Directions Sets A Special Direction

August 23, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Ask Linda Groves about her occupation and she says, “headhunter” and then throws up her hands and laughs.

Actually she seems to be a Jane of Many Trades — and a master of at least several.

Aside from being a headhunter, she is a business-to-business network operator — not an IT network, but a face-to-face network — which is the prime referral resource for her own three-month-old company called Directions of Grand Rapids.

Directions, which she operates out of her ninth-floor Plaza Towers apartment, is contradictory in that it’s a generalist sort of firm that specializes in helping company owner-managers sharply cut human resources costs …or the costs of health care benefits, or workers compensation, or property, casualty and liability insurance, or computers and Web site upgrades, or financial reporting, or tax planning, or customer surveys, or promotions, or telephone rates or equipment.

“These are all necessary expenses,” Groves said. “Quality is imperative. But most CEOs need to concentrate on growing their businesses and don’t know that sometimes they’re paying far more than they need to.”

So what are Groves’ credentials for making such calls?

She claims no credentials beyond recruiting and human resources work.

“I don’t know anything about computers or telephones,” she told the Business Journal.

“But I know who does,” Groves added, grinning. “I know who’s honest and reasonable and that’s who I bring to my clients.”

Directions has formed alliances with nine people who specialize in work that most CEOs haven’t time to master and who are threads into their own firms.

Groves says they’re special people in that over the years she has winnowed them down from a huge number of business people she has come to know locally. She told the Business Journal she has allied herself with them because they are experts in their respective fields, trustworthy and they price their services competitively.

Her alliance partners, as Groves calls the informal coterie, are Jim Kenyon, Dan Van Wieren, Rich Pranger, John Skukalek, Jonathan Dingwell, Dave Smith, Craig Natte, Tina Kyger and Jerry Donella.

Kenyon is with Pinnacle Partners Insurance. Van Wieren is with V-Pro Inc., a computer specialty firm. Pranger, who works with LDMI of Western Michigan, is a specialist in local and distance telephony.

Skukalek is a CPA with Rehmann Robson. Dingwell and Natte are with Allegra of Okemos and Image Builders and Marketing, respectively. Kyger is with Telewave Communications and Donella is with CraftSystems.

Smith is with The Employers’ Association, the area’s major human resources, training, OSHA and legal compliance information center.

Groves says the thing she likes about her associates is that if a problem arises in which they aren’t expert, they know who in their firm is, and turn the matter over to them.

She said got to know the people in her network while involved in a number of corporate turnarounds over the years, from the retail through the manufacturing level.

Groves said the story starts just less than 30 years ago when she and her husband, Keith, moved here from Cleveland. “Kelvinator Appliance Co. relocated us to Grand Rapids where I worked for the president, vice president of finance, and the vice president of sales until the company was moved to Pittsburgh in 1981.”

She said that Keith was a computer specialist working for Amway Corp. in Ada.

When Kelvinator left town, the couple stayed — he remaining with Amway and she accepting work as an employment counselor with a head-hunting firm. A disabling stroke has since forced Keith into retirement. But though he no longer can engineer software, Groves said he still is a whiz at applications.

“I eventually started up my own employment consulting business,” she said, and then for a time worked in a host of capacities for John Bouwer and Care Corp. “It’s an association that continues on an as-needed basis,” she said

“I have worked closely with John on several ventures,” she said, “ including bowling alleys, golf and tennis facilities, health care, real estate, steel fabrication and, most recently, a hardwoods manufacturer for the fine furniture, kitchen cabinets, flooring companies.

“In all of these ventures, facilities experienced measurable growth, and, in some cases, were purchased at a near bankruptcy state, and turned around to be profitable today.”

The key thing, she said, is that over time she got to know the community’s experts in such fields.

“Over the years, I have acquired a vast knowledge of the Grand Rapids area and the organizations and individuals who provide business-to-business services. I have learned through the trial and error process who’s good, who’s expert and who you can trust. And I spent countless hours reviewing the pluses and minuses of many Grand Rapids area providers before I settled on this alliance.”           

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