‘Most Valuable’ bring out the very best in Michigan business

An MVP in sports merely makes his or her team better. An MVP in the business realm, meanwhile, can not only improve an individual company’s operations, but also make a positive difference within a community or even society as a whole.

Corp! magazine’s Most Valuable Professionals, Entrepreneurs, and Millennials awards recognize individuals who are making Michigan a better place to live and work by creating job opportunities, driving economic growth, nurturing community advancements or leading successful companies.

We feted our MVPs April 25 during an awards presentation and program at the Colony Club in Detroit.

Here are brief bios of all the winners, as well as some of their thoughts about leadership and insights into what drives them. Click on an individual’s name to read more about them.


Andrew Bishop
SVP of Sales, GM of RecogNation
Baudville Brands

Andrew Bishop serves in two different capacities for Baudville Brands, a collection of four different brands — Baudville, IDville, RecogNation, Pure Promo — that work together to transform organizations’ energy and culture. As senior vice president of sales, he is responsible for providing organizational oversight, guidance, training and development for the sales-related activities that occur among the four brands. As general manager for RecogNation he oversees the strategic direction, performance and experience associated with that brand.

“There are so many ways to define success within the business world,” Bishop said. “I would say that my mindset has evolved and changed throughout the years. I strive to define success now based upon one’s measure of impact and influence — how many individuals, businesses, partners, suppliers, etc., find that value is being added to their lives, professionally and personally, through their interactions with myself or my team.”

Bishop, who said he has a personal philosophy of never settling, always learning and continually striving to become a better version of himself each and every day, says genuine care is the most important attribute for a leader. “When you genuinely care about your role, your team members and their families, your customers, your business, your suppliers, your brand experience, etc., it becomes the catalyst and fuel for so many other positive traits such as drive, vulnerability, service, communication, integrity, empathy, passion, responsibility, etc. Employees are not robots. They’re seeking connection. They want to find meaning and value in their work and ultimately land in a place where they feel that they belong.”

He offers this advice to young professionals: “Dream big. Never settle. Care immensely. Surround yourself with smarter, brighter, talented and driven individuals that you can seek inspiration from. Believe in what you do. Find a fit where your personal values align with the organization’s purpose, objectives and goals. When you do this, greatness is inevitable.”

James Bos
Vice President – Procurement
Yanfeng Automotive Interiors

James Bos defines success from a corporate perspective as profitably providing recognized value to customers with a highly engaged, talented and inspired team of employees and stakeholders.

“Success requires day-to-day diligence to task,” said Bos, vice president – procurement for Yanfeng Automotive Interiors, a global tier one automotive interiors supplier with over 120 locations and 33,000 employees. “Failure is only a step in the process from which to learn by. Capability and experience are gained through time and diversity of experience. Build and utilize your network through your decision process.”

Integrity is the most important trait for a leader, he said. “The leader needs to be trusted by their customer, team and stakeholders. Following this, a leader needs to be strategic, process driven, have good interpersonal skills and capable to build and develop a talented team.”

He advises those just starting out in their careers to be “all in” on their aspirations. “Be a continuous learner, ask questions. Network well within and outside your company in your chosen career. Be genuine and respect others. Know what is expected of you and exceed expectations.”

Awenate Cobbina
Vice President, Business Affairs and Associate Counsel
Detroit Pistons

As vice president, business affairs and associate counsel for the Detroit Pistons, Awenate Cobbina’s role is to facilitate special projects such as the team’s move to Little Caesars Arena or developing new corporate headquarters (the Henry Ford Health System Pistons Performance Center), leading philanthropic giving and government relations and developing relationships that impact business and community missions.

“In my business, success is making sure that as many people as possible see the Pistons play and that our fans and partners are enjoying their game experience while having a positive impact on our community,” he said. “During the three years that I have lived in Detroit, I have witnessed the positive impact that moving the Pistons’ proud history and current promise back to the city of Detroit has had on our organization and the metro area as a whole.”

The biggest misconception facing professionals is that their goals are unachievable, Cobbina said. “While they may not be easy to reach, developing a plan (and backup plans) while working hard and using the resources around you can put you on the path to reaching your goals.”

Similarly, the biggest challenge facing Michigan’s business leaders is the perception that young people need to go elsewhere to accomplish their goals, he said. “Michigan has a wide range of opportunities in diverse industries with some of the biggest and most recognizable companies in the world. Part of the solution is to make sure that the jobs that we are offering match the business challenges of the future, as opposed to the challenges of the past, and the other part of the solution is to make sure that promising (young and experienced) professionals understand that the jobs and industries that they want to work in are available here. And if they aren’t available here, then this is the place to start them.”

Tony Holloman
Executive Vice President

The solution to addressing the significant demand for talent facing Michigan businesses will require a team effort consisting of industry, government and academic leadership, says Tony Holloman, executive vice president at Epitec, a 41-year-old, minority-owned $100 million IT, engineering and clinical professional services and staffing company. “Other world powers offer and subsidize education and skills training to help infuse the future of the skilled resource pool. We seem to struggle in the States coming together with a sustainable solution to meet our needs and demand for talent. The U.S. must immediately commit to investing significant funds and mindshare to support the retooling of the existing workforce as well as encourage a more focused effort in the STEM degrees for upcoming college graduates as well as some focus on skilled trades. We need a call to arms with the American people and sound the alarm loud and clear on ‘our’ dilemma for the war for talent that we are significantly behind on addressing.”

A pivotal moment in Holloman’s career occurred when Epitec ownership tasked him with updating the company’s IT infrastructure in the early ’90s. “This task enabled me to help launch and transform the company into the digital age, which allowed us to scale our service delivery efforts and meet much higher service levels from our customer base.”
Lots of people think that “anyone can be entrepreneur,” Holloman said. “I find much of today’s workforce wants to be the boss and come up with great ideas, but they lack many of the necessary skills to lead and manage a company that delivers its services to meet customer demands well enough that it’s sustainable so that the company is actually profitable.

Becoming an entrepreneur has less to do with what you know or what your experiences are and everything to do with the willingness to do the work required to succeed. the keyword here is ‘willingness.’ The narrative that ‘anyone can be an entrepreneur’ is inspirational but sometimes quite harmful due to societal pressure.”

Melanca Clark
President & CEO
Hudson Webber Foundation

Melanca Clark is president and CEO of Hudson-Webber Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to improving quality of life in Detroit. The foundation’s core mission areas are community and economic development, safe and just communities, built environment and arts and culture. Prior to joining Hudson-Webber Foundation, she served in key leadership roles in the Obama administration. Most recently, Clark served the U.S. Department of Justice as chief of staff of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), a grant-making component of the department. At COPS, she devised creative funding strategies and partnerships to advance community policing and police reform.

In 2018, Clark spearheaded the foundation’s efforts to convene the Michigan Safety & Justice Roundtable, in partnership with The Michigan Committee on Juvenile Justice, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Michigan League for Public Policy. The two-day forum, held in Detroit last September, assembled leaders and decision-makers from across the state to engage in nonpartisan conversations that advance fair and equitable youth and adult justice system approaches that promote positive youth development, effectively address crime and promote safety in Michigan’s communities.

The project yielded two reports, each comprising a series of condensed briefings on a selection of criminal justice issues, based on the input and expertise of conference attendees, as well as assessments of current progress, updates on the work of organizations engaged in specific areas of concern, and potential action items for consideration. Contributors and roundtable participants included experts in juvenile and criminal justice from local and state government, members of the judiciary, law enforcement, academics, advocates and philanthropic funders.

“The roundtable and resulting reports reflect input of diverse leaders and experts from across disciplines who came together with a shared mission to improve outcomes for thousands of justice-involved adults and youth across Michigan,” said Clark. “These reports provide specific, tangible ideas and resources for the next generation of policymakers in our state. We hope they will serve as a blueprint for creating a non-partisan and comprehensive vision for fair and effective justice in Michigan.”

Gayle Holsworth
Senior Director, Client Solutions
Innovative Learning Group

Gayle Holsworth advises everyone – whether just starting out or a veteran in their career –to remain open-minded and flexible. “Things can change so quickly and perspectives are so important,” said Holsworth, senior director, client solutions for Innovative Learning Group, which provides custom training and performance support tools that help employees do their jobs more effectively “There is so much growth to be had from listening to other people’s perspectives and being open-minded enough to really listen and be willing to see things differently.”

As for business leaders, they need to possess honesty, integrity and humility, Holsworth said. “A good leader must trust and be trustworthy. A cohesive team and a healthy company culture should have, without a doubt, a foundation where at its core is honesty and integrity. The glue holding a company together is always a great leader who is humble. I always strive to make it known that I couldn’t be successful without the fabulous people I work with at all times who help me achieve success. In my opinion, a leader without honesty, integrity and humility cannot properly build and motive at team.”

Armen Hratchian
Executive Director
Teach For America

Armen Hratchian vividly remembers the fateful calendar appointment. He started his career as a municipal bond analyst at Standard & Poor’s in New York City, and reported to S&P’s chief credit officer, Colleen Woodell, a legend in the municipal bond industry.

“A few months into the job, on a Thursday night, I received a calendar appointment from Colleen for 7:30 a.m. Friday morning,” recalled Hratchian, now executive director of Teach For America, a nonprofit organization that works in the social impact sector to increase educational equity and excellence for underserved communities across the country. “The subject read ‘My office, get yelled at.’ I’ll never forget receiving it. The next morning, I tiptoed into Colleen’s office. She pulled out the credit report I had presented the day before to our municipal credit committee and pointed out every time I had written ‘I feel.’

She said S&P didn’t hire me to share my feelings — they hired me to share what I knew, and that knowledge had to be grounded in the analysis of data. She sent me back to my desk and asked me to bring her a new draft in an hour. I brought it back to her and she gave me 10 minutes of feedback and sent me back to do another draft. We worked through multiple drafts that morning, and at the end, I’m confident I had produced the best credit report ever written about Gordon County, Georgia. Like many others, my leadership has been shaped by moments and people.

“Colleen, in that moment, held me to the highest standard and made a significant investment in my future. And she forever changed the way I lead.”

Today, success is synonymous with results for Hratchian. “We’re all held accountable to a set of short- and long-term results. In the for-impact sector, we can align our results with impact,” said Hratchian, adding that the biggest misconception facing professionals is that they’re disloyal.

“To me, it’s not about loyalty. It’s about demanding an opportunity to grow, to see themselves as meaningful, in exchange for honesty and transparency from the employee on what they need/want/hope.”

He has two bits of advice for young professionals: “Take risks in your organization with the support of your leadership, and find a mentor.”

Yodit Mesfin Johnson
COO and VP of Strategy

Yodit Mesfin Johnson has had two distinct professional paths: the one before she had children and the one after. “I didn’t get married or have children until I was in my mid-30s,” said the chief operating officer and vice president of strategy for NEW: SOLUTIONS FOR NONPROFITS, which provides services that support nonprofit operations. “In some ways that was best for me. My 20s were spent working ‘jobs’ that didn’t necessarily bring me joy or line up with my purpose. They paid the bills though (and financed my dreams) so I won’t complain! My career at that time was a series of entrepreneurial and job mishaps. I was pretty disconnected from my purpose.

“By the time I had my first child, I’d had a chance to begin some emotional healing and dug deeper into my entrepreneurial aspirations. I was in the thick of a burgeoning consultancy and working with an economic development organization when I learned I was pregnant with my daughter. It wasn’t the most convenient time but we were so excited for this new chapter.

“In 2006 our daughter was born. Sadly, she was premature and passed within a few hours of being born. We were devastated. Somehow, in the midst of our grief I became fully aware that she’d been sent to me for the most important lesson I’ve ever learned: I am far more courageous and capable than I’d ever imagined. She was my ‘courage’ baby, she brought with her an experience of resilience and reclaiming my power. The seeds of my career as a speaker, facilitator and social entrepreneur/leader were nurtured and cultivated in those short months with her and the years since she died.”

The next big breakthrough came a few years later when her son was born. “Becoming his mom was when greater clarity about my purpose and how I wanted to use my time on the earth became crystal clear. My momma-bear instincts kicked in again, this time in full gear. The high-risk pregnancy forced me to be hypervigilant about balancing career and my wellness. I also decided when he was born — and this was a biggie — that I could still have it all, just not all at once.”

Given those experiences, it’s no surprise that she gauges success on alignment. “Is my given purpose in the world aligned with the work I am doing? In my role at NEW the answer is a resounding YES!”

Ann Jones
Vice President Marketing and Business Development
Michigan Schools & Government Credit Union

For Ann Jones, success in the business world is knowing that her work is contributing to the betterment of the community and to the members whom Michigan Schools and Government Credit Union serves. “It is meaningful to me that through my work I have helped educate someone on how to better understand and utilize the product or service I am representing,” said Jones, the credit union’s vice president of marketing and business development. “In my role, I am part of providing free financial education to the Michigan communities we serve and assisting educators in teaching financial literacy to young adults. I am also grateful to be part of an organization that gives back nearly $200,000 each year in scholarship assistance, teacher classroom cash grants and community donations. Playing a small role in this giveback is very rewarding. At Michigan Schools & Government Credit Union, we do well by doing good for our community.”

Jones has repeatedly found that her greatest growth as a professional has come from taking on new challenges that have made her think and act outside her comfort zone. “Embracing change and welcoming new challenges has offered me the best experiences in my career and led to new opportunities and advancement. The most difficult situations have been the best lessons.”

It’s a misconception that professionals have to have a 10- or 20-year plan mapped out for their career. “This is limiting. It’s impossible to imagine what your chosen profession will look like in the future. The iPhone was only introduced in 2007 — look at how this device has changed so many industries. In banking alone, who would have imagined that we could use a phone to pay bills, deposit checks and apply for a loan? By remaining open to new paths and opportunities, you have the flexibility to become something more interesting than you may imagine today.”
At the same time, she encourages young professionals to never stop learning. “Gone are the days when you completed a degree or certification and were done with your education. Education is a constant pursuit that should be accomplished through lifelong learning.”

Ron Kitchens
Senior Partner and CEO
Southwest Michigan First

A pivotal inflection point for Ron Kitchens came when the organization realized that to grow Southwest Michigan First, it could no longer be defined by how others believed a not-for-profit economic development corporation serving a relatively small region should look. “When we began to look at ourselves as a national thought leader, we were able to leverage the power and experience of our team to solve problems for clients across North America,” said the senior partner and CEO of the privately funded and publicly focused economic development organization. “Today, we serve more than 300 communities and are able to bring new knowledge and resources back to our seven-county region of Southwest Michigan. This has created a virtuous circle of positive growth and has allowed us to outperform market expectations and, in some cases, lead the nation in changing business practices that get companies thriving.”

The most important trait a leader can possess today is communication, he said. “One of the lessons I live by is the idea that communication is like a leaky rubber bucket hanging over your head; the more you pour into it, the more the rubber stretches and the harder the bucket is to fill. However, since it’s also a leaking bucket, you also have to pour exponentially. It reminds me of the old cliché, ‘Why do politicians repeat themselves? Because it works.’ From a leadership communication strategy, you have to be clear, consistent and constant. If a leader can’t manage that, they will find that their ability to lead continues to fade. This is particularly true in today’s world that has become flooded with overcommunication. Leaders have to create high-value communication to cut through the noise.”

The biggest misconception in today’s world and workforce about millennials is the idea that they are undisciplined, Kitchens said. “I find it absolutely bizarre that people believe this. Millennials and the generations driving today grew up using daily planners in the second grade. They have been planning and executing on a daily basis their entire lives. The truth about millennials is that they are a generation that won’t tolerate ambiguity; they need the certainty that comes with planning, developing and executing. They also won’t tolerate an incongruent system and crave integration and fairness. Millennials have a commitment to generating not just financial returns, but charitable outcomes as well. If business leaders can understand and empower those beliefs, I believe that the millennial generation can be the greatest generation our nation has seen post-WWII.”

Kitchens proclaims that civility is the biggest challenge facing Michigan’s business leaders. “Too often in today’s world, if you’re perceived as wrongheaded, you become a mortal enemy. As a result of this constant infighting, we lack the ability to do great things — these internal conflicts are using too many human and financial resources. Places that can’t figure out how to be civil could face a reduction in resources so great that they become irrelevant to the rest of the world. If we can understand that we all have an enlightened self-interest to cooperate, both politically and in business, Michigan will be set to thrive as a state and continue to be an economic leader in the nation.

Sara M. Kruse
Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, P.C.

Leading by trailblazing example over the past 20-plus years, Sara M. Kruse has worked to become a highly sought-after attorney in corporate and business law at Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss P.C.

“As a trusted adviser to both private and public companies in all aspects of formation, governance and operations – including complex business transactions, such as mergers, acquisitions, dispositions, restructurings, private debt and equity financings – I approach my work with the mindset of a business adviser and aim to set an example for others in the field,” she said. “By immersing myself in the varied businesses of my clients and taking a deep dive into the unique operations of different industries, I am able to provide significant value to clients.”

Her decision to pursue generating client relationships on her own was a pivotal moment in my career. “This allowed me to focus my practice on helping clients with emerging technologies and be a counselor and trusted adviser.”

Indeed, she defines success by the strength of the relationships she has developed over career. “These relationships have lead to new clients, connections and new opportunities that would not have been possible without having this foundation.”

Ryan Lepper
President and CEO
Central City Integrated Health

Ryan Lepper still recalls the day he decided to leave the investment world and enter the nonprofit realm. “I was concerned with hearing of so many nonprofits that were struggling financially and I knew I could bring some business acumen that would help,” said the president and CEO of Central City Integrated Health, which provides an array of primary and behavioral health care. “I was shifting my focus slowly to nonprofits because I wanted to do something more meaningful with my life and my talents, but when the market crashed, I completely transitioned over.”

Now he gauges success by helping as many people as possible day in and day out. As an organization leader, he also aims to mentor and receive mentoring. “I think the biggest misconception is putting the leaders such as CEOs on pedestals so the perception is that everything is done and achieved by them,” he said. “We steer the bus, but lots of people are driving it.”

Lepper says he has seen Michigan become more welcoming to businesses. “There were too many obstacles to overcome. We have seen it change in Grand Rapids, which has embraced entrepreneurism, and we are seeing it change here in Southeast Michigan as well, which is far more friendly to new business.”

He encourages those who are embarking on their careers to embrace, “because it’s going to happen at some point. And those who embrace it and learn from it always end up better on the other side. At my most rock bottom point is when persistent and perseverance have paid off the most for me and led me to the most important things I have done.”

Julie Lough
Micro Visions Inc.

“Success in the business world is accomplished by fostering a dynamic, cohesive team of people, rallying around a culture defined by integrity, responsiveness and objectivity, collaborating to achieve a vision for their families and the community in which they work, live and play,” says Julie Lough, president and owner of Micro Visions Inc., which is in its 30th year of providing IT managed services to clients.

Lough still distinctly remembers the hiring of her first full-time team member. “A prospect was found who seemed to fit well with the company’s service-centric philosophy. When the prospect was asked what his primary weakness was, he responded, ‘Loyal to a fault.’ That was a breakthrough as with a new hire on payroll there was something more tangible at stake,” said Lough, adding that she now really had to focus on building the business and needed to develop strong leadership skills, above and beyond the technical skills theretofore sufficient to run a sole-proprietor enterprise.

The economic downturn of 2001 was another pivotal moment, Lough said. “Our debt-free philosophy served Micro Visions well.” Lough reduced her compensation as did the “loyal-to-a-fault” senior (by then) team member and, with no debt to serve, Micro Visions was able to weather the storm with only one layoff. “All expenses were cut, and services were reduced to align with client recessionary budget constraints,” Lough said. “That was a very tough period.”

The biggest misconception facing entrepreneurs is that millennials are not open to learning, don’t work hard or work independently and that they are tech-obsessed; that millennials must be micromanaged, and that they must be constantly validated and that they are disloyal, Lough said.

At the same, among today’s biggest challenges are a shortage of skilled people and a lack of basic economic knowledge among those people, she said. “Too much personal debt, too much nonapplicable education, too much expectation for an immediate executive position with lofty compensation and little personal sacrifice. There exists among our younger generations too little preparation for the realities of today’s economy.”

Nick Nicolay
Kar’s Nuts

Nick Nicolay has had several transformative experiences at Kar’s Nuts, a maker of nuts and trail mix snacks. Among them, said the company president: “We worked through a difficult labor dispute in the early ’90s that had a favorable outcome but could have gone the other way. We were granted distribution through a major U.S. retailer when we weren’t sure we could fill all their orders. We created our Second Nature brand that became well received by national grocery retailers.”

Honesty and integrity are the most important traits business leaders must have, he said. “Pretend about nothing,” Nicolay advised, adding, “Success in the business world for me is about doing the best I can with the opportunities, skills and experiences I have been given. That will look different for me than for others.” But success doesn’t come easy, he said. “It might look that way from the outside, but there is always a story that will include a lot of hard work and uncertainty.”

He encourages young professionals to “pray and persevere. You will need to work hard and don’t expect immediate results. We all will generally have a ‘wilderness journey’ aspect to our careers at some point.”

Avec O’Brien
Vice President of Programs
Financial Executives International — Detroit Chapter

Avec O’Brien has lots of advice for people who are just starting out in their careers: “Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and who see in you more than you could ever see in yourself. Know your team and lead to their individual strengths, not their weaknesses. Invest and capitalize on the things they do right, let them thrive in what they are good at. Every day take the opportunity to thank your team for their contributions. Collaboration is priceless, thus encourage it. Create networks of communication and help. Work smarter, not longer. Learn from the mistakes of others — there isn’t enough time for each person to make every mistake to learn from it. When someone does make a mistake, take the opportunity to remind them that leadership is as much about defeat as it is about success. Don’t take feedback too seriously nor give it that way. Be a mentor and find one.”

The vice president of programs for the Detroit chapter of Financial Executives International — an organization that serves senior-level financial managers — also urges leaders to exhibit integrity. “As leaders, we are given the opportunity and responsibility to change other people’s lives, to teach them, guide them, help them grow. Leaders have been given the opportunity to inspire others. It is not what we are supposed to do but instead what we know we have to do. Acting with integrity makes things easier, and others notice it. Without integrity there is no credibility, and without credibility there is no leadership. And most importantly, a leader does all things with love — that’s what fuels passion, commitment and determination to succeed.”

Success is measured by the positive impact we have in others, O’Brien said. “In business, it is measured by the impact we have not only in customers and the community, but also in the lives of all employees. To have the greatest impact, an organization must be profitable, while conducting its business with integrity and highest ethics. Success is about growth, achievement and satisfaction: knowing that the efforts and sacrifices have yielded financial return, but above all, the joy and peace of following and achieving one’s dreams.”

Deborah Parizek
Executive Director
Henry Ford Learning Institute

Deborah Parizek believes that workforce talent pipeline is a big challenge facing Michigan business leaders. “Employer demand for 21st-century skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking has increased — with no sign of stopping,” said the executive director of the Henry Ford Learning Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides immersive programs that build capacity and empower people to lead transformational change in, with and for their community.

“Many Michigan schools are adopting instructional approaches, such as design thinking, to engage students in meaningful learning experiences and develop these skills; however, our state’s pervasive focus on high-stakes standardized testing in major content areas puts most public schools in a difficult position. They have to devote time, resources and energy toward that which is measured, rather than a more holistic approach that addresses what students need to be successful now and in the future. By becoming an advocate for progressive educational environments, supporter of transformational programming for 21st-century skills acquisition, and mentor to students, Michigan business leaders can contribute to a culture of innovation in our schools that leads to a prepared and dynamic workforce.”

Parizek advises young professionals to embrace the mindsets and identity of a lifelong learner. “It is one of the best career investments you can make. A lifelong learner can see opportunities to grow in ways that don’t always have a predetermined direction or anticipated extrinsic reward. So, read books and newsletters that take you out of your comfortable work zone. Participate in activities that enable you to develop empathy for someone whose life or work is very different from yours. Be humble and admit that you don’t know everything. Be willing to ask questions of co-workers. Identify skill set gaps and observe others who possess the skills you feel are underdeveloped in yourself. Take calculated risks in your work, celebrate wins and regard failure as instructive. Mentor and be mentored, no matter how old you are.”

Alexander Peric
Vice President & Chief Operating Officer
Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority

As vice president and chief operating officer for the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority, Alexander Peric is charged with being the catalyst for the authority’s growth in business development, economic development, nonaeronautical revenue and innovation. He is responsible for directing information technology, properties, engineering and planning, facilities, public safety and operations functions and serves as president and CEO in his absence.

Prior to assuming his current duties in November 2017, he was vice president of business development and properties for the Allegheny County Airport Authority in Pittsburgh, where he was responsible for all business-related matters for the airport system that includes Pittsburgh International Airport and Allegheny County Airport as well as management and development of 9,000 acres of land, 3.5 million square feet of commercial facilities, concessions and innovative revenue strategies.

Peric’s diverse background within the aviation industry includes strategic roles in airline relations, business management, real estate, operations, project management, revenue development, negotiations, risk management, data analysis, etc., with a variety of airports and airlines.

In 2013, he was selected as Airport Business Magazine’s Top 40 under 40, and he is an Accredited Airport Executive with the American Association of Airport Executives.

Angela Rogensues
Executive Director
Playworks Michigan

Angela Rogensues started as executive director of Playworks Michigan in April 2015 without any formal fundraising experience. “The Playworks Michigan team consisted of just four other full-time team members, none of which were fundraising professionals. In four years, my team and I have worked incredibly hard toward demonstrating substantial grit, perseverance and a willingness to learn how to raise funds and increase earned revenue. I took a tremendous amount of initiative to learn development and fundraising, starting with the fundamentals, and build connections in the community in a very short period of time. I hit the ground running and haven’t stopped yet.”

Playworks’ mission is to improve the health and well-being of children by increasing opportunities for safe and healthy play.

“I define success in the business world by positively impacting my team, the people I am serving and the community while achieving sustainable financials, a sustainable team and sustainable impact,” Rogensues said.

A major misconception in the business world is that there are shortcuts or secrets to success, Rogensues said. “Hard work, grit and a tremendous amount of patience demonstrated over long periods of time are behind nearly every successful person.”

Different people will give different answers on the biggest challenge facing Michigan, Rogensues said. “With that being said, I personally think the biggest challenge facing Michigan business leaders is the quality of education we are providing our youth. I do not claim to have a solution to the myriad challenges that face public education, but I do think that more equitable funding across the state, a greater emphasis on improving emotional intelligence and teaching social skills, and increased school principal empowerment and autonomy would be the first place I would start.”

Kyle Anne Sasena
First Vice President, Relationship Manager
Chemical Bank

Kyle Anne Sasena has served as a first vice president at Chemical Bank since November 2017, according to her LinkedIn profile. Prior to that she was a commercial lender at Level One Bank in Farmington Hills for 10 years, and she was also a private banker at Comerica Bank.

Uma Sharma, Ph.D.
Chief Scientific Officer
MMS Holdings

Uma Sharma, who is trained as a pharmacologist, was experienced as a clinical lead when she started MMS Holdings more than a decade ago. “Our services largely included clinical and regulatory strategy and support,” said MMS’ chief scientific officer.

“A pivotal moment happened when a few of my team members from the Pfizer Ann Arbor site approached me when the location’s closing was announced. Some of them had never worked anywhere else and never imagined that the site would close. That is when I made a decision to offer services at MMS to support areas where they brought in expertise, like medical writing, biostatistics, and clinical programming. One thing led to another and 13 years later we have a global organization that was just announced best in class for 2019.”

Success in the business world is creating an inclusive environment for every colleague within the company no matter where they are in the hierarchy of the organization or what their role is, Sharma said. “A transparent and empowering environment defines success for all: the staff, the clients, and the community in the long run. It motivates everyone to do their best, to be role models for others and creating a vision for the long-term health of the business. When your team succeeds at what they plan for themselves, the company and the community succeed in return many fold.”

The ability to “listen” to understand without the urge to respond right away is a key to good leadership, Sharma said. “This is what I have learned and implemented throughout my career. Leaders often tend to speak first and state their opinions, then ask others for theirs. In many cases, they get acceptance without conflict and walk away thinking ‘I am really good’ or ‘I do have a solution for everything.’ They miss out on ideas and opinions that may have been way better to the issue on hand. It also creates a culture of top-down leadership, which is not the best for a business in many scenarios. When leaders listen, we must be open-minded to absorb and reflect on what is being said. We must be flexible to adapt or grow with the new idea. Most often, even those who listen are more eager to respond and defend, and, in essence, they lose half of what is said. When we speak, we are reiterating what we already know; when we listen we are constantly learning.”

Sharma considers Michigan a great place to start and grow a business. “Leaders should focus on the great talent that is available within the state, thanks to the excellent educational institutions we have here. It is vital for a business to hire good talent and retain them. The challenge is to raise awareness of the availability of opportunities to professionals and millennials in Michigan, and often that is what becomes rate limiting to the growth of an organization.”

Kelly Siegel
National Technology Management

Kelly Siegel believes that the biggest challenge for Michigan business leaders is overcoming negativity. “We all deal with normal business issues every day, yet, as businesspeople, we have a tendency to figuratively beat each other up, even over a project that will be unprofitable,” said the CEO of National Technology Management, a full-service IT consulting firm. “Here in the Midwest, we have a reputation of being friendly. We need to live up to that.”

Siegel defines success in business and life as “maintaining a perfect balance of home and work — being kind, appreciating life and treating people the way you would like to be treated.”

Siegel adds that hard work should not be viewed as a negative. “Work, like life, is what you make it. You make your own weather every day.”

Siegel urges new college graduates to travel the world if possible. “Experience it. You’ll have the rest of your life to work. If you are embarking on a career change, do so with gusto. Seek and gain support of your family and make this change with love, positivity and a smile. Plan out what your goals are and work toward those goals.”

Andrew Sims
Vice President
Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council

As a vice president for the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council, Andrew Sims’ is responsible for connecting with corporations and minority business enterprises, understanding their needs and serving as a conduit to opportunity for both institutions, according to this biography on the organization’s website.

“My role is having a pulse on current market conditions and being able to advise to serve our corporate and MBE constituents. Our constituents should bring current/future goals, specific challenges they face (i.e., training, mentoring, introductions and/or sourcing challenges).”

Jennifer Sutherland
Director of Training & Development

Changing her career path from a sales focus to a training focus was a pivotal moment for Jennifer Sutherland, director of training & development for KellyConnect, a business unit within Kelly Services that provides contact center workforce solutions in various partnerships. “I decided to pursue my love of training and professional development, but I struggled to get job interviews because I couldn’t quantify my skills on my resume. So, I took a huge (60%) pay cut to work at a nonprofit agency as a trainer to build my skill set. I also found other opportunities to develop my training skills — I designed and taught classes at the local community continuing education center, I joined Toastmasters and I joined the Jaycees. Now, 15 years later, all the struggle (financially and emotionally) was worth it.”

Success for a company is engaging employees in a direct, substantial way to achieve customer objectives — both internally and externally, she said. “One of my favorite phrases I’ve read recently says, ‘You can’t ‘direct’ employee engagement, you need to ‘lead’ employee engagement.’ I believe that is true.”

Her personal definition of success in the business world involves adding value to a team by building partnerships and providing personal and professional development opportunities to team members to exceed current and future expectations.

“Emotional intelligence is the bridge between a leader and their team,” Sutherland explained. “Emotional intelligent leaders can engage in difficult conversations, project their vision to others, anticipate interpersonal obstacles and can intrinsically motivate others. Leadership courage is required for a leader to truly excel. That courage will provide opportunities for the leader and the company. It’s about stating the unknown, challenging the status quo, questioning next steps. It’s also about being willing to stop midstream when there is a bad decision. And mostly, it allows the leader to realize and own their mistakes.”

Tony Vernaci
Aerospace Industry Association of Michigan

Tony Vernaci has had a passion for the aerospace industry for over 30 years. Most recently he worked for the state of Michigan as the vice president for global business development at the Michigan Economic Development Corp., where he collaborated with leadership to ensure the aerospace industry became a focal point for the administration.

Now he has taken his experience and expertise to the next level by plunging into the private sector and beginning a statewide association that seeks to elevate and expand Michigan’s aerospace industry.

Although he has built the Aerospace Industry Association of Michigan from the ground up, he said he also recognizes that it has required an entire team effort with his board of directors and association members.

As for many employers, talent remains a primary challenge for association members. “The solution requires developing a sustainable platform to define talent needs today and what is required in the future pipeline for the new workforce,” Vernaci said. “It is also critical to become diverse in your offerings. One of our biggest opportunities has been seeing the connection between the automotive and aerospace industries and how they can collaborate and be successful together.”

His advice to those just entering the industry: “Find something you’re passionate about and pursue it. Find your passion and you’ll enjoy your work every day.”

Dante Villarreal
Vice President
Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce

Dante Villarreal is vice president of business and talent development for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, according to the chamber’s website. Villarreal previously served as the Michigan Small Business Development Center’s regional director for West Michigan.

Thomas P. Vincent
President & CEO
Plunkett Cooney P.C.

Early in his career as a former Oakland County prosecutor and in subsequent years as a private practice trial attorney, Thomas P. Vincent got hooked on winning. “When I say winning, I don’t just mean that on a personal level,” said the president and CEO of Plunkett Cooney P.C., a full-service business law firm with offices in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. “I tend to think about winning on different levels. Did I make a difference for my client? Did I help achieve a just and fair outcome in the case? Will the outcome in this case set an important new precedent? When you focus on achieving results in those ways, the practice of law is meaningful and fun! I’ve tried to take my passion for winning, for working hard and for achieving goals into my role as president and CEO of Plunkett Cooney. The firm’s brand pillars include fearlessness and determination, and I truly identify with them, both as an attorney advocating for my clients, and as the leader of the firm.”

The most pivotal moments in Vincent’s career include monumental victories for clients that he will remember forever, as well as the times he was approached with substantial offers to leave the firm. “When I look back now, my decision to remain loyal to Plunkett Cooney was absolutely the right thing to do, and today I am blessed to have the opportunity to lead this tremendous law firm.”

In addition to the ability to listen, business leaders must possess an extremely positive, can-do attitude and encourage those around them to embrace the art of the possible, Vincent said. “This can-do approach, together with new ideas, a healthy sense of urgency and constantly challenging the status quo, will get things done. While change is never easy, it is necessary for any organization to thrive, and leaders must be fearlessly determined to embrace the future by challenging their teams to constantly push to greater heights.”

Small-mindedness — a willingness to rely on old solutions to new and challenging problems — is the biggest challenge facing Michigan’s business community, he said. “We need to continue to invest in education. We must embrace new technologies, and we need to continue coming together as a business community to solve our problems head-on through forward thinking and honest communication. Empower people to think outside the box and then sit back to watch the ideas, passion and energy flow.”

M. Roy Wilson
Wayne State University

M. Roy Wilson, who became the 12th president of Wayne State University in 2013, doesn’t think in terms of business success. “More generally, I think of success as setting difficult yet achievable goals then working toward them,” said Wilson, who counts leaving a successful ophthalmology surgical academic practice to take an administrative position as dean of a medical school as a pivotal moment in his career.

During his Wayne State tenure, Wilson has focused on improving student success, resulting in the nation’s most improved graduation rate; realigning the university’s research portfolio to emphasize team science; launching programs to improve the pipeline of underrepresented students in the health sciences; overseeing major initiatives to improve the campus experience, including the launch of a new business school, a comprehensive campus housing plan and an office of multicultural student engagement; and implementing a project to overhaul and improve the university’s performing arts facilities.

The biggest challenge facing Michigan’s business community is a lack of skilled labor and bachelor degrees to drive the economy, Wilson said, adding that integrity is the most important trait a leader can possess.

Tahirih Ziegler
Executive Director
LISC Detroit

Tahirih Ziegler is the executive director of the Detroit Local Initiatives Support Corp., a community development organization. Since 2010, Ziegler has led a team that facilitated LISC investments in excess of $86.6 million in grants, loans and national resources into Detroit neighborhoods, the LISC website states. With over 25 years of community development experience, Ziegler honed her skills by rising through the ranks of LISC.


Patty Buccellato
President & Founder
Refined Images

Success is a journey, and so too can be an individual’s definition of success. So says Patty Buccellato, president and founder of Refined Images, an image coaching and training company. “I don’t believe success in business can be compartmentalized to positive effect. There was a time when I viewed success as ‘rising the ranks’ and earning well. Those are definitely elements of achievement, but a holistic perspective considers alignment with personal values, contribution to a greater good, joy in the everyday and integrity with one’s life purpose. It’s a taller order, but one that I believe leads to greater satisfaction.”

Now in its 25th year, Refined Images was founded at the dawn of business casual apparel in the workplace. Its inception was an answer to corporate clients whose teams were struggling to maintain professionalism in their new, more casual dress environments. “The services I provide as Refined Images’ owner and AICI Certified Image Professional have evolved over the years, and today I specialize in guiding professional women to achieve their style goals both in and outside of the workplace,” Buccellato said.

Letting go of striving made a surprisingly positive impact on the flow of business to Refined Images, she said. “Though it may seem counterintuitive, the release of control over business growth has proven to be a fascinating and gainful strategy to increasing revenue. To be clear, that’s not to suggest that kicking back and waiting for things to fall into the perfect order is a wise business strategy. It’s essential to take appropriate actions to attract business, and those actions can present in varying forms for different personality types. I’ve found that taking the relevant steps with a level of trust, versus an ‘I need to make this happen’ attitude is a game changer.”

She urges those who are just starting out in their careers to identify their gifts and follow their passions. “Never be afraid to make a course change. We don’t all find our perfect-match career in the early days. In a formal organization, a human resources manager is a key ally in finding the best-fitting role. Life is too short to spend the majority of your waking hours doing something that steals your joy. If you find yourself unfulfilled, do something else.”

Doug Callahan
President and Owner
MMI Engineered Solutions Inc.

For Doug Callahan, success in the business world means much more than operating a profitable, sustainable business. “It’s about how you affect the people we employ and the community we operate within,” said the president and owner of MMI Engineered Solutions Inc., a custom injection molding and assembly company serving the automotive, heavy truck and industrial automation industries. “The foundation of our company is to treat our people as the most important asset in the company. Our people differentiate MMI from competitors. We invest in our people to grow them both personally and professionally. MMI is also a significant contributor to many local community events and charities, including the Saline Social Services, Saline junior sports sponsorships and the local Celtic charity event.”

Callahan recalled how MMI faced a significant challenge to grow its business because of a lack of labor availability. “MMI completely changed our compensation, benefits and emphasized training for new employees to attract and retain employees,” he said. “The result of these changes allowed MMI to keep all our new business local to Michigan and not send work and therefore local jobs to Mexico.”
It’s the job of a business leader to create the road map where a business is going and how it will get there, he said. “Regular and continuous communications with employees to show how the business is progressing. Invest in your employees. Treat employees as the company’s most important assets.”

He advises those who are just joining the world of business to pay attention and learn. “Develop a work ethic to show up every day and work hard. Never stop learning. Getting a formal education is something that no matter what happens, no one can take away from you.”

Jennyfer Crawford
Ask Jennyfer

Jennyfer Crawford remembers how out of place she felt working a 9-to-5 job. “My boss called me ‘a drop of oil in a bucket of water’ and told me that I do not mix,” she recalled. “Once I began to block out that negativity, I realized I was meant to do something different.”

That “something” was creating Ask Jennyfer, a Detroit-based marketing firm that specializes in supporting small businesses. “I took a risk to make it all happen – and I never looked back.”

As an entrepreneur, she defines success by the number of people she has helped or inspired.
That’s not to say that entrepreneurship is easy, she said. “It takes hard work, long hours and time to build a business. There are times when money and resources are hard to come by. It takes planning. No one can be successful without really working toward something.”

Her experiences inform the advice she would give to those just entering the workforce. “Take chances. Do what you love but be prepared to work hard and to keep working. Consistency is key to success.”

Saylor X Frase
Nuspire Networks

Saylor X Frase believes that true success professionally is measured by your impact on your industry, community and ultimately the world. “At Nuspire, we are at the forefront of developing new technologies and disciplines in effort to secure enterprise networks and ensure the flow and confidence in businesses around the world,” said the CEO of the global provider of managed cybersecurity services.

Early in the business there were multiple opportunities that spanned a wide range of IT service segments that could defocus the company’s operations, Frase said. “Making the tough choice to stay disciplined and concentrate our resources on cybersecurity was critical in building the key technology assets and IP that helps differentiate Nuspire’s cybersecurity services today.”

Frase believes a leader’s ability to convey and impart a sense of purpose is a key trait in the stewardship of an organization’s vision.

A major misconception about entrepreneurs is that they are “risk takers,” implying that somehow, they are reckless gamblers, Frase said. “That is simply not the case. Entrepreneurs are deeply dedicated and go to great lengths to understand and plan around risks. They constantly act with uncommon vigilance to course correct and avoid pit falls. They, in fact, act with great care and pragmatism based on the unique vantage point they gain from the extra ordinary efforts expended.”

A great resource of engineering expertise resides in Michigan, Frase said. “Yet, filling technical roles for business leaders is a primary constraint for growth in organizations throughout the state. Leaders in Michigan will need to find the keys to unlock the solutions to migrating the legacy talent and attracting recent graduates who would most likely leave the state to seek opportunities after graduation.”

Jan Griffiths
President & Founder
Gravitas Detroit

With retirement on the horizon, Jan Griffiths decided that, rather than waiting to start doing what she really loved after her career was over, why not do it now? “It didn’t make financial sense to end a high-level corporate career and start up a new business from scratch, yet it made perfect sense when you have a clear vision of your life legacy and start to map out a path to get there,” said Griffiths, who founded Gravitas Detroit, a company dedicated to the creation of leaders for the future.

“We believe that a very different kind of leadership model is required to ignite innovation, spawn creativity and inspire sense of purpose to fully embrace the seismic shift we are facing in the way we work,” Griffiths said. “Work is being redefined by unprecedented technology and growth in human learning against a backdrop of a multigenerational workforce. Leaders with Gravitas will unleash the power of the team and create a raving fan culture in any organization.”

Given all that, Griffiths defines success as “seeing your vision come to life. For me, it’s inspiring audiences, teams and individuals to realize their full potential, driving out fear, constraints and barriers and making a significant difference in the way we lead and the way we work. I want teams to feel good about the work they do, support each other and have a tremendous sense of fulfillment. This also spills over into their personal lives and translates into an infectious sense of optimism and positivity.”

The biggest misconception within the workplace is thinking that there is only one way to do things or one path to follow, Griffiths said. “Challenging the status quo is paramount for the success of any organization in today’s world, and this means fully embracing diversity of thought which in turn means investing time, resources and energy into diversity programs and bring them to life in all facets of the business world.”

Felicia G. Harris
CEO & Founder

To Felicia G. Harris, CEO and founder of EverythingHR Financial Services and EverythingHR, which provides human resources and financial services to more than 250 businesses and organizations across the nation, success is feeling fulfilled. “It’s when you feel you’ve accomplished something meaningful and that you have made a difference in someone’s life — or business, in my case, because I work with other businesses.”

Harris began thinking about her career and what retirement would look like about a dozen years ago. She had also worked as a stockbroker and a financial planner and also did training. “As I began thinking about what I would do next, someone from the U.S. Small Business Administration reached out to me and said, ‘We really need your HR skills and training.’ That’s when I decided to form my HR business and officially become an HR professional.”

One of the biggest misconceptions about entrepreneurship is that there are always going to be overnight successes, Harris said. “I don’t think that people realize that you start at the bottom and work your way upward — like a ladder. You don’t want to skip a rung, because you’re missing valuable information and experience. It’s those steps that help you learn your business, providing lessons that actually help you form a solid foundation. There’s a lot of work that goes into a business, sleepless nights, stress, worry, planning, struggles, that people looking on from the outside just do not see. These are the things that give you strength and build the character you need to succeed and keep succeeding.”

Her advice to young people: “Whatever you decide to do — be an entrepreneur or work for a small business or corporation, make sure you are doing it for the right reason. Stay true to yourself. If you don’t know what you want to do, ask yourself, ‘What are my passions? What do I like to do?’ If you follow that course, you will do well. Whatever path you take, remember to strive to keep learning. Landing a dream job or starting a business is only the beginning. Always strive to better yourself, to expand your knowledge base.”

Curtis Hays

Curtis Hays understands that operating a business isn’t an 8-5 vocation. “That doesn’t mean you need to burn yourself out and work 60-80 hours a week, but if you think you can just punch a clock every day and expect to move your career forward, it’s a huge mistake,” said Hays, CEO and co-founder of Collideascope, a digital marketing agency that helps businesses and organizations get found online. “It’s a competitive environment with one of the lowest unemployment rates in our country’s history. Use your spare time to read a business book, join a business or leadership group, volunteer. Get involved and learn your craft. Strive to be the best at what you do and enjoy doing it.”

Hays recalled how, in 2013, he took over leadership of a web development team. “I added what I thought was a few critical new employees to the company and embarked on this six-month project to launch a website for an emerging brand. The project appeared to be a hit, and at launch we celebrated what a huge success it was — only to find out two weeks later that a simple mistake caused the customer’s search traffic to drastically decline. What was to be a pinnacle moment for our company was turning into an epic failure. It was at that moment I started learning everything I could about search and how to properly launch and manage websites.”

Integrity is the best quality a business leader can possess, Hays said. “You do what you say you are going to do and you practice what you preach. It’s what you do when no one is looking that really matters. If you want people to follow you, they have to be able to believe in you and trust you.”

While Michigan has come a long way in the past 10 years, it still faces the stigma that it and Detroit are not good places to do business, Hays said. “I do business all over the country and very few people outside this state know how great it is here. Maybe we’re just a hidden little gem and we should keep it that way.”

Sue Jarvis-Zobel
President and Founder
Aristocat Chauffeured Transportation

Sue Jarvis-Zobel’s advice to those starting out in business would seem to apply to all aspects of life: “Love what you do and be kind to others.”

As for herself, the founder of Aristocat Chauffeured Transportation defines success in business in two ways: “First when our customers are delighted with our services-in all aspects, from the booking, chauffeuring, group service and our friendly customer service staff. Second, I define success when all employees are happy with their work life as well as feeling balanced with their home life.”

Success also involves more than money, she said. “It is the contentment of living a good life and having the utmost integrity in my personal and business life. It is balance of spiritual, physical and mental.”

That said, owning a business isn’t a solution to all problems, she said. “Owning a business is very hard work and requires dedication and long hours at times.”
Her decision about 15 years ago to focus on corporate travel, groups and meetings put her transportation company on the path to success. “Of course, we still do a lot of individual noncorporate work, but that is not the market sector we target with our marketing and networking,” she said.

Chris Lambert
Founder & CEO
Life Remodeled

Chris Lambert aims to build bridges – perhaps not literally, although construction is central to Life Remodeled’s approach to transforming neighborhoods. But just as important are the figurative bridges that Life Remodeled erects to help Detroit residents transform each other’s lives. Each year, Life Remodeled invests $5 million in cash, labor and materials into one Detroit neighborhood. Projects are determined by the community’s needs and vision, and Life Remodeled assists in three areas: renovating and repurposing former community assets, repairing owner-occupied homes and mobilizing 10,000 volunteers to beautify 300 city blocks in six days.

“Throughout the process of unifying for a common mission, participants begin to realize how much they respect and need each other, which is a catalyst for long-term relationships and partnerships,” said Lambert, Life Remodeled CEO.

“We determine our success by measuring the impact of our work to improve educational outcomes in Detroit Public Schools, the creation of quality jobs for Detroit residents, the reduction of crime in Detroit neighborhoods and the quantity and quality of perspective changes that lead to sustainable and relational bridge building,” Lambert said.
The organization’s approach was refined by an experience in 2017, when it was given a former Detroit school building for $1. “We planned to repurpose it, and for the first time in Life Remodeled history, surrounding community residents were furious with us,” Lambert recalled. “To many in the community, we appeared to be gentrifiers who would displace existing residents and create new opportunities for ‘new’ (aka white) people. After several highly controversial community meetings and follow-up discussions, I began to learn and respect the fact that residents’ anger and resentment were coming from places of lived historical experience.”

Therefore, community leaders created the Life Remodeled Community Advisory Council, whose mission is to determine the collective voice of community residents, students and stakeholders within the defined Life Remodeled geographic boundaries and advise Life Remodeled according to the community’s hopes, desires and concerns. “For future projects, I’ll never acquire urban real estate for the purpose of revitalization without first being asked by the community to do so,” Lambert said.

Jason Lambiris
Apex Digital Solutions

One of the most pivotal moments in Jason Lambiris’ career came after Apex Digital Solutions started to focus more intently on its purpose, core values and culture.

“While the work is never done when it comes to developing and preserving the right culture, I believe the stronger we become in facing challenges, roadblocks or are able to rise to the occasion, we grow as a team,” said the CEO of one of Microsoft’s go-to Gold Partners in the Great Lakes region to help organizations transform their workplace to be more secure, productive, and engaged. In addition, this has allowed us to take leaps forward even when there is risk and uncertainty because our team members know they have each other to rely upon. It is from this point that the name ‘Apex Warrior’ was born that our team members use to refer to themselves and each other with pride.”

Success isn’t just about increasing revenue and profitability, Lambiris said. “While those are critical to any successful business, it is equally, if not more, important to have a strong and positive culture, employees that are engaged, and involvement and contribution back to the surrounding communities. I view community across multiple areas — locally with nonprofits, the business community and the communities we live in. It is important that we are involved and give back to our respective industries — locally, nationally or globally if possible.”

There is a big misconception that if we focus on our individual weaknesses we can master them, Lambiris said. “Of course we should all work to improve on areas of our lives that need improvement, but studies show that we are more effective individually and as part of a team when we are able to leverage our strengths. The hardest thing for most people is being able to admit what their true weaknesses are and to have an open and honest conversation with others that are accepting of the notion to solve for that need.”

Chandra Lewis
The Allen Lewis Agency

After working 20 years in a corporate environment, entrepreneurism wasn’t on Chandra Lewis’ radar. “It wasn’t until my best friend and business partner and I were having a casual conversation in her basement that it dawned on me … ‘Yes, I can do this.’ I dove in fully, giving it my all, just as I had with other corporate positions. But this time, it was personal. It still is,” said the CEO of The Allen Lewis Agency, which is committed to helping clients tell their stories, build their brands, commemorate experiences and expand their business through strategic brand development, communication planning, experiential events, marketing, press, public and stakeholder relations and reputation management.

Success in business requires tireless tenacity, said Lewis, who founded her company with best friend Jocelyn Allen. “Continued success requires vision, grit, quality work, others’ support (clients and employees), no resting on your laurels and constant evolution.”

It takes more than just a great idea to be successful, Lewis noted. “The idea is only the beginning. Execution is critical. Otherwise it remains just that — a great idea.”
Her advice to young professionals: “The best job is one that pricks your passion. Tenacity and persistence matter. Work smart and be nice to people.”

Royce Neubauer
CEO & President
SFL Companies

As a business owner, Royce Neubauer figures he has the opportunity to impact the lives of customers, employees and the community. “I strive to do this in the most positive and productive way I can,” said the CEO and president of SFL Companies, a full-service supply chain management and logistics firm focused on technology-driven freight management. “SFL is a service provider. We serve our customers to the best of our ability. I serve my employees to the best of my ability. Our company has a culture of serving our community to the best of our ability as well. Success to me is in the giving side of what we do and the lives we can impact positively.”

A pivotal moment came in January 2010 when Neubauer left his previous employer to start SFL. “I had to sit out a one-year noncompete,” he recalled. “So, I couldn’t start operations until January 2011. My office was a bedroom in our home. In our industry, we have to float a lot of capital. So, at one point during our first four months in business, I had every dime we had to our name out there. My wife and I had to live on credit cards for about a month. It was that fear that all our chips were on the table that motivated me. Once our receivables started to roll over, we were off and running.”

Through it all, Neubauer retained his belief that humility and accountability are two traits great leaders must possess. “I feel you must be humble in your victories and accountable in your failures. We can’t succeed without the teams we build and if we fail, it was us that built that team.”

The biggest challenge facing Michigan business leaders is workforce talent, he said. “We have to show those talented young people that Michigan is a great state to work in and there is a lot of diversity to our industries.”

He would advise those young people to understand that building a career is a process. “You aren’t going to get that corner office or huge bonus if you don’t put the work in. I tell our employees from the day they start with us that they are interviewing for their next position every single day. It’s the work you put in day after day that counts. As you grow as a professional, your opportunities will grow.”

Paul Rutherford
Rutherford & Associates Inc.

Paul Rutherford’s goal in business is to create a healthy ecosystem. “This means that you have happy customers and end users,” said the president of enterprise software company Rutherford & Associates Inc. “You’re providing a solution that improves their quality of life by ensuring fewer errors, less time spent on mundane tasks, helpful tools to improve decisions, etc. It also means that you have employees that enjoy coming to work, and have the ability to truly contribute to the success of the company and the customers.”

Rutherford was working in the insurance industry when he decided to take a leap and join his brother at Rutherford & Associates. “At the time, Rutherford & Associates was a five-person organization, and I actually took a cut in pay to leave the company that I had worked for to pay my way through college. However, what I believed in was the product and direction that Rutherford & Associates had. What’s important, particularly when you’re younger, is to look at the long-term opportunity and take some calculated risks to take advantage of them. In doing this, consider the major elements of differentiation between your current ‘safe’ environment that you’re in and the new ‘unknown’ opportunity you’re considering. This includes the people you will be working with and your ability to contribute to direction and help lead.”

That also includes combating stereotypes, he said. “Millennials are probably the most noteworthy stereotypes these days with numerous unflattering labels. Stereotypes as a general rule are incredibly unfair. Every individual should be evaluated as such to better understand their specific traits, likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. As an employer, you should strive to find roles that are needed by the company, but also put the employees in the best position to succeed.”

Mike Schipper
InsITe Business Solutions Inc.

Mike Schipper takes pride in adeptly adapting to change, a must in technology-related industries such as his. “I think success can be defined by longevity these days, how long are you able to sustain competitive edge and drive new innovations,” said the founder of InsITe Business Solutions Inc., a technology company that helps small to midsized businesses and manufacturing companies get the most out of current and emerging technologies with a customized IT approach. “It’s one thing to reach a peak, it’s another to stay there and continue to push all the rest.”

Richard Van Staten
Quantam Solutions

As CEO of Qauntam Solutions, which provides a full suite of business and technology services to both public and private sector clients, Richard Van Staten has hit upon a formula for success: “Delivering the highest quality products and services, on time, on budget, and creating a client experience that is unmatched.”

A pivotal moment in his career was applying for a director position with the Medicaid Eligibility Program in Texas. “I was a trainer at the same organization at the time and the position was three steps ahead of my current position. I applied, went through numerous interviews and was awarded the position. This trajectory propelled my personal career and ultimately led to my success as an entrepreneur in multiple businesses.”

His advice to other would-be entrepreneurs: “Don’t chase the money. The money will come upon successfully delivering for your clients over and over again. Otherwise you will find yourself going down nefarious paths and a short-lived career as an entrepreneur or professional.”
He also advises those who are just starting out in their careers to show flexibility. “Know when to go for it, and equally if not more important, know when to change course. Don’t be to prideful in your original ideas and be prepared to shift based on the market is calling for. You wouldn’t keep the same course of your cruise ship if you saw a glacier in front you. Let the market be the driver and steer your ship in the right direction. Pay attention to the winds as they are not the same from one day to the next.”

Garry VonMyhr
Tech Defenders

A successful business is something that is earned and not given, notes Garry VonMyhr, CEO of Tech Defenders, a device life-cycle solutions provider whose main focus is keeping mobile devices out of landfills and in a users’ hands. “I think that people don’t realize the critical thinking and incredible amount of time that it takes to make big things happen. As an entrepreneur, you have to work harder than anyone else in order to see your team thrive. It is a 24-7 job that requires grit and fearlessness. The journey is not always easy, but it’s so rewarding for those who are willing to persevere and push forward no matter the circumstance.”

Given that mindset, he describes success as “pushing myself and my team farther than I ever thought we could go, and watching as the results are better than I imagined. Success is setting a goal, born from a dream, and assembling a hardworking, innovative and dedicated team to help me reach it. Success is the sum of positive results, integrity and growth.”

Vision and empathy are the two most important traits of a leader, VonMyhr said. “A leader requires vision because without it, you don’t properly equip those around you to be successful in their work. Providing a clear game plan allows each member to understand what their part in the bigger picture is. You enable your team and set them up for success. Empathy is essential for understanding the needs of your team. Leadership is about serving others so that they can be successful. If you treat your employees well, they will treat their customers well.”

The intense speed with which everything changes is the biggest challenge facing Michigan businesses, VonMyhr said. “The competitive landscape is a fast-evolving beast, staying relevant and keeping up can be a challenge. The solution is listening to your customers and understanding their needs. From there, you can truly build innovative solutions to their problems and make it so they have no reason to leave, and also so that new customers are eager to try your service. The minute we decide to stop evolving for our customers is the minute we begin to slide down a slippery slope into nonexistence.”


Elizabeth Baleja
Account Manager

Success in the business world is not only about making a profit but also making a difference, says Elizabeth Baleja, account manager at imageOne, a small company specializing in managed print services and document management. “It’s giving back to your community and making an impact in the lives of your employees and customers/partners. I also believe that being successful in business means being innovative. While not everyone can create a new product or service, there is always the opportunity to do things more creatively and efficiently.”

A defining career move for Baleja was switching from working in public education to working in the private sector in the print industry. “Making that change required me to be vulnerable and trust in myself and the others on my team. In order to develop confidence and strength, I think you have to open yourself up to new experiences and challenges.”

People frequently believe that millennials have entitled and lazy attitudes, she said. “It is thought that we are individuals who want an easy ride without putting in the hard work. I have found the complete opposite to be true. Millennials have overcome increasing student loan debts, struggles in the economy, massive changes in technology and more. We are excited to bring new ideas and innovations to our work environments. In addition, we are passionate about making a difference in our respective businesses, our communities and our world.”

She urges those just starting out in a career to always be honest with themselves and those on their team about goals, questions, concerns and strengths. “I think it’s really difficult to be successful in any career, especially business, unless you have found the right ‘spot’ within your organization and have opportunities to grow. That can’t happen without open communication and trust. Don’t be afraid to try something new and put yourself out there because you may find an opportunity that you never knew existed, but can make you incredibly happy and satisfied in your career.”

Michael Baum
PrizeLogic LLC

Michael Baum counts two pivotal moments in his career. “The first major decision I made when I decided to pursue my CPA license. I received my masters of science in accountancy at Walsh College in 2014. I took all four CPA exams within a period of eight months prior to starting my public accounting career that fall. It was a whirlwind. As an auditor, I received a great foundation in accounting and business operations. I enjoyed most working with management on their work processes and learning more about their businesses.

“The next major decision I made a couple years ago was when I transitioned from public accounting to corporate finance and accounting,” said Baum, who is now controller of PrizeLogic LLC, which powers loyalty programs, sweepstakes, contests and rebate programs for companies. “On the corporate side, I am involved in audit, tax, process improvement, systems implementation, corporate finance, and accounting. I have enjoyed wearing many different hats.”

There is a big misconception that millennials in the workforce don’t work hard or don’t work as hard as other generations, Baum said. “The challenge for millennials entering the workforce is that increased automation and reliance on technology requires millennials to adapt the way that they work. We are bombarded with personal demands and work demands on our mobile devices. Requests for flex time and remote working were once interpreted as laziness but now emphasize time management prioritization and a need for healthy work/life balance. There is also a misconception that millennials are entitled. With the plethora of information available to make informed decisions, millennials get more bargaining power. We have the opportunity to compare opportunities, negotiate salaries and benefits, and seek out opportunities that are engaging and challenging.”

Katherine Brown
Community Outreach Coordinator
Detroit Historical Society

Katherine Brown has served as community outreach coordinator for the Detroit Historical Society since November 2016. Among her accomplishments during that span were co-development and implementation of more than 150 partner programs reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the events of July 1967 in Detroit; engaging more than 25,000 people of all ages in inclusive, collaborative spaces that connected them to opportunities for building deeper understandings of the city’s history and their neighbors’ perspectives; and training team members and volunteers to assist with community engagement strategies, program evaluation and cross-departmental collaboration, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Aaron Bursteinowicz Gilliam
Vice President
Aaron’s Fabrication

Aaron Bursteinowicz Gilliam, along with his parents, Sue Bursteinowicz and Jim Gilliam, founded Aaron’s Fabrication in 2012, leasing a 2,000-square-foot space with a few welding machines, according to the company’s website. Toda, the family-owned fabrication company serves the utility, natural gas distribution, defense, commercial and residential markets throughout Michigan.

Shayla Davis
Human Resources Director
Hamilton Anderson Associates

Shayla Davis’ job is “all about the people.” For the human resources director for design firm Hamilton Anderson Associates, that involves making sure employees are paid on time, finding creative people whose passion is the Detroit and design, providing a robust benefit package and even making sure everyone is happy. “And if they’re not, I help find a solution to their problem.”

Success in the business world means being able to have a positive impact on both your internal and external customers, she said. “It’s knowing that when you leave for the day, you’ve given your all and make yourself smile because of the smiles you’ve placed on others’ faces.”

Being the youngest person on her firm’s leadership team was initially an obstacle. “Not having the years of wisdom most of my peers proved to be a challenge. Once I was able to present facts, follow up on problems with solutions and provide a clear strategic road for my department and the company, it allowed me to be heard and not just seen.”

Davis also faced the misconception that millennials are all the same. “Millennials are classified as the ‘microwave era,’ the generation who “wants it now, and wants it fast!’” she said. “However, not all of us should be characterized nor categorized in this way. Many millennials understand and have worked hard to get to the peak of their career. So, to the generations before us: We still believe hard work and dedication pays off.”

Gabrielle Dolenga
Specialist, Marketing & Communications
Amerisure Insurance

Gabrielle Dolenga leads the external communications efforts — including public relations and thought leadership — for Amerisure, a property and casualty insurance company that provides commercial insurance solutions to businesses in the construction, manufacturing and health care industries.

“I define success as finding joy in your work and using your talents and abilities to positively impact others,” she said. “When you’re passionate, you can achieve your goals and help others achieve theirs, as well.”

In 2018, Amerisure launched its thought leadership initiative. “Through this initiative, our expert employees were presented as thought leaders in industry publications for the first time,” Dolenga said. “Sharing the knowledge of our leadership and technical experts has truly enhanced our rapport and increased our brand awareness. I’m so excited that in my first role post-college, I get to work with our employees to develop these articles and forge relationships with publications. I’m learning valuable skills and honing my writing through this initiative.”

Dolenga believes the best business leaders know how to invest in the talent of those around them. “By utilizing the expertise of others, a business leader creates more opportunities for his or her business. A great business leader also delegates each team member’s talent so it’s used in the best way and helps the employee grow.”

Young professionals are eager and feel pressure to prove themselves in the workplace, Dolenga said. “Stay true to yourself as you professionally develop and take on more responsibility,” she advised. “Take time to acknowledge and be grateful for where you’re at currently. Continue creating opportunities for yourself and relax knowing that you don’t have to accomplish everything at once.”

Sandy Eisho
Director of Client Solutions
Farbman Group

There came a point when Sandy Eisho had to decide whether to continue on her finance career path or become a generalist in business. “By realizing I did not get the most energy out of finance, I was able to move my career forward by exploring what truly interests me and how I could not only make a positive impact on my career but the future of Farbman Group as well,” said Eisho, who as the director of client solutions oversees the customer service department for Farbman Group, a full-service commercial real estate firm.

“Success, to me, has been about turning my hard work and effort into continued growth and learning,” Eisho said. “If I am making a meaningful contribution to the company and gaining valuable knowledge, I feel I am successful.”
Michigan business leaders face myriad unique challenges, she said. “One of the most daunting is bridging the gap between a variety of generations with unique needs: baby boomers, Gen X, millennials and Gen Z. All work differently and have different needs. The most astute leaders are recognizing the need to try to satisfy the needs of each individually while creating common goals to aspire to achieve.”

Her advice to someone just embarking on a career: “I would say to never stop learning. Absorb as much information as you can and put everything in what you do.”

Lauren Fabbri
Vice President, Health & Benefits
Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC

Lauren Fabbri has lots of advice for those just starting out in their careers. “One day, I’ll write a book with all I’d like to share,” said the vice president of health & benefits for Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC. “I’ll leave it at these five:”

—1. Slow and steady wins the race. You don’t have to have it all figured out today. Try to view your career from a 35,000-foot view — as a big part of your life but not your whole life. There will be purpose for everything you experience, so try to find the learning opportunities.

—2. Be your own advocate. If you cannot advocate for yourself, it’s unlikely you’ve convinced anyone else to do it for you. Want that next promotion or a pay increase? Speak up but be prepared to back it up. If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.

—3. Everything is negotiable.

—4. Be a sponge. Absorb as much experience, knowledge and information from others as possible — the good and the bad. The good will help you grow and the bad will show you what you don’t want to be.

—5. Work hard. There is no replacement for hard work on your path to success.”

As for herself, Fabbri’s passion and her work are one in the same. “I help people and businesses thrive. As a partner and adviser to my clients, we work to develop employee benefits and well-being strategies that align with their organizational culture and business objectives. Success is unique to every person. The further I get in my career, the more I find my success to be about other people. When I have helped a colleague or my clients, inspired someone, solved a problem or contributed to another’s success — then I find myself more fulfilled as well. Success in business is whatever you want it to be, as long as you are your authentic self along the way. The title, the money, the perks — they find you when you take care of the rest.”

A business leader needs the “leadership trifecta” — vision, intellectual curiosity and emotional intelligence (EQ). “Leaders with vision and creativity inspire others to follow them and strive for a better future. Intellectual curiosity ensures a leader has an open mind and a willingness to think differently, to be comfortable asking and answering the tough questions, and to get real when something isn’t working well. Last but certainly not least, EQ for leaders is critical. It is the ability to understand the impact you have on others and manage yourself accordingly, a necessary trait for someone who leads a team.”

The biggest misconception about millennials is that they are entitled, she said. “Millennials grew up being told that we can ‘do anything’ and ‘be anything.’ We challenge the status quo because we came of age during a period of time (the recession) where no amount of loyalty or experience guaranteed you good pay, benefits or even a job. The can-do attitude doesn’t mean we don’t understand the value of hard work. But working hard and working for 20 years to get a promotion (that may never come) are different things. In general, I believe millennials are less afraid to ask for what they want or seek a new path to get there.”

Andrea Hall
Senior Vice President, Operations
United Wholesale Mortgage

Someone once asked Andrea Hall what she loves about the most about the mortgage industry. “My answer was that it’s constantly evolving and changes every day, said the senior vice president, operations for United Wholesale Mortgage. “I love the excitement of that. My brain thrives on variety, challenges and a fast-paced environment, and UWM leading the way in this industry keeps us all on our toes, constantly collaborating to propel our clients and the broker channel forward. This constant challenge and roadblock, because inevitably they occur regularly when you’re on such a fierce mission, forces us to constantly be on our A game and push forward.”

Good leaders help employees feel engaged, she said. “We live in a different world today than we did 10 or 20 years ago. People want to be associated with companies that invest in them and engage them at the highest level. It isn’t all about money, it’s about your experience and impact you make. The more engaged you are, the harder you will work, the longer you’ll stay with that company. Many companies are getting better at this, but I bet we would all say a majority of the people in our circles and families don’t feel highly engaged with their employer, and that’s a difference maker I think. You should be pumped up to walk into the office Monday morning, not dread it. When you feel that difference, it changes your life. We have work to do here all across America in all industries in this regard. UWM has made this a focus, and when you walk in these doors you feel it. You feel alive.”

Indeed, Hall defines success as being passionate about what you do and seeing the fruits of that passion come to life. “The old saying ‘love what you do and you’ll never work a day,’ well, I’ve got my own spin on that, and it’s ‘Do it with passion or nothing at all!’ If you aren’t passionate about what you do, I don’t believe you can be wildly successful and feel fulfilled, and to me that, combined with making impact on people’s lives in and outside of your four walls, is what it’s all about. It’s not about your success, it’s about the difference you make.”

Her advice to young professionals: “Be you, be bold and follow your instincts. They won’t lead you wrong and will help you always to remain genuinely true to who you are.”

Ezekiel Harris
Executive Director
MACC Development

Ezekiel Harris proudly touts MACC Development’s completion of a $1.5 million renovation of its home offices, community space and business storefront “as a game changer because it proved our young, upstart organization had the potential to accomplish great things.”

MACC Development is a Christian community development corporation doing work in Detroit’s 48214 ZIP code. It offers programs for youth like sports and literacy and also performs real estate development. It also recently opened The Commons, a coffee shop and Laundromat.

“Success to me means consistently being able to deliver a product that your customers love and doing it with unquestionable integrity,” said Harris, adding that every great leader requires perseverance. “As a leader, you have to be able to continue moving forward especially when things get hard or you have a vision that others don’t see just yet.”

A misconception facing millennials, Harris said, is that they can’t add value to C-suite leadership until they’re in their 40s or 50s, “when most times we’re able to accomplish tasks, connect ideas and learn by doing more quickly than others.”

Jesus Manuel Hernandez
HR Diversity and Inclusion Specialist
DTE Energy

Jesus Manuel Hernandez’s role at DTE Energy is to ensure the company’s workforce of over 10,000 employees is both diverse and inclusive. “Personally, my entire brand is about being both adaptable and continuously curious to learning, all in the spirit of strategy and execution; so my own measure of success revolves mostly around creating sustainable partnerships that lead to better business results. With that said, I am very aware that the outlook of success is found at the core of individuality, which means each of us are driven by entirely different aspirations, so finding that pivotal point of collaboration is where success is found.”

Key to his success has been the opportunity to build his personal network and establish a strong group of mentors, he said. “I often seek their guidance and appreciate being able to learn from their experiences, which also encourages me to seek mentorship opportunities for the next generation of our workforce.”

Hernandez notes that the workforce consists of five generations, “each with unique perspectives and learning styles, which means we have a great opportunity to leverage each other’s skills through collaboration.”

He urges those in the younger generations to “build meaningful relationships, be curious and pay it forward to the next generation.”

Ashleigh Imerman
Senior Director of Development
Beaumont Health

Ashleigh Imerman is a big fan of humility and teamwork. “A leadership quote that inspired me recently was, ‘Bring along your full humanity and clear the way for others to do the same,” said Imerman, who as the senior director of development for Beaumont Health advances the philanthropic priorities of Beaumont Troy Hospital.

“Success can be defined by a number of things, but I believe most of us are looking to find meaning and purpose in our lives and in our work,” she said. “Being in the right place, surrounded by the right people, providing value and doing something that is meaningful to you.”

Hiring and retaining talent includes mentoring the millennials in an organization, Imerman said. “Millennials want constant growth and development, as well as new opportunities, so we need to provide that, to curb the turnover in our organizations and departure of talent from our state.”

Those just starting in their careers should understand that everything will happen in the right and natural season of their life, she said. “There is no rush to figure everything out all at once. Allow each experience to contribute to your path and shed light on who and what you are to become.”

Sejla Kulaglic
International Tax Manager

It’s all about goals for Sejla Kulaglic. “The goals you set for yourself in the business world can’t be one-dimensional or focusing on only one area of your life,” said Kulaglic, an international tax manager for Rehmann, a financial services and advisory firm. “I truly believe that your career, personal and community goals should and do intertwine and build on each other. A successful businessman or woman has achievable goals that center on self-improvement, bettering personal and business relationships, increasing community outreach/involvement and mentoring/building up others. We can’t be successful in all aspects, but if you help make one person’s day better (including yours!), you’ve done more than most.”

Joining the Kiwanis Detroit #1 Club helped Kulaglic become more involved in the community. “Working with a diverse and strong-minded group helped me grow and identify the ways I was not being an effective leader. I took a lot away from the new friends I’ve met who improved the way I communication, how I work with associates and clients, and how to deal with conflict/pressure. The loads of fun I have doing it is a huge bonus!”

Effective communication is the key to leadership, Kulaglic said. “An individual who is clear, who knows when detail is necessary and when to be concise, when to listen and when to talk, is bound to be more successful than someone who doesn’t possess this trait.”

Being successful in business is about more than making money, Kulaglic said. “Profit as a motive should not be viewed as a negative, but it being the only motive can be problematic. I don’t see that, though. I see individuals looking to run and get involved with profitable businesses that do good in the world, ones that care about their people (employees and clients), community and environment.”

Danielle Leone
Technology, Marketing and Planning Specialist
Inteva Products

As the technology, marketing and planning specialist at Inteva Products, Danielle Leone is responsible for managing, developing and communicating the technical aspects of the automotive supplier’s products. “This role requires intense cross-functional collaboration with nearly every other function within the company, including business development, corporate strategy, sales, marketing and engineering,” she said. “Together we work to create the product road map, distill key value propositions and ultimately craft the product narratives.”

Leone believes that when leaders emphasize the development and happiness of employees, their business will ultimately succeed. “If you are providing an environment where employees feel empowered and valued, you are already succeeding. To me, success will always be about helping others find and achieve their true potential. Whether that’s connecting young professionals to more senior colleagues in the company or just simply providing guidance. Success will always be about growing others.”

Leone recalls gaining responsibility for the planning and logistics of an international technology show with a major German OEM. “The planning process took more than six months. The team was comprised of different cultures and functions, and I had to learn how to work effectively over different time zones. To finalize the details of the show, I traveled to Germany alone. For three weeks, I was fully immersed in the German culture and working with my German colleagues. I was fully responsible for the success of the show, which required decisiveness, organization and management. In many instances, I did not have direct authority over my colleagues (i.e., not their superior), which gave me the opportunity to experiment with my influence and leadership skills in a unique way. I learned a lot about my management style and capabilities, which allowed me to propel the company’s business forward within that region.”

Generation Z is the newest generation to enter the workforce. “They are an exciting group who will bring new ideas and fresh perspectives to the table,” Leone said. “It’s also important to know that they are the most diverse generation — diversity and inclusion initiatives are an important factor for them when considering a workplace. As Gary Vaynerchuk said, ‘More business leaders need to put ‘culture’ and ‘caring’ over short term financial performance.’”

Her advice to young professionals: “Listen, learn and connect. Landing your first job and completing week one can be so invigorating but also overwhelming. My advice is to listen and absorb everything you can before responding. Be a sponge. Learn from those around you. If you aren’t clear on a subject, don’t be afraid to ask questions — a lot of them. Ask until you have clarity. Lastly, connect. Aligning yourself with colleagues from diverse backgrounds and seniority levels will be integral to your success.”

Brandi Maczik
Key Account Executive
Reliance One Inc.

Many people would say that monetary rewards are what define success — but not Brandi Maczik. “I believe the true definition of success is being able to say that you’re passionate about what it is that you put your energy towards on a daily basis,” said the key account executive for Reliance One Inc., a minority-owned staffing agency. “Passion is what propels you forward in the business world and keeps you motivated when life gets tough. It’s the difference between those who constantly go through the motions and those who are successful.”

When she moved into management within the company, she was one of the youngest in my position. “From the beginning, my capabilities were questioned due to my ‘lack of experience.’ It was the ‘elephant in the room’ whenever I met with a new prospective client, and it affected my confidence as a new manager. Not to mention, I didn’t just ‘lack experience,’ but I’m also a millennial, which didn’t help my case with most perspective clients. I quickly learned that the way to win people over was proving how hard I could work for them. I shifted my mindset. When my experience started being questioned, I focused on what that ‘lack of experience’ gave me: hustle, grit, something to prove. I decided to use their hesitation to my advantage. Once I learned to focus on what I was capable of rather than something I couldn’t change. Things shifted for me immensely.”

Millennials, unfortunately, continue to face many misconceptions daily, she said. “The biggest misconception is that we tend to categorize all millennials into one group. We assume they are all the same, which means that they all seek recognition for accomplishing the bare minimum and also lack drive and work ethic. We at Reliance One acknowledged that millennials are not all the same and we need to start focusing on millennials as individuals rather than a group.”

“Fail forward” is her advice to young professionals. “I try to apply this to every aspect of my life, both personally and professionally. View mistakes as stepping stones rather than setbacks. More importantly, make sure you surround yourself with individuals who support you through your mistakes. You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with on a daily basis.”

Michael A. McElrath II
Communications and Community Outreach Liaison
Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority

For Michael A. McElrath II, communications and community outreach liaison for the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority, success involves providing access to vital services, raising awareness and advocating for the rights of people to maintain a dignified and respectful life. “As a liaison, this means knowing the personnel and programs to get things done and helping the people we serve.”

Integrity is one of the most important traits a leader should possess because it fosters a sense of accountability and responsibility in the company’s culture, McElrath said. “Knowing leaders are open, honest and upfront can trickle down to the staff and create more free-flowing dialogue, sharing of ideas and solutions that lead to success.”
Organizations that don’t expect new hires to fall in line and follow the status quo are built for success, he said. “Companies that stand out and thrive always question convention and look for new ideas that can’t be found on the beaten path,” said McElrath, who similarly advises young professionals to be versatile. “Never paint yourself in a corner. Learn as much as you can as quickly as you can so you can be an asset where ever you land.”

Lydia Michael
Founder & Owner
Blended Collective LLC

A few years ago, Lydia Michael decided to quit her job as an international marketing director in the entertainment and music industry. “I needed a break and something different, so decided to move back to my hometown for two years. I pursued an international MBA program where I was able to work on projects with Deloitte and L’Oréal. After returning to the U.S., I truly felt empowered on so many levels. Living abroad reminded me of my passion for culture and all things international, so I decided to blend my passion for culture with my marketing background, leading to the creation of Blended Collective.” Blended Collective is a multicultural marketing and brand consultancy in Detroit.

“I define success in the business world as being able to deliver value and pursue your passion while still showing up as yourself every day,” Michael said. “When we show up as our authentic self and don’t compromise who we are at our core, it inspires others to do the same. And this, in turn, motivates me every day to wake up and work.”

While good leaders must possess many traits, the most important is commitment, she said. “It’s commitment to yourself, your team, your idea and your business. This is an important trait to possess in order to persevere when business becomes difficult and challenging.”

Michael would advise anyone embarking on their career to pursue something they are passionate in. “Spend time understanding what motivates you and what you enjoy, but also how you can bring unique value to the table. I believe everything we need is already inside us. It’s up to us to do the work and discover it, so we can share it with the world. Last but not least, continue to pay it forward.”

Ashley Mizzi
Director, Business Strategy and Innovation
Accounting Aid Society

Ashley Mizzi is a strong believer in teamwork. “I tell small business owners all the time: Before opening your doors and making your business public to the world make sure you have the ‘trilogy’ team — your accountant, banker and lawyer,” said Mizzi, director, business strategy and innovation for the Accounting Aid Society, a volunteer income tax assistance program that has offered tax and financial services to individuals and small businesses in Southeast Michigan for the past 45 years.

Her past work experience pertained to the lending industry, having served as a traditional lender for JP Morgan Chase, a fintech/small business merchant cash advance director for both CAN Capital and Business USA, and a director of lending for a local community development financial institution. “My moment of clarity occurred when I realized that although small-business owners need financing to propel them forward, help them grow operations or become sustainable, they had zero knowledge about understanding the role money played in their business, other than paying expenses such as rent or payroll,” she said. “Unfortunately, understanding and being able to articulate their bottom line is an adversity to many small business owners. This is why I joined the Accounting Aid team — to conceptualize and implement a brand-new service delivery model, coupled with education, coaching and one-on-one services, utilizing a fintech tool, to track the small-business owner’s financial health growth during ‘touch points’ after successfully completing scopes of services outlined for the small-business owner.”

Mizzi can attest to those who are just starting their careers that it might take years for them to figure out what they want to do. “And that’s fine! But, while you are a part of an organization that is your first but definitely not your last, learn as much as you can. Do not be the first to have all the answers. Engage, contribute and learn the culture.”

Janelle Munsell
Director of Operations
Synergy HomeCare of Macomb

Janelle Munsell’s formula for success is simple. “For me, I define success by the way my clients and employees feel about the services they receive and provide,” said Munsell, who as director of operations for Synergy HomeCare of Macomb handles all human resource needs and interactions with clients of the nonmedical home care company. “If my clients are happy and so are the employees, then to me it is not only a successful day but a successful business. Without happy clients and employees, then the business would ultimately fail.”

Positive leaders are best, Munsell said. “People feed off of other energy and are more willing to work with those who positive,” she said. “Leaders are those who pave the way and can motivate others. Leaders are the ones who will show you the right way instead of telling you the right way. When you are positive and treat others with respect, they are more likely to want to work with you and be around you. Positive people make positive impacts.”

Some millennials may not want to work hard and want everything handed to them for free — just like some members of every generation, she said. “However, I know many — including myself — who are not like this. Some of us give 110 percent to everything we do in work. If things are needed, I am always willing to jump up and go the extra mile because hard work and teamwork are very important to me.”

Indeed, she would advise anyone who’s just entering the workforce to enjoy the journey and work hard. “If you love what you do, or find pleasure in what you do, then you will always want to continue to push yourself harder in your career.”

Ashwin Puri
Invest Detroit Ventures

Ashwin Puri defines success as “leaving a lasting positive impact, whether that’s in your workplace, local economy or community. At ID Ventures, I specifically define success through inclusively funding startup companies to hopefully grow to employ many in the Detroit and Michigan economy and develop beneficial technologies or business-model innovations.”

At ID Ventures, the venture capital arm of Invest Detroit, Puri’s responsibilities include sourcing and leading the diligence process for new investments in addition to supporting portfolio companies and community efforts.

Puri believes empathy is the most important trait a leader requires. “As a manager, startup founder or entry-level employee, empathy is crucial to understanding what drives other people and finding ways to do business with, serve and empower them.”

Andrew Robeson
Marketing Director
Peak Performance Physical Therapy

Andrew Robeson, marketing director for Peak Performance Physical Therapy, believes success is specific to each situation and individual. “My personal success is different than others. I define success as impacting the lives of others each and every day. At Peak Performance Physical Therapy, I am able to directly impact several lives each day through the high quality of care given by each and every one of our providers.”

The opening of a second clinical location in Okemos was a key moment for both Robeson and Peak Performance Physical Therapy. “The opening of a second clinic was the greatest challenge and greatest achievement that I have had in my career. To start another clinical location took much planning, relationship building and execution to make it the resounding success that it has become. The partnerships with local business owners, especially those sharing a building, are pivotal in the success of the entire company.”

Passion is the most important leadership trait, he said. “Passion can be expressed in a variety of ways and can spread throughout an organization. A leader must be passionate about what they believe in and be able to inspire others to believe in it as well. This will lead to hard work, reaching goals and building a successful team. If you are passionate, you will be willing to go the extra mile for your team, your patients, your staff, your company and your goals.”

Millennials as a whole change jobs more frequently than previous generations, Robeson noted. “I don’t believe this is from a lack of dedication but more awareness of what opportunities are out there. With the internet, the world is at our fingertips.”

Lisa Sauve
Synecdoche Design Studio

Lisa Sauve has experienced highs and lows over the past 10 years — “but nothing so hard that it has challenged me to pivot the direction of the business,” said Sauve, a principal of Synecdoche Design Studio, a design/make architecture studio. “I’ve always had a vision for how I want to work, the work I want to be involved with and a driven effort to make it happen to the point either stubbornly or proudly that I haven’t had to pivot in a circumstance to keep things moving.”

Indeed, being a leader is not for the faint of heart, she said. “The risk and accountability that come with running and leading a business presents their own challenges beyond the day-to-day efforts of doing the actual work. Being able to bounce back, overcome and keep going through it all and knowing that failure is part of the process is what keeps leaders leading.”

Millennials are often given a bad rap as having a sense of entitlement, Sauve said. “I think the generation is more interested in making an impact and willing to pivot, work harder and find the right niche to make a difference. Millennials don’t deviate and change course to avoid challenges — they alter their path to move toward and resolve challenges.”

Her advice to those who are just entering the workforce: “Just do it. When you’re just embarking, there’s less to lose. Keep the spirit of risk and trying at all times. It’s easy to get settled, comfortable and not want to take risk. Take the chances early and often to just do what you want to do. If you do good work, people will notice. When people notice, you’ve got your launch.”

Ben Smith
Senior Manager
Clayton & McKervey

Ben Smith defines success by how closely he aligns his passion and interests to work that adds value to the clients he serves as a senior manager at Clayton & McKervey, a public accounting and advisory firm.

“Eight years ago I decided I didn’t want to pursue the traditional path of tax and accounting, preferring the opportunity to work with clients seeking to buy and sell companies,” Smith recalled. “I approached my firm with the idea to gain a transaction services skill set. While not immediate, Clayton & McKervey steadily formed a dedicated transaction services practice that I now manage.

Along the way, he has learned the importance of inspiring action in the workplace by asking questions asked and providing encouragement.

“The most common challenge would have to be the chronic talent shortage in our state, which impacts business growth,” Smith said. “From my perspective, the ability to anticipate and adopt technology can work to offset gaps in human resources.”

Andrew Tidwell
Technical Recruiter
TEK Systems

Success in the business world involves building mutually beneficial partnerships, says Andrew Tidwell, technical recruiter for TEK Systems, the largest IT staffing agency in the nation.

“The most important trait a leader in business should possess is always doing the things they say they are going to do,” Tidwell said, adding that the biggest challenge facing Michigan business leaders is building high-performance teams. “There is often a lack of supply for high demand currently in the workforce. The solution is to seek and adopt talent acquisition strategies that fit the needs of your organization whether building a high-performance internal recruiting team, providing training to candidates early in their career or seeking external assistance.”

Tidwell advises those who are just starting their career to always seek new knowledge and skills. “Every failure is a learning experience. And staying up to date with the market on your skill set is a must (certifications, technologies, news, etc.).”

Zach Weingarden
Product Solutions Manager

In 2018, TrialAssure leadership tasked Zach Weingarden’s team with understanding the industry’s data anonymization requirements and incorporating them into a user-friendly design. “To achieve this, we dove into the intricacies and challenges of participant confidentiality, reidentification risks, retaining the usefulness of data, and modern data transformation techniques,” said Weingarden, product solutions manager for the creator of a clinical trial disclosure and transparency software suite.

“With an idea of goals and user needs, we conceptualized how anonymization rules could appear in a user interface, while keeping overall elements consistent with our existing product line. Working with a talented team of developers, I provided them with clear, measureable requirements, which allowed us to visualize and realize our goals for this application. In February 2019, we launched TrialAssure’s new ANONYMIZE DS application, which allows sponsors to anonymize clinical trial data automatically so it can be shared with other researchers and the public. The object of anonymizing data is to protect patient privacy and minimize the risk of a patient being identified.”

Success in business involves cultivating an environment where the team is motivated with goals that contribute toward the overall vision of the company, he said. “Then, once each individual understands and agrees with that vision, success is empowering them to help realize those goals with their own unique talents.”

In the workforce, the biggest misconceptions are that millennials act entitled and don’t handle criticism well, Weingarden said. “As a millennial myself, this has not been my experience in working with other millennials, and it certainly does not define me. Nevertheless, it’s good to be aware of possible preconceived notions that others might hold and how your actions can be misinterpreted. I prefer to let the actions show in the caliber of my work.”

Michigan has an exceptionally deep pool of educated young people with diverse talents but not enough opportunities to satisfy them, he added. “Too many people leave the state to find work and start families elsewhere. We need continued growth and investment from businesses large and small to retain Michigan’s talent. This will have to be the effort of multiple organizations collectively, not any one company, and that’s why I am proud to be a leader at a growing organization like TrialAssure.”