Street Talk

Street Talk: That retirement thing just isn’t working out

High and low tech.

February 1, 2013
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Retirement is just not working out for Jeanne Englehart — again. The former CEO/President of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce retired from that post after seven years, but she had retired at least twice before. She was an early specialist in computer technology, funding her first business with a MasterCard in the 1980s. (We like to note that the Business Journal made her the Technology Matters columnist even before she built the Productivity Point International offices in Walker.) Her business was named one the 500 fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. by Inc. magazine in 1993.

Englehart sold that business in a New York boardroom in a deal and personage akin to Donald Trump. And then she retired — kind of. She next agreed to serve as community services director for U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers. She then was called to the Chamber post a few years later, retiring two years ago.

Charter Group Merger and Acquisition Advisors, another company feeling the pain of great growth in a short amount of time, made her an offer. Charter Group will announce this week Englehart has been persuaded to work with the company as vice president of client management.

Business Journal staff eyed her walking around downtown recently and she conceded, “I’m just not good at retirement. This is so, so right for me; it’s a great fit. And I’m so happy.”

Formally, however, the enthusiastic Englehart says, “I look forward to working with West Michigan business owners in a new capacity — helping them to identify options that can take their business to the next stage, whether through acquisitions, capital growth or planning for a business sale.”

Charter Group Managing Director John Kerschen sincerely believes this a coup for the company (and it likely is), but he didn’t know she’s consistently failed at retirement.

Bill ’im, Danno

Speaking of the GR chamber … or were we? No, this brouhaha appears to be attached to the West Michigan Policy Forum, and one of GR’s most notorious public relations pros often found amid controversy. But then, nothing builds billable hours like controversy.

The Policy Forum moved as a GR Area Chamber program (created under Englehart’s leadership in 2008) to a (quasi) separate lobbying group. The leadership of that PACish group has shared kudos as initiatives set out in policy forums were achieved, most especially Right to Work legislation recently signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder.

It’s no secret that issue was dear to former Ambassador Peter Secchia, and so, too, to Forum leaders Doug DeVos, Blue Cross Blue Shield Vice President Jeff Connolly and Haworth chairman Matthew Haworth, among others. GRACC President and CEO Rick Baker serves with them on the Forum board of directors.

Word on the street, however, is that Policy Forum president and chief staffer Jared Rodriguez is booting Baker from the leadership group and that such a “suggestion” was initiated by said (unnamed) PR pro.

Paper trails in the back room suggest convenient “truths.” Rodriguez, who was among the candidates for Baker’s job prior to his hiring, is said to be happily defiant of all things chamber, despite the fact that the chamber membership largely fuels and funds the Policy Forum events. It hardly seems it could become an issue given that Rodriguez sits with the big dogs at the policy table. But then, controversy is billable. Baker is widely regarded as the right leader for the chamber and a consummate professional. He’s made a few changes, especially keeping an eye on the bottom line, like using staff instead of PR pros for chamber business. Oh, oops.

Belaboring labor

When manufacturing executives get together these days, often the conversation revolves around their chronic search for skilled labor.

Phil Allor’s small company in Coopersville, SelfLube, builds precision parts that go into industrial manufacturing dies, and he agrees there is a skilled labor shortage.

“I think it’s a problem for everyone who is in manufacturing,” he said.

Thirty and 40 years ago, he said, a job in manufacturing “was the place to be.” But in the last 15 or 20 years, he said, that perception has largely gone away. Now, he said, it seems that young people are being discouraged from planning to go into manufacturing. He suspects high school counselors may be telling teenagers that American manufacturing is a dying industry.

“Promising kids have been steered away from manufacturing for quite some time,” Allor told the Business Journal. “I think, to some extent, that is still going on. Yet if you take a look at it, the bright spot in the economy has been manufacturing.”

And yes, SelfLube is an auto industry supplier, in business since 1990 and going strong in the new vitality of the U.S. auto industry.

The issue appears to be so rooted in the school systems that the Kent Intermediate School District and agencies like The Right Place Inc. have put together whole programs to show teens — and their parents — what modern-day manufacturing looks like, focusing on the technology and engineering know-how.

GLEQ glee

A pair of local companies earned recognition in the recent Great Lakes Entrepreneur’s Quest business plan competition.

In a nod to West Michigan’s business diversity, one is an inhabitant of the high-tech world while the other toils in the far-less-sexy world of packaging.

But both earned Vision to Action Challenge Awards from GLEQ for having achieved significant milestones in advancing their ventures from concept to launch, or from startup to the second stage.

Social2Step, which is based in Ada, started in May 2012 with Susan Burke and Jim Maxfield at the controls. It helps transform employees into social brand advocates through use of the “Employee Media Channel” to engage consumers across all social media touch points, including Twitter, Facebook, mobile devices, Pinterest, email and others. The EMC delivers promotions and coupons through the social connections of a company’s employees, who are rewarded with “points” that can be redeemed for cash and other prizes.

According to the firm’s website, “In just ‘2 steps,’ promotions and coupons can be sent to all of your employees’ friends and family, quickly building brand advocates and increasing customer acquisition.”

On the other end of the spectrum is ITB Packaging, based in Holland. The company was started in March 2011 by six people with decades of experience in manufacturing and distribution management and enough smarts to “know when a system is ripe for innovation, and to recognize a technology powerful enough and simple enough to revolutionize the industry.”

The result was a process to manufacture rectangular cell dividers for the packaging industry that allow lightweight items, like interior car parts, to be shipped with several in each container. The dividers are soft and flexible, and keep pieces from becoming jumbled during transport.

ITB was started by Calvin and Julie Kortman, Gene and Mary McClain, Mark Kortman and Joyce Kortman.

ITB dividers have recently received Chrysler Corp.’s approval and are being used in several applications throughout Johnson Controls Inc. The firm also scores points for its environmentally friendly approach to process and materials. ITB claims its process uses less raw materials and its innovative “no-tooling” solution uses less energy, while many of its products are 100 percent recyclable.

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