation’s leading wellness systems firm. Company entries are examined statistically for quantitative and qualitative data.

Each survey was scored on a point system based upon criteria to benchmark and improve wellness program effectiveness.  They include outcomes, analysis, tracking, participation & incentives, benefits and programs, leadership, employee input, culture and environment.

With more than 20 years of experience conducting the Best and Brightest competitions, the National Association for Business Resources (NABR) has identified numerous best practices and provided benchmarking for companies that continue to be leaders in employment standards.

This year, the Best and Brightest in Wellness released the results in December in which 109 winning organizations from across the country are being honored. The Best and Brightest in Wellness winners will be honored during dual virtual Illuminate Business Summit week-long celebrations, March 15 ─ 19, 2021. The Illuminate Business Summit virtual celebrations are filled with education, connection, engagement, and inspiration. 

The Best and Brightest in Wellness celebrates those companies that are making their businesses flourish, the lives of their employees better and the community a healthier place to live. The Best and Brightest program provides year-long education, benchmarking, assessment tools and interaction amongst the best employers. Nominations are now being accepted for the 2021 programs. Visit www.thebestandbrightest.com for more information.

Here’s a shout-out to all the winners:

410 Line Dancers

AB May

Access Development

Active Wellness

Adviser Investments


Alyfe Wellbeing Strategies

American Academy of Pediatrics

American Licorice Company

Amesite Inc.

Amtrust Financial

Ansay and Associates LLC

APCO Holdings, LLC

Assurance, a Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC company

Austin Benefits Group

Baudville Brands


Bell’s Brewery


BlackBerry Corporation

BNSF Railway

Burwood Group, Inc



CGI Technology & Solutions Inc.

Children’s Mercy Kansas City

City Of Alexandria

City of Tallahassee

Complete Wellness Companies


Connor & Gallagher OneSource

Consumers Credit Union

Credit Acceptance

Crowley Maritime Corporation

Daugherty Business Solutions


Enthuse Marketing Group

Excela Health

Fifth Third Bank


FONA International

Frank Recruitment Group

Garland ISD

Gilsbar, LLC

GMB Architecture + Engineering Company

Greenleaf Trust

Haldeman Homme, Inc. (H2I)

Health Designs


Ignite marketing group inc

Inteva Products

IQ Solutions

It Starts With Me Health

Karyopharm Therapeutics

King Ranch, Inc.

Lacks Enterprises

Lake Michigan Credit Union

Lake Trust Credit Union

LifeStart Wellness Network

Marsh & McLennan Agency | Michigan


Midtown Athletic Clubs

MMI Engineered Solutions

Morrison Healthcare

MSU Federal Credit Union

Nabholz Construction

National Futures Association

New Resource Consulting

New York-Presbyterian Hospital

Next College Student Athlete

NOW Health Group, Inc.

NYCM Insurance

Oakland County

Ocean Spray

Onlife Health, Inc.


OxBlue Corporation

Parasol Alliance

Parkview Health

PBD Worldwide

Positec Tool Corporation

Premise Health

Presence Marketing

Prime Therapeutics

Primex Family of Companies

Pulsepoint, Inc.

Quicken Loans

Reyes Beverage Group

Ripple Effect

Sachse Enterprise of Companies

Salem Media Group

Shop Smart LLC

Southwest Michigan First


State Compensation Insurance Fund

Strive Consulting

Sun Coast Resources, Inc.


Telecom Brokerage, Inc.  (TBI)


The Intersect Group

The Starr Group

The Wiser Financial Group



Verve, a Credit Union




Corp! Awards Honor MVPs Who Make Michigan the Best Place to Live, Work

Every year, the Corp! Most Valuable Professionals, Entrepreneurs and Millennials awards honor those who, through their careers, community involvement and passion, have made Michigan a better place to live and work.

MVP honors are deserving members of the community who are creating job opportunities, driving economic growth, nurturing community advancements or leading successful companies.

This year, Corp! honored more than 70 winners. Awards will be presented virtually at a webinar Feb. 25.

MichBusiness President and CEO Jennifer Kluge said the organization believes “it’s important to celebrate” the people who are moving Michigan forward. “It’s important to recognize their new ideas, products and services, all of which make our state’s communities stronger,” Kluge said. “That is the focus of these awards … to truly recognize achievements among a diverse group of professionals in a variety of areas.”


John Bridgewater
Manager, Technology Delivery
Michigan First Credit Union


Bridgewater is responsible for leading and supporting the technical team. As a trusted partner, he collaborates and engages business leaders, working together to integrate technology and create a better experience for Michigan First Credit Union members. Bridgewater says he defines success by the meaningful relationships that he has developed and the wonderful people who he has supported and who support him Best advice? “Everyone’s career path will look different, so take the time to enjoy the things you learn and the people you learn with. Don’t compare yourself to others, but build relationships with them and enjoy helping others.

Katie Bowman Coleman
Bowman Auto Group

Bowman oversees a team of nearly 130 employees, selling nearly 5,000 vehicles annually. Coleman lives by three overarching goals: to create the best experience for her customers, to create a positive work environment for her employees and to give back to the Clarkston community that has always supported the family business. Coleman became dealer principal in 2011, and a few short months later her dad, who served as dealer principal since 1984, passed away. Prior to taking on the role, she had spent nearly 15 years at the dealership, learning from him and working in every department to understand the business from the inside out. His passing was personally devastating and a truly pivotal moment in my career. It was the first time I was leading the dealership without him nearby.

Biggest challenge facing Michigan business leaders? “Talent acquisition, especially in skilled trades, so we have teamed up with local technical schools and created an annual scholarship, which is awarded to students attending a two- or four-year college or vocational institution pursuing a degree in a STEM-related field.”

Matthew Briske
General Manager
HP Forklifts

Briske measures success by two things – the growth of the business and the growth of employees. “We like to say we are proactive, not reactive. If we can really take care of a customers needs, that is success for us. It is about doing a little extra or more than is expected of us,” he said.

What is the biggest misconception facing millennials? “The biggest misconception facing millennials is that we are all entitled and feel we do not have to work for our position(s). I know plenty of millennials in the work force and they are just like everyone else – hard working and just trying to do their job(s) to the best of their ability.”

Connie Cessante
Clark Hill PLC

Cessante is a lawyer and memberin the Labor and Employment Group.  Cessante measures success on a daily basis and is defined by client satisfaction. Through her practice, she also counsels employers on all matters relating to the employment relationship, drafts, advises and trains clients on personnel policies, conducts workplace training and performs workplace investigations. Outside the office, Cessante serves on the Ministry Council for the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, a nonprofit organization in metropolitan Detroit which provides meals, clothing, substance abuse treatment and other services to those in need. Connie also is a member of the Michigan Women’s Foundation, which champions the causes of social justice for women and girls.

Megan Finnegan
Sales and Account Management
MCM Staffing

MCM Staffing is an award-winning Hispanic- and woman-owned firm that staffs qualified talent for manufacturing, contact center, and hospitality customers.  Finnegan measures success by writing down her 5- and 10-year business goals and is not afraid of failing or changing course and making sure to feel happy every day, doing something she loves. What is the biggest challenge facing Michigan business leaders? “As most businesses still work from home, maintaining and building morale with their leadership teams and employees while driving growth is especially difficult to achieve in this environment. Leaders may feel they are taking one step forward and then two steps back. Stay strong, do not stop, keep moving ahead as a team.”

Edythe Ford
Director of Community Engagement
MACC Development

MACC Development is a faith-oriented nonprofit based on Detroit’s east side, and Ford certainly knows all about staying in touch with community members, especially during these difficult times. Ford’s success is measured how well her community is doing and assessing its supplier relations, diversity, and involvement in the local community and helping neighbors overcome poverty and inequity. What is the biggest challenge facing Michigan business leaders? “Creating companies that are more equitable in hiring minorities and women, the pandemic, fair wages, and wraparound services for their employees to assist them with life experiences.”

Michelle Harrell
Maddin Hauser Law Firm

Harrell is a strategic legal partner with her clients, and specialize in complex litigation. Her practice areas include business, shareholder and member, real estate, trust, zoning, and other types of litigation. Her advice is, “stay curious and keep learning. Keep an open mind that you may find that you become interested in other areas, paths and careers as you develop.”

Brian J. Hunter
Managing Partner
Fenner, Melstrom & Dooling, PLC

Hunter’s pivotal moment came when he recognized he was more passionate and enjoyed working with entrepreneurs than Fortune 500 companies.  What is the biggest challenge facing Michigan business leaders, and what is the solution to it? “The doors to working in a remote environment have been opened. And it seems it’s here to stay. The challenge is: how do you engage with your business relationships moving forward? It sees there needs to be a balance between face-to-face vs. virtual to establish trust and friendships. What does this look like moving forward? Understanding and sharing best practices and business values will help to find solutions in this area.”

Christina Keller
Cascade Engineering

Cascade Engineering (CE) is a global manufacturing company with nine business units supporting a diversity of strategic markets. Under Keller’s leadership, Cascade Engineering is focused on being an Employer of Choice, maintaining the values of servant leadership, pathways out of poverty, anti-racism and triple bottom B Corporation; as well as a Woman-Owned Business.

Aaron Krohn
Vice President of Technology
Allied PhotoChemical Inc.

Krohn’s role is to proactively create and improve coating to help customers be more efficient and clean.

Krohn defines success by helping customers solve problems (environmental, process, quality) that give them a competitive edge in the market.

Was there a pivotal moment in your career? “Being a cancer survivor, it gave me a reality check of what is important in life and has pushed me to think differently. I take our business relationships personally and have ownership in helping our customers succeed. “This has allowed us to grow our business while retaining current customers.”

Matt Kurtin
Senior Director, Technology and Visual Design
Innovative Learning Group

Kurtin provides leadership for ILG’s programmers and graphic designers as they create custom training and tools that help employees do their jobs more effectively. His deep understanding of technology connects ILG’s project teams to creative, innovative ideas for truly interactive, engaging client learning experiences. Pivotal career moment? “I’ve spent a great deal of time immersing myself in AR and VR to learn how to best use these technologies for our clients resulting in great opportunities to create and implement VR strategies at major companies.”

Ken Martin
Quality Dairy Company

Quality Dairy is a manufacturer of a full donut line and an assortment of sandwiches, salads and snacks for the company’s 28 convenience stores including several large distributors across the Midwest. A family owned business founded in 1936, the second generation is in control and is actively handing off responsibilities to the third generation. Martin is currently the President and CEO of the company and “find myself truly blessed” with supportive co-owners and dedicated staff at all levels of the organization. What advice would you give to someone just embarking on a career?  “Find a mentor you respect, find what you truly enjoy doing and improve your abilities constantly. If you have done this well you will never work a day in your life.”

Mansfield Matthewson
Director of Purchasing
Grand Rapids Community College

Matthewson defines success by providing opportunity to marginalized groups in doing business with the public sector in a fair and equitable environment. Matthewson says every day is a pivotal moment as he makes decisions to help and support local businesses and believes a leader means to be an example to those you influence. Advice to someone just embarking on a career? “Do whatever makes you happy. Enjoy every day of your career. Look for fulfillment. Look to influence and bless others. Try to make a difference on a daily basis.”

Nancy Negohosian
HMS Products Co.

HMS Products is a family owned business which manufactures Pressroom Automation for the Stamping Industry. Outside of work, Negohosian is the President of the Boys & Girls Club of Troy.

Negohosian’s education is in Marketing and Hospitality Services Administration. She joined the family businesses in 1983 and started to learn about manufacturing. “Through the years I have grown to understand Pressroom Automation and the Plastic Consumer Industry,” she said on her Linkedin Profile.

Negohosian’s specialties include Non-Profit Board Development and Fund Raising, as well as community involvement. Since April 2018, Negohosian has served as president of HMS Products Co., a full-service Pressroom Automation Specialist located in Troy. Based on the team’s knowledge and experience, HMS excels at providing innovative engineering solutions to the stamping industry. Besides being the industry leader in press transfer systems technology, the firm’s commitment to customer service is second to none. 

She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Central Michigan University.

Dr. Richard J. Pappas
Davenport University

Davenport serves nearly 6,200 students at campuses across Michigan and online. It specializes in innovative undergraduate and graduate programs that prepare students for in-demand careers in business, technology, health, and urban education.

Pappas learned early in his career that you could never achieve sustained success unless you have a real passion for your work. This passion is what led him to becoming a president, a position he has held at several educational institutions for more than 30 years.  Advice to his graduates? “It’s important to find something you really love to do. Not what pays the most. Not just a title. Find something that you’ll enjoy that is bigger than yourself. It’s important to try different things to determine what you truly love. Once you find that, you’ll find both happiness and success.”

Valerie Rhodes-Sorrelle
Vendor Relations Manager
Grand Valley State University

Rhodes-Sorrell’s primary responsibility is to work with the campus community to increase opportunities for minority, women, and veteran owned businesses.

She defines her success by being happy with her accomplishments and knowing she is making a difference in her community. What is the most important trait in a leader? “HONESTY!”

Rhett B. Rowe
Chief Executive Officer
Great Lakes Business Credit

Great Lakes Business Credit provides private non-bank financing to those companies which cannot maintain or obtain traditional bank financing.

As CEO, Rowe leads the firm’s vision and strategy throughout as well as heads all partner channels and business development efforts. What is the biggest challenge facing Michigan business leaders? “The preeminent concern is staffing – finding the right people for the right spots.”

Dave N. Sheeran
Meadowbrook Insurance Agency

Sheeran leads a highly competitive team in providing necessary insurance coverages for business and individuals. He’s an excellent leader who inspires productivity and customer service while contributing to the community through several programs in supporting awareness and leadership throughout the market.

Candice Simons
Brooklyn Outdoor

Brooklyn Outdoor is a Detroit-based outdoor advertising company with satellite offices in Los Angeles and Chicago. 

Simons persists to see opportunities where they have not previously existed. Candice has changed the face of what leadership traditionally looks like in a male dominated industry. She has made a seat for herself at the table where women were not always welcomed while creating a small predominantly women advertising army.

Tim  Skrotzki
Senior Market Development Lead
Elevate Energy

Elevate Energy designs and implements programs that reduce costs, protect people and the environment ensuring the benefits of clean and efficient energy use for those who need it most. 

Seeking to create a world in which everyone has clean and affordable heat, power, and water, Skrotzi currently leads Elevate’s strategic engagement team in Michigan, designing sustainable and equitable business models customized to lift underserved markets. Biggest misconception facing professionals or millennials in the workforce? “The biggest misconception I see in younger professionals and millennials is thinking that you must be a manager, making key decisions, or earning a large salary to be a leader. At every level in every organization, there is an opportunity to lead from where you are.”   

Patrick Spyke

LAFCU is a state-chartered, not-for-profit financial cooperative, founded in 1936 to serve Oldsmobile employees.

Spyke leads an amazing team of dedicated employees who work to provide the best financial resources to credit union members while being a positive force in their community. How do you view success? “I view success not based on the number of awards in my office, but by the number of awards in the offices of my team members.”

Jean M. Stenger
Senior Accounting Manager
DKSS CPAs + Advisors

DKSS CPAs + Advisors is a full-service woman-owned CPA firm, where she co-manages the Accounting Services Group as well as oversees client accounts related to tax and financial statement services. Stenger defines success by doing the right thing for the right people at the right time for the right cost and says, “If you do the right thing, produce the right product, service with the right attitude, the money follows.” Her pivotal career moment? “I have at least two: Realizing people were looking to me to lead, I needed to define the type of leader I was going to be and I went after that style. In my 30s and responsible for 100s of employees, I vowed to not fail them and worked hard, taking leadership classes, reading books and started communicating regularly. And the second is starting my own business and merging it into DKSS.”

Erin Strang
Central Michigan University Research Corporation

Central Michigan University Researdch Corporation is aprofessional co-working space with accelerator programs focused on product and strategic development for entrepreneurs to positively impact the economy.

Strang has led this company for the past 12 years, and built a dynamic team around making things happen. Was there a pivotal moment in your career? “In the non-profit world, I believe it is important to stay true to your mission and to not chase the money. I identified early on that if I wanted to build an organization that was sustainable, I was going to have to develop repeatable and scalable programs that met the demands of the entrepreneurs and businesses that our organization was trying to serve. Ten year later, the model is proving out.”

Jana C. Warford
Executive Vice President
Almetals, Inc.

Warford manages the finance and administrative duties for Almetals, Inc.

She also developed the processes, protocols and devices required to keep associates and their families safe while they did their jobs. She provided motivation to support the Wixom Fire & Police, a food drive for Gleaners Food Bank, a donation to Special Olympics & The Salvation Army instead of sending Christmas Cards.

Ashley Williams Clark
Director, Center for Equity, Engagement and Research
Detroit Future City

Clark serves as the center’s director, where she establishes a clear vision and direction for advancing economic equity in Detroit and the region. This advancement includes establishing a common definition of economic equity and creating an equity indicator dashboard by engaging civic and community leaders and residents around the effort.

Then, she is to help develop technology that will allow stakeholders to track indicators over time.

As Detroit grapples with the inequities that exist like disparities in income and employment outcomes, the center’s director leads the crucial work to advance economic equity in Detroit—and the advancement progress has an ambitious yet critical timeline. Success to Clark means making a difference through her work towards economic equity and making positive impacts on the communities she serves and loves.


Dave  Achatz
Achatz Handmade Pie Co.

Achatz Handmade Pie Co.’smission is to find the best and healthiest products for its customers and the planet.

Achatz’s success stems from the customers trust that the ingredients that are free of toxic chemicals, raised humanely and respectfully. The farmers they work with are faithful stewards, rebuilding and regenerating the soil, which contributes to clean water and air for the long term sustainability of the planet.”

Chris Ake
Sidekick Ai

Sidekick Ai is a new software product that was started in Grand Rapids in May 2020. 

Sidekick Ai uses machine learning and language processing to schedule meetings. Chris Ake is very active in his entrepreneurship and is also Partner with Kyros Digital Agency and Managing Partner of Bluefin Ventures.

Eran Bashan

Bashan is the developer of the d-Nav® Insulin Management Program and a physician practice specializing in insulin therapy management.

Hygieia’s d-Nav technology is the first and only to earn FDA clearance for changing prescription of insulin doses, which until now has been the sole responsibility of physicians.

Bashan believes effective leaders instill trust through transparency, communication, accountability, authenticity and integrity. Bashan’s pivotal moment? “I grew up in Israel and was considering a military career after spending several years in the armed forces as a field officer. This experience proved pivotal because many of the leadership skills I value today come from my military training and the very real combat excursions I lead teams through.”

Katie Bigelow
Mettle Ops

Mettle Opsprovides transparent and dependable program management and engineering services to government customers and assists other companies with the same goal of improving warfighter survivability.

Bigelow has the vision of Warfighters Serving Warfighters, having served her country as a soldier for more than 10 years. As an Army Aviator, she piloted and commanded missions in Korea and Iraq as well as the United States. In 2013, Bigelow founded Mettle Ops, which now has $34 million in contracts that focus on materials and solutions for soldier survivability.

Mark Bigelow
NUDG Systems

NUDG Systems is a program management software tool used to manage and maintain NIST and CMMC cyber security compliance. Bigelow defines success in the business world by actionable results that show clients in measurable ways. What is the biggest misconceptions facing entrepreneurs? “It’s not necessary a misconception, but more of an overlooking of how hard you need to work to be successful in your endeavors. No one sees the weekends, the late nights, the phone calls, the text messages you get during family time. They only see what you reaped from your crop, not all the hard work it took to get to that point.”

Jon Butler
Kyros Digital

Kyros Digital a software development agency servicing companies from small start-ups to large Fortune 500 companies.

Butler’s success comes from learning from his mistakes and never making them again.

Biggest misconception facing entrepreneurs? “A lot of people out there think that a good idea is all you need. Without dedication and execution, your “good idea” means nothing.”

Rob Cote
Security Vitals

Cote devotes his career to helping organizations successfully protect against cyber attacks. Security Vitals is a cyber-security consulting firm that helps organizations understand where their critical data may be at risk and provides process and technology solutions to help mitigate those risks.

Cote is also a contributing member of the global Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) where he has been an active member for more than five years. His career dedication has demonstrated an ongoing passion for working with clients to deliver solutions that solve critical problems and keep their environments secure.

Bill Cousins
WJ Cousins & Associates

WJ Cousins & Associates is a full range of security investigation, protection and litigation consulting services to individuals, corporations, law firms and government agencies worldwide. Cousins started his company after retiring after 22 years with the U.S. Secret Service as an assistant to the special-agent-in-charge.

His pivot came when he made the decision to service the cannabis industry and make a difference in the success of the industry, propelling it more into the mainstream of the modern day business world. Misconception of an entrepreneur? “That if you own your own business, you can set your own hours, and take days off when you desire. In fact, if you want to be successful, you have to make yourself available 24/7 for your clients.”

James L. Cowper

OneResults.comlaunched to support an underserved market. Cowper’s OneResults.com is a full service, vendor-neutral managed service provider (MSP) that bridges the gap for its clients by providing them with the right talent at the right time, every time.

The OneResults.com MSP/VMS helps dynamic companies streamline suppliers, improve productivity and reduce the costs related to managing contingent labor.

Was there a pivotal moment in your career? “Early in my career, I recognized that failure was a much better teacher than success. Many people are afraid to fail. And while I don’t necessarily relish the idea of failure, I welcome the gifts and lessons only failure can provide.”

Dr. Chanel Hampton
Founder/Chief Executive Officer
Strategic Community Partners

Strategic Community Partners is a national firm with Detroit roots and headquarters. They work with organizations by advising, designing, and managing projects and initiatives that advance equity with and for communities.

Hampton launched the company in 2015 and today has nearly seven full-time employees and 30 consultants across Detroit, D.C., and St. Louis.

What is the most important trait in a leader? “Passion, excellence, integrity, and equity. When a leader is passionate, their heart is in it.”

Matt Krause
Advanced Architectural Products

Krause founded Advanced Architectural Products in 2008. The company produces a continuous insulation system for commercial buildings, optimizing the heating and cooling efficiency of the structure.

Krause is an entrepreneurial visionary who has grown his company from a small West Michigan based entity, to a national organization that services clients and industries from across the country.

In addition, he’s never satisfied with the status quo and is always looking to innovate, whether through improving his products, creating the best client service experience, or ensuring his employees feel valued. Krause is the perfect example of a Michigan MVP whose vision and hard work is helping to drive the Michigan economy.

Fares Ksebati

MySwimPro is a global technology and media company that creates fitness apps that help people improve their performance and health.

Most recently, Ksebati was selected for the Forbes 30 Under 30 List for 2020 in Consumer Technology. MySwimPro is a digital community with over one million members in 180+ countries.              What was your pivotal moment? “Taking the first step! Launching a business is intimidating, challenging, and most of all scary. The fear of the unknown can be crippling. When I was able to overcome this, and take the leap of faith, I gained confidence to take on more ambitions opportunities.”

Dustin McClellan
Pontiac Community Foundation

Born and raised in Pontiac and the recent founder of the Pontiac Community Foundation, McClellan is a champion for the people of Pontiac.

As a young child, he experienced the poverty and violence of the city, and found himself at a pivotal crossroad when his brother was shot and nearly killed. It was the programs offered at a community organization, The Power Company Kids Club, that changed his life and, after graduating university, he accepted the position of Executive Director of the very organization that had saved his life.

Still he felt called to do more for his hometown, and embarked on the journey of creating the Pontiac Community Foundation to build a brighter future for Pontiac.

Define success: “Success, for me is not in the dollars you make, the number of people you lead, or the size or scope of your organization. Success is making a difference in the world and leaving a legacy of positive impact.”

Lori McColl
Lori McColl

Whim-Detroit is a creative and strategic digital consultancy that helps companies speak to the customer in a unified voice by implementing holistic solutions that merge people, processes and technology.

McColl is a creative technology executive with more than 15 years of experience across mobile, web, and emerging cloud-based applications, as well as enterprise solutions. She has a proven track record of establishing long-term client relationships, building top performing teams, providing future forward solutions, and simplifying complex concepts to deliver value to her clients.

Blaire Houchens Miller
Managing Partner/Owner
The Hunter Group

The Hunter Group is a retained executive search and leadership services firm celebrating 25 years of developing exceptional leadership in the community.

For more than 30 years, Miller has been recruiting U.S. and foreign companies to invest in the region as a former global banking executive.

 A native Detroiter, Miller is “proud to recruit executives to our region” for strategic leadership positions in our growing companies. She takes great pride in presenting a short slate of diverse executive candidates for every c-suite leadership search.

Neetu Seth
NITS Solutions Inc.

NITS Solutions Inc., specializes in technology and marketing solutions for the automotive industry. As a founder Seth’s responsibilities include managing the vision and strategic direction of the company, as well as, the day-to- day operations. Misconceptions for Entrepreneurs? “People think Entrepreneurs have the best work/life balance and everything looks glorious from the outside world – in fact they have to put a lot of effort and time and forget about work life balance in the initial years to launch the firm and take it forward.”

Jeff Sloan

FanLabel is a music gamification platform that provides users with a fantasy-sports style experience for music.

A Flint, Michigan native, Sloan’s expertise is broad and deep, from inventing and commercializing his own inventions to developing, financing and selling his own tech ventures.

An entrepreneurial visionary and leader since the age of 18, Sloan immediately learned the power of entrepreneurship as a way to enhance and enrich lives, communities and nations. He saw a need to help aspiring entrepreneurs, so in 2002, he co-founded StartupNation to do just that. Ever since, StartupNation has empowered millions of entrepreneurs with the knowledge and resources required to start a business.

Dong Un Kim
I-Tech USA, Inc.

I-Tech USA is a certified minority company, supporting global industries with mechatronics capabilities, technologies, and industry know how. Dong ensures all current customers’ needs are met, establish new business opportunities with mechatronics capabilities, continue to be a benchmark in technological development, and provides a clear vision and direction for the company.

Jayson Waller

After launching and selling two home security companies, Waller started POWERHOME SOLAR in 2014. Originally having just 15 employees, the company has since expanded to 10 states with more than 1,600 employees and 25,000 lifetime customers. Waller has been the key driver and visionary for that growth. 

POWERHOME SOLAR’s extensive growth amid the COVID-19 pandemic was Waller’s biggest achievement in the past year. POWERHOME SOLAR has more than doubled its employee count since January and even expanded into its 10th state, Tennessee, in April. He is also intent on making an impact in the communities POWERHOME SOLAR serves. Waller and his company have supported causes including the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Gobble Gobble Give — an initiative that provides Thanksgiving dinners to homeless people in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day – and Toys for Tots, making sure that needy families can provide a bright holiday season for their families.

Mark Zawaideh
Mark Z Realty

Mark Zawaideh runs the largest team in Southeast Michigan. Currently carrying over 60 agents working from the Novi office, the firm is servicing all of the metro Detroit real estate market.

The Mark Z Team has sold over $1 billion in Real Estate during its sixteen year existence. The team will close over 750 transaction this year alone. Zawaideh’s diligence and perseverance is what brings his team together. He motivates and inspires the team to work with proficiency.


Meagan Belfinger
Chief Audit Officer – Internal Audit
Flagstar Bank

Belfinger oversees the internal audit, SOX, Loan Review and Regulatory Affairs teams. During 2020, Belfinger joined the Board of Detroit Horse Power, a nonprofit whose mission is to expand opportunities for urban youth through riding and caring for horses.

Detroit Horse Power’s vision is to give at-risk youth a safe and enriching space that furthers their future development. What is the most important trait in a leader? “Humility. Celebrate the highs, recognize you had help getting there, and do not forget to say “thank you”. Acknowledge the lows, and start planning for how to fix them.”

Richard Bryant
Senior Data Scientist
MMS Holdings

MMS Holdings is an award-winning, data-focused contract research organization (CRO) that supports the pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device industries.

Bryant also runs the YouTube channel “RichardOnData” and creates content aimed at delivering candid education to people trying to break into data analytics and data science.

Advice? “It is easy in our culture to get distracted – there are many opportunities out there and different forces competing for our attention. And it is true, you must initially get exposure to various things to understand what you are passionate about. “But after that, some specialization is required – to be really good at something, you must select one or two things you enjoy and focus on them!”

Jeff Chappell
Business Development Manager
Consumers Credit Union

With a decade of experience helping West Michigan businesses, Jeff Chappell knows that relationships matter.

That’s why for most of his career he has focused on entrepreneurial professionals and business owners by walking alongside his clients as their companies develop and grow. Chappell graduated from Western Michigan University’s Haworth College of Business with a bachelor’s degree of business administration in finance.

Djeneba L. Cherif
Senior Director of K-12 Curriculum and Instruction
University Prep Schools

Cherif is responsible for managing the instructional vision, priorities, and performance metrics for all schools at University Prep Schools, which is the first and largest public charter network in Detroit. Youngest ever in the role, Cherif chaired the State COVID-19 Preparedness and Reopening District Plan. 

A pivotal time in her career came at the age of 27 when she became the youngest high school administrator in Washtenaw County.

What is the biggest misconception of millennials in the workforce? “Some of the biggest misconceptions facing millennials in the workforce are that we are in need of constant recognition/praise, entitled, and sometimes lazy. What I do know to be true is that millennials are interested in transparency and fairness. “We are willing to advocate for ourselves and don’t mind having tough conversations. Flexibility and efficiency are just a few of our generation’s core values, we believe in doing more in less time. We are technologically savvy, innovative, and love to collaborate to maximize impact.”

Joseph DiClemente
Vice President of Sales and Quality Assurance
RPM Freight Systems

RPM Freight Systems is one of the fastest-growing, most-awarded logistics providers specializing in transportation and supply chain solutions for vehicle, freight, and bulk commodities.

DiClemente has a pivotal role in leading the strategy and growth of the sales reps along with ensuring quality assurance across all areas of the organization.

Phillip Garcia
Commercial Construction Incorporated

Commercial Construction Incorporated is a certified Minority (MBE) contractor providing turnkey services for the heavy industrial industry. Garcia oversees the day to day from the financials and strategic plans to the estimating and project management departments.

In addition to the day to day, he manages the marketing campaigns, new business development, quality assurance program and community involvement initiatives.

What advice would you give to someone just embarking on his or her career? “I believe everyone should do something every day that makes you uncomfortable. You cannot grow within your comfort zone. If you can consistently challenge yourself, you’ll know who you are and what you can become.”

Nathan Hamood
President and Director of Coffee
Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters

Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters is a multi-location craft coffee roasting company. They source coffees from renowned, quality driven farms, and strive to maintain a high level of care in roasting, brewing and serving those coffees.

How do you define success? “Success certainly means different things to different people, but success to me in business is having the ability to do the things you’re most passionate about, that excite you the most about your craft, uncompromisingly, and that excite your teams and organization, creating a culture of shared excitement that creates a community.

“It takes a lot of sacrifice to get to the point where you really feel like you can excel in that pursuit, and that pursuit truly is never ending.”

Kerrie Mitchell
Vice President of Marketing & Development
Matrix Human Services

Matrix Human Services is a non-profit in Detroit that empowers people of all ages by giving hope and providing opportunities for a better quality of life.

As a millennial, Mitchell serves as a member of the executive leadership and key responsibilities is to lead a team of eight employees that work together to build brand awareness, increase fundraising, volunteer initiatives and board engagement for the agency.

Career pivot? “The pivotal moment in my career was choosing to leave a career in media for the world of non-profit. My childhood dream was to be a media maven, but as I matured, I searched and desired a career that was more purposeful. “Choosing to accept my current role has been the most rewarding experience.”

Cory Mouton
Vice President of Application Development and Business Architecture
United Wholesale Mortgage

United Wholesale Mortgage is the top wholesale lender in the nation six years in a row. Mouton’s role is to design and build software to improve the overall process as well as implementing new tools for internal teams to use which drives the industry in client service. How do you define success? “Success is directly correlated with the setting and achieving of goals. It is important to identify what you’re trying to accomplish and what you need to do to achieve it.”

Justin Nisbet
Brightwork Marine LLC and Brightwork Storage LLC

Brightwork Marine specializes in providing repair and maintenance solutions for boat and personal watercraft clients and Brightwork Storage offers indoor heated and cold storage for boats, RVs, and car. Nisbet’s biggest hurdle was overcoming the initial shutdown which included motorized boating. This prevented access to boats for the previously scheduled off‐season service work as well as delaying the boating season.

Adelaide Pascaris
Manager, Area Government and Community Affairs
ITC Holdings Corp.

ITC is the largest independent electricity transmission company in the United States, moving power from where it is generated to where it is needed.

Pascaris develops and implements organizational community relations strategy for capital and maintenance projects in the southeastern Michigan region, and enhances relationships with area communities, local government groups and officials.

Her role also focuses on building partnerships with charitable giving organizations to advance ITC’s philanthropic priorities.

What is the biggest misconception facing millennials? “Millennials are quickly becoming the largest generation in the workplace. One of the common misconceptions about millennials is that they lack a strong work ethic. Millennials tend to be technology savvy; innovative self-starters who have adopted the motto ‘work smarter – not harder.’

“Millennials have a strong work ethic and tend to be more creative and collaborative when they have a passion for their vocation. Millennials care about social justice and want to work for socially conscious organizations that give their employees a greater sense of purpose.”

Connaé Pisani
National Real Estate Management Group

National Real Estate Management Group, based in Metro Detroit, has emerged as an industry leader in real estate investment, construction and property management.

Pisani has single-handedly built three companies from the ground up in just under two years and has been a big part of the resurgence of the Detroit area by bringing investors and homeowners into the city.

With a degree in civil engineering, she could have remained in the corporate world and continued to work for others. Instead, she chose to begin serving the needs of her community by providing services where they were lacking in the Detroit area.

Alex Ramsay
Versant Medical Physics and Radiation Safety

Versant Medical Physics and Radiation Safety is a woman-owned medical physics and radiation safety consulting company based in Kalamazoo.

They are a small family business that provides Radiation Safety Officer and regulatory support, online training, clinical physics and commissioning. Ramsay was responsible for the smooth transition for his development team to remote work and oversaw the movement of company servers to a new office.

Sam Rau
Technical Services Manager
Micro Visions Inc.

Rau has grown the company into a culture of outstanding customer support and focus on creating the perfect user experience, both internally and externally.

Rau’s dedication to integrity and accountability has fostered a transformation within the Technical Services team and the company as a whole.

Rau has been with Micro Visions for nearly 10 years and has held every tech position prior to his promotion as the Services Manager.

His long-term vision for the company continues to inspire and drive the company to new heights. In his spare time, he volunteers his expertise for various West Michigan non-profits and individuals.

Gino Roncelli
Vice President
Roncelli, Inc.

Roncelli, Inc. is one of Michigan’s largest construction firms with over $300 million in revenue and projects throughout the Midwest and Ontario. Roncelli’s capabilities include preconstruction services, design services, construction management, equipment installation, facilities management, owner reps services, self-performing excavation, and concrete work.

Andrew Rudnycky
Technical Design Lead

Rossetti is a full-service architecture and design firm located in Detroit that provides design inspiration and services to the local Detroit community and professional and collegiate sports.

Rudnycky oversees large scale projects ranging from $20-200 million and provides technical expertise and encourages individuals to push their knowledge and leadership in the fields of architecture and design.

What was your pivotal career moment? “A pivotal moment in my career at ROSSETTI was when we as an office pushed our client’s at the U.S. Open Tennis Center to take a leap of faith and design and construct the world’s largest naturally ventilated tennis stadium with a retractable roof. “The decision to incorporate the natural air movement into the stadium design, rather than mechanically cooling, saved the project tens of millions of dollars and provided the Owner with sustainable marketing jewel.”

Ryan Schario
Vice President of National Accounts for Renaissance Capital Alliance, Sales
TCF National Bank

Schario is also the Co-Founder of the Steering Committee Member for 100 Millennials Who Care Michigan.

In Schario’s role, he is responsible for managing national accounts and growing RCA’s client base across the United States.

He has helped to successfully raise more than $60,000 for local non-profits and contributed to the growth and well-being of his community.

Kiersten Schulte Miller
Project Manager
West Michigan Works!

West Michigan Works! is committed to creating a diverse and qualified workforce for West Michigan.

Miller implements and steers the largest program designed in response to employers’ need for future talent in advanced manufacturing, agri-business, construction, health sciences, and information technology.

What is the most important trait a leader should possess? “While there are many traits good leaders exhibit, integrity is the cornerstone of all other leadership qualities. As C.S. Lewis said, ‘Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.’ “An honest leader succeeds when they stick to their word, live by their core values and lead by example.”

Jonathan H. Schwartz
Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss, P.C.

Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss is a full-service law firm headquartered in Southfield. Schwartz’s practice focuses on bet-the-company litigation, and a range of business, employment, real estate, intellectual property, entertainment and media law projects for clients in Metro Detroit and across the country.

He co-founded and serves as President Emeritus of the Jewish Bar Association of Michigan, where he leads the Holocaust Art Recovery Initiative, a project which raises awareness about the injustice of still-missing artwork looted by the Nazis, and assists with recovery efforts.

In addition, he is the chairperson of Humble Design Detroit, a non-profit that furnishes homes for families and veterans transitioning out of homelessness. The biggest challenge facing Michigan business leaders? “The biggest challenge facing all of us is how to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, and business leaders should also consider themselves community leaders, and must think and act outside the box to help metro-Detroit move forward.”

Travis Spencer
Head of Supplier Diversity & Inclusion
Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company is a global automotive and mobility company. In this role, Spencer is responsible for driving diversity and inclusion among Ford’s strategic partners and supply chain. This is accomplished by connecting minority, women, veteran, disabled, LGBTQ and small business enterprises to Ford and its Tier 1 suppliers.

How do you define success in the business world? “The mission of our SD&I program is to drive economic prosperity for people, communities, and businesses by developing an inclusive supply chain. ”I believe that economic empowerment for diverse suppliers and their corresponding communities is the epitome for what it means to drive human progress… Thus ultimately delivering Ford’s aspiration of Creating a Better Tomorrow. Given this, success for me is facilitating the growth and/or development of those who have been historically underrepresented!”

Mona Viktoria Tierra
Product Manager
Samex LLC

Samex LLC is an Information Technology and Business Consultancy company where Mona Viktoria Tierra helped design Big Business Blueprint, their AI-powered Business Consultancy course.

Tierra played an integral part in building and organizing the consulting lessons for their clients.

What are the biggest misconceptions facing Millenials? “What looks like ‘Stubbornness’ is us being eager to present fresher and robust ideas. “Us being ‘Inexperienced’ is us willing to grow, adapt and learn from veterans. Being ‘Indecisive’ and ‘Discontent’ actually means not sticking to one solid option — making room for broader alternatives that could shift things around to a better position.”

Jasmine Valentine
Marketing and Development Manager

Oakland County’s only comprehensive program for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, HAVEN provides shelter, counseling, advocacy and educational programming to nearly 30,000 people each year.

Valentine has been an advocate for survivors and cultivates and encourages corporate and community partnerships.

What is the biggest challenge facing Michigan business leaders? “From a nonprofit perspective, I would say the steady decline of partnerships. Many Southeast Michigan non-profits share the same mission and vision, often times assisting the same individuals. “Instead of viewing each other as competition, it is in the best interest of our clients and community to encourage collaboration. We’re stronger when we work together.”

Kristen Walker
Vice President of Marketing
Michigan Financial Companies

Michigan Financial Companies is a local financial services firm comprised of independent financial advisors who are dedicated to positively affecting the lives of members.

As the Vice President of Marketing, Walker works closely with teams to provide individual marketing plan support to each of their advisors and markets the firm overall.

What advice would you give to someone just embarking on a career? “Take chances and speak up – it can be intimidating to go to your superiors with your ideas but leaders at your company want to hear from you and WANT you to bring fresh ideas to the business. “If you want to feel like you are making a difference, you have to be comfortable bringing those to them.”

Ryan Wichmann
Senior Manager

Rehmann is a financial services and business advisory firm providing tax consulting and compliance services to both businesses and individuals.

Wichmann provides tax consulting and compliance services and performs financial statement preparation,  review and compilation engagements with a focus on new vehicle dealerships and leasing companies. What is the most important trait a leader in business should possess? “Enthusiasm. If you perform your work with enthusiasm, people will want to work with you and be around you. Whether you oversee a large team, deal with angry and happy customers, or take out the trash, do it enthusiastically and you will bring light to the situation and feel more composed.”

Anastasia K. Wiese
Senior Financial Advisor and Equity Owner
Grand Wealth Management

In 2018, Wiese joined Grand Wealth Management after having managed her own, independent advisory firm. The alliance appealed to her as an ideal solution for delivering new levels of client care to her existing relationships, while positioning her to serve a growing client base.

Anastasia defines success as, “truly enjoying going to work each day.”

Ashley M. Williams

RIZZARR is a curated content marketplace that allows businesses to create digital media alongside everyday Millennial and Gen Z content creators. RIZZARR acts as an intermediator, enabling businesses to use its content-as-a-service platform to find and work with its network of over 5,000 talented content creators.

Best trait in a leader? “I think the most important trait that a leader in business should possess is empathy. I believe that it is the key to connection, development, and growth not only within ourselves, but also in the relationships that we hope to garner and maintain.”

Merrill’s Nicole Christians named to “Top 40 Advisors Under 40” list

Merrill financial advisor Nicole Christians, based in Farmington Hills, was named to Financial Planning’s 2021 “Top 40 Advisors Under 40” list. Christians has been with Merrill since 2002, and graduated from the University of Michigan. She works with high net worth clients on wealth planning.

Automate the movements of your load carriers with A-MATE

K.Hartwall is launching a brand-new AMR (Autonomous Mobile Robot) called A-MATE. This is the first fully electric free-lift pallet AGV with omnidirectional drive on the market. A-MATE is an extremely versatile mobile robot that will bring a new level of automation to intra-logistics, and to the move

Accounting and Advisory Firm Celebrates 80 Years in Business By Continuing to Honor Its Founder and Mission

For Anthony R. McCree, serving as the managing partner of Detroit-based accounting and advisory firm GJC is a job that he enjoys but also a mantle that he carries willingly and with reverence for the history and importance of the firm and its legacy.

That is because of the man who originally founded the firm – the late Richard H. Austin – as well as the example Austin set in how he conducted the business and the kinds of work the firm did for Black- and minority-owned companies as well as the mentorship the firm has created for bringing more people of color into the accounting field, McCree said.

This year, GJC is celebrating its 80th anniversary, looking back on Austin’s contributions to the industry, the hard work of subsequent leaders such as George G. Johnson and the continuing service of McCree and the current staff as they serve as one of the largest certified public accounting firms founded in the Metro Detroit area.

“We still work with small businesses and startups as well as individuals, paralleling Richard Austin’s days as well as helping African Americans become CPAs, start businesses and set up nonprofits so they can be successful,” McCree said.

The GJC story started in 1941 when Austin founded what was then known as Austin, Washington and Davenport. Austin – who is best known as Michigan’s Secretary of State from 1971 to 1995 – was the first African-American CPA in Michigan and the 11th in the United States. That original firm worked with businesses of all kinds, McCree said, but it made sure to serve Detroit businesses in areas like the storied Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods, where Black-owned businesses grew and thrived until the city, now controversially, decided to raze the area for roads and other developments.

In 1971, the firm was reorganized as George Johnson & Company when Johnson took over the business from Austin as a sole proprietorship. In the early 2000s, the firm expanded into the Midwest region, servicing clients in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. GJC currently has offices in downtown Detroit and downtown Chicago.

McCree said the firm has grown steadily through formal practice development by both expanding services to existing clients and by offering a full range of services to new clients. McCree joined the firm in 2016 as managing director, bringing more than a quarter century of accounting and auditing experience.

Prior to GJC, McCree began his career in 1996 at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), formerly Coopers & Lybrand. In 2002, he joined UHY LLP CPAs as Principal for over 13 years, where he was one of UHY’s leading members of the Audit and Assurance Department and member of the firm’s National Health Care Practice and SEC Practice.

McCree said he started talks with Johns on to come to the firm in part because both men wanted to preserve its legacy. Austin was a champion of Black business and of Black men and women working within the accounting profession – and Austin did this amid racial discrimination and other challenges all along his career, McCree said.

For example, at that time to become a CPA you had to work for another CPA for two years. Because Austin was Black, no one was interested in hiring him, McCree said. One of Austin’s professors started his own practice and Austin worked for the professor at night to get his work experience. Austin never forgot that, McCree said, and spent decades making sure other Black men and women could become CPAs and giving them the opportunity for work experience at his firm.

“I made a vow (to himself and to the firm) to make sure people knew where and how we started,” McCree said of his decision to join GJC and continue Austin’s work in this regard.

McCree said offering to have a GJC representative at school career days is extremely personal to him as a result. He also sponsors college students from around the country but especially at traditional Black colleges to come and work at GJC as interns.

“To this day, there are not enough African Americans going into these professions. That can be from lack of awareness at an early enough age to see this is an option. There also can be misconceptions about what CPAs do. It’s not just taxes – there is so much more you can do as a CPA,” McCree said.

Former Michigan Secretary of State Richard Austin founded Detroit-based accounting and advisory firm GJC, which this year celebrates 80 years in business.

MEDC Has Helped Nearly 6,000 Businesses With $52 Million in Grants

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used her COVID-19 update Wednesday to once again call on the state Legislature to move on her state COVID recovery plan, which would put millions of dollars to use fighting the financial effects of the virus response.

Meanwhile, though, businesses are getting help from other sources, namely the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Michigan Small Business Survival Grant program, which so far has doled out some $52.5 million to nearly 6,000 businesses across the state.

“The Michigan Small Business Survival Grant Program provides crucial support to Michigan’s small businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Whitmer said. “These grants, combined with additional business relief efforts offered by the MEDC, will create a strong foundation for Michigan’s long-term economic recovery. As we distribute the safe and effective vaccine and work to end the pandemic once and for all, I will continue partnering with leaders across the state and urging passage of the MI COVID Recovery plan to provide relief for our small businesses, protect public health and jumpstart our economy.” 

Approved by the Michigan Strategic Fund on Jan. 14, the Michigan Small Business Survival Grant Program allocated $55 million to provide support to Michigan small businesses to meet the urgent need of businesses that experienced a significant financial hardship due to COVID-19 emergency “gatherings and face mask orders.”

The program allowed for grants of up to $20,000 to be awarded to businesses that are fully closed, with grants of up to $15,000 awarded to businesses that have been partially closed, or otherwise are open and can demonstrate an impact.  A total of 5% of overall funding for the program was able to go toward administrative costs of the economic development organizations administering the grants. 

The State of Michigan appropriated the funds through SB 748, signed into law by Whitmer, to support Michigan’s small businesses that have been especially impacted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The Michigan Small Business Survival Grants program was administered by 15 local or nonprofit economic development organizations covering all 83 counties across the state. The full list of EDOs administering the grants, the counties they served, and the number of businesses supported is below. 

Yen Yoga & Fitness in Traverse City received a $20,000 Survival grant awarded by Networks Northwest and owner Sara Harding said she is grateful for the funds, which will allow her studio to deliver services to the community and help sustain her teachers. 

“Yen Yoga & Fitness is honored to be a recipient of a survival grant from the MEDC,” Harding said. “This grant will directly assist our amazing team as our industry has been tremendously impacted due to the pandemic. We know that the pandemic impacts everyone, and we will continue to do what we can to support our community through health and wellness.”

To see the full list of businesses that received Survival grants, visit https://www.michiganbusiness.org/survival/.  

Northern Trails Bar & Grille in Newaygo was the recipient of a $10,856 Survival grant awarded by The Right Place and, according to owner Stephanie Barret, the funds helped cover the restaurant’s high payroll costs. 

“It allowed us to cover payroll in our high-volume establishment,” Barrett said. “Our payroll costs have been crippling during the dine-in shut down and due to the specific nature of our establishment, we are only able to reduce payroll costs so far. In addition, we have an obligation to our loyal staff to do as much as possible to keep them afloat, so the grant allowed for us to have a small bit of breathing room.

“These last 10 months have rocked our industry and the ability to obtain this grant has given us a small bit of relief that we are very grateful for,” she added.

MEDC CEO Mark Burton said the program is “providing significant support” to small businesses “helping to get them through this critical time.”

“We are thankful for the efforts of our economic development partners, who worked swiftly and diligently to deliver these vital financial resources within their regions and create a path toward economic recovery for small businesses throughout Michigan,” Burton said.

Accenture’s Jackson Named Corporate Walk Chair for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night Event

The Michigan Chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society recently announced Olivia Jackson, Senior Director at Accenture, as the Corporate Walk Chair of its 2021 Light the Night event, an annual fundraising benefit held each fall to find cures and provide access to treatments for blood cancer patients.


Jackson was one of the top fundraisers for Light The Night’s 2020 Executive Challenge. As the Corporate Walk Chair, she will lead the effort in accelerating corporate support and driving revenue growth for Light the Night to support LLS’s ultimate goal of creating a world without blood cancers.

Light the Night is an annual fundraising benefit for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in which friends, family and co-workers come together to form fundraising walk teams in advance of the event to support LLS’s mission. The fundraising campaign culminates in inspirational and memorable evening walks where participants across Michigan, and over 100 additional communities in North America, join together carrying illuminated lanterns (white for cancer survivors, red for supporters, and gold in memory of loved ones lost to cancer) to take steps to end cancer.

“I am honored to serve as the Corporate Walk Chair and look forward to encouraging local businesses and corporations to join me in taking steps to end cancer by participating in Light the Night,” said Olivia Jackson, Senior Director at Accenture and 2021 Light The Night Corporate Walk Chair. “I am so proud to be part of what LLS is doing to fight blood cancer.”

Like many 2020 events, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society opted to hold its 2020 Light The Night event virtually, for the safety of everyone involved amid the pandemic. This year, outdoor walks are tentatively scheduled in Detroit on Sept. 30, 2021 and in Grand Rapids on Oct. 9, 2021.

“When a loved one hears the words ‘you have cancer,’ it is one of the darkest moments in your life,” said Chad Creekmore, LLS Executive Director. “At Light the Night, it is our aim to bring light to the darkness of cancer through research and cures, and reinforce the urgent need to raise awareness. LLS is a global leader in the fight against cancer, and we won’t stop until we achieve a world without blood cancer.”

LLS was founded by a family for families, at a time when a diagnosis of leukemia was nearly 100% fatal. Now, with the development of new treatments for childhood leukemia, and groundbreaking advancements in precision medicine and immunotherapy, LLS has had a colossal impact on advancing cures and changing the way cancer is treated and patients are cared for.

Through its efforts, LLS has invested nearly $1.3 billion in cutting-edge research to advance therapies. Thanks to research, survival rates for patients with many blood cancers have doubled, tripled and even quadrupled since the early 1960s. Yet, despite these advances, about one third of patients with blood cancer still do not survive even five years after their diagnosis.

ALLSTAR Chauffeured Services offers COVID-19 tested chauffeurs

Passengers of ALLSTAR Chauffeured Services can now request to have their chauffeur COVID-19 rapid tested prior to their trip. Test results are interpreted within 10 minutes. Prior to pick-up, the passenger receives an alert with their ALLSTAR chauffeur information and confirmed test results.

For 35 years Frankenmuth’s Bavarian Inn Lodge has offered modern hospitality experience in old-world setting

Looking back since opening its doors to guests in 1986, today the Bavarian Inn Lodge continues a 35-year-old tradition of wishing a warm “willkommen” to visitors enjoying one of Michigan’s top tourist destinations – Frankenmuth.

Huron Capital Names New Managing Partners to Create Strong Succession Plan for the Future

Huron Capital Partners, a leading lower middle-market private equity platform with a 22-year history and six private equity funds aggregating nearly $2.0 billion in committed capital, recently announced Jim Mahoney has been named Managing Partner alongside Brian Demkowicz as part of a management succession plan designed to strengthen the foundation for the Firm’s continued success.

Since joining Huron Capital in 2007, Mahoney has led numerous successful investments for the Firm and has served on over a dozen portfolio company boards. Although his experience covers a range of industries, he is focused primarily on niche segments within the business services space, including facility, infrastructure, and utility services.

In his new role, Mahoney will manage Huron Capital’s day-to-day operations while continuing to lead new investment opportunities. In addition to his portfolio company board roles and his role as a key member of the investment committee, he has been added to the Huron Capital Board.

Brian Demkowicz, Huron Capital Co-Founder, will remain actively involved as part of the Firm’s leadership team through his continuing role as Managing Partner alongside Mahoney and will continue to provide oversight of Huron Capital’s investment and fundraising strategies. In addition, Demkowicz has assumed the role of Chairman focusing on strategic and value-creation activities.

“I am excited about Huron Capital’s future under Jim’s leadership. Our succession strategy is the product of thoughtful planning over the past two years to ensure that this important transition occurs in a measured, methodical, and transparent way for our team and investors,” Demkowicz said. “This move greatly enhances our senior leadership team and provides a strong foundation for our continued success. Jim has earned his stripes as a strong leader and successful investor, making him thoroughly qualified to take on this leadership position.”

“I am extremely proud of our team and the strong investment franchise we have built over the past 22 years. I remain deeply committed to Huron Capital and continue to devote all my professional time and effort toward the Firm,” Demkowicz said. “I am extremely grateful for the continued support of our investment partners and believe that our senior leadership team is well-positioned to build upon Huron Capital’s successful legacy and lead the Firm into its next phase of growth and prosperity.”

Said Mahoney: “Brian has established a world-class investment platform that has successfully navigated through multiple market cycles by relying on its operationally-focused investment approach and outstanding people. I am honored to have the opportunity to work alongside the next generation of senior investment professionals and lead the Firm through its next exciting chapter. In the coming years, we will be focused on building upon our considerable accomplishments over the past two decades to achieve new levels of success.”

Mahoney holds a B.A. in Economics and Political Science from Villanova University and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business with concentrations in Finance and Accounting. He currently serves on the board of six active Huron Capital portfolio companies, including Albireo Energy, Sciens Building Solutions, and Sunland Asphalt & Construction.

Founded in Detroit in 1999, Huron Capital is an operationally focused private equity platform with a history of growing lower middle-market companies.

Unite Digital Announces Expansion of Leadership Team with the Addition of Automotive Retailing Veterans

Unite Digital, LLC, a digital marketing company that focuses on OEM certified dealer digital programs, lead optimization, online-offline retail integration and customer retention and loyalty strategies, announced today the expansion of its Unite CONNECT platform and the hiring of automotive digital retailing veterans Dave Zuchowski and James Casazza as chief strategy officer and chief innovation officer, respectively.

Unite CONNECT is a modern, flexible and easily customizable lead management and data insights platform built to incorporate the latest advances in technology and intelligent automation. It was built to handle the ways consumers expect to connect with dealerships today, expanding beyond email and phone response, to include text and messaging platforms in one unified interface.

“Unite CONNECT helps OEs and dealerships attract and identify more customers, customize their interactions and unite their data across tiers to create experiences that surprise and delight consumers,” said Stacey Coopes, founder and CEO of Unite Digital. “For example, with our platform, OEs capture and personalize communication to ten times more customers than older technology in use by most certified digital programs today.”

Unite CONNECT is being used by Mitsubishi Motors North America (MMNA) in its MiDIGITALSOLUTIONS certified digital program, a comprehensive suite of digital marketing services and solutions managed by Unite Digital for the growing U.S. network of Mitsubishi Motors dealer partners.

“Unite CONNECT is a vast improvement over the lead management and analytics platforms we’ve used in the past, driving our lead acquisition cost down over 16 percent in the first year of use. More importantly, we’ve identified more customers to connect with and improved our dealership response rate to those customers by nearly 30 percent,” said Mark Chaffin, Chief Operating Officer for MMNA. “Unite customized the platform and program to the unique needs of our brand and dealer partners, rather than employing a one-size-fits-all approach.”

For example, for MMNA, Unite Digital has acquired and integrated real-time sales data from Mitsubishi Motors and competitive brands, so dealers know if the customer has purchased another vehicle elsewhere, allowing them to optimize their follow-up resources and tailor their communication to that customer with a more relevant service message.

The platform integrates with all major CRMs and provides more than 200 customer data elements to provide dealerships with an in-depth look at customers, to understand where they live, what they drive and what drove them to the store. This helps dealerships respond to customers quickly and with customized communications that can increase sales conversions.

“Customer expectations of their online experience have dramatically changed over the last year based on experiences with companies like Amazon, Domino’s, Google, Instacart and Zappos,” Coopes said. “Our team is working hard to bring similar capabilities to our OEM and dealer partners. We have exciting new product and service launches we will be introducing throughout the year to meet these evolving needs.”

To support its continued expansion, Unite Digital has also added two key members to its leadership team.

Dave Zuchowski has been named chief strategy officer for Unite Digital. He is an accomplished automotive industry veteran with more than 40 years of broad leadership experience in retailing, sales and field operations among the OEM, retailer, agency and solution provider sectors. Dave most recently served as president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America, executive vice president of sales at Hyundai, senior vice president of Dealer Operations at Mazda North America and national director of Field Operations at Ford Motor Company. Additionally, Dave has served as the chief commercial officer for the Automotive Broadcasting Network (ABN) – one of the largest automotive digital signage companies in the United States, and chief investment officer for the BW Automotive Group – a ten-store dealer group doing business with seven brands across four states.

James Casazza has been named chief innovation officer, leading the development of Unite’s digital marketing portfolio and digital retailing solutions. Previously a manager of product management at Amazon, James led teams responsible for delivery and operational excellence of the technology suite powering Amazon’s global marketplace platform. Prior, he held roles at Facebook as a global client partner leading international partnerships with automotive OEMs and as product marketing manager for consumer trust and advertising integrity. At FordDirect, he was senior vice president of product management, responsible for building a portfolio of digital marketing services, including websites, leads, consumer marketing, digital advertising and social media.

“James and Dave know automotive retailing and digital sales and marketing inside and out. I can’t think of two better people to help catapult our business forward and serve our growing list of clients to create seamless consumer experiences that unite and differentiate manufacturers and their distribution network, bringing them into the modern age of buying and selling, wherever customers are,” said Coopes.

Founded in January 2016 by industry veteran Stacey Coopes, Unite Digital helps brands connect with their distribution partners and technology solutions to deliver unparalleled digital experiences. Unite Digital’s focus includes building certified digital programs, digital marketing, traffic generation, lead optimization, online-offline retail integration and customer retention and loyalty strategies. Its leadership team has more than 125 years of combined automotive and digital experience from strategic leadership, global business development, brand positioning and marketing, sales and service optimization, and information technology.

Transformative Leader Says Farewell to Legendary Meadow Brook Hall

With a property like Meadow Brook Hall, it takes a person with big vision and an even bigger work ethic to make significant changes – and that is exactly what his colleagues said newly retired Executive Director Geoff Upward did for this legendary property.

Geoff Upward, Executive Director, Meadow Brook Estate, Josh Scott Photography,

With a career spanning decades of service to Oakland University and 16 years at the helm of Meadow Brook Hall, Upward retired this January. Officials said Upward’s leadership in spearheading critical projects and business initiatives has had a transformative impact on the National Historic Landmark, museum, cultural center and event venue.

“It is difficult to overstate the incredible legacy that Geoff built at Meadow Brook Hall,” said Shannon O’Berski, director of external relations at Meadow Brook Hall. “It is rare for an organization to find a leader who combines vision, creativity and practicality at once. Geoff transformed Meadow Brook in so many ways. Not only did he turn our business operations around at a critical time, but he created new ways to interpret and preserve the Great Estate and set us on a sustainable path for an exciting future.”

Faced with a $1.5 million deficit when he started at Meadow Brook in 2004, Upward restructured business operations and achieved profitability in his first full year—and for every year since (until the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered The Hall for most of 2020). Since then, Upward has achieved a slew of key accomplishments, from successfully managing several major restoration and preservation projects, oversaw massive annual fundraising efforts, created a membership program, established the Meadow Brook Press that publishes books and a biannual magazine, and sought and successfully received a National Historic Landmark designation in 2012.

Prior to taking on the Executive Director role at Meadow Brook, Upward served in a number of positions at Oakland, including interim vice president for Development and Alumni Relations, director of University Communications and Marketing from 1995-2008, acting vice president for University Relations and director of Publications. Upward earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at Albion College and Master of Arts degree at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Jillian Gust, Meadow Brook’s director of Administration and Finance, is currently serving as the Interim Executive Director while a search is underway.

Meadow Brook Hall is the historic home built by one of the automotive aristocracy’s most remarkable women, Matilda Dodge Wilson, widow of auto pioneer John Dodge, and her second husband, Alfred Wilson. Constructed between 1926 and 1929, Meadow Brook Hall represents one of the finest examples of Tudor-revival style architecture in America, and is especially renowned for its superb craftsmanship, architectural detailing and grand scale of 88,000 square-feet.

It was the center of a country estate that included 1,500 acres, numerous farm buildings, recreational facilities, several residences and formal gardens. Named a National Historic Landmark in 2012, Meadow Brook Hall strives to preserve the estate and share the pioneering legacy of the Dodge and Wilson families by engaging and inspiring diverse audiences. Meadow Brook Hall is located in Rochester on the campus of Oakland University.

Hertel Settles Into Leadership Role at Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

During one of the most challenging and unique times in Michigan’s state history, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Elizabeth Hertel as Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.


Hertel currently serves as the Senior Chief Deputy Director for Administration for MDHHS, where she oversees External Relations and Communications, Finance and Administration, Legislative Services, Legal Affairs, Policy & Planning, Strategic Integration, Organizational Services, Workforce Engagement and Community and Faith Engagement.

She replaced Robert Gordon, who resigned last month.

“Elizabeth Hertel has dedicated her career to protecting Michiganders’ public health, and she is uniquely prepared to lead MDHHS as we continue working together to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Whitmer.

“She has served across multiple administrations from both parties, and knows how to bring people together to get things done. In her service to the state, she has proven time and again that she will do everything in her power to ensure the health and safety of Michigan families everywhere. Ending the COVID-19 pandemic is going to take hard work and partnership between state government, businesses, and organizations across the state. I know that Elizabeth is ready and eager to start working with partners everywhere to get it done.”

“As we work to ramp up distribution of the safe and effective COVID vaccine and end the pandemic, I am eager to work with Governor Whitmer and her administration to keep Michiganders safe and healthy,” said Hertel. “I am grateful for the opportunity to lead the department at this time. Michigan is faced with a crisis unlike any we have seen before, but our aggressive action against this virus is working. Let’s finish the job and end the COVID-19 pandemic once and for all.”

Hertel joined the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) in 2013 as the senior assistant for Policy and Planning, and in February 2014, was appointed director of Policy and Planning. Following the merger of the Departments of Community Health and Human Services into MDHHS in 2015, Hertel served as senior deputy director for Policy, Planning and Legislative Services. In October 2016, she left that position to serve as director of Michigan Advocacy for Trinity Health and returned to MDHHS and her current position in February 2019. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Grand Valley State University and an MBA at Michigan State University.

“Michigan Hospitals have been working around the clock to get more people vaccinated and keep our communities safe. Elizabeth is exactly the partner we need leading the state’s response to this virus, and we are eager to work with closely with her moving forward,” said Michigan Hospital Association CEO Brian Peters.

“Time and again, Elizabeth Hertel has proven her commitment to protecting the mental and physical health of Michigan residents everywhere” said Willie Brooks, President and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network (DWIHN). “She understands the deep challenges that we face when it comes to ensuring access to care, and she is well-equipped to solve them. I am ready to work with her as she leads the state health department not only through the COVID-19 pandemic, but throughout her entire tenure as director.”

“Our mission at the Michigan Association of Health Plans is to expand high quality, affordable, accessible health care for the citizens of Michigan, and Elizabeth Hertel is exactly the partner we need leading DHHS to get it done,” said Dominick Pallone, Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Health Plans. “As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and all of the public health challenges we face, we are ready to work with Governor Whitmer, Elizabeth, and leaders across the state to protect Michigan citizens’ public health.”

Baker College Dean of Culinary, Chef Tom Recinella, Appointed to American Culinary Federation Commission

Chef Tom Recinella, Dean of Culinary at Baker College and its Culinary Institute of Michigan, has been appointed to the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation Accrediting Commission as the Central Region Education Representative. Chef Tom will serve in this new role through 2024.

THAW Creates Millennial-Led Council to Promote Mission of Stabilizing and Empowering Michigan Families

The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW) recently announced it has launched its inaugural Power Forward Emerging Leaders Council to bring younger voices forward as it works to stabilize and empower Michigan families.

In 2020, THAW sought nominations of millennial leaders of diverse backgrounds to lead this effort. Embracing and encouraging differences in age, race, ability, ethnicity, family or marital status, gender identity and expression, language, national origin, physical and mental ability, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and other characteristics, THAW has formalized the council.

The purpose of the Power Forward Council is four-fold: to create a pipeline of talent for THAW and the nonprofit community of Michigan; to establish a diverse and inclusive council that represents the community THAW serves; to build and expand awareness of the mission and organization throughout the region; to improve opportunities for volunteerism.

THAW CEO Saunteel Jenkins says: “I see this council as a place where young folks can come, learn, and grow as professionals. This is where they can give their best ideas as well as challenge those in the room who’ve been doing this for a while. I hope that our Power Forward Council becomes a power force for The Heat and Warmth Fund and that they will help us make sure that our best days are ahead of us.”

Many of the council members are already leading efforts that relate to THAW’s powerful mission of stabilizing and empowering Michigan families, providing access to resources, and opportunities for residents to thrive. Together, these new voices at the table will use their creative and professional gifts to collaborate on various projects, setting goals with access and inclusion in mind.

The council currently consists of 14 members:

Dayna Asante-Appiah – Online MSW Program Manager, University of Michigan
Che’ Baker – Family Reunification Worker, Orchards Children’s Service and graduate student
Charles Bazner – Customer Advocacy Senior Analyst, DTE Energy
Claudia Bazzi – Radiologic Technologist, Ascension Providence Hospital Imaging Center
Mariah S. Manuel-Berry – Capital Markets Training Team Leader, Quicken Loans
Katherine Brown – Engagement Manager, Detroit Regional Chamber
Yvonne G. Navarrete-Castañeda – Counties Project Coordinator, Policy and Research Team, We The People Michigan
Courtney E. Smith – Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Detroit Phoenix Center
Amanda Spinner – MBA/MS student at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business
Kyle Stuef – Brand and Communication Specialist, Identity PR
Colin M. Talia – Financial Advisor, UBS Financial Services
Terrence White – Vice President, Relationship Manager, PNC Bank
America Yahya – Sociology and Anthropology student, Wayne State University
Eva Zenilman – Student at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business

The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW) is stabilizing and empowering Michigan families, keeping them healthy, safe and warm. THAW, an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, distributes utility assistance to low-income residents throughout Michigan. In the past two years, THAW distributed more than $18 million in utility assistance to over 28,000 Michigan households. Since its inception in 1985, THAW has distributed over $200 million in assistance to more than 280,000 Michigan households.

Paczki Bakeries Hope Hungry Customers Will Come Out for This Midwestern ‘Fat Tuesday’ Treat

Whether you were born in the Midwest or are a transplant, chances are you know about the local tradition of paczki – those calorie-filled pastries that are special treats available at bakeries and restaurants on what is known as “Fat Tuesday.”

This year, this so-called paczki holiday will look a bit different than in the past. First of all, there is a massive snowstorm said to be coming this way. Plus, with coronavirus, you won’t be able to stand around in line waiting for your pre-order or to pick up extra paczki when it comes your turn. But because these donuts are such a comfort food, chances are you’ll be there to support the businesses that are making them.

Most Metro Detroit bakeries will offer a few kinds of paczki, traditionally the raspberry or custard filled. Some creative types are adding new flavors this year to gain attention and get customers in their doors to grab a dozen or even more of these delightful donut-like desserts. Locally, you likely won’t find the trendier stuff – think lavender or siracha flavors – but you will find just about every kind of fruit filling or cannoli crème.

There are lots of places to try them. Consider these:

• Apple Fritter Doughnut Shop: Ferndale residents know the secret goodness for this local doughnut expert. After all, the store didn’t get the reputation for being the home of the Fritterman for no reason. Selection will vary this year so come in early to get your paczki.
• Rose’s Fine Food: In a special collaboration with Folk Detroit, Rose’s Fine Food will have boatloads of paczki available for foodie fans. Every year, they look forward to giving people something different for pre-order as well as pick-up. But it is recommended to show up when doors open because they sell out quickly.
• New Palace Bakery: This Hamtramck bakery has leveled up when it comes to paczki. The pastry is light and airy yet incredibly satisfying. It doesn’t weigh you down or make you regret eating the whole box. Plus, the fillings are delicate and just the right amount.
• Yellow Light: Detroit’s newest Eastside favorite bakery partnered with its good friends up at Almont Baking Company for paczki day. This business collaboration is likely to become a favorite for everyone who cruises by on Fat Tuesday. Flavor fillings will be: apple, custard, chocolate custard, lemon, raspberry, and apricot. Supplies are limited so get them while they last.

What makes paczki great is the nostalgia that comes with this particular kind of sweet, said Freeman Gunnell, owner of Grosse Pointe Park’s Cornwall Bakery. You can try to eat just one for breakfast, but you’ll likely to try a couple before the day is done.

“Paczki is one of the biggest traditions that I can really relate to from my childhood. It’s a great thing to have for this area,” Gunnell said.

Cornwall Bakery is a European-style bakery that serves artisan breads, high-end treats and more. The bakery also is known for its specialty coffees, wedding cakes and specialty cakes. Gunnell offers classes, pop-up dinners and food-focused trips as part of work here, making sure his local community and fellow chefs can try all of his food stylings, which go way beyond dessert.

Gunnell said Cornwall Bakery started making paczki about three years ago, mostly for customers who asked for these “Fat Tuesday” specialties. People who came in that day were willing to buy more, so they started to create a regular order for Paczki Day.

What makes this year more challenging, even beyond coronavirus and its impact on small businesses, is that Valentine’s Day is just two days apart from Paczki Day this year. That’s a storm of activity that will put any bakery into overdrive, Gunnell said. But he knows that his customers love to indulge in these calorie-heavy doughballs, so he’s willing with his staff to put in the time to have a great selection.

This year, Cornwall will have its standard flavors, which are apple, lemon, cherry, blueberry, strawberry, raspberry and custard. Its custom flavors, which change each year, include white-chocolate mousse, chocolate mousse, prune, cannoli, butterscotch and lemon curd.

“We’re sticking with what works this year,” Gunnell said, respecting how orders and appetites might have changed in 2021. However, Gunnell said they plan to experiment with flavors even more in 2022 and, hopefully, years going forward as staffing and demand allows.

Cornerstone Community Financial Celebrates 70th Anniversary Milestone with 70 Acts of Kindness

Cornerstone Community Financial Credit Union, with 6 branch locations and 25,000 members, is celebrating its 70th anniversary. To mark the milestone, CCF is giving back to the communities that have supported it since 1951, with 70 random acts of kindness throughout 2021, worth approximately $10,000.

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