Celebrating Our Economic Success, One Leader at a Time

Corp! magazine is always ready to celebrate Michigan’s economic successes.

With our Most Valuable Professionals/Most Valuable Millennials/Most Valuable Entrepreneurs Awards, we recognize a group of individuals who have contributed to our state’s economic well-being in myriad ways.

The roster of winners ranges from architects to attorneys to nonprofit organization leaders.

These professionals are making business happen in Michigan, serving their community, demonstrating strong leadership skills in growing and managing a successful business, becoming industry experts and delivering lucrative business results.

The 74 winners were honored during an April 27, 2017 awards celebration at the International Banquet Center in Detroit. Click here for the event photos.

Here are brief bios of all the winners, as well as insights offered by select honorees.

Most Valuable Professionals

Tati Amare
“Live in the D”
Tati Amare, who was an award-winning host and producer based out of New York City, joined WDIV’s “Live in the D” morning program as co-host in September 2015. Amare grew up in Los Angeles and had hosted and produced local lifestyle, food and travel programs before joining “Live in the D.”


Daryl Adams
President and CEO
Spartan Motors
Daryl M. Adams, a 25-year automotive executive, was elevated to president and CEO of Spartan Motors Inc. in February 2015, after joining the organization in August 2014 as chief operating officer. Prior to Spartan Motors, Adams served as CEO of automotive supplier Midway Products Group. Before that, he held a succession of management positions with Lear Corp., one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers. Adams holds a master’s degree in business administration from Michigan State University and a bachelor’s degree in industrial management and manufacturing from Lawrence  Technological University.

Steven Barnes
Co-founder and COO
Mobile Defenders
Steven Barnes was born with an entrepreneurial spirit. When he was growing up, he and his friends were always selling something or planning a way to make more money. “Specifically, I think it hit home while working for so many small business owners that were friends and family,” says the co-founder and COO of Mobile Defenders, which provides wholesale cell phone replacement parts. “I learned so much from growing up in that atmosphere that it propelled me to want to build something on my own.” As a business owner, a pivotal moment came when his company had two retail locations and made the decision to open two more simultaneously. “After operating those locations successfully, it made my partners and I realize that we could grow the businesses to a much larger scale,” Barnes said. As the business grew, hiring decisions became more important, particularly for high-level positions. “Without high-level leaders that are passionate about the business, growth and the ability to scale are not possible,” said Barnes, adding that humility is the most important trait for a leader.” Without humility, you cannot get others to follow or grow in their own right,” he said. Competition is one of Mobile Defenders’ biggest challenges because it makes finding good people more difficult. As for millennial workers, they often get a bad rap for laziness, Barnes said. “We have a young and very talented staff that are far from lazy, and in fact, are probably more driven and work harder than some non-millennials,” he said. “Channeling a young, educated and energetic millennial will be the key to many companies’ success over the next few decades.”

Guy Bazzani
Bazzani Building Co.
Michigan’s Most Valuable Overall Professional—A combination of influences has inspired Guy Bazzani, including the Social Venture Network and its promotion of using “Business as a Force for Good,” and Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute for his vision to understand and offer technology to solve the energy issues facing the United States. “Also, my personal experience witnessing the utter devastation of a virgin Redwood forest after not only the trees but an entire ecosystem was destroyed by logging,” says Bazzani, CEO, Bazzani Building Co., a green design and build firm. “The pivotal moment in my career was in 1998 when I made a personal and business commitment to operate strictly as a green builder and developer. The challenge at the time was to be taken seriously and not be dismissed as an environmental fanatic. By staying the course and sticking to that commitment, I was able to demonstrate the value of green building to the local building industry.” Focusing on the triple bottom line drives all aspects of his leadership decisions. “Business leaders should have a clear vision of the result they want their businesses to have,” he says. “Showing commitment to your business vision provides the blueprint for other aspects of your business and allows everything to fall into place.” The biggest challenge facing Michigan is the ongoing effort to transform its image from a rust belt state into one where technology is driving advancement in energy and innovation. Millennials face much the same misconceptions that prior generations have, Bazzani adds. “I think the preconceptions of laziness, entitlement and lack of work ethic will prove false as this generation ages in the workplace,” he says. “I think they may well become a generation of entrepreneurs that will be credited with changing how businesses are held accountable to more than just their quest for profit.”

Jacqueline Buchanan
President and CEO
Genisys Credit Union
Jackie Buchanan counts herself fortunate to have worked for leaders early in her career who allowed and encouraged her to learn more than just the job she was being paid to do. “This was invaluable to me in that it created wonderful experiences and learning opportunities,” says the president and CEO of Genisys Credit Union. “As a leader coming up through the ranks and now as CEO, I encourage the same thing with my employees. It’s very gratifying to see people spread their wings and take ownership of projects or initiatives because they want to learn and do great things for the company, rather than just because they have to.” She counts returning to school to get her master’s degree in technology from Lawrence Technological University as a pivotal moment. “This, coupled with my accounting and finance background, prepared me well for the various leadership roles I had at Genisys Credit Union throughout the years, including my current role as CEO,” she says. Her most important decisions as leader of Genisys are always related to her team of employees and making sure the right people are in the right place at all times, and that everyone is happy and contributing in a meaningful way to the organization’s success. “If we get this part right then our members will be served in the way they want and deserve to be served and Genisys will continue to grow and thrive,” she says. Buchanan is aware of how the tight labor market is affecting Michigan employers. “Between the low unemployment rate and the fact that many college graduates have and are still moving out of state, businesses are having a difficult time finding and retaining good talent,” she says. “I have also heard business leaders lament about not having access to adequate capital since the recession has forced many banks to tighten their lending standards. This has actually been a good thing for Genisys Credit Union, however, as we have been doing record business loan volume in an effort to help our members/customers grow and expand their businesses.”

Kyle Caldwell
Executive Director
Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy
Kyle Caldwell is the executive director of the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids. Caldwell joined the Johnson Center in August 2015. In this leadership role, Caldwell is responsible for the administrative and development functions of the organization while providing vision, passion and guidance to one of the nation’s largest centers for philanthropy. Caldwell came to the role after having led and worked in a wide variety of organizations in government, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. As a champion of the nonprofit sector, Caldwell has been a staunch advocate for nonprofits and foundations to exercise the full expression of their rights and responsibilities.

Chuck Hadden
President and CEO
Michigan Manufacturers Association
Chuck Hadden has always found satisfaction in helping people accomplish their goals. “As someone who has lived most of his life in Michigan, there is a special connection you have to people who make things for a living,” says the president and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association.” Once I discovered association work, it was only a matter of time before I ended up at the Michigan Manufacturers Association.” Those involved in the state’s manufacturing industry are some of the most amazing individuals you’ll ever meet, Hadden says. “These are people who literally kept an entire state and national economy from collapsing,” he says. “The word ‘passionate’ doesn’t do them justice.” He recalls the dark days of the great recession in 2008, when the national economy was in freefall and Michigan was suffering more than most states, with everyone was questioning the viability of manufacturing in a 21st-century world. “Manufacturers took on the challenges of the recession and reimagined what manufacturing could be,” he says. “The people I met during those years, the ones that put their businesses on their backs, they are the ones I still reach out to today. We all survived a bad situation and came out better because of it.” Hiring is a business leader’s most important duty, Hadden maintains. “You have to put thoughtful consideration into every person’s current and future potential — how will they do their job, how will they fit into the association’s culture, what skills do they bring to the table?” Those are the same questions manufacturing executives ask themselves each day, especially now when there is both a talent shortage and a talent demand, Hadden says. “Today’s manufacturer isn’t just thinking about hiring, they are also thinking about how to retain talent,” he says. Manufacturers are known for being innovative, but Hadden doesn’t think any business leader can truly be prepared for today’s economy. “The speed of innovation, the level of competition or the availability of information — these are new challenges,” he says. “Technology allows consumers to shop easier and communicate instantly with businesses, while also seeming to reduce a person’s willingness to wait. This means a business leader has to work harder than ever to remain relevant and customer service must always be a top priority.” The biggest misconception facing millennials may be that they don’t care, that they care less or that they care about the wrong things, Hadden states. “Imagine growing up as a millennial,” he says. “You have access to more technology, innovations occur at a faster rate and you can connect with different people and cultures in a way no other generation could. Money is often a secondary concern. Millennials want a purpose, new skills and to know they make a difference. It’s not that they don’t care; they just have different motivations.”

Camille D. Jamerson
CDJ & Associates
Camille D. Jamerson is a business management consultant specializing in branding, content development, events and strategy and crisis management. CDJ & Associates is a boutique consultancy firm that specializes in strategic development, change and organizational management, communications and event management. Its team has successfully developed strategic plans, communications/PR campaigns and organizational structure for its clientele.

Allyson Jones
Early Literacy Manager
United Way for Southeastern Michigan
Allyson Jones is the early literacy manager at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “I am passionate about lending a hand to make Greater Detroit greater,” she writes on the organization’s blog. ”As early literacy manager, I feel a special connection to new parents. I want to help families build a foundation of love and literacy for their children, starting at birth.”

Eric Larson
Beene Garter LLP
Eric Larson is pushed by the desire to keep learning and get better. “I constantly work to learn more about many different subjects, while working to improve the specific skills in my profession,” says Larson, a partner in the Grand Rapids-based accounting and business consulting firm Beene Garter LLP. “Learning is a lifelong process and takes many forms from many sources.” An effective leader needs to know how to listen well, Larson contends. “Gathering input, ideas and information from a variety of sources and viewpoints leads to better and more informed decisions,” he says. Attracting and retaining excellent people is the biggest challenge facing Michigan businesses, Larson says. “Virtually every business owner will tell you the company’s biggest asset is its people,” he says. “Developing a culture that is attractive to potential team members and then reinforcing that with an environment that promotes growth and success for each person is key.” The biggest misconceptions regarding millennials are that they are not as motivated as prior generations and they want different things, Larson says. “There is data that suggests their goals and what they want from work are not that different from other generations,” he counters. “Further, while they may choose to do things differently than their predecessors, it does not mean that they are not motivated.”

Kevan P. Lawlor
President and CEO
NSF International
As president and CEO of NSF International, Kevan P. Lawlor oversees an independent global organization that writes standards, and tests and certifies products for the construction, food, water, health sciences and consumer goods industries to minimize adverse health effects and protect the environment. Lawlor’s 30-plus years of leadership experience at NSF International include the roles of chief financial officer, senior vice president of food safety and president of NSF International Strategic Registrations. Under Lawlor’s guidance, NSF has expanded into new regions, entered new markets and offered additional services to become a global organization in the standards development, testing, certification, auditing, training and consulting sectors.

Christina Losier
Vice President, Employee Benefits
LoVasco Group
Christina Losier is inspired by the trust her clients place in her. “Today, employers are faced with a major imbalance — as health care and other benefit complexities and headaches increase, the resources and time to deal with them are decreasing,” says the vice president, employee benefits for the LoVasco Group, which provides insurance, employee benefits, retirement products and consulting services for family-owned, closely held businesses. “My team and I add value by bringing a sense of clarity, straightforwardness and order to these issues.” Her decision to depart a large, corporate environment in 2013 to join LoVasco Consulting, a startup firm, was pivotal for her. “While I’m grateful for all the experience I’ve had over my career, at LoVasco I’ve been able to tap into an entrepreneurial spirit,” she says. “Working with a small team of trusted colleagues, I now have more free rein to serve my clients with only their best interests at heart.” Losier, who says she’s grateful that the organization is agile and flexible enough to accommodate a sensible structure that is unbound by traditional corporate constraints, counts trust as the most important attribute of a leader. “I believe the best leaders are those that trust in their team members and empower them to act independently,” she says. “In my experience, people do their best work when their leaders have confidence in their abilities.”

Danielle McIntosh
Account Manager
Reliance One Inc.
Danielle McIntosh was in retail management for several years, working her way up from an associate to store manager and on track to become a district manager when she decided she wanted more. “At 29 years old I took a leap of faith and began a new career in staffing, cutting my salary in half and once again starting at the bottom,” says McIntosh, an account manager since September 2015 at Reliance One Inc., a minority-owned staffing corporation. “I look back now and could not be more thankful that I took that risk. I never imagined I would achieve the success I have in such a short amount of time while loving my job so much.” She says she strives every day to inspire, motivate and invest in her Reliance One team.” Great leaders put the needs of others before their own,” she explains. “A leader who serves their team will make decisions based off the effect it will have on them and the organization.” She notes that Michigan’s job market is incredibly competitive and some fields have more openings than candidates. “Although there are several factors that are considered in retention, such as position, pay, and work-life balance, I believe if the employee is truly engaged with leadership and the company, the risk of losing them is much lower,” McIntosh says.

Brenda Meller
Assistant Vice President, Marketing
Walsh College
Brenda Meller, assistant vice president of marketing at Walsh College, is guided by these philosophies:  If you don’t ask, the answer is always no; you will always make time for the things you really want to do; and you should love your career and believe in your company, as well as in yourself. “Finally, I’m a big believer in the power of people and in working together,” she says. “Sharing our expertise with one another helps to make our organizations stronger.” She completed her dual MBA/master’s degree in marketing at Walsh in December. “The degree took me four years to complete, and there were many nights where I would put the kids to bed and then crack open my books to spend another hour or two on homework or projects before ending the day,” she recalls. “I remember digging deep within to find the energy to put 100 percent into my education. It took me just over four years as a part-time student, but it was well worth it.” Meller’s role is to oversee the Walsh College brand, including its brand campaign, public and media relations, website, social media and digital presence. “But I would say that the most important decisions I make are how to empower my team to make decisions to help them to grow in their careers,” she says. Michigan businesses are facing two broad challenges in regard to leadership, Meller says. “One is gender equality. The other is the ‘silver tsunami’ of retiring baby boomers from leadership roles.” Although part of Generation X, Meller identifies in many ways with millennials. “The biggest risk we take is in not understanding that millennials are the largest chunk of the workforce,” she says. “Over one in three American workers are millennials. They represent a powerful group.”

Van Nguyen
Executive Director
Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce
Van Nguyen says that she and her fellow millennials sometimes base their “ability” on the amount of likes, comments or shares on social media. “My personal mantra has always been ‘It’s not how many followers you have, it’s what you do with them that counts!’ And I believe that can be easily translated into the business world,” says the executive director of the Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce. “You can have 500-plus connections on LinkedIn, but if half of them are people you’ve never met in person just to build your online clout, is it really serving you?” She says her ability to connect people to others and offer solutions to help them overcome obstacles is one of the reasons she has excelled in her position. She recalls how in 2010 she was asked to run a car enthusiast forum at General Motors. It turns out she was the only female, the only minority and the youngest professional at the table. “With over 15 males who had a deep understanding of automotive and/or marketing they would skip over me for input,” Nguyen says. “I truly believe their view of my presence was as a coordinator for the forum and nothing more.” But 20 minutes into a discussion on social media, she knew their views were off target. “As they were about to bypass me once again, I interrupted the next male speaking and got the team to think differently in terms of social media marketing in the automotive space,” she says. “They all paused, processed the information and acknowledged my idea as a sound method.” She had an epiphany at the moment: don’t let gender, ethnicity and/or age define the myths others might believe in. It’s important for leaders not to be overly influenced by others, Nguyen says. “Teamwork and ideas are welcomed to contribute to the overall mission and goal of an organization, but as a leader stick to your convictions once the plan has been developed,” she says.

Jennifer Owens
Lakeshore Advantage
Jennifer Owens observes that careers don’t always progress smoothly and bumps are inevitable. “I do my best to recognize those bumps, figure out a way not to repeat them again and keep moving forward,” says the president of Lakeshore Advantage, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to economic growth in West Michigan. She is quick to credit a mentor who noticed her leadership capabilities. “He saw my potential and coached me to see that in myself,” she says. “I do my best now to emulate him and find talents in people that might not have the experience, but have the potential to achieve.” She now realizes that an important leadership trait is hiring smart people, getting out of their way and letting them lead. “I have an incredible team currently and have managed an array of great teams,” she says. “I provide them support when they need it and allow them to lead me and our team to success.” She also believes leaders should have a sense of humility. “There is nothing that they won’t take on if it leads to success of the team,” she says. Owens also observes a divide among multiple generations in the workforce. “The boomers don’t understand the millennials and the millennials want the boomers to get out their way and let them lead,” she says. “My Generation X seems to be the bridge between the middle. These challenges can be overcome if they take the time to understand and learn from each other. Each generation has something to teach and learn from the other.”

Mark Shobe
President and CEO
DFCU Financial
Mark Shobe has served as president and chief executive officer of DFCU Financial (also known as DFCU Financial Group LLC) since July 2000. Shobe has more than 25 years of experience in the financial services industry. DFCU Financial has grown its membership to over 221,189 with assets of more than $4.3 billion. It has a main office and 28 branch offices.

Tosha Tabron
Vice President of Global Philanthropy
JPMorgan Chase & Co.
As vice president of global philanthropy for JPMorgan Chase & Co., Tosha Tabron is responsible for directing all charitable giving in Michigan for the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. Prior to joining JPMorgan, she worked at Bank of America for 14 years.

Nathan Tallman
Vice President of Operations
Metro Wire and Cable Corp.
Donald Ezop, the founder of Metro Wire and Cable Corp. — the electrical distributor for which Nate Tallman is vice president of operations — likes to ask employees, “What can we do to make your job easier?” Says Tallman: “If you ask these types of questions, the responses you receive will open new doors for you and shape your vision.” It’s also important to engage in clear, constant and collaborative conversation, Tallman says. “When leaders communicate with others, they are able to gain synergy from ideas, dialogue openly and oftentimes arrive at better solutions quicker,” he says. “I think as a leader, it is important to share a vision and strategic strategy and when done collaboratively, other team members will understand their role and purpose within an organization and better results are achieved.” Talent and workforce development is a big challenge for Michigan businesses, Tallman says. “With new commercial, industrial, residential and overall business development growth in the state, as business leaders, the need for highly trained and workforce-ready talent is at an all-time high,” he says. “To address this challenge and to address the baby boomer generation exiting the workforce, corporations and communities need to collaborate on approaches that best serve the needs of businesses and consumers.”

Brandi Taylor
XquisiteLooks Makeup Artistry
Makeup and beauty are Brandi Taylor’s passions. “Empowering women is my purpose,” says the owner of XquisiteLooks LLC. “I love to help make a person feel good about themselves with simple cosmetic enhancements. I also love teaching and educating. If I can teach you one thing that can impact you in any way, then I’ve done my job.” In 2014, Taylor worked with CoverGirl on the Oprah Life You Want Tour as one of the makeup artists providing makeovers and beauty tips to attendees. “Almost every woman that sat in my chair apologized to me for some flaw or imperfection on their face,” she recalls. “I found myself encouraging those women. This helped me see that women needed much more than a makeover. They needed to learn how to appreciate and enhance what they have naturally.” As a result, Taylor changed the focus of her business and started teaching women how to apply makeup through workshops and private lessons. “This decision has resulted in tremendous growth in my business,” she says. Many people think millennials are self-centered and disloyal employees, Taylor says, but she believes they are simply seeking fulfillment. “A job is more than just a career to make money until you retire,” she says. “We want to feel good about our work. We want to enjoy it.”

Erik Tungate
City Manager
City of Oak Park
“I’ve always been motivated by service to others and by forging change for the better in whatever capacity I’ve been in,” says Erik Tungate, Oak Park city manager. “In my current position as the city’s chief executive, I am in a unique position to lay out a vision and push the entire city toward achieving our goals.” He started in corporate banking but soon determined that his expertise could benefit the public sector. “Now that I’ve switched over and have worked in the public sector for several years, I’ve learned that cooperative relationships between the private and public sectors can be most useful for establishing real-time solutions to the problems that everyday people face.” He says his most important decisions are related to public safety. “Those decisions can actually be life-or-death in some cases,” he says. “I also have the final say on many budgetary decisions that could make or break the city’s financial stability.” The biggest challenges facing Michigan are the negative imagery created about the state over the past 40 years and the lack of investment in public infrastructure and transit, says Tungate. “This has left the Detroit region lagging behind the rest of the major regions of our nation,” he says. “Funding public infrastructure and transit in our major-city region shouldn’t be a partisan issue as it is today. It should be something that we can all agree is essential to the high quality of life that businesses flock to because they know that it provides a venue for them to attract the best and brightest employees.”

Nick Valenti
President and CEO
Michigan Financial Companies Inc.
Early in his career, Nick Valenti aimed to emulate successful business owners he observed. “The last 20-plus years, my vision has been to make an unforgettable difference in the lives of the people I touch, which would include my family, my business associates and our firm’s clients,” said the president and CEO of Michigan Financial Companies Inc., an independent provider of financial products and services he established in March 1997. “Most of the decisions we make on a recurring basis fall into one of a few categories: growth plans, services to be offered, economic analysis, expansion and selecting the right people to join our firm as associates,” Valenti says. “One of the reasons we have enjoyed the growth and success we have had is because our firm is comprised of a number of high-integrity, caring, responsible and achievement-oriented professionals.” Keeping clients’ best interest in mind is key to the company’s success. “My belief is that I work for each person in our organization. Every leader should know who they are, where they are taking the organization and have a game plan for getting there,” Valenti says. Going forward, like any business, Valenti says his operation faces the challenge of staying competitive and also keeping the business relevant given new competitors and their disruptive technology. “It is imperative to change with the times and ideally stay ahead of the change curve, ideally to set the curve,” he said. Millennial workers can help in that regard. “I believe millennials bring a different and needed mindset to the business that will help the business adapt to technology and make the necessary changes to stay competitive and relevant,” Valenti said.

Mike Van Ryn
Director of Talent Development
Zeigler Automotive Group
As director of talent development for Zeigler Automotive Group, Mike Van Ryn implemented Zeigler University, a new employee orientation and professional sales training process for the auto group. He sources, screens and completes the selection process for all levels and positions in the 18-location operation with 800-plus employees. He also developed a sales training program for the entire auto group and facilitates consistent classroom and hands-on training sessions.

Sheldon Yellen
BELFOR Property Restoration
Sheldon Yellen has built a reputation for his unconventional management style.  As CEO of BELFOR Holdings Inc. – a $1.5 billion entity that operates a number of companies, including BELFOR Property Restoration, a global leader in damage restoration and recovery services – he carefully watches every penny spent yet doesn’t hesitate to hop on a private plane to visit a sick employee or customer. His rationale?  BELFOR is his family. The workforce consists of 7,000 employees in more than 300 offices spanning 21 countries.

Mindy Ysasi
Executive Director
The Source
While working as an intern at Cascade Engineering outside Grand Rapids, Mindy Ysasi was exposed to the idea that you could make decisions that were good for both the business and the community. “Being able to link my professional interests with my desire to have an impact on my community makes me excited for future opportunities,” says Ysasi, who was working in Spectrum Health’s human resources department before becoming executive director of The SOURCE, a nonprofit employee support organization designed to help employees keep their jobs, receive training to enhance their employment, and help employees move into better positions within or across companies. “My number one priority is how I interact and support the development of my team,” she says. “I work to ensure the team at The SOURCE knows they are valued and how I can support their career aspirations.” She also brings curiosity to her job. “If you are curious, you are more likely to connect with people, seek out solutions to problems and drive innovation in your organization,” she explains. “I try to exhibit my curiosity by meeting people who might not have an obvious connection to my work, by reading lots and taking time to be mindful.” While Michigan as a whole is experiencing prosperity and growth, “which is wonderful, I think we need to continue to ask ourselves who is benefiting from this growth and how can we ensure all communities are experiencing the positive parts of economic development,” Ysasi says. “We overcome by having more transparency in our municipal governments.” Ysasi counts herself as part of the older millennial group. “I think it continues to be that we are not a monolith,” she says. “My identity is truly intersectional. I am an older millennial, a woman, a Catholic, a Latina, and all those identities together create a unique point of view.”

Nadia Zerka
Account Director-Client Services
Imagine Communications
Nadia Zerka credits her parents with providing her inspiration to push forward every day. “They immigrated to this country to give their children unlimited freedom, education and opportunities,” says Zerka, who works in client services for Imagine Communications. “I try to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way because I don’t ever want to take what I’ve been afforded for granted.” A pivotal moment came when she began pursuing a master’s in applied communication at University of Michigan-Flint in the fall of 2015. “During the coursework of the first year, I was working on an assignment when it hit me that I now had a responsibility to be an example and a mentor to the next generation of what you can accomplish if you’re willing to work hard and make sacrifices.” Along with some of the marketing aspects, such as the website and blog, responsibility for Imagine Communications’ infrastructure falls under Zerka. “Some may find revising proposals and evaluating workflow processes tedious, but it’s right in my wheelhouse,” she says. “I believe the strength of a company can be found behind the scenes, not what is presented to the client, and I take pride in helping Imagine Communications run like a well-oiled machine.” Michigan’s business leaders face a perception issue, Zerka says. “I live in Flint and I cringe when I hear and read what people have to say about my beloved hometown,” she says. “Yes, we have our problems, but we also have some dedicated people working hard to make things better. Taking the time to educate others about what our great state has to offer outside of the headlines is one way to overcome negative perceptions.”

Most Valuable Millennials

Michael Armitage
Milan Mayor and Central Dispatch Director, Eaton County
Michael Armitage strives to make things better. “I’m not one to just sit back on the sidelines and complain,” says the mayor of Milan who is also director of Eaton County Central Dispatch. “I saw things in my community that I felt could be done better and needed a change catalyst, and I got involved,” he says. Still, deciding to run for public office was a hard decision. “I was 22 years old and had to give up my job if elected (which I was),” he recalls. “That decision, however, opened many doors and gave me the opportunity to effect positive change in Milan.” He has learned that proper attitude is the most important attribute of a leader. “As a leader, you set the tone and expectations of the organization,” he explains. “Giving vision while allowing people to flourish and be creative is an important balance to keep. People want to come to work if the atmosphere is positive and supportive.” Integrity also is key. “Integrity is important and it helps you build trust and respect, which is vital for a leader, especially when it comes to getting buy-in for the tough decisions you must make,” Armitage says. Millennials are often wrongly viewed as overly dependent on technology, he says.”The world is changing, and many millennials have a grasp on new technology,” he says. “The understanding and utilization of technology can be a huge asset to your organization or business. We may have our faces in our phones, but we are communicating like never before, even if it is fewer voice conversations and more text and multimedia connections.”

Kyle Bartell
Sit On It Detroit
Sit On It Detroit
 is a social enterprise that provides reclaimed wood benches at bus stops around the city. Kyle Bartell cofounded it in 2012 with Charlie Molnar. “I was using public transit every day and noticed the lack of seating at many bus stops,” Bartell says. “I saw this as an opportunity to bring together my interests in transit advocacy and urban planning and make an on-the-ground impact.”

Hannah Berry
Lions & Rabbits
Lions & Rabbits serves as the primary studio space for artist/owner Hannah Berry. The art gallery and community retail space is located in the Creston Hill neighborhood of Grand Rapids. Formerly a St. Vincent DePaul’s thrift store, the space now serves as a place where people can learn, create and gather.

Mike Blahnik
Project Manager and Performance Consultant
Innovative Learning Group
Mike Blahnik counts many people as inspirations, including family, friends, colleagues, clients and historic and public figures. “I would not say that I have a vision for my career, but I focus on being and feeling driven,” says the project manager and performance consultant at Innovative Learning Group. “I’m driven to be good at what I do and to get better every day. Thinking about it that way, one day at a time, helps keep me focused and oriented to the present while building skills that will help me be successful in the long run.” Blahnik joined the Troy-based training company out of graduate school. “I think establishing priorities and nurturing a positive culture are two of the most important areas where leaders can make a positive impact,” he says. “In that way, deciding what to prioritize and deciding how to contribute to my organization’s culture are, I feel, some of the most important decisions that I may make on any given day.” The biggest challenges facing business leaders are finding and developing top talent, planning for an uncertain future and leading others with confidence and compassion, Blahnik says. “Can these challenges be overcome? Maybe temporarily, but I think that no matter how well you’re doing as a leader, these are ongoing battles,” he says. “What becomes most important for long-term success is rising to these challenges, each and every time you are called upon, with confidence.” A misconception of millennials is that they are different from any other generation in the workforce,” Blahnik says. “I’d bet just about every generation was perceived by the generation(s) before them as ‘lazy, dissatisfied, entitled and squirrelly,’” he says. “As those young professionals proved themselves, these false generalizations did not stick to those who outworked them. Eventually, like every generation before us, we millennials will be able to stand on our merit and track record.”

Andrew Chmielewski
Mitten Crate LLC
Andrew Chmielewski calls himself a thinker, dreamer and serial entrepreneur. One of his endeavors is Mitten Crate, an experiential marketing platform designed to promote Michigan-made food products while simultaneously raising money to fight hunger. Mitten Crate has worked with more than 100 small Michigan food companies, featuring their products to a targeted demographic of over 10,000 consumers looking to support the Michigan economy nationwide. Since its inception, it has raised and donated more than 100,000 meals to Gleaners Food Bank.

Aaron Cohen
Aaron Cohen, CEO of Revive, an upscale men’s clothing boutique in Birmingham, figures that every business is important. “It’s all part of the bigger picture,” he explains. “Every day there is something, and it is a joy to figure out how to overcome each potential roadblock. These challenges are what make owning your own business worthwhile.” Cohen is also inspired by his team of co-workers, who, he says, “work tremendously hard every day to make Revive a household name while remaining in a community that we love so much.” Consumers are sometimes unaware of the level of fashion Revive brings to the local market. “Fashion is very fast paced,” he says. “The major cities usually have the upper hand because major ‘fashion heads’ live in those areas and brands/fashion houses are headquartered there as well. To overcome, it’s our daily job to teach and spread awareness to anyone interested, meaning any follower or walk-in to Revive. We also launched ReviveMI.com to reach our target market nationally and internationally.” He advises millennials that they shouldn’t feel the need to have all the answers. “Part of becoming successful is learning from your mistakes and figuring out how to pick yourself up when things are down or not going your way,” he says.

Michael Dedenbach
Detroit Clothing Circle
Michael Dedenbach believes everyone should be able to express themselves through style. “I love being able to choose an outfit every morning that expresses my attitude for the day, or even the moment,” says the owner of the Detroit Clothing Circle clothing store. “Having traveled in and out of the U.S., I am inspired by how people use fashion to amplify their personality. But fashion is not always affordable, especially some of my favorite street-wear brands. My mission with Detroit Clothing Circle was to create a place where Detroiters could access their personal style at a friendly price.” Studying psychology and anthropology at Wayne State University provided him insight into people. “As I neared graduation I was asked to further my studies in a graduate program at WSU,” Dedenbach recalls. “I had a moment of realization. Faced with two choices, I could further my education and accrue more debt, or I could take a chance on my dream. I chose my dream.” With no wealth and no credit history, obtaining a start-up loan proved daunting. So Dedenbach and his wife wound up opening the store with no debt by tightening their belts and paying for everything out of pocket. “We opened the business using every cent from my salary waiting tables, a little help from networking connections and, honestly, my fortunate privileges,” he says. “My parents are not rich, I had no credit cards and a credit score that would not even get a second glance, but I refuse to accept the answer ‘No’ and I refuse to give up on myself, so here I am now.” He aims to make Detroit Clothing Circle a true representation of the city.  “We have made attracting a diverse clientele a benchmark of our success,” Dedenbach says. “It is and always will be a store for the people of the city.” He says that “a lack of belief and funding” from traditional institutions is holding Michigan small businesses back, especially in Detroit. “In Detroit we have seen the rise of small business through the community believing and elevating a business into operational status, but still more people need access,” he says. “There has been a great effort on the part of organizations like Motor City Match and Techtown to help entrepreneurs reach their dreams, but we need more.” Millennials also are faced with a lack of trust and opportunity, Dedenbach says. “I’ve met and know so many beautifully, intelligent and creative millennials that may never be given the opportunity to rise up,” he says. “It’s unfortunate because these are the people that will take a job or company to the next level.”

Angela Gallegos
Underwriting Sales Representative
WDET 101.9FM
Angela Gallegos has served as underwriting sales representative for Detroit public radio station WDET since August 2016. She is a Southwest Detroit native and sister of Sigma Lambda Gamma Sorority. Gallegos is one of the lead organizers of Sweat Detroit (a neighborhood health and fitness group) and co-host of the internet broadcast “Slash Detroit,” which airs on PishPosh.TV.

Sebastian Jackson
The Social Club Grooming Co.
Sebastian Jackson began working at the Social Club Grooming Co., the salon he now owns, in 2012 while he was a student at Wayne State University. When he took over the club in 2014, he chose to hire both white and African-American stylists, partly to enlarge his clientele but also to promote diversity in the community, he told Detroit Urban Innovation Exchange.

Amy Kaherl
Detroit Soup
Amy Kaherl started Detroit SOUP in 2010 with what she describes on the organization’s website as “some fiercely passionate ladies who were excited to try out an idea in a loft above a bakery. Never in my wildest imagination did I think it would grow to become a staple to the flow of the city.” Detroit SOUP is a public soup dinner, during which attendees pay to eat and learn about creative projects happening in Detroit. Participants vote on which project to fund with the money raised from the meal that night. Kaherl studied theology and popular culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, after growing up and going to college in Michigan.

Charles Kennedy
Content Manager
Roush Performance Products
When it comes to leadership, Charles Kennedy believes in the adage “patience is a virtue.” “I think every leader should possess patience,” says the content manager for Roush Performance Products. “I follow media entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk very closely, and one thing he says repeatedly is ‘Trust the process. It’s all about the long game.’ I think having patience keeps you from making decisions when you aren’t supposed to make them. Lack of patience puts your eyes solely on the short-term goals and not the final destination.” A pivotal moment for Kennedy came in 2010 when a classmate asked him to join his film crew for the 48-Hour Detroit-Windsor International Film Festival. “I hardly knew anyone on the crew and, combined with the fact that I was incredibly shy and had zero sense of self-confidence, it was a huge roadblock for me,” he recalls. “I ended up stepping out of my comfort zone and doing the competition and that experience propelled me.” A big challenge facing Michigan business leaders as it relates to the creative/media/marketing industry is the amount of talent leaving the state to go to larger markets, Kennedy says. “I think overcoming that is a tricky proposition, but one thing I’ve found alarming is the lack of opportunities,” he says. “Out west and even in places like Chicago or New York, there’s a huge precedence on marketing and media, and here, it’s like we don’t value that stuff.” In regards to millennials in the workforce, the biggest misconception is that they aren’t willing to work hard and think everything will be handed to them, he says. “Coming from a family who worked for everything they’ve gotten, I don’t believe anything will be given to me in this world unless I earn it,” he says.

Amanda Lewan
Co-founder & CEO
Bamboo Detroit
Amanda Lewan’s vision is to create inclusive communities and bring people together. “At Bamboo, we’ve found a unique way to empower entrepreneurs and build a welcoming, diverse startup community in the heart of downtown Detroit,” she says of the operation that offers co-working and office space. “Entrepreneurship and creative work can be tough and lonely. What we offer is support through flexible workspace designed to help entrepreneurs and creatives grow.” Lewan recalls getting laid off from a startup advertising agency she joined soon after graduating from college. “Taking some time off gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate where I wanted to go,” she says. “It gave me the freedom to start my own independent work. It brought me to Detroit, where I’ve since stayed.” More recently, Bamboo had a pivotal moment where the company could take a big risk to grow, or stay stagnant and possibly fizzle out. “After a shift in our team, we made the decision to take it to the next phase here in downtown Detroit,” Lewan says. “We’ve since tripled our revenue.” Lewan says Bamboo values inclusiveness, customer service and providing access and opportunity. “These values define our brand, our business model and anyone who joins the Bamboo team,” she says. Lewan says she sees Michigan shifting to an innovation economy. “With technology and new business models forming, any business can be disrupted,” she says. “Millennials in particular want to know your brand, your values, want to feel connected to you and respected by you. It’s a different customer than past generations. We don’t want to just purchase or spend money. We were graduating college while the economy crashed, and can be hesitant of big brands and corporations. Remember these things when you design your messaging and products.”

Janelle Morck
Benefits Risk Advisor
CIA Insurance & Risk Management
Janelle Morck joined CIA Insurance and Risk Management in 2008. “She utilizes a proactive approach to assist our clients in designing, developing, and maintaining an excellent benefits program in order to attract and retain the best talent,” her biography on the company’s website states. The Walsh College graduate holds a Life, Accident, Health, Property, and Casualty license through the State of Michigan and an Affordable Care Act Certification from the National Association of Health Underwriters.

Carla Dean Ogene
Director of Vocational Services
Macomb Oakland Regional Center
In 2013 Carla Dean-Ogene was named director of vocational services at the Macomb/Oakland Regional Center, Inc., which provides services for some 4,000 people with disabilities in Macomb and Oakland counties. Dean-Ogene came to MORC after serving for nine years as the supervisor of the Jewish Vocational Service employment program. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Michigan State University while working for New Passages in the Lansing area.

Ashley Parks
Founder and Editor
Parkview Magazine
Ashley Parks is inspired by freedom. “My motivation for starting Parkview Magazine was out of sheer passion and discontent with some of my professional choices,” she says. “As cliché as it may sound, I searched inside myself to realize my purpose, and through meditation and prayer, Parkview was birthed.” Initially, she concedes, it was a selfish project for fulfillment and accomplishment. “But when the stories evolved and our voice was developed, it became so much more than that,” she says now. “Ultimately, my hope is that lives are changed, life stories are appreciated and purposes are fulfilled through our experiences with Parkview.” Building a strong team of people who support the mission and vision of the lifestyle publication has driven her. “I learned very early on that I cannot go at this alone, and the core group of leaders in our circle has been the most important part of business growth,” Parks says. “We are all very passionate about what we do, so when it comes time to put out each issue, you can be assured that time and attention has been paid to every single detail of our magazine.” She says she can’t speak for all Michigan business leaders, but she has faced some market-specific challenges. “We live in a time of overwhelming over-saturation of goods, services, products and particularly technology, from every angle,” she explains. “It becomes even more paramount to identify your market and speak to that audience in a unique way. It’s for this reason that it is important to remain true to your vision and mission, offering something that your audience not only needs, but wants, time and time again.” Parks herself is on the cusp of the millennial generation and says many of the entrepreneurs, professionals, artists, makers and influencers she knows and respects are hardworking members of that group. “Millennials value autonomy and the right to be free,” she says. “They embrace and adapt to technology with ease. And possibly most importantly, they develop and appreciate the relationships they make in the workplace, online and off.”

Victoria Roby
The Natural Market
Victoria Roby is owner of The Natural Market, a Detroit boutique store specializing in handmade natural bath and body products as well as accessories. At the same time, she is working in the marketing field and pursuing an MBA in marketing from Walsh College. She has previously served as an independent contractor for various corporations and experiential marketing agencies nationwide.

Tifani Sadek
General Motors
Michigan’s Most Valuable Overall Millennial—Tifani Sadek’s daily mission is to go to bed a better person than when she woke up that morning. “That may mean learning something new, bettering myself physically or doing a random act of kindness,” explains the attorney for General Motors. “I hope to never stop growing as a person, and this mantra helps me keep that from happening.” A large pivotal moment involved deciding to leave the professional path she was on to pursue a different one. “Just a few years ago, I was a commercial litigator at a large firm,” she says. “For attorneys, once you are in a certain path and have a specialty, it is very difficult to navigate away from that. To make that leap, I had to leave my corporate job and start my own firm, which gave me the flexibility to create the kind of practice I desired. I was successful at that and have been able to leverage that experience to get back into the corporate world but in a different practice that is more satisfying.” Michigan’s business community needs to cultivate the next generation of leadership, Sadek says. “I have noticed that a lot of businesses in the area have giant gaps between the senior leadership and the new leadership,” she says. “That represents a huge opportunity for millennials to step up, but we also need the guidance and mentorship. We need sponsors within our organization to help groom us to be tomorrow’s leaders.” She says that while millennials may want to work on different terms, they don’t necessarily want to work less. “Millennials are some of the hardest workers I know, but they often need to connect to their work in order to put in that level of intensity,” she says. “Find a way to make that connection, and you’ll have the workforce of your dreams.”

Tony Saunders
CFO/Chief Restructuring Officer
Wayne County
Tony Saunders has never subscribed to the notion that any mountain is insurmountable. “We are all given specific superpowers, and I believe that it’s my duty to put my talents to work for the greater good,” says Saunders. “Sure, there are many really big, hairy problems, but solutions aren’t impossible – they may just not be immediately evident.” Saunders cites two pivotal moments in his career. The first came when his father, a city of Detroit retiree, lost his health care benefits because of the city’s bankruptcy. “Shortly after his benefits were eliminated, my dad had a serious heart attack,” Saunders recalls. “That experience made me realize the tremendous effect that public policy can have on individuals. Whenever I’m working on a solution, I can’t help but think of the people I’m really working for.” A second pivotal moment came when Dennis Muchmore, Gov. Rick Snyder’s former chief of staff, expressed confidence in Saunders, who previously served as emergency manager for Benton Harbor. “As far as having the confidence to start my own business and tackle big career moves, I think that there’s a tremendous power in hearing someone say, ‘I believe in you and I’m going to push you to be the best version of yourself,’” says Saunders, who announced in April that he is leaving his Wayne County post to start a private equity and turnaround firm. “As I build my practice, it’s critical to me to surround myself with people that have a deep sense of purpose that extends far beyond professional success. When people show up with a passion and commitment, it makes me a better leader while also making my company successful,” he says. Education and the partisan politics surrounding it present a challenge for Michigan, Saunders says. “Our teachers provide incredible value, not only to the kids they serve, but also to our community and economy,” he says. “Education is at the core of success, and until we remove politics from the equation and look at education at its core, leaders will always struggle with finding and retaining top talent to help move their businesses forward.” Other generations often mistake millennials’ ambition and a desire to see change as a hindrance, or label it as impatience, he says. “It’s easy to misinterpret that passion as a threat. Embrace it,” he advises. “Encourage us. Support us.”

Aaron Siepierski
Aaron’s Estate Sales
Aaron Siepierski is consumed with reaching his full potential. “My inspiration that pushes me each day is to see how far I can go,” says the owner of Aaron’s Estate Sales. “I think of how I was raised and the environment in which I grew up in and have a hard time comprehending why people lacked drive and passion to do better and change their situations for the better. I want to prove to myself and the people around me that we can create whatever future or decisions we want to, and all succeed.” A large hurdle related to his business was “realizing that there was no modern way to account for the items sold at an estate sale, and that most companies were just giving gross sales totals instead of itemized reports to their clients,” Siepierski says. “We have helped create an app system that can itemize, barcode, track sales and give full transparent reporting to our clients in real time. This has put our company in a unique place in the market.” Another major challenge was evolving from having a few helpers, to using contract workers and then to having real employees on payroll, requiring employee hiring, training and management, he says. “Once we figured out the processes for these things and built an amazing team, our business took off,” he says. Siepierski says millennials are often put in a social “box.” “To define a human in such a way doesn’t help the person or the business owner,” he says. “People have their own strengths and weaknesses. You can’t just hire a 26-year-old for social media and expect them to do great at it. I guess that the largest misconception that a millennial may face is the thought process from a company that they will or will not be able to do something because of their age group.”

Phil Simpson
The Baltimore Gallery
Phillip Simpson is inspired by freedom. “The freedom to create. The freedom to do what you love. I love to make the world smile and I love to create. I hope to inspire others to do the same,” says the artist and owner of The Baltimore Gallery, which he founded in Detroit’s Milwaukee Junction in 2013 as an open art gallery and creative space for local and international artists of all cultures and disciplines. Simpson can recall two moments in his life when he was forced to sink or swim. “In 2009, I walked away from a good job paying $17.50 an hour,” he says. “With no experience, I had dreams to open a retail store. I took a risk and made it happen. The company, called Freshman Clothing Co., was open for two years, when it closed because of what Simpson describes as his lack of business knowledge — creating his next pivotal moment. “I lost all confidence and no longer had the courage to run a business,” he says. “I was lost. But this was the moment in my life that made me stronger. I started reading more and taking local business classes. After gaining business knowledge and learning how to smile again, I started my second company, titled The Smile Brand. Now owner of The Baltimore Gallery, I share my story to encourage others to never give up.” Simpson bristles at the notion that millennials are lazy. “I only see super-driven millennials around me,” he says.

Bailey Sisoy-Isgro
Detroit History Tours LLC
Bailey Sisoy-Isgro grew up as a proud Detroiter in a family that never stopped believing in Detroit, and she’s always been inspired by the city. “When you’re building a business it’s easy to get discouraged, but when you start looking back through history you realize that generations of women before you have overcome incredible things in the city of Detroit to make their dreams come true,” she says. “I feel like I stand on the shoulders of generations of incredible women, among them my grandmother and mom.” Despite all that, deciding to start a business whose success was based on asking people to treat Detroit as a tourist destination was “absolutely crazy,” she says. “Detroit History Tours, and later the Detroit History Club, became successful when I learned to bear-hug crazy,” Sisoy-Isgro says. “The moment I stop trying to qualify things as reasonable or financially responsible and started looking at individual tours or events as opportunities to go for the big idea we became more and more successful.” Important to her success was prioritizing educational opportunities over fiscal gains. “From the very beginning, our company has been about educating people about the history of the city of Detroit in the most fun and approachable way possible,” she says. “When opportunities have come along to make tons of money doing events that I don’t feel fit into that goal, it’s incredibly difficult to pass on them. However, choosing to not spend time on those events has given me the opportunity to stay true to our goal and really succeed.” People always assume millennials expect to get everything for nothing and aren’t willing to work hard, Sisoy-Isgro says. “It’s been my experience that many millennials are willing to hustle,” she counters.

Lucy Sternburgh, Ph.D.
Program Manager, Mindfulness
Beaumont Health
Lucy Sternburgh was one of the first students to graduate from Oakland University with a degree in Wellness, Health Promotion and Injury Prevention. At Beaumont Health, she started in cardiac rehabilitation as a clinical exercise specialist, working with high-risk cardiac patients and specializing in resistance training. She was then offered an opportunity to help launch Beaumont’s first medical fitness center, Sola Life & Fitness, where she served as fitness program manager. Her current position at Beaumont is manager of employee wellness and community health promotion, where she oversees a variety of health and wellness programs for both Beaumont employees and the communities it serves.

Cory Wright
Founder & Principal
Mitten Crate LLC
Cory Wright’s drive and inspiration comes from the makers and artisans in the food community. “Working closely with these dedicated and passionate individuals keeps my vision alive of igniting the local food scene in Michigan,” says the founder and principal of Mitten Crate LLC, a Michigan-made food gifts and services firm. About a year after Mitten Crate was launched, the business was receiving requests for corporate and event gifts that could be customized and curated based on the client’s needs. “It took about a year of trial and error dealing with large-scale clients to find our stride in something that we never intended to do from the beginning that now represents about half of our revenue,” Wright says. “In the beginning we thought of ourselves as a monthly Michigan subscription box for food. Rebranding ourselves as a Michigan-made food gifts and services firm has allowed us to grow dramatically in the last two years.  Being a curator means that while we don’t produce anything ourselves we have to constantly balance our relationships with both our consumers and our vendors so that both sides feel value in working with us.” Underexposure is a huge challenge for Michigan businesses in general, because the state lacks the population density of entrepreneurial hotspots like New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, Wright says. “Michigan companies need to champion each other and collaborate more often,” he says. “Rising tides raise all ships.” Millennials, he notes, are credited with disrupting almost every industry via leveraging technology and eschewing the status quo. “What a millennial might lack in tenure they clearly make up for with embracing change and being highly pliable employees that constantly seek greater efficiency through creative thinking and a willingness to adapt,” Wright says.

Most Valuable Entrepreneurs

Paula Anderanin
Creative Outlook Consulting LLC
Paula Anderanin has a passion for art and music. “In my career I had the opportunity to combine both of my passions to produce events and campaigns,” says the owner of Creative Outlook Consulting. Anderanin attended the College for Creative Studies, where she concentrated on the graphic arts. “I was always interested in new technologies, so I started working in the digital field as I was still in college,” she recalls. “A few months after I graduated from college, I started learning to code websites. For over 10 years, I started managing teams of designers and developers and have produced websites and display advertising.” She considers herself blessed to have worked with and met people from different cultures. She also considers herself fortunate to have her own business. “I have worked for corporations for many years but had always done freelance,” she says. “I felt that I needed to try to work on my own full time and try to find a balance between my family and work.” A misconception about millennials is that they are not dedicated or team players, she says. “This is not true, as they are both dedicated and team players; however, the way they collaborate in projects is different than other generations,” she explains.

Richard Beckman
Great Expressions Dental Centers
Since Richard Beckman has taken over as CEO of Great Expressions Dental Centers in 1998, the operation has grown from $10 million in revenue and negative EBITDA to estimated $330 million in revenue with $50 million of EBITDA in 2016. It has added 140 locations, mostly through affiliations, and now its network consists of more than 250 dental practices in 10 states. GEDC has been on the Inc 5000 for six consecutive years as one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S.

April Boyle
Founder and Executive Director
The Build Institute
April Boyle recalls feeling scared and intimidated when she re-entered the workforce after 10 years of raising three boys. “I had this intense desire to contribute to making the world a better place and wanted my boys to see my work outside of the home as well as inside,” says the founder and director of The Build Institute, a business development service. “It wasn’t easy and I remember reading emails four, five, six times to make sure they were just right before sending. I’m not saying we shouldn’t proofread emails, but the desire to be perfect was becoming the enemy of the good.” But she figures that what she initially lacked in confidence she more than made up for in passion, drive and effectiveness. “Breaking down barriers and paving the way for others is core to my work and why I get out of bed every day,” she says. As the leader of an organization, she aims to create an authentic culture of greatness through feedback, deep listening and transparency. “Empathy is key to being a great leader,” Boyle says. “This is on the same lines as servant leadership — never asking someone to do something you yourself are not willing to do.” Boyle believes there is still a lack of diverse voices and talent in the upper levels of Michigan’s corporations, boards and government. “We need all voices to be heard, validated and acted upon to create a more just and prosperous world for all,” she says. Millennials, however, are forcing a cultural shift in corporate America, Boyle says. “The nature of work is changing and the need for a body to be in a seat for 40 hours or more per week is outdated,” she says. “We need more flexibility and meaning in our workplaces. We need to understand how our particular job contributes to the whole and that we are valued and appreciated.”

Mike Butcher
Cross Renovation
Mike Butcher credits at least some of his success to failure. “It’s important to learn from your mistakes and to be determined to adjust your plans to make the most of those often-painful experiences,” he says. “Although I had a number of failures along the way, I was always determined to take what I learned and put it into practice. That approach is a significant contributing factor to our success at Cross Renovation.” His impetus for starting the construction company came after he saw a builder turn the lot he sold him into a profit by building a house on it and selling the property. “That led me to create my own construction company in 2007,” Butcher says. “Because of hard work and determination, I achieved substantial success in my early 20s. The lessons I learned during that experience served me well as I faced financial challenges during the 2008 recession and again in 2010 when the business grew too fast.” He realized he needed to track costs more accurately and quickly and worked with a software developer to create a program that allows him to see exact and future costs almost in real time. “While we are still perfecting this tool, it is central to our current success,” Butcher says. Staying on top of new regulations and requirements and implementing needed changes in the most effective way is a big challenge, he continues. “Participating in appropriate business groups and staying informed about regulatory changes can be a big help in overcoming some of today’s challenges,” Butcher advises. He notes that millennials are often labeled as the “entitled” generation. “This is complicated by the fact that the recent economic recession has forced many baby boomers to remain in the workforce due to economic insecurity, eliminating opportunities for millennials who want ‘meaningful work’ to enter a steady path of advancement in today’s workforce,” he says.

Sheri Crawley
CEO and Founder
Pretty Brown Girl LLC
Sheri Crawley feels a responsibility to give back utilizing her gifts and talents to positively impact others and to leave a legacy for her two daughters. “In 2010, I relocated back to Michigan from Chicago with my family, after my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease,” says the CEO and founder of Pretty Brown Girl LLC, which produces a product line that includes the African-American doll “Laila” and clothing and accessories. “She spent her 30-year career positively impacting others, and this experience inspired me to change my career path. During this transition my daughter started kindergarten and was the only African-American in her class, and I was surprised that the racial disparity in Michigan was still so significant. It was this moment that prompted my husband and me to create a product line and movement that addresses adverse social issues affecting girls of color.” Now she’s focused on expanding the operation’s reach to affect as many girls as possible in schools and communities across the nation through Pretty Brown Girl’s K-12 programs, self-esteem products and corporate and philanthropic partnerships. She adds that good leaders are good communicators. “Listening and understanding the needs of your customers and team is imperative to success,” Crawley says. The success of Michigan’s small business community rests on product development, she says. “By developing entrepreneurs that are concerned more with a product that is viable and can be sold to consumers, more Michigan entrepreneurs will thrive,” she says. Millennials face many misconceptions, including having an unhealthy obsession with social media, not caring about helping others and feeling entitled, Crawley says. “I think the truth is that millennials are self-starters with the confidence and ambition necessary to be entrepreneurs who value technology and social media as powerful business tools.”

Edmond Delude
CEO and Founder
E7 Solutions
Edmond Delude’s first foray as a service provider was not without some adversity. “I had a difficult client that started to become detrimental to my business,” says the CEO and founder of E7 Solutions, a technology consulting firm. “Instead of giving up, I found a way forward by engaging advice from mentors and coaches. I developed a strategy that was best for the business, my employees and clients. From that point forward I never lost sight of the importance of finding the right people to join the company, and engaging clients and projects that are a good fit for E7. As a result, almost all E7 clients ask us to do work for them on an ongoing basis.” Delude started his career as a graphic designer and ended up with two engineering degrees. “I have an affinity for creatively solving problems and always jumped at the chance to directly interact with clients,” he says. “To this day, I still get a thrill out of using my creative and analytical skills to deliver a service that people value.” E7 just launched two new consulting specialties — Atlassian consulting and B2B eCommerce implementations. “Building these divisions with the right people, engaging the right partners, and providing the highest value to our clients, is a challenge, but well worth the effort,” Delude says. By far the biggest challenge facing Michigan businesses today is talent acquisition, he says. “This isn’t just finding warm bodies, or someone with the right skill set,” Delude says. “We firmly believe that finding the right people for our company means finding someone with the right expertise and skills, who is a good fit with the company culture, and who will be committed to always doing the right thing.”

Rob Dube
As a business leader, Rob Dube is well aware of his potential to make a positive impact on the people he works with. “I am passionate about consistently finding ways to increase satisfaction and happiness at the company,” says the president of imageOne, a managed print partner in Oak Park. “At imageOne, we want to change the conversation of work-life balance to ‘life balance.’” In 2004 he and his business partner, Joel Pearlman, sold imageOne to a public company. “Part of the agreement required us to stay on and manage the company for three years,” Dube recalls. “They were wonderful people, but our cultures were very different, so Joel and I didn’t see ourselves staying on after the contract. In 2006, they offered to sell the company back to us. This was that moment — we weren’t sure we wanted to stay in the business, and a book called ‘Small Giants, Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big’  inspired us, and we have been focused on being great first, big second ever since.” Business done the “old way” is shifting, Dube says. “We need to be sure that we collaborate with all employees, that their voice is heard, and they are educated on our financials (open book) so they can make better decisions for their companies,” he says. “They need better life balance. When this all comes together, we will have happier workforces, which will translate into happier communities!” His experience with millennials is that they are frustrated about all the talk about “millennials.” “Each ‘millennial’ is their own unique person — we should respect and honor that and treat them as such,” Dube says.

Karen Evans
The Launch Professor
Karen Evans’ work has always been fueled by what she calls “a passion to empower people who have drive and talent and who are in need of direction, accessible resources and a hand to hold along the way.” After many years of teaching entrepreneurship to college students and faculty, she realized that many entrepreneurs didn’t have a college classroom to experiment in and needed resources. “The first time I talked through a business problem with one of my very first prospective clients, and found out later that our conversation helped her solve a big problem that was holding her business back from growth, I knew I had chosen the right path,” she recalls. The Launch Professor has three divisions: business coaching, executive coaching and related support to companies that have employees planning for or returning from maternity leave, and a small family-oriented events and information website. “It’s been said before, but listening skills are the most crucial — not just listening to what people are saying to you, but also listening to what isn’t being said, realizing when text and email communications are going off the rails, and understanding what clients and customers are really looking for,” she says. Along the way, she says she has come to realize that the biggest challenges Michigan’s business leaders face are finding ways to support micro enterprises, and supporting working families. “We can have more conversations around creating more community-based lending platforms like Sidewalk Ventures, and more education around the benefit that even the one-person firms can have in our economy,” she says. “Supporting working families is incredibly crucial to retaining the bright talent coming out of our universities and attracting out-of-state workers.” Teaching in the college classroom for over eight years has given her insight into millennials. “While it’s dangerous to paint any group with a broad brush, on the whole I see millennials as a group who are passionate about their work and driven to succeed, and who are not satisfied with hearing ‘we have to do this because that’s the way it’s always been done like that’,” Evans says.

Dr. Cecil Forbes
iCare Spine & Rehab Center
Chiropractor Cecil Forbes says he can’t pinpoint a particular moment that led to his career success. “However, I always knew I wanted to run my own clinic,” says the operator of iCare Spine & Rehab Center. “My vision is to provide excellent quality customer care and aim to create an atmosphere of healing and restoration to all of our patients.” Forbes says he is intent on taking his organization to the next level and is focused on how his decisions will affect, impact and power the clinic’s brand five to 10 years from now. “Michigan’s challenges are fluid and ever-changing, and you must be willing to adapt and evolve to not only survive but to thrive,” he says. His advice to millennials: “Be willing to put the work in, arrive early and leave late to master their craft.”

Kathie Fuce-Hobohm
Dealer Principal
Space Inc.
“When design is done right, it captures the perfect blend of form and function,” Space Inc.’s website states. “In the workplace this leads to more comfortable, productive workers.” Such was the vision of Kathie Fuce-Hobohm and Lisa Hulbert, who founded Space Inc. in Midland in 1995. The business boomed and two years later they expanded operations, opening a sales office in Flint. Today, SPACE is a thriving business, transforming workplaces across Michigan and beyond.

Jeff Glover
Jeff Glover & Associates, Realtors
Jeff Glover has seen salespeople get into real estate or another business and fail within a short time. “Early on in my career, I was always approached by agents that weren’t getting the results that I was and it really bothered me to sit back and watch them flounder,” recalls the owner of Jeff Glover & Associates, Realtors. “I would suggest that they go see the broker or better yet just pick up the phone and make calls, but they didn’t know what to say or how to even sell.” He soon decided he was going to become a leader who would teach people how to sell. “I loved the challenge of taking someone who had little to no experience from the basic knowledge of the business to a master salesperson. Today, my focus has shifted from not just training sales people to sell, but to train salespeople to lead.” He decided to open his business in January 2009 — “arguably the absolute worst time to open a small business in Southeast Michigan. I was forced to learn how to adapt to the unstable and declining market very quickly.” But operating in a tough market gave his operation the skills necessary to make it through any good or bad market. Now, his most important decisions involve whom to make part of his team and which markets to enter. “With all the tools we provide, we expect our agents to be top producers within three years of joining the firm and after that hope that they will be interested in additional leadership opportunities,” he says. “Through our affiliation with Keller Williams Realty, we have the opportunity to enter all markets, not just across Michigan, but the entire United States. Our most recent expansion this year was to our new location in Grand Rapids.” Glover himself is “on the ground each and every day” with associates.” “I still go on appointments, negotiate contracts and attend closings, just as I did nearly 15 years ago when I started in the business,” he says. “A leader who leads by example is a leader who will never have to justify what comes out of their mouth.” Technology will never trump personal interaction in the real estate business, Glover insists. “You can’t possibly sell someone over text, email or tweeting,” he says. “Our younger class of associates naturally wants to resort to texting or emailing clients, and that is a huge no-no in sales. Even though I am only 32, and could be considered part of that generation, I know a call or face-to-face meeting is always the best form of communication.”

Joseph Hessling
Founder and CEO
365 Retail Markets
Joseph Hessling admits to always having a chip on his shoulder when it comes to proving himself. “Part of that is I hate to let people down,” says the founder and CEO of 365 Retail Markets, a global leader in self-checkout workplace technology. “I focus a lot of attention and energy on making the people I work with happy, and that fixation has ended up being good for me.” Over the course of his career, he’s founded eight companies, each based on the drive to do something different. “The pivotal moments come when I feel like I’m not adding any value,” Hessling says. “Every five years or so, I hit a rut where I feel boring, which sparks me to do something different. It’s those times when I seem to get more creative. And it happens over and over again.” Long-term strategy drives everything his company does. “A lot of people think that in business it’s just about them, but I have 150 people relying on me to be right in what I do so that they can be right in what they do,” he explains. Every leader should be courageous, if not a bit reckless and willing to take risks, Hessling maintains. “The only time you don’t take risks is if you’re dealing with nuclear power or surgery,” he says. “But if you’re going to try something new, you’ve got to be willing to accept that something’s going to go wrong. And then, you’ve got to be courageous enough to stand in front of people and say, ‘I did something wrong, but I did it for the right reasons.’” To overcome challenges in talent acquisition, companies must focus on providing a great environment for people to work in, ensuring salaries are market value and, most important, making sure there is a career path, Hessling says. Too much focus is placed on millennials, Hessling contends. “Frankly, millennials are already in the workforce,” he says. “If we really want to think about what we’re doing, we should be thinking about the generation after millennials joining the workforce. Millennials, in my opinion, are already running things.”

Carol Kirkland
Executive Vice President
AVE Office Supply
Carol Kirkland has a personal vision of maximizing opportunities for women. “As an entrepreneur, I welcome the opportunity of establishing a successful business that will be passed to offspring,” says the executive vice president of AVE Office Supplies. “It also communicates to them their obligation to make a contribution to this community.” The pivotal moment in her career occurred when a former employer eliminated her job, leading her to form her own business. “I now control my own destiny,” she says. “I am no longer dependent on the whims of others,” she says. “This gives me the satisfaction of proving my worth and value.” Much of her importance to her business involves hiring and training good and viable employees. “It is imperative that crucial efforts and skills are nurtured to appropriately address and enhance our goals,” she says. She advises millennial workers to never take an opportunity for granted. “Millennials must continue to earn the opportunity to advance their organizations,” she says. “These organizations must be created through deeds and efforts.”

Michael Morse
The Mike Morse Law Firm
Michael Morse’s father was an attorney and has always been his inspiration. “He unfortunately died when I was in law school, but I watched him practice law and interact with his clients,” Michael Morse recalls. “He always was a great listener and problem solver. I hope that I am too.” Morse had his own problem to solve in 2011, when a client that provided 70 percent of his firm’s billing unexpectedly pulled its business. “I had about 50 employees and could have either laid off a bunch of people, or go on TV and run commercials talking about the great work and results we were getting,” he recalls. “I chose the latter, and we are now the largest injury firm in the state, with over 150 employees and settlements over $100 million last year and this year they should be over $125 million.” A key roadblock to doing business in Michigan is “dealing with a crazy legislature that changes laws or at least tries to without any rhyme or reason,” Morse says. Millennial workers, on the other hand, are generally great to work with, he says. “I fear that too many of them bounce around too much, and I won’t hire people who have many moves in a short time on their resumes,” he says. “We have not had that problem, but I think that is one perception of them.”

Chad Paalman
Co-founder and Managing Partner
NuWave Technology Partners
Chad Paalman is co-founder and managing partner at NuWave Technology Partners, a full-service technology provider with a team of nearly 50 trained tech specialists and three offices across Michigan. The business, named one of Michigan’s 50 Companies to Watch in 2009, has experienced 20-30 percent growth in revenue each year since inception.

Zak Pashak
Founder and President
Detroit Bikes
Zak Pashak says that love for cities and the people within them is what drove him to found Detroit Bikes. The 34-year-old musician and former Canadian political candidate would not classify himself as a serious cyclist, but that’s okay – he’s setting out to prove that you don’t have to be. The bikes he makes are strong, simple and relatable to nearly everyone, the Detroit Bikes website proclaims. Pashak launched the company in 2012 with a $2 million investment.

Amy Peterson
Co-founder and CEO
Rebel Nell
Amy Peterson is described as “the fearless leader” of Rebel Nell, which she helped start with the sole purpose of employing, educating and empowering disadvantaged women in Detroit. The operation makes jewelry from unique local materials, while providing a transitional opportunity for women in Detroit. “Our goal is to help these women move from a life of dependence to one of self-reliance, overcoming barriers to employment through the fruits of their own labor,” the Rebel Nell website states. “Working directly with local shelters, we identify women who are ready to make this transition to a new phase in their lives.”

Charlie Rothstein
Founder and Senior Managing Director
Beringea LLP
Charlie Rothstein wants to spread a message about the importance of staying humble. “Be humble to your people and your organization, no matter how fortunate you are,” advises the founder and senior managing director of Beringea LLP, which provides equity and/or mezzanine debt to small- and-middle market companies. “It’s flattering that our customers and vendors do business with us, but it’s also a burden that we have to live up to our promises. So it’s important to stay humble. Don’t get ahead of your skis. Respect others, whoever they are, wherever they come from, whatever they have.” Expanding internationally with an office in London propelled Rothstein’s business in unexpected ways. “It broadened our business, yes, but more so our perspective to gain insight from an international marketplace,” he says. “To share visions and missions across countries gave us a different way of thinking. It’s easy in one office to create culture and fall into group-think. Our international offices help protect us from getting stuck and give us intellectual checks and balances.” Michigan is clearly on the comeback trail, Rothstein says. “Where we struggle relative to other states and regions is infrastructure,” he says. “It becomes difficult to recruit new business and customers. The first impression they get to our state is inaccurate. They land in our wonderful airport then drive down broken down roads and bridges.” The Detroit Public School system also needs attention, Rothstein says. “There have been many strides made to the redevelopment and recovery of neighborhoods, but the school system is pivotal to that recovery,” he says. Applying a broad-brush label to millennials is inevitably inaccurate, Rothstein says. “I don’t believe in labeling groups of people,” he explains. “There are star performers in every crowd — you just have to look deep enough to find them.”

James R. Scapa
Chairman and CEO
Altair Engineering, Inc.
James R. Scapa brings more than 35 years of engineering experience to his dual role of chairman and CEO of Altair Engineering, Inc., a title he has held since the company’s inception. In 1985, Scapa and two partners founded a small consulting activity in the new field of computer-aided-engineering. Today, the company employs over 2,000 employees with more than 40 offices throughout 20 countries. Through Scapa’s leadership, the company is now a leading global provider of simulation technology and engineering services that empower client innovation and decision-making. With over 5,000 clients, Altair serves the automotive, aerospace, government and defense, and heavy equipment industry sectors, as well as the consumer products, ship building, energy, electronics, life sciences, and architecture engineering and construction markets.

Andy Sietsema
Sietsema Orchards
Andy Sietsema has been involved with his family’s generations-old orchard and cider business in Ada, outside Grand Rapids, since 1990. The operation produces apples and hard cider, and also provides tours and farm-to-table dinners.

Kent Sharkey
President and CEO
Ulliance Inc.
Michigan’s Most Valuable Overall Entrepreneur—Kent Sharkey, president, chief executive officer and founder of Ulliance Inc., oversees strategic operations of the international service company that provides human resources services including employee assistance programs, wellness programs, training programs, organizational and leadership development, career transition services, professional health monitoring and crisis management. In the company’s 25-year history, Sharkey has been instrumental in growing Ulliance to serve more than 260 organizations throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Europe providing health and wellness programs to nearly 1 million people.

Shri Thanedar
Chairman and Owner
Avomeen Analytical Services
Shri Thanedar is chairman and owner of Avomeen Analytical Services, a full-service chemical testing laboratory founded in 2010 that specializes in deformulation, emergency testing services, investigative analysis, product innovation and expert witness testimony. Thanedar has more than 30 years experience in developing products and solving manufacturing quality-related problems for the pharmaceutical, cosmetics, food, automotive, health and beauty, neutraceuticals and other industries.

Bruce Thompson
Co-founder and President
Urbaneer Spaces
Bruce Thompson’s road to becoming president and co-founder of the space-solutions company Urbaneer came with many turns. Born and raised in Grand Rapids, he ended up moving 15 times, in five states and four countries, to pursue education and opportunities in the tech industry. The first half of his career was spent in the tech industry in California, Colorado, Washington, D.C., and Europe, during which he focused on commercializing innovation for both established and startup companies. Along the way, he realized there was an emerging need for innovation in the spaces we use every day. He went on to become a shareholder in Rockford Construction and served as its chief strategy officer, which gave him the opportunity to launch Rockford Ventures with Mike VanGessel in 2013. The two realized that the changing world really requires a different way to design, construct and occupy space and needed a leader in bringing innovative solutions to the marketplace. Urbaneer grew out of Rockford Ventures and eventually became a standalone company with Thompson at its helm in 2015.

Tommey Walker
Detroit Vs. Everybody LLC
When Tommey Walker’s father died, the younger Walker vowed that the patriarch’s name would live forever. “I am seeing to it,” says the founder of the Detroit Vs. Everybody line of clothing. For Walker, an artist and brand manager, another pivotal moment came when he was fired from the MGM Grand in 2010. “I was forced to bet on myself 100 percent in my freelance graphic designing,” he recalls. “It became my number one source of income.” His father’s death in 2011 gave him “a different aggression and clarity.” As leader of Detroit Vs. Everyone, Walker aims to stay in the future, creating opportunities and possibilities for the company. “My team is very strong, and we make most decisions together,” he says. A good leader, he says, has the “ability to not take things personally, not take things positively or negatively, but to just take them as they are.”