Groenink Makes A Career Change

December 3, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Once upon a time, when Steve Groenink needed an office and a computer for a new employee, he called someone in another department to make it happen.

Today, Groenink is that department.

After 25 years in banking, Grand Rapids native Groenink, 45, left the cocoon that provided him with a prosperous career to become managing director and chief operating officer for Lambert, Edwards & Associates, a 23-employee investor and public relations firm. While that gives him latitude in keeping the business humming, it also means he sometimes shows up in blue jeans to set up office furniture.

“I can hardly believe it was 25 years later that I finally said, ‘A career change — maybe now is as good a time as any,’” said Groenink. “I think the 25-year milestone, hitting a certain age that’s an increment of five, and just looking at our family dynamics — it all kind of came together last spring. At least it made me a lot more comfortable in pursuing something outside of banking.”

Groenink said that as COO, he’s responsible for keeping the business of the business going. Within just a few weeks of starting the post six months ago, he ordered a new server to combat computer woes and set up remote access for employees. He has drafted a new, formal process for employee reviews.

“A lot of what I’m doing now is putting certain processes into place and just trying to make operational excellence here at the firm that will help us run more efficiently and really give people the tools that they need, so they don’t have to worry about the business part of things,” Groenink said.

Groenink started out in banking while he was still pursing a bachelor’s degree in corporate communications and management at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. A part-time job he took just to pay the bills turned into an internship, then a full-time job and then a career.

“The career path within the bank has always been in wealth management services, fiduciary services or maybe trust services,” he said. “Since 1987, I’ve been in various management roles and worked in various markets. In Michigan, that includes Kalamazoo, Lansing, the lakeshore, here, and I also spent time in Tampa, Fla.”

Groenink recalled his years in Tampa in the mid-1990s, when he launched a statewide trust operation for First of America, as a time of professional and personal growth.

“It was a chance for me to really just be as creative as I wanted to be, because it was a startup operation. It was just one of those times in my life when I really had to figure out what it was I wanted to do relative to banking, but I also had to decide again how I was going to handle the personal side of my life so they can balance each other out.

“It was a huge challenge, but it really changed me. It just made me a better professional, made me a better husband, a better dad.”

Ultimately, Groenink and his wife, Darcy, decided to move their young family back to Grand Rapids, hometown for both of them.

“I was one of those Grand Rapidians that needed to experience other places to realize what we have here. I just was reminded every day what I was missing: quality of life, family. West Michigan became a priority, so we came back home.”

Groenink grew up in Grand Rapids. His father, uncles and grandfather were home builders, and Groenink soon found himself pounding nails and laying shingles on Saturdays.

“He certainly taught us the value of hard work. He was a great role model in terms of how he treated other people,” Groenink said of his late father. To this day, Groenink said, he likes to tackle projects around the house.

Growing up, his family spent summers at a Lake Michigan cottage near Hoffmaster State Park. Now, his family moves to the cottage for the summer, and Groenink commutes to Grand Rapids.

He is a Grand Rapids Central High School Ram and proud of it: “It was a great experience. It definitely prepared me for going on to the world. I really enjoyed my high school years.” Groenink graduated from WMU in 1984 and is a graduate of the American Bankers Association’s National Graduate Trust School and the Lakeshore Leadership Academy.

The Groeninks are parents of four children: Christopher, 20, a Grand Valley State University student; Kyle, 17, a high school senior; Evan, 12, a middle-schooler; and daughter, Bryn, 7, who arrived in their lives six years ago via China.

Groenink said he tried to hire Jeff Lambert’s firm in the 1990s to represent his banking division. Since then, the two had crossed paths several times and discovered mutual friends. When they first discussed the COO job in 2006, Groenink said, he wasn’t ready to jump from banking. But a year later, he made the decision to join Lambert Edwards.

“We have built a great public relations, investor relations firm that certainly has expanded well beyond West Michigan, with clients in over 19 states, and we are looking at some international work now,” he said.

“We’re committed to growing, but we’re also committed to make sure the service of our clients isn’t compromised.”

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