Ponitz Brings Energy To Tasks

June 12, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kathleen Stewart Ponitz has promised not to break any New Year’s resolutions this year. And the odds are she won’t.

That’s because the senior vice president and director of marketing at Progressive AE has resolved to take a different route for 2002 — and just not make any.

“No, I usually just break them,” she said.

But one thing she hasn’t broken is the stride in her career path. Ponitz has been directing marketing efforts in the architectural and engineering field since 1985 when she started working at KSV Architects in Holland. Back then, she said, she didn’t know anything about marketing or architecture, but the idea of combining both intrigued her.

“Going to KSV led to a great beginning of a career. That perfect job led to the merger with Progressive Engineering,” she said. “So I came over with them and said I’m just going to get you guys settled. I didn’t know whether I wanted to commute.”

Well, nearly 17 years later the Holland resident has racked up a lot of commuter miles and most of those trips turned out to be worthwhile. Seven years after she started making that daily drive on I-196, CEO and Chairman Ray Fix made her an officer at Progressive.

“I’m on the board of directors, and the board is involved with creating the strategic direction and vision of the company,” she said. “And I also direct the marketing effort.”

That effort includes building relationships with clients and the community, doing industry research and forecasting the emerging trends, and mentoring those in her department.

“It’s a fabulous job because it’s so multi-faceted, and I’ve got a wonderful marketing group. There are six of us in marketing,” she said. “But our philosophy is that the architects, the engineers and the technical people are really the marketing team.

“So they get that relationship with the client. They foster that relationship and they nurture that, and then they are responsible for the client.”

Because Progressive doesn’t have a sales staff, per se, her department provides support for the designers and engineers — a role that is important to the firm. In fact, it was seen as being so vital that the company made the marketing group a strategic business unit last year, and expanded the scope of their work. For instance, her department produced the marketing video for DeVos Place, the new convention center that Progressive is co-designing.

“We are doing much more of that type of work,” said Ponitz. “We know the clients. We understand that we are part of the team. So we thought we could offer additional services by helping them with the marketing and communications, and we can bring more value to the process.”

Ponitz is a Wolverine, having graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in communications. She also did some student teaching in Scotland. A little known fact about the Grosse Pointe native is, she was the very first American to student-teach in the town of Durness, which is located at the country’s northernmost tip.

“I love teaching, and I’ve always thought that if I would go back to anything it would be teaching high school or at the junior college level.”

Ponitz said her business savvy came from helping her husband, Jim, set up his dentistry practice in Holland. For the first four years it was just the two of them, and during that time she was handling the finances, the marketing and most everything else that was business related while Jim took care of the customers. At the same time, she also served on several boards of nonprofit groups and raised two children.

“I had the choice and the opportunity to be home with my children, and I don’t brag about that because it was a choice that I had that I never took lightly. But I was also gone a lot on boards. So a lot of times these at-home moms aren’t any more at home than working moms are,” said Ponitz.

Her daughter, Heather, is a Michigan State grad who recently got married. Jeff, her son, is a third-year architecture student at the U of M.

As for her job, Ponitz said she likes that it allows her to be involved in the community and be a part of the creative design process that has brought Progressive a slew of awards.

“You never look at anything the same once you have this awareness.”

And because she cherishes the integrity and aesthetic quality of her profession, Ponitz felt the industry has to keep others from looking at architecture as a commodity.

“That means we need to communicate better about the value and the importance of what we do and what we can bring to the environment.”

When Ponitz isn’t working or volunteering she either studies leadership traits and techniques or plays softball. She said learning about the intricacies of leadership has been a rewarding hobby. By the way, Ponitz was the first director of Leadership Holland. Then she got caught up with Leadership Grand Rapids and the National Association of Community Leadership.

“As a kid I was involved with that. My dad always talked about being a leader or a follower. So, leadership is something that I get involved with for fun, too,” she said.

Another fun thing is her softball game. The second bagger, and sometimes center fielder, just celebrated playing her 30th season with the same group of women by winning a league crown.

“We won the trophy for the league last summer,” said Ponitz with a definite smile in her voice. “We’re still in there, competing now with 22-year-olds. We can’t run the bases quite as fast as we did 30 years ago, but we’re trying to use our finesse more than our speed.”

Ponitz also skis, both water and snow, and strength trains with a personal trainer twice a week. She said the latter provides her with energy, likely more than she needs for the present.

“I do love what I do. It’s not an 8 to 5 job, it’s kind of a continuum.”

As for her immediate future, don’t expect a lot of changes from Ponitz. After briefly gazing into her crystal ball, she said she still sees herself doing more of what she does because it’s what she likes to do.

“I see that the challenge is doing more mentoring,” she said. “I find that I am getting into a fabulous phase of leveraging the knowledge and leveraging what I’ve learned; lessons that I would pass on, and what I wouldn’t do again, to some of the young people coming up.”

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