Michigan’s Top Chief Executives Take Leadership Seriously

Former U.S. Secretary of State and Gen. Colin Powell has often told audiences that effective leaders are made, not born and learn from trials and errors.

Michigan’s business leaders are created the same way. Along the way, many become exceptional as they learn to persevere through hardships, looking for opportunities to succeed.

To honor these Top Chief Executives, Corp! magazine held an awards ceremony Dec. 6, 2011, at the MSU Management Center in Troy in conjunction with the Entrepreneurs of Distinction award breakfast.

The Top Chief Executive awards were open to senior company executives.

This year’s winners include Jay Rising, executive vice president and chief financial officer, Detroit Medical Center; Denise Sherwood, chief development officer, Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids; David C. Walker, CFO and executive vice president, Level One Bank; Courtney Morales Hofmann, chief operating officer, MCM Staffing Solutions; Sandra Gaddy, chief marketing officer, Mel Trotter Ministries; Bob Josifovski, COO, OHorizons LLC; Deborah Phillips, chief administrative officer, Priority Health; Michael P. McKay, chief technical officer, RF Connect LLC; Julie Moore, chief technical officer, Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge; Bill Wagner, CEO, SRT Solutions; John McLaren, COO, Sun Communities Inc.; Wayne Chuang, CFO, Sunfire Carbide & Rare Earth Materials Co.; Stephen Koons, president and CEO, Trubiquity; and Richard Widgren, vice president, treasurer and CFO, Urban Science.

Leadership takes some sacrifice and requires leaders to put others before themselves, said Eric B. Larson, president and CEO of Larson Realty Group.

“Leaders need to give more of themselves than they receive,” Larson continued. “Look at the city of Detroit and the challenges it faces financially or the cultural arts organizations and their funding challenges. These are times that those that have the ability and resources have to dig deep and support those parts of our community that really define our community.”

Larson had founded the real estate development firm with his late father, Robert C. Larson, to specialize in construction, engineering, property management, leasing and finance. Leadership was such an important concept for both father and son that they created the Robert C. Larson Leadership Initiative in conjunction with the Urban Land Institute.

“Originally (the Larson Leadership Initiative) was focused on cultivating and developing the next leaders in the real estate industry, which touches a lot of facets including lawyers, architects, and planners,” Larson said. “We are able to harness the depth and breadth of leadership expertise in the senior levels of our industry and bring to bear with the next generation of leaders.”

The leadership initiative has spring and fall sessions that attract CEOs inside and outside of the real estate business to pair them with new young leaders. Various leadership training sessions are also held around the country.

“My advice to others is to just be patient,” Larson said. “We need to focus on building a community for forever as opposed to building a community for the present. That long-term insight often gets lost.

“Also, I believe if you are doing something that you are committed to, and excited about, and have a passion for then the success follows.”

John B. McLaren, executive vice president and COO for Sun Communities, a manufactured housing community developer, noted that as a result of the hard economic times, the company’s team has been working closer to improve results.

“We made a decision as an entire team not to participate in the current economy and that attitude has contributed greatly to our success,” McLaren said in an e-mail interview. “We placed most of our focus directly to our customers and providing them extraordinary service.”

One of McLaren’s role models for being a leader was his father, who is retired U.S. Navy officer and former Cold War submarine captain.

“(My father) has always told me to be purposeful in my approach and not afraid of taking the necessary and calculated risks,” McLaren noted. “I also went through the U.S. Marine Corps Officer Program and have had the privilege of serving with and under some very capable leaders earlier in my life.”

Support from his wife and children and fellow team members at Sun Communities has also been invaluable, McLaren said and added that his leadership style “is very simple, to lead by example. I can’t expect for anyone on our team to do something that I am not willing to do no matter what it may be.”-¨A leader must be a visionary and set the course for an organization, said Sandra Gaddy, vice president of Marketing and Communications at Mel Trotter Ministries, a Grand Rapids-based charity. “When necessary, leaders must redefine the goals and gain the ‘buy in’ from their board and staff members to move forward,” she added.

During the recession, Mel Trotter Ministries faced a deficit and had to perform layoffs while cutting some positions from full-time to part-time status. By communicating with donors in the Greater Grand Rapids area, the organization raised nearly $150,000 to erase some of its debt.

“Things change all the time — not as much as they did in banking -“ but I mentor my team through the process to embrace change,” Gaddy said. “Change can be very good. As our economy continues to change we need to make sure that we’re one step ahead of the game.”

There are a few aspects of leadership that are important, observed Michael P. McKay, chief technology officer and co-founder of RF Connect of Farmington Hills.

“One is to provide an example to others; another is to serve, teach and inspire; and a third aspect is to provide a vision -“ to understand what is over the horizon,” McKay said. “I try to do all three as opposed to strictly managerial. I am the point person for the interlocking industries that we deal with. I also look out at things that will impact our business over the next two, five or ten years such as what is happening in buildings and the data communications field.”

The winning executives and their firms are as follows:

Wayne Chuang, Chief Financial Officer
Sunfire Carbide & Rare Earth Materials Co., Auburn Hills
Sunfire Carbide and Rare Earth Metals is a joint venture company representing a large mining concern in China, plus it serves other customers in the North American market. The company was formed in 2010 and Wayne Chuang joined in August 2010 as CFO. Previously he was a customer service representative and then controller of Weld-Aid Products. “I’ve known the owner for quite a while and he had this new opportunity to work with a company in China,” Chuang said. “He wanted someone to help him run the company and manage the finances. It is a small company, so I am wearing multiple hats, from dealing with investors to taking care of customers.” Born in Taiwan, Chuang came to the United States with his family when he was 13 and attended Troy High School. He speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, which has helped when dealing with Sunfire’s Chinese suppliers. Chuang was a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2002 to 2008. He has an MBA in Corporate Finance/Investment Banking and a Master of Science in Finance, both from Walsh College. He graduated from Oakland University in 2006 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Corporate Finance. “I come from a culture where I have to respect my elders so with older employees I don’t want to come off as some egotistical hotshot,” Chuang explained. “With the younger employees I have a different relationship, but coming from the Marine Corps I know that you can’t give orders to civilians like you can marines. I have to worry about human resources.” As Sunfire’s CFO, he works to raise capital from private equity firms to help grow the business.

Sandra Gaddy, Chief Marketing Officer
Mel Trotter Ministries, Grand Rapids
Since its founding in 1900, Mel Trotter Ministries provides shelter, food, clothing, education, biblical studies, computer-based learning, and work training and experience for men and women in need throughout the Greater Grand Rapids community. To help those with drug and alcohol addictions, it offers a state-licensed substance abuse recovery program. Sandra Gaddy started at the charity in 2008 as a major gift officer. A year later she was promoted to her current position in which she oversees all marketing, communications and public relations for Mel Trotter. She handles all fundraising, volunteer services and special events such as the Golf Marathon of Hope. “I am not afraid to make a change on how our organization operates when I see an opportunity for improvement in the area of development or marketing, but it is very important to gather factual data to justify needed improvements to make changes in long standing processes,” Gaddy said. She began her career in the banking field, including as a vice president of Business Banking and vice president of Wealth Management. She has also been a facilitator for the Christian Leadership Student Track for South Christian High School and Word Up! Word Out! Diversity Youth Training. She was a board member for several schools and organizations such as New Branches Charter School and Catholic Social Services of West Michigan and was a YWCA Tribute to Women award recipient.

Robert Josifovski, COO and Managing Director
OHorizons LLC, Farmington Hills
OHorizions is a strategic investment and operational advisory firm serving the manufacturing, transportation, mining and natural resources, and industrial services sectors in North America, Western Europe, China, the Russian Federation, and Eastern Europe. For clients, OHorizons provides analysis on strategic partnerships, divestitures/carve-outs, owner recapitalizations, minority enterprises, flexible structures, cost realignment, operations and due diligence, market assessment, manufacturing mix improvement, business plan improvement, operational turnaround, supply chain optimization, risk/opportunity assessment, and more. With more than 15 years of experience in the automotive industry, Bob Josifovski leads the firm’s investment/strategic advisory activities. He has significant due diligence, structuring, negotiation, post-transaction integration and mergers and acquisitions experience. Prior to OHorizons, Josifovski was part of PricewaterhouseCoopers Automotive Transaction Services group. He worked with large Tier One suppliers and private equity firms in North America, Europe and Asia. He also led the automotive investment banking activities of Beringea LLC, a Michigan based investment bank and private equity firm. While at Beringea, he played key roles in developing alternative structure/transaction options on distressed automotive suppliers in North America and Europe. He is a CPA and holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Michigan.

Stephen Koons, President and CEO
Trubiquity, Troy
Founded in 1995, Trubiquity is headquartered in Troy, Mich., and has offices in Carlsbad, Calif., Germany and the United Kingdom. The firm provides managed file transfer (MFT) and business process integration programs for automotive, aerospace, advanced manufacturing, retail, finance, health care and consumer goods industries. These solutions enable its customers to connect, move and share key business information with its global teams and valued partners. Steve Koons joined Trubiquity in 2004 as vice president of Business Solutions and was appointed president and chief executive officer in 2008. Koons is a key member of the company’s senior executive team responsible for establishment of corporate culture, development of corporate strategic goals and growth. He also oversees all global corporate development activities such as corporate acquisition programs focused on building and sustaining aggressive growth for the company. Under Koons’ leadership, some of Trubiquity’s activities included acquiring ECbridges, NexPrise, and Mosaic Software AG; merging Trubiquity Systems GmbH into Trubiquity GmbH; and divested eMMA and JIM and its associated customer relationships to Kronion GmbH. Prior to joining Trubiquity, Koons was vice president of sales for Silenus Group and subsequently BRT Inc., and worked at AT&T and EDS in North America and Europe. He has a Bachelor of Science degree and an MBA from Michigan State University.

Eric B. Larson, President and CEO
Larson Realty Group
Bloomfield Hills
Larson Realty Group develops and invests in office, retail, industrial, residential and mixed-use properties. The company provides asset management, leasing, construction management and advisory assignments services to third parties. Founder Eric Larson has more than 25 years of experience in the real estate sector. Prior to establishing Larson Realty, he was vice president for Hines, a global real estate company, and as a partner and senior vice president with Bruce S. Brickman and Associates in New York. Larson first came to the Detroit area from Chicago in a deal regarding One Detroit Center -“ currently called Comerica Tower -“ which is 43-story, 1.6 million-square-foot, class A office building that was completed in 1991. “Since then, I’ve been involved in every significant project that has taken place over the last 20 plus years,” Larson said. For example, he was involved with General Motors Corp.’s purchase of the Renaissance Center and Millender Center plus the surrounding 24 acres. “We continued to work with General Motors on the overall redevelopment of those assets and the transformation into their world headquarters,” Larson added. “More recently, we just completed the Argonaut Building renovation for the College for Creative Studies. (A former GM building), the project was about an 800,000-square-foot, $165-million adaptive reuse with a 500-car new parking structure.” Larson is also the founder and president of Community Investment Support Fund, a nonprofit organization established to promote economic development and facilitate investment of capital in support of community revitalization and the nonprofit sector. In October 2011, Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, announced that Larson would become the non-executive president of Olympia Development of Michigan. “I’m hopeful that I can continue to influence things in a positive way in downtown Detroit,” Larson continued.

Michael P. McKay, Chief Technology Officer and Co-founder
RF Connect LLC, Farmington Hills
RF Connect is a wireless supplier company that is dedicated to improving cell phone reception inside of buildings, tunnels, mines, stadiums and other places. It also performs a variety of wireless work including point-to-point and point-to-multipoint links for the Department of Transportation for the intelligent transportation systems and radio frequency (RF) interference analysis. Its customers include the major telecom carriers such as Verizon and AT&T plus a host of other smaller firms. It is one of the largest independent companies in its industry that is not owned by a manufacturer. Michael McKay was one of the co-founders of the company, chief technical officer, and vice president of engineering and design. He is responsible for the design of the company’s RF systems, overseeing technical analysis, hardware and software analysis, and advises and trains project managers, team leaders, and designers. “Essentially we turn one bar or no bars on your cell phone to five bars-¦ For example, a hospital found that its robotic surgery equipment didn’t work in one operating room versus others, so we helped fix that.” RF Connect recruits a lot of former military service personnel who have electronics and radio backgrounds. McKay said he believes in teaching his staff the skills they need to do their jobs and then get out of the way. “Sometimes there is some short term scrambling around when things don’t go as planned but there are very good long term benefits because people learn very quickly to get up to speed and can express their own ability and own energy in doing these types of projects,” he said of his leadership approach. Weathering the touch economy, RF Connect does less work in Michigan and more out of state in places such as Texas, Minnesota, Texas and Pennsylvania. However, McKay said the firm’s leaders are hometown supporters. “What I love about Michigan is the people understand that maintaining a frugal culture is critical to weathering tough times,” he noted. The company tries to maintain an environment of curiosity and McKay exemplified this standard by recently getting an MBA degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to be more effective. With more than 25 years of communications network experience, prior to co-founding RF Connections McKay was a product manager for a large video integrator and the vice president of Technical Services for Clover Technologies. He also was a telecommunications manager for American Motors Corp. and a supervisor of systems programming for EDS. He helped establish the communications training programs at Washtenaw Community College and at Focus:HOPE. He holds and has held many certifications and industry association memberships. McKay received his Bachelor of Science degree from Georgetown University.

John B. McLaren, Executive Vice President and COO
Sun Communities, Southfield
Sun Communities is a real estate investment trust that owns, operates and develops manufactured housing communities -“ mobile home parks -“ mostly in the Midwestern, Southern and Southeastern parts of the country. John McLaren joined the company in August 2005 as a senior vice president in charge of home sales and leasing; he was promoted to executive vice president and COO in February 2008. Previously McLaren was an executive with a real estate investment trust called Apartment Investment & Management Co. plus was vice president of leasing and service for Sun Home Services.

Julie A. Moore, Chief Technical Officer
Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge, Grand Rapids
The law firm Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge is headquartered in Grand Rapids with offices in Ann Arbor and Traverse City. Its attorneys provide legal services and legal counsel in the areas of business and corporate law, construction and real estate law, employee relations and labor law, government law and health law. It also handles personal legal services and counsel for criminal defense, divorce and family law, elder law, probate litigation, trusts and estates. Julie Moore joined the firm in 1995 as director of Information Services and became chief technology officer. She manages all aspects of the law firm’s Information Services Department including administration and development, prioritizing, resource planning and strategic planning. Moore monitors the effectiveness of each information system, and oversees the management of all IT projects. Prior to joining Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge, she was an information services manager at First Michigan Bank and was an administrative assistant for Mill Steel Co. She is a graduate of Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Oakland University.

Courtney Morales Hofmann, Chief Operating Officer
MCM Staffing Solutions, Southfield
MCM Staffing Solutions is a minority-owned business and a member of the American Staffing Association that provides financial and management consulting services for small to midsize companies throughout the United States plus temporary, temp-to-hire and direct-hire staffing services. Courtney Morales Hofmann joined MCM Staff Solutions in May 2011 with 10 years of financial and consulting experience. Previously she was a finance manager at Kelly Services, an international banking officer for Comerica, a recruiter for HR Alliance, and the business manager for The Michigan Daily newspaper. Bilingual in English and Spanish, Hofmann is a member of Inforum Michigan, the Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and currently serves as the co-chair for the University of Michigan’s Board of Student Publications. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Michigan- Ann Arbor and received her MBA from the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Deborah Phillips, Chief Administrative Officer
Priority Health, Grand Rapids
Priority Health is an award-winning, nonprofit health plan that offers a broad portfolio of products for employer groups and individuals including Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. Serving more than 625,000 people, it is rated among the best health plans in the nation by the National Committee for Quality Assurance. Deborah Phillips has led several key organizational projects, including the transformation and realignment of the organization to support growth and market demands. She is also in charge of a variety of corporate-wide administrative areas including in-house legal, compliance, facilities and other business support services. “Good leaders play an important role in the firm’s success,” Phillips said. “They develop strategic initiatives to grow and sustain the business. It is important that they inspire employees to get behind how to implement the plan. Leaders must also understand that they lead managers who lead front-line employees who serve your customers. Employees need to feel empowered to serve the customer and drive success and managers must inspire them to put forth the effort.” When Kim Horn became Priority Health’s CEO, she brought a vision that inspired Phillips to learn more about how the business ran in order to be a better leader. “(Horn) helped me understand that I played an instrumental role in fostering the corporate culture at Priority Health and my leadership would help us create a workforce that is talented, driven and innovative in its ability to deliver affordable and excellent health care,” Phillips said. “With the weakened economy, and the enormous changes and challenges within health care and health care reform, I think the role of an executive in our company is to sort through all the noise and confusion and give an honest viewpoint to our employees. There are enormous changes in our industry and we’re talking to our employees about it without pessimism, or extreme optimism, and working to build credibility in the eyes of our employees that we have a plan and we all have to work the plan to be successful.”

Jay Rising, CFO and Executive Vice President
Detroit Medical Center, Detroit
Nearly 150 years old, with its roots stretching back to the founding of Harper Hospital during the Civil War, the Detroit Medical Center (DMC) is one of Michigan’s leading health care institutions. With a long partnership with Wayne State University’s School of Medicine, it is also one of the state’s top medical teaching centers. Jay B. Rising joined the DMC as CFO in February 2006. Prior to accepting the DMC’s invitation, he was Michigan’s 42nd State Treasurer under Gov. Jennifer Granholm where he oversaw the collection, investment, and disbursement of state monies and public pension funds. Previously, Rising was with law firm Miller, Canfield, Paddock and plus he was president of Metropolitan Realty Co. His more than 20 years of experience included providing strategic financial counsel to the city of Detroit, Wayne County and the State of Michigan. Rising received his Juris Doctor from the Wayne State University Law School and received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Michigan.

Denise Sherwood, Chief Development Officer
Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids. Grandville
Since 1966, Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids has offered a wide range of employment and training programs free of charge to assist those with disabilities and other barriers to employment in developing their marketable skills to find meaningful employment. Its efforts are supported by revenues from its 14 retail stores in an eight-county area, as well as from monetary donations. Denise Sherwood joined Goodwill in August 2011 and is responsible for expanding the non-profit organization’s financial resources and donor base. She manages fund development activities and initiatives for the organization; and partners with community business leaders, individuals, foundations, corporations and civic and community organizations to support Goodwill’s mission and strategic plan. Previously she was vice president at Aon in the financial services industry from 2007 to 2011 with broad experience in all aspects of self-funding and fully insured plans. She specialized in health care plans, health productivity/wellness plans, consumer driven strategies and other related services. She has been chair of Inforum’s West Michigan Council from 2005-2010; was partner and owner of Spectrum Benefits from 1996-2007; a vice president at Johnson & Higgins; and worked at Rollins Burdick & Hunter and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. She graduated from Walsh College with a BBA in Marketing in 1984 and an MMA in Management from Aquinas College.

Bill Wagner, CEO
SRT Solutions, Ann Arbor
SRT Solutions creates software for mobile, Web, and desktop through close collaboration with its customers who are primarily in the health, manufacturing, engineering and information service sectors. Bill Wagner co-founded the company with Dianne Marsh. Wagner sets the businesses’ strategic direction, evaluates the technology to determine where to invest and direct customers and staff. Also by being engaged in software development, he is an active mentor for the development staff. “Today’s leaders must be technologically astute,” Wagner said. “They must be able to take smart, measured risks.” The old way of managing in a downturn doesn’t create growth in this protracted recession, he added, so leaders must be creative in finding solutions. Leaders must be honest and open, helping others see and assess the real risks, driving the company toward success rather than letting the possible problems become reality. Wagner grew up in Minnesota and Illinois and went to school at the University of Illinois-Champaign and is a 25-year veteran of the software industry. He serves as Michigan’s Regional Director for Microsoft and is a multi-year winner of Microsoft’s MVP award. An internationally recognized author, Bill has two books on software writing — “Effective C#” and “More Effective C#” -“ and writes a column on the Microsoft C# Developer Center. He has also received Automation Alley’s Emerging Technology Leader Award.

David C. Walker, CFO and Executive Vice President
Level One Bank, Farmington Hills
Level One Bank is a full-service, 5-Star BauerFinancial rated bank providing commercial customers with lines of credit, term loans, commercial mortgages, Small Business Administration loans and more, plus an array of consumer products including personal savings and checking accounts, Money Markets, IRAs, CDs, first mortgages, home equity, personal lines, auto, recreational vehicles and credit card services. David Walker joined the bank in January 2010 and is responsible for all treasury, accounting, finance, investments, asset/liability management, information technology, real estate and bank security matters. Previously Walker was group vice president of General Motors Acceptance Corp. (GMAC) of Canada Ltd. He spent 24 years with GMAC in a variety of financial disciplines, including treasury, liability management, and finance. In addition, he was CFO of GMAC’s mortgage group for seven years. Walker is a magna cum laude graduate of Brown University with a bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics/Economics. He received his MBA with distinction from the University of Michigan.

Richard Widgren, Vice President, Treasurer and CFO
Urban Science, Detroit
Founded in 1977 by Jim Anderson, Urban Science is a global retail consulting firm that takes a scientific approach to help companies identify where they should allocate resources to increase their market share and profitability in the most effective and efficient manner. Its headquarters is in Detroit with international offices in Spain, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France, Australia, China, Mexico, Japan, India and Russia. Richard Widgren joined Urban Science in 2001 and overhauled the firm’s global budgeting process that helped lead to its expansion in Europe and Asia. Widgren helped the company focus on cash preservation during the 2009 recession. He is a board member for the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan, vice chairman of the Legacy Detroit Medical Center, a trustee of the Health and Wellness Foundation of Detroit, and chairman of the Del Harder Rehabilitation Foundation. A member of the Michigan Association of CPAs, Widgren previously served as director. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Detroit Mercy.