Street Talk

Street Talk: Leaders for this time

Forward thinking.

September 27, 2013
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Community businesses have been enthusiastic about several new leaders taking important positions in Grand Rapids: most recently Christian Gaines, executive director of ArtPrize; Kim Dabbs, director of West Michigan Creative and Technology Center; David Rosen, president of Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University; and Mimi Fritz, director of the new Downtown Market, among others.

It’s a shift and change embraced as important to GR’s future.

Among the most celebrated city leaders since her first election in 2005, Rosalyn Bliss, 37, is seeking her third term to the city commission. It is interesting to note that, ever since her first run for office, observers have been pinning her eventual move into state politics, all the way to the governor’s seat.

If those are her eventual goals, Ms. Bliss now has earned an important position toward getting to know the brethren across the state. She was appointed to the Michigan Municipal League Board of Trustees this month during the group’s annual meeting in Detroit. The group has consistently been challenged with legislative initiatives on governmental consolidation, public/private partnerships and several individual community ordinances and regulations that sometimes are seen as impairments to economic development for overlapping differences.

The assembly of local leaders across the state describes its work as advocacy at the state and federal level to sustain highly livable, desirable and unique places within the state, and offers “one clear voice for Michigan communities.”

Another local star rises

Cynthia Kay, president, CEO and founder of Think CK, Cynthia Kay & Co. — a B-to-B communications and video production agency — was invited last week to deliver the keynote address to women and minority-owned businesses from across the state at the annual Women’s Business Enterprise Council’s conference.

“CK,” who has been saluted by Gov. Rick Snyder for her leadership on behalf of Michigan small business as the elected chairperson of the Small Business Association of Michigan, now has been elected to the national council of small businesses.

She did not disappoint. The rapt audience of Michigan’s elite big and small businesses were visibly pulling out pens to note her top five list. But as she concluded, emcee and beloved WDIV reporter Paula Tutman (who also is a celebrated author and creator of a nonprofit linking dental services to children) abruptly stopped Kay from leaving the stage and asked what she believed to be the biggest mistake made by small businesses.

Kay immediately responded: “It’s not about you — it’s about your customer. We’re sometimes so busy selling what (we) want to sell, we forget to ask what the customer wants.” The audience agreed with resounding applause.

Kay has just released her first book, “Small Business for Big Thinkers,” which offers insights from executives such as Brian Walker, Herman Miller CEO, who wrote the forward for the book.

Kay is doing business with Siemens, Wiley Publishing (the authors of the “For Dummies” books series) and Herman Miller (her first client), among many others.

Purple leaders wanted

Purple Community, Van Andel Institute’s community outreach arm, is giving back to those who have given it so much.

The grassroots fundraising program created by VAI to share tools and resources with schools, businesses and other organizations wanting to raise money for causes such as cancer and Parkinson’s disease research is returning the fundraising favor with a Leadership Academy from 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 2, to be held at VAI.

Nikki Outhier, national program manager, said that since its founding in 2009, nearly $1 million has been raised through Purple Community events, and approximately 250 events have been held with more than 240,000 participants.

“Because we have had such an outpouring of support and continue to, we wanted to do something to give back to the people who have been involved with us through Purple Community, and we thought what a great opportunity for us to give something back to them by providing a day of leadership training,” Outhier said. “It’s something they can use in their day-to-day lives, whether it be in the corporate world, in school, or what-not. This is the first annual, and it’s going to be rolled out for students, business leaders and community activists.”

Outhier noted that attendees do not need to have been involved in a Purple Community event to attend, saying the Leadership Academy is designed to go beyond Purple Community events.

David Van Andel, VAI chairman and CEO, will give the day’s keynote address: “Empowering Leaders to Ignite Change.”

The Leadership Academy will include breakout sessions on topics such as teamwork, communications, fundraising, cause-based social media planning, problem-solving and community action.

Breakout session speakers include: Dev Butler, partner at THINC Consulting; Paul Doyle, principal at Paul T. Doyle and Associates; Don Hunt, partner at Lambert, Edwards & Associates; and Tera Qualls, director of communications and advancement at the College of Community and Public Service, Grand Valley State University.

“We are trying to make this day very conversational,” Outhier said. “We feel that we have a lot to gain from the knowledge and insights of the people who are coming, as well, so we want to make it very conversational and hope that everybody takes away some nuggets of wisdom that they can then apply to their life, whether it is something they’ve gleaned from one of our speakers or maybe just networking with one of their counterparts from a school or company. I think we all have vast experience that we can draw upon and make each of us better.”

Registration is required to attend the Purple Community Leadership Academy: See vai.org/en/PurpleCommunity.aspx.

Pay it forward

When Gov. Snyder helped celebrate the state’s 101 Best and Brightest Sustainable Companies, he encouraged them to not rest on their laurels but instead to “pay it forward” by telling their distributors, customers and even competitors about their sustainability efforts.

“I want to say congratulations — it’s nice to have a whole bunch of winners here,” Snyder said. “You winning is a big deal, and I am going to actually ask for your help because you won. Now, that makes you wonder — did I want to win now, if the governor is going to put us to work?

“It was really hard becoming governor because I had to learn how to ask people for something, but now being governor after two or three years, what I’ve learned is, when you’ve asked someone to do something and they do it, the right answer is you ask for more. And you can say, ‘Well, how can you get to that answer?’ Well, it’s because it’s for a good cause; it’s to help 10 million people.

“So I want to congratulate you on winning the award, but I hope you feel some degree of responsibility now that you’ve won the award (and) what you can do with it. My challenge to you is, when you get that plaque today, I hope it’s not just something you take back and put on your wall.

“You should be proud of it and put it in a prominent place, but it’s really a question of, can you be that ambassador to live sustainability and to pass it on to other people you are working with … talk about the cool things that you’ve done to earn this award, and ask them to do the same thing — because don’t we all win if you pass it on?”

Amen, Guv!

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