His Learning Never Ends
Politics and serving in public office, until late last year, were always just an interest for Brad Slagh. He's learning the field quickly now, after earning appointment in October as supervisor in Zeeland Township, a community of about 7,700 residents in southern Ottawa County.
As he continues to learn and grow into the part-time supervisor's position and learns about zoning regulations, public utilities and the inner functions of municipal government, the 44-year-old Slagh is finding out that government is not really all that different from the business world when you break down the basics.
To do it well requires good administrative and people skills and a good business sense to serve both your customers and the taxpayers.
"The people are still the same," said Slagh, who works full-time as vice president of market development for Byron Center State Bank when he's not tending to township affairs.
"It's a matter of 'What part of what they need are you providing for them?'" Slagh said.
A Zeeland native, Slagh has always had an interest in politics but never saw the right opportunity to become involved in serving in public office until the position of Zeeland Township supervisor opened up. Township trustees chose him from among seven applications to succeed the late Gordon Ellens.
"It's truly a local position, representing local people, and doing it at a level where you can actually make a difference," said Slagh, who plans to run for election later this year for the remaining two years on the supervisor's term.
Slagh's step into public office comes after he spent most of his career in banking.
He joined Byron Center State Bank more than four years ago from the former FMB bank, where he spent more than 13 years in what began as "just a job."
After graduating from Hope College in 1981 with a major in business administration and a minor in physical education, he wanted to work with young people, an area that would meld his interests in education and faith. He saw the right opportunity out west, in Twin Falls, Idaho, where he went to do youth work at a small church.
Young and just starting out, Slagh went to Idaho, he said, "for the experience."
He decided to return home two years later and opted to take an entry-level position in the corporate service department of FMB's operations center in downtown Zeeland.
"Originally, for me, it was just a job," said Slagh, who quickly changed his outlook as he saw the career potential at FMB and its culture of nurturing young talent and providing the opportunity to move upward and learn a variety of disciplines: sales, marketing, administration, technology, customer service.
"If you wanted to look for a place to try on new hats, it had everything," he said. "Once I got there, there continued to be doors that opened."
Over the years, Slagh worked in a variety of positions at FMB, including managing its downtown Zeeland branch office. He decided to leave FMB in 1997 following its acquisition by Huntington Bancshares.
At the time, he was in charge of placing new ATM machines in the area. Huntington planned to make it a statewide position.
Not wanting to spend so much time on the road and away from his family, Slagh opted for an opportunity to join Byron Center State Bank, where he became responsible for identifying new branch opportunities in the Holland-Zeeland market.
Today, 18 years after he began learning about the banking business, he finds himself putting his skills to work in the new arena of public office and learning the nuances of township government.
While the worlds of business and government have some similarities, there are distinct differences as well.
"It's a learning curve," Slagh said. "It's a non-ceasing venue of stuff that is to be learned."