Corp! Honors Top Professionals, Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs

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

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

MichBusiness President and CEO Jennifer Kluge said the organization believes “it’s important to celebrate” the people who are moving Michigan forward.

“It’s important to recognize their new ideas, products and services, all of which make our state’s communities stronger,” Kluge said. “That is the focus of these awards … to truly recognize achievements among a diverse group of professionals in a variety of areas.”

Here’s a shout-out to the dozens of winners of this year’s awards, including:

Most Valuable Professionals

Marcy Borofsky is executive vice chair at Smile America Partners, a dental service organization Borofsky founded in 1997 that works with dental practices to bring care to underserved children at schools across 18 states. As executive vice chair and a member of the board, Borofsky engages government leaders at the local, state and national level, as well as school districts and dental leaders across the country.

Borofsky said leading a business is “fraught with ongoing struggles.”

“Things happen and circumstances change,” she said. “The pandemic certainly taught us that! To me, it’s not about navigating the “challenge of the day,” but about adopting a mindset of adaptability. Keeping true to your mission and being ready, willing and able to change is the secret to navigating any challenge as it inevitably arises.”

Her advice to someone just starting out? “Follow your passion. For me, that means spending time making a difference in the lives of underserved schoolchildren,” Borofsky said. “You need to be proud of the work you do and the role you play in society. Of course, working ethically is important, as well as leading by example.”

Regina Ann Campbell is president and CEO of Build Institute, a nationally recognized provider of entrepreneurial education, access to capital, resources, and one-on-one support dedicated to serving micro-business owners.

She said the biggest challenge facing leaders is building and sustaining a healthy work culture to meet short- and long-term goals.“By this, I mean my greatest challenge has been managing a diverse team of thought leaders,” she said. “We are a team which includes baby boomers to Gen Zs and balancing my team’s individual and collective motivations — coupled with my propensity to be process driven and one who values accountability — while upholding a culture of excellence presents a push-pull.”

Her advice to someone just starting out? “Maintain relationships from each job, be your authentic self, don’t be afraid to fail, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need,” Campbell said. “Be open to growth. When facing challenges, you can flee; however, instead, lean all the way in and get to the other side. Great leaders lean in and take the roads less traveled. Even if we fail along the way, we get back and are stronger.”

Andy Gutman is president of Farbman Group/NAI Farbman, a full-service commercial real estate company with a Midwest expertise and a global reach. Gutman oversees the various companies, and provides and implements corporate vision.

“As the world changes before our eyes, there are a lot challenges, including inflation, supply chain issues and labor shortages,” Gutman said. “Having forged strong relationships with our employees and vendors prior to these challenges has helped us remain strong. We are problem-solvers … so we will come out of this stronger than ever and help others navigate these challenges.

Gutman’s advice to someone just starting out? Have confidence in themselves. “Know they have value to add from day one,” he said. “A fresh set of eyes and hunger to succeed will take them far.”

Joe Harnish is the market manager for retail banking at Flagstar bank, responsible for seeing that Flagstar’s 16 branches in the region operate smoothly and successfully respond to the needs of their customers and communities.Market conditions have been “a challenge,” according to Harnish.

“Especially in a rising rate environment,” he said. “But, at Flagstar, we focus on what we call the Human Interest Rate — really engaging with our customers, understanding their needs and then delivering for them.

His advice to someone just starting out? “Be willing to work outside your comfort zone, because you can’t grow if you’re not willing to try new things,” Harnish said.

Jason Haverman is the director of business operations for InsITe, a rapidly growing West Michigan-based technology solution provider that focuses on creating success for businesses through technology and business process improvement. InsITe maintains “a strict focus” on building long-term technology strategies for each of its clients, with the goal of delivering tailored solutions to drive them forward, including infrastructure, applications and business productivity.

Haverman’s role is to drive all interactions with clients, colleagues and community to “measurable success, while growing and developing our employees to do the same.”

“Being the primary hiring agent at InsITe, I always feel responsible when a new employee doesn’t meet expectations, fails to achieve and/or leaves the company, voluntarily or not,” Haverman said. “As someone who sees the best in everyone and often gets caught up in the excitement of potential employee growth and development, it hits hard when it doesn’t work out.”

Haverman’s advice to someone just starting out? “Work hard, celebrate your victories and learn from your mistakes,” he said. “If you work hard and are genuine with others, success will come.”

Tara Tomcsik Husak is president and CEO of the Troy Chamber of Commerce and founder and CEO of Feline Fund. Husak said her job is to “serve our members and connect them to all the things they need for their business to be successful.” Feline Fund supports local cat rescue organizations by funding veterinary services to help keep rescue cats healthy and/or find loving homes.

An important trait for a leader, she said, is empathy. “You can have the greatest impact if you take the time to connect with people and try to understand their points of view,” she said. “Always remember it’s not about what you need, it’s about the people you serve and what they need.”

Husak’s favorite quote is: “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.” “We live in a world where ego and arguments can get in the way of finding solutions,” she said. “My job is to bring people together, regardless of differences, and try to find positive solutions.”

Her advice to someone starting out? “Life is not a competition, it’s a collaboration. When you find your purpose, don’t forget to bring others along for the ride.”

Antoine Jackson is executive director of MACC Development, a Christian community development corporation founded by Mack Avenue Community Church in 2010. Its mission is to seek the holistic revitalization of Detroit’s 48214 zip code, block by block, neighbor by neighbor. Jackson was named executive director in September 2020 and tasked with leading the place-based community development organization’s continued operation, program and fiscal growth.

More than two years into it, Jackson believes the lingering pandemic still presents a huge challenge.

“Our greatest challenges as business leaders are the lingering impact of the pandemic, inflation, the great resignation and social justice concerns,” he said. “To navigate the challenges, I am increasing my knowledge and skills and working to improve my leadership. Additionally, I continue to seek honest and constructive feedback about performance.”

The advice he’d give someone just starting out: “Employ a growth mindset. I believe one of the most courageous acts a leader can perform is actively seeking honest and constructive feedback about their performance. By exhibiting this leadership behavior, you will create a vulnerability and authenticity that demonstrates to your team that everyone is a work in progress.”

Scott Jackson is president of Alta Vista Technology, which specializes in providing enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, business intelligence and cloud financial business solutions. Jackson leads and works with the management team to pilot the company to success after success.

The greatest challenge, he said, is managing an ever-increasing workload, while maintaining the team’s quality of life. “We do this by training, automation and adding additional team members when appropriate,” Jackson said. “It is a delicate balance that we work on regularly.”

His advice to someone just starting out? Be patient, be a sponge, and learn from those around you. “Find a mentor that is willing to share knowledge and spend time with you,” he said. “I’ve seen too many people starting out in their career jump around and not focus and, long term, I don’t believe it has benefited them. With the right leadership, someone starting out can gain the knowledge and footing to be successful long term.”

Aparajita Jeedigunta is the founder and CEO of AJ RAO, which started as a boutique firm that provided strategic consulting for leaders and businesses to improve on the effectiveness of their DE&I programming. Since the start of the pandemic, the firm has been involved in supporting wellbeing and relief support in India.

During that time, Jeedigunta witnessed and personally experienced the inequitable treatment of women and women leaders in the workforce. Thus, AJ RAO, LLC evolved again, to niche down on women’s leadership development, belongingness and equity.

She calls her greatest challenge as a woman business leader the “continuous breaking down of the conditioning that we are all subjected to about how things ‘ought to be.’”

“It requires constant unlearning and re-learning,” she said. “Don’t forget or minimize your own voice in all the voices you hear. You will hear a lot of advice from a lot of people, but they will not be embarking on your journey as you.”

Her advice to those starting out? “Have the courage to trust yourself when you have made your decisions. Build the right kind of support structures around yourself,” she said. “Just because someone is an expert in an area, it does not mean they are aligned with your growth goals.”

Justin Kimpson is senior director of Ford Resource and Engagement Center Eastside/Ford Man of Courage national program manager, Gleaners Community Food Bank. The Ford Resource and Engagement Centers are a Ford Fund innovation that bring nonprofits, residents and leaders together to support their neighborhoods.

Like many businesses, the center’s biggest challenges are still impacted by the pandemic.

“Interpersonal connection and community togetherness have been a core component of our vision,” he said. “Navigating the pivot to a virtual model without losing the feeling of connectedness had its challenges. During our return to in-person operations, it has been challenging to manage fears, false narratives and the trauma that is inevitable after enduring the grief that touched so many over the last two years.”

His advice to someone just starting out? “Develop a ‘moonshot goal,’ a goal that stretches you beyond what you can see in your current state. Once you have a big dream, ask yourself every day, ‘what is one thing I can do to get closer to that goal?’” he said. “Then, seek out mentors to help guide your journey.”

Susan Koss is a partner and managing director at O’Keefe, a strategic and financial advisory firm specializing in strategic advisory services, turnaround and restructuring, corporate finance and litigation support. Koss’ expertise includes expert witness testimony involving the quantification of economic damages for various matters, including breach of contract, large product recalls and warranty matters, among others.

For many professional service firms, she said, a big challenge will be succession planning and planning for the next generation of management.

“The shortage of the number of younger professionals and the aging of the baby boomer generation, combined with different corporate cultural values, will provide challenges going forward,” she said. “Many of our clients experience the same challenges, especially within family-owned businesses. Proper planning and a priority from management will help create a successful succession plan.”

Her advice to someone just starting out? Network and build relationships now. “If you put in the time and energy needed early in your career, you will establish important relationships that will help you succeed,” she said. “In my career, these important relationships have helped me build a book of business, which is extremely important to my success.”

Benjamin Malburg is president and owner at OFFICIAL Driving School | Same Day Road Test, one of the oldest privatized driving schools in Michigan, and is leading the way in teen driver education today, providing driver training to over 20,000 students a year.

Among the big challenges, Malburg said, is focus.

“I love ideas and I naturally think most ideas are the best ever,” he said. “That makes it insanely hard to say ‘no’ to projects that you know would be great incremental additions to your business, but don’t add much value to your core business. I have to constantly challenge myself to stay focused as a leader, to make sure our efforts are maximized and are having the greatest impact.”

His advice to someone just starting out? Learn as much as you can as fast as you can. “If you want to be an expert in business, you have to learn what other people do,” he said. “Helping others, working on projects, and volunteering for additional work are all going to add to your toolbox as a professional. It’s important to emphasize the word ‘learn.’”

Charley Meng is associate general counsel for Inteva Products, a Tier 1 automotive supplier with close to 30 worldwide locations, specializing in automotive interiors, closures, and motors and electronics. As associate general counsel for the global enterprise, Meng handles a wide array of legal matters, including mergers and acquisitions, commercial contracts, litigation and compliance.

Meng believes the most important trait a leader in business should possess is integrity. “A leader with integrity engenders trust both within and outside of the organization,” Meng said. “And all solid business relationships are built on a foundation of trust.

Meng called macroeconomic disruption the “greatest challenge as a business leader.

“COVID-19 was the first shock and has, directly or indirectly, created numerous and significant aftershocks that have impacted the industry, including the current supply chain crisis and inflation,” Meng said. “We are navigating these challenges by building transformative partnerships with our suppliers and customers. The only way we can overcome these challenges is to do so together.

Meng’s advice to someone just starting out? “Find what you do well and work diligently in that area,” Meng said. “And always act with integrity.”

Lucas Olinyk is president of Harvest Solar, a family owned and operated solar sales and installation company. Olinyk is responsible for the day to day operation of the business.

An effective trait for a leader, he said, is the ability to make “effective decisions at the 30,000-foot view, while empathizing with the 1,000-foot view.”
Olinyk called building a high-functioning, culture-rich team “a hard job.”

“Often, we get in our own way, even though the opportunity is great,” he said. “To navigate this, it is important to prioritize effective training, team building and goal alignment, so we all move together as a unit in the same direction.”

His advice to someone just starting out? “If you wake up in the morning and dread going into work, you are in the wrong place,” he said. “You won’t always make the right career decisions, but be patient. Take the time to figure out what you truly enjoy so your “work-life balance” is less of a balance and more the lifestyle you desire.”

Brad Pettiford is Director of Public Relations at Homepoint, one of America’s largest wholesale mortgage lenders, partnering with independent mortgage brokers in all 50 states to help people achieve the dream of homeownership. Pettiford manages and executes on external communication strategies to raise visibility of Homepoint.

One effective trait of a leader, Pettiford said, is “being nimble.”

“Effective leadership can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach, in my opinion,” he said. “It’s about the ability to genuinely listen to the people on your team and understand how both internal and external factors can provide opportunistic or necessary reasons to deviate from your original vision.”

His advice to someone just starting out: Commit to learning, not just doing. “It’s easy to stick to your general list of job-related duties and responsibilities, but you can enhance your own professional development and increase the value you provide your company by gaining a broader understanding of the business you’re in,” he said. “The more you learn from people in different areas of your organization and even your peers throughout the industry, the more effective you become at developing new ideas and strategies that can make a difference.”

Courtney Smith is chief executive officer of the Detroit Phoenix Center, a nonprofit organization that responds to the needs of underserved and street-connected youth in Detroit. As the founder and CEO, Smith provides visionary leadership and financial oversight, in collaboration with the board of directors, by soliciting donations, major gifts and grants to expand programming and build capacity.

Smith believes one of the greatest challenges is “working to meet the growing demand and needs of those we serve, with very limited resources available.”
“We tackle this challenge by continuing to become innovative — such as the development of an app and a youth-led podcast, with the goal of empowering young adults by giving them the knowledge to access resources to improve their health and well-being,” Smith said. “With a few taps on a smartphone screen, homeless youth can now use the YouthUp mobile app to access critical resources and information.”

Smith’s advice for someone just starting out? “Know your why.” “A strong sense of purpose will always carry you when your career path becomes difficult,” Smith said. “If you can always remember why you are doing the work, it will provide a grounding that will withstand those days when you are not particularly motivated to do the work.”

Most Valuable Young Professionals

Gabriel Bedoya is a partner at Honigman LLP, representing private equity firms, international manufacturers and closely held businesses in complex commercial matters, shareholder disputes and government investigations.

As a first-generation American and attorney, he said he appreciates a workplace culture that “values the diversity of all employees, both in diversity of backgrounds as well as diversity of thought.”

“Although I may not agree with all of my colleagues on all points, we remain a family that supports each other through our professional and personal challenges,” he said.

In five years, he said, he hopes to remain a partner at Honigman LLP, “having further expanded my practice in the regional community.”

His advice to someone just starting out? Don’t give up. “Although everyone may face difficult times throughout their career, develop a network that will support you through the good times and the bad,” he said.

Matt Cook is vice president of community relations for Lake Michigan Credit Union, Michigan’s largest credit union and the 13th largest in the country. Cook oversees the organization’s philanthropy, community involvement, sponsorship, and volunteerism.

Cook called an empowering and supportive workplace culture “critical.”

“A workplace allowing innovation and new ways of thinking promotes growth, even when you fail,” he said. “Celebrating success and sharing team wins, while also sharing learnings from obstacles and moments of failure, allows for amplified impact. Also, a supportive culture that encourages personal wellbeing and balance is imperative for getting the most out of everyone.”

His advice to young professionals: Build your network and be open to a variety of experiences. “The connections I made as a young professional have been instrumental to my growth,” he said. “Where I am today is in large part due to some of the connections I made very early in my career. At the same time, I could never have known that I would end up in philanthropy and marketing at a financial institution. Being open to roles and experiences that stretched me, led me to where I’m at today.”

Chantal Cornfield is regional director of operations for American House Senior Living, the 32nd largest senior living owner/operator in the country. Cornfield oversees daily operations of 13 senior living communities, composed of independent, assisted and memory care.

She values a workplace culture where everyone is working uniquely toward the same goal.

“It is about delivering excellent service to our residents, employees and investors,” she said. “A warm, family-like atmosphere that welcomes all opinions and ideas, which is evident through our melting pot of culture and diversity.”

Her advice to someone just starting out? Be a sponge.

“Consistently show your willingness to learn and lend a helping hand and provide value to every situation,” she said. “Learn what works, be humble, work hard, take ownership over your wins, your losses and consistently build from there. You don’t know how to win if you don’t know how to lose, so own your faults and always be open to continuing to grow.”

Andre Ebron is senior director, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, a nonprofit organization that works with public, private and nonprofit partners to help families become stable and ensure children have the support they need to thrive. Ebron curates safe and brave spaces that foster authentic inclusion and belonging.

Organizational climate and culture, he said, is “shaped by shared language, values, behavior and practices. It is important to me that I work in a diverse, equitable, inclusive and restorative environment that values people first,” he said. “This environment challenges and supports their team members’ professional growth and development and creates clear career pathways for promotion.”

His advice to someone just starting out? “Listen and observe more than you speak, exercise self-agency in matters of pay and promotion, seek mentors early, participate in fellowships and other learning opportunities/professional development, add value to very environment to which you are given access, be intentional, selective and decisive, remain teachable, be authentic, be honest and keep your word.”

Chris Economeas is director of Community and Social Responsibility for the Detroit Pistons basketball team, overseeing day-to-day operations of department employees, while managing community programming for both the Detroit Pistons and G-League affiliate, Motor City Cruise. He also assists the Detroit Pistons Foundation in fundraising and distribution of charitable funds.

“Success is accomplishing a goal that you have set for yourself, no matter how large or small, and making a positive impact on those around you along the way,” Economeas said.

For Economeas, a workplace culture that provides the opportunity to “think outside of the box and collaborate with multiple departments/areas of your organization” is important. “An environment that is open, trusting and fun is so important to productivity and morale,” Economeas said.

In five years, Economeas hopes “to be in a Community Relations VP role with a professional sports team, to be able to make a larger impact on the community.”
Economeas’ advice to someone starting out? “Trust the grind; nothing in life comes easy. Also, build and maintain professional connections and networks along the way.”

Jonathan Eyerman is the manager of Sales, Engineering and Support for 123NET, a Southfield, Mich.-based company that delivers fiber internet, colocation and voice services to its clients. Eyerman works with account management, business development, sales support, government and education, sales engineering and product and service development.

Growth is the goal for businesses and everyone. “As leaders, we strive to help people develop their potential, enabling them to become the self they want to be and are capable of becoming,” he said. “Therefore, creating a culture of learning and growth is the most important to me.”

In five years, Eyerman would like to be right where he is. “123NET is very deliberate in the way we develop our employees, so in five years I could see myself working at a higher level of leadership,” he said. “I am incredibly excited to be a part of the organization and its mission.”

His advice to someone just starting out? “Find something that you are absolutely passionate about, but find a way to use that passion to help someone else.”

Jonathon Feldotte is vice president of work acquisition for Barton Malow Company, a union general contractor that includes civil, concrete, steel, equipment setting, general trades, refractory, and boilermaker work. Feldotte leads a team that assures the preconstruction phase of a project is completed to the client’s satisfaction, while continuously improving company processes.

Feldotte thinks most people “want to believe in the overall mission of the organization that they work for.”

“For me, an organization that has a purpose and corresponding values that are aligned with my core values is important,” he said. “Our core purpose is a pioneering spirit focused on continuously improving, while impacting our people and our communities through the projects we build.”

Feldotte has two pieces of advice for someone just starting out: Be curious and focus on teamwork.

“Curiosity quickly converts questions into knowledge and offers the ability to gain or apply a new perspective to a situation, which very well could be the solution to a problem,” he said. “Business is a team-sport with many roles and most objectives require an effective team to achieve them.”

Kristen Fowler is vice president at JMJ Phillip, a national, boutique executive search firm specializing in the manufacturing, supply chain and technology sectors, helping to fill positions from the C-suite to the plant floor. Fowler supports the firm’s recruiting team in Detroit, as well as other offices across the U.S.
Five years from now, she sees herself “leading a larger team at JMJ Phillip.”

“I am confident that we will have opened more offices and expanded the team across all of our cities by then,” she said. “We also have several other recruitment brands that we are looking to expand and I am excited to be a part of that.”

“The biggest piece of advice that I can give to someone starting their career is to take any given opportunity to learn a new marketable skill; it can lead to things you never expected. About a year into becoming a recruiter, I was asked to expand into sales — something I never saw myself doing. I said ‘yes’ and ended up really enjoying that aspect of the business. Learning about sales ultimately ended up helping me on the recruiting side, as well. In your first few years starting a career, it is important to figure out what you like AND what you are successful at. Keep an open mind and focus on building out your tool box.”

Geralyn Gaines is global dealer roundtable and CX advisory board manager at Ford Motor Company. Her work is dedicated to providing best-in-class experiences to Ford customers by collaborating with some of the most respected and innovative dealers from across the globe.

Gaines believes success is “going above and beyond the status quo.”

“It is not only about getting the work done, but supporting your teammates in bringing their best and full selves to work every single day, so that the work is meaningful,” she said. “Creating a safe space for all to share their thoughts and perspectives is critical to a team’s success.”

Having a diverse, equitable and inclusive work culture is of utmost importance to her. “This type of environment fosters professional and personal growth,” she said.

Her advice to someone just starting out? Network, network, network! “You need a support system, mentors and advocates to help propel you forward and to lean on,” she said.

Julie Genouw is Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications for Fleece & Thank You, a Michigan-based non-profit organization dedicated to providing connection, comfort, and hope through its programs, services, and materials to children facing illness and their families supporting them. Her role is to share our story and purpose to the public while promoting various engagement opportunities and program support needs.

She said the greatest challenge in her role as a young leader is battling self-doubt and the fear of failure. “I have always been my own worst critic and tend to think no matter the outcome there are things I could have done better. I’ve found the best way to navigate self-doubt is by taking more time to reflect on my accomplishments and understanding my strengths and weaknesses,” she said.

What advice would she give someone just starting out? Allow your passions to guide your career. “Don’t settle for a job because you felt the need to show others your success, if it means you wake up feeling unfulfilled and unsatisfied every day,” she said.

Victoria Halushka is an implementation specialist at ImageOne, which provides managed print services, document security and automation, and other smart workplace solutions. Her role as an implementations specialist is to be responsible for successful onboarding of new customers, whether they are a single device installation or a large enterprise managed print service implementation. Halushka ensures equipment is properly ordered and installed.

For Halushka, working in a culture of “people who share the same values” is important.

“When a team is built on a foundation of trust, humility and vulnerability, the motivation to serve, and a likeminded attitude to constantly grow, an organization can do amazing things,” she said. “One of my favorite things about the culture of my close team is their internal motivation to achieve excellence.”

Advice she’d give someone just starting out? “Always be curious about yourself.”

“When you have a good day, when your activities brought you energy, ask yourself why and pinpoint what about that day brought you joy,” she said. “Do the same for your bad days. When you are curious about yourself you can begin to articulate what type of role brings you happiness.”

Olivia Hankinson is a labor and employment attorney with Kerr, Russell and Weber, PLC, specializing in labor and employment law. She frequently counsels and advises on employment matters and issues encountered by business owners, managers and human resources professionals.

A good workplace culture, according to Hankinson, is one that features mentorship, empathy and inclusion.

“Mentorship is very important to me, because having the opportunity to learn from those with more experience, who want to guide and encourage you through your practice, has been invaluable,” she said. “I value empathy in a workplace, because it is important to recognize that we are all human and have varying perspectives, based on our past experiences. I believe inclusion is also important, because … we can embrace what makes us different and unique and also recognize that everyone has a role to play in making the workplace successful and a great place to be.”

Her advice to someone just starting out? Don’t turn opportunities down “because you are afraid you will mess up,” she said. “And when you inevitably do mess up at some point in your career, learn from your mistakes and continue moving forward.”

Raymond Jonna is senior vice president at Jonna Group, specializing in the sale of corporate-leased properties by national brands, to include retail, office, industrial, medical, along with multifamily and beyond. Jonna represents the Jonna Group Co-Brand with Colliers International, who join forces as the industry giant for Investment Sales and 1031 Transactions.

Jonna recognizes everybody has “different goals and different measures and definitions of success.”

“Success to me is achieving my goals, which include building a brand and a prosperous career, and having a happy and healthy family,” he said. “Having a loyal team of highly motivated self-starters with strong communication skills and a reputable, experienced, client-centric, and result-oriented brand that they are proud to be a part of.”

His advice to someone just starting out? Hard work is the common denominator. “The more you sweat, the luckier you get. Work hard daily to foster lasting relationships and become a value-add component to your clients and constituency,” Jonna said. “Set goals, both short-term and long-term, and make sure to plan and prepare daily to meet them.”

Bailey Mattacola is vice president of Operations for Shinola, a design brand specializing in crafting lasting products, from watches to leather goods. Mattacola supports more than 150 people within Shinola, providing goals, strategies and tools to do their jobs well.

Winning as a team, she said, is the best workplace culture, “leaving nobody behind.”

“A combination of knowing you have each other’s backs, while being empowered to respectfully call out what doesn’t seem right, along with some good laughs on the way to accomplishing big goals,” she said. “When you get the mix right, it’s pure magic.

Mattacola loves leading teams and solving impactful problems. “Over the years, when asked about my dream job, my elevator speech went something like, ‘I want to run operations for a company that I feel passionate about, in a community that I care about, at home in Detroit. Like Shinola.’”

Her advice to someone just starting out? Don’t chase titles. “Really think about what you want to get out of your career, trust your gut, work hard, do what scares you and the rest will fall into place,” she said.

Hillary Miller is talent experience manager for Hungerford Nichols CPAs + Advisors, a local public accounting and business advisory firm. Miller’s role is to oversee HR initiatives, including, but not limited to, talent acquisition, total rewards, career development and DEI.

Workplace culture, she said, is very important “now more than ever,” with the line between work and home blurred by hybrid and remote work arrangements.

“A culture that not only values, but also puts into practice flexibility, support, autonomy, continued development and creativity is appealing to me,” she said.
In five years, Miller hopes to still be adding value to the community by “contributing to a growing organization’s HR initiatives and potentially serving external clients in an HR Advisory capacity.”

Her advice to someone just starting out? “The best single piece of advice I would give … is to never underestimate the power and worth of relationships,” she said. “Build your network (both personal and professional) of honest/good people early on and with intention. Hold them tight!”

Emily Osmialowski is fund development manager for Lighthouse MI, a nonprofit that builds equitable communities to alleviate poverty. Her role is to connect with the community and share the mission.

Osmialowski thinks there are three culture aspects that are important: A clear mission, transparency and ongoing professional development.

“I want to be a part of an organization that clearly defines their objective and how they intend to get there,” she said. “Open communication regarding the organization’s values and operations are vital to building community between team members.”

Her advice to someone who is just starting out in their career is to find an organization that you are passionate about. “You’re probably not going to start off, or even know, exactly where you want to be in your career,” she said. “Find an organization that you can see yourself growing alongside. Find somewhere where you are proud to be a member of the team. You will shine brighter in an environment that fits your own personal set of values.”

Jacob Robinson-Suarez represents Teach for America Detroit, which strives to recruit and retain high performing educators, develop teachers and leaders for transformational change. Robinson has led and mentored the Network Strength team, tasked to recruit, develop and connect a network of over 1,000 educators and leaders.

Robinson believes in a workplace culture that creates an environment rooted in anti-racist practices, fosters a deep level of respect and trust between teammates, encourages laughter and joy, and allows folks to come to work as their true, authentic selves.

“When the people of the organization do these things, we see the untapped potential of our team and a shift from our colleagues living in fear to fostering innovation and creativity, which usually radiates through,” he said.

Among his pieces of advice for others just starting out? “Strive to be a better person and life-long learner each and every day, and ensure your place of employment encourages and values that,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to say no and set boundaries for your own mental health and work-life balance…the work will be there when you are ready and able.”

Alex Simpson is a regent at Eastern Michigan University. Simpson was appointed by former Gov. Rick Snyder to serve on the Board of Regents. As a regent, Simpson is responsible for the direction and governance of the University.

A collaborative and respectful workplace culture is important to Simpson. “I think an environment where folks can depend on each other and show each other the highest level of respect promotes a great workplace culture,” Simpson said.

Five years from now, Simpson hopes to be “on a beach.” “No, seriously, I see myself still seeking learning opportunities that will enhance my ability to support the organization(s) that I am a part of,” Simpson said. “I recently started a nonprofit, Sustainable Giving, so I hope to be doing some great work in the community.”
Simpson’s advice to someone just starting out? “Make sure you create a good balance between your career and your personal life. Notice I said ‘you’ — I think too often we look to our employers to create that balance for us. Take vacations, continue (or find) hobbies or whatever it is that you enjoy doing. Recharging is important and will likely make you more productive.”

Most Valuable Entrepreneurs

Tarolyn Buckles is president and CEO of Onyx Enterprises, Inc., a civil engineering and construction firm and an award-winning Woman- and Minority-Owned Certified Small Business headquartered in Detroit.

Her journey to entrepreneurship started at age 10, selling lemonade on her street.

“I always knew that I would have my own business,” she said. “I had many mentors and was inspired to take the path of owning a civil engineering and construction firm. My dreams have come full circle, as I have been in the industry for 34 years.”

The biggest challenge, she said, is “overcoming fear and doubt.”

Her advice to budding entrepreneurs? Take the first step and take the leap of faith.

“After you have prepared yourself spiritually and technically and have set up a good team of advisors … you will win,” she said. “Visualize the successful outcomes, surround yourself with other like-minded entrepreneurs, participate in small business programs … and become a member of professional organizations. And, above all, never give up.”

Alba Contreras Rodriguez is president of FONS, LLC, a woman-owned business that provides executive coaching and team coaching for leaders and organizations to excel and enable transitions and transformations, focused on human readiness. Rodriguez helps and enables leaders and teams to recognize and achieve their highest potential, to better serve and add value to their stakeholders.

She has coached C-suite and senior leaders across almost every industry to help them navigate VUCA business environment.

Among the key lessons she says she’s learned: The importance of focusing on the humans; any transformation starts from within the leader; and the importance of knowing “who we are and what we do to be able to walk the path of entrepreneurship.”

Her advice to budding entrepreneurs? Identify what problems you can help solve for people, what differentiates you from others who are doing something similar, what is your unique value proposition, what is your calling or purpose.

“Once you are clear about purpose, take the time to define a strategy and plan for what you want to offer the world and go execute,” she said.

Sara Knoester is owner and president of Mixed Staffing and Recruiting, a certified woman-owned company in Grand Rapids, recruiting and screening potential workers and connecting them with employers.

Knoester believes the most important trait for an entrepreneur would be grit. “By that I mean a tireless work ethic and a deep passion for whatever it is that you are pursuing,” she said. “It is also very useful to use encouraging words and make your employees feel included. Get to know your staff. Encourage feedback, innovation and creativity.”

Her advice to a budding entrepreneur? “Although this may sound like a cliché, if you are passionate about something and really work hard at it, almost anything is possible.”

“Take shots. Learn and grow. Have confidence and faith. Stick with it,” she said. “In addition, it is always important to be open and truthful. Those are important qualities to embrace when you are being hired or when you are hiring others.”

Gus Malliaras is founder and president of Detroit Wing Company, which provides customers with the highest quality chicken wings and sauces available anywhere. DWC has been recognized both locally and nationally for its wings and sides.

Malliaris said he “can’t recall a single conversation from my youth” regarding a “career path.” Instead, he said, those conversations revolved around options within family businesses or alternative businesses of my own. “My employment began as a cashier at my grandparents’ restaurant, then as a project manager for my father’s construction company, which I ultimately used to build my first restaurant,” he said.

His biggest lesson is embracing failure. “I faced challenges 8-10 years ago that, at the moment, felt impossible to overcome,” he said. “In hindsight, they forced me to make the decisions that ultimately led to my success in the restaurant industry.”

His advice to budding entrepreneurs? “Be confident in yourself, be informed, take calculated risks, and surround yourself with people who are smarter than you,” he said.

Brooke Miller is founder and CEO of Honey for Moms, a motherhood development center that exists to reignite the value and volume of the maternal instinct, offering private mental health support, ongoing moms groups, momist workspace with onsite newborn care, career and relationship coaching, breast and bottle feeding consultation, classes and events.

“I don’t see entrepreneurship as a skill, as much as a way of being,” Miller said. “I’m a starter, I’m an innovator. I like creating services that allow people to feel seen in ways they haven’t before. I’ve learned the value of working with people who are not entrepreneurial and those who are able to support me and my big ideas in being actualized in sustainable ways.”

Miller’s advice to budding entrepreneurs? “Listen to your gut, trust your intuition, ask for help ─ ask for help ─ ask for help,” Miller said. “Admit when things are hard, be honest about the numbers, surround yourself with people who love you unconditionally, learn to respond instead of react, listen ─ listen ─ listen.”

Erika Monaé Lewis is founder and CEO of The Erika Monaé Group, a Career and HR coaching and consulting practice. It is the mission of EMG to build people and organizations from the inside out, resulting in a more inclusive and healthy workforce for the next generation.

She chose entrepreneurship because she saw a problem she wanted to solve.

“The workplace was missing grace, respect and safety,” she said. “Professionals conformed to the box that other people wanted them in, they wrapped their identity into the label that was given to them, and they did not own their story; they allowed others to tell their narrative.”

Her advice to budding entrepreneurs? “Once you have determined that you have a problem you want to solve and that you have a desire to serve others in that capacity, level up your knowledge on running a business,” she said. “Tap into your network and the resources that are made available to learn what it takes to start and operate a business and if you are standing in your truth.”

Dr. Cleamon Moorer is president and CEO of American Advantage Home Care, Inc., a Medicare-certified and Joint Commission-accredited skilled home health care provider.

Moorer said he became an entrepreneur because he “desperately needed to be in a position to optimize impact, influence, ideas, energy and contributions for as many folks as possible.”

“I couldn’t find that particular set of opportunities in any one senior-level job offering,” he said. “One day, I came home and I vowed to not job-hunt or interview anymore, unless I was applying for funding, support or presenting my firm’s capabilities and/or desire to serve a larger entity or communities.”

His advice to budding entrepreneurs? Build skills, know-how, relationships and equity/savings, while incubating ideas, observing opportunities and making clear predictions about future problems and/or opportunities.

“Now, as for the big step or leap… don’t necessarily wait for the most opportune time,” he said. “When you feel confident that you can’t (optimally) get what you are looking for, do exactly what you want to do, or become who you want to be in the role of seasoned employee, and you have the ability to effectively manage people and resources, then is the time!”

Royce Neubauer is founder and CEO of SFL Companies, a full-service supply chain management and logistics firm focused on technology-driven freight management. Neubauer’s role is to keep the company moving forward at all times.

“I spent 10 years in this industry with a company that grew from a start-up to a leader in the industry,” he said. “I feel there are two things that have helped me along the way: An unwavering resilience and the ability to deal with change. Our industry has changed dramatically since I started SFL. We have been able to adjust our plan and growth around this change by being mindful of the environment around us.”

His advice to budding entrepreneurs? Be prepared before taking that dive.

“I prepared my business plan and saved my money for five years before I opened our doors,” he said. “Most startups fail because of poor planning and poor financing. I would make sure I have both of those items locked down before taking that leap.”

Amy Peterson is co-founder and CEO of Rebel Nell, a certified social enterprise and women-owned business that provides employment, equitable opportunity and wraparound support for women with barriers to employment.

Peterson believes a good entrepreneur has to be tenacious. “There is a new challenge every day and many days you will want to give up, but if you are passionate about the work and can see the vision for what you want to achieve, that will give you the strength to keep going every day,” she said.
Peterson said many people are coming out of COVID “with a different perspective on life.”

“There are so many things we can’t control, but we can control how we live our lives,” she said. “That is what I love about my job. I get to do something I enjoy. That isn’t to be confused with the notion that being an entrepreneur is easy. On the contrary, it is incredibly difficult and mentally taxing. However, I have chosen to do what makes me happy and to fight for what I believe in every day. That is what gets me up in the morning.”

Kristopher Powell is CEO of HRPro/BenePro, which helps organizations recruit and retain top talent by working with businesses on their culture, their benefit plans, and their practices.

Powell said he started on the entrepreneurial path in his youth.

“In many ways, I was on that path from a very early age,” he said. “It simply took someone to fire me to really get me there. Running and building my own business has been the focus of my career for 30+ years. Lessons learned: Build a great culture, fill it with great folks who fit it, and relentlessly keep on the path to grow.”

The key trait for success, he said, is developing critical thinking skills. “The ability to look down the road and see how to build a better future for all those you encounter,” he said. “Plus the ability to sell that future to others.”

His advice to budding entrepreneurs? Have a plan. “Have a plan for where the cash is coming from, as well as what type of culture they want to build and the type of people they want to join them in their venture,” he said.

Jannie Teitelbaum is managing partner at Great Lakes Pot Pies, which makes and sells frozen gourmet pot pies. Teitelbaum oversees all the day-to-day operations.

Teitelbaum acknowledges being an entrepreneur “is not easy.”

“You have to stay strong and keep a good attitude, even when things don’t go your way,” Teitelbaum said. “Some people may dissuade you from continuing, but stay true to yourself and keep with your plan. Always have a smile on your face. It’s contagious and makes people want to do business with you.”

Teitelbaum’s advice to budding entrepreneurs? When you’re ready for the big step, make sure you can support yourself and pay your bills.

“You might need to have another source of income for a while,” Teitelbaum said. “Have a game plan and play devil’s advocate with yourself, in case things don’t go as planned. Keep plowing ahead to reach your goal. It might be baby steps, but eventually you’ll get there. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it.”