Master Gardener

November 21, 2005
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The death last week of HowardSilbar, 89, touched many in the community, and also showed the extent of his involvement in West Michigan

Mr. Silbar was well known for his subtle "push" of FredMeijer that resulted in the FrederikMeijerGardens and SculpturePark

Maybe less obvious, but just as important, were his contributions to a fledgling publication in the 1970s — Grand Rapids Magazine — and its energetic publisher, JohnZwarensteyn

"We were deeply saddened by the news that Howard Silbar had passed away. He was one of our 'extended family.' He was bright, energetic, enthusiastic and fun to be around," said Zwarensteyn. "Howard was a frequent contributor to Grand Rapids Magazine in the 1970s and 1980s, and always maintained a keen interest in the development of the magazine."

Zwarensteyn said Silbar often would stop by the offices to chat with one and all, frequently sharing insights and creative ideas that later found their way into print.

"Howard cared about Grand Rapids, and passionately observed its growth and development. He was a fountain of information. He was blessed with a loving and caring family," Zwarensteyn said. "Those of us who were privileged to know him will greatly miss him. The community has lost one of its brightest beacons."

  • Too sick one winter in 1979 to trim the apple trees on his family farm, Bob Brown Jr. used his Radio Shack Model 1 home computer and a friend's junior college BASIC textbook to write a program to manage the operations of his family's farming operations in Conklin.

Within a year, he was selling that program to neighboring farms, and in 1984 launched RFBII Custom Solutions Inc., which by 2002 had more than 200 clients ranging from $100 million global operations to 30-hand farms.

Another former farmer, BlueGranite founder and chairman Dan Blackledge, was West Michigan's Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2005 winner in the technology category. His career spans roles as a farmer, teacher, college professor, consultant to General Motors and RE/MAX franchise salesman, but no IT or programming experience.

He readily admits that he doesn't have the technical skills of many of his employees; his role is to lead and grow the business.

Across the region, the technology industry has discovered that success is not built on technical skills and expertise alone. Take, for example, BDO Seidman LLP's Grand Rapids-based Center for Information Management (CIM), about which in the Nov. 7 story, "IT Needs Attention," the Business Journal noted that none of its management team came from a computer background.

Well, for any non-techs thinking of dropping a resume by CIM, better think again.

Chief Information Officer Richard Rottman began his career as a mathematician, but since has migrated entirely into the IT field. Likewise, his management team consists of MBA Tom Walch, CPA Jeff Clark, former office machine consultant Troy Cherry, and former business and technology consultant Russ Ahlers — all of whom have IT backgrounds.

"We rarely hire someone out of college with an IT degree," Rottman said. "We look at background and the associated experience that adds value."

That isn't to say, however, that they don't have IT experience or education.

"You have to understand the business, you have to understand what is important and what is mission critical," added MaryEm Musser, BDO Seidman assistant director of technology training initiatives. "If someone came in with just an IT background, he'd have to spend the next year learning the business."

  • Speaking of CIM — which consists of 40 technicians in Grand Rapids and another 35 at remote locations throughout the company — it is the longest running West Michigan entry on the InformationWeek 500 list of the nation's most innovative corporate users of information technology.

Joining BDO Seidman were Alticor, Quixtar and Herman Miller Inc. While the former Amway Corp. did appear multiple times on the list in past years, this was Alticor's first appearance and Quixtar's third.

Herman Miller broke the top 100 for the second time in three years at No. 23, which was the same spot held by Big Three furniture rival Haworth in 2002, the last time Herman Miller was left off.

Universal Forest Products Inc. was the only West Michigan entry in 2004 to not make the list in 2005.

  • Watch for WOOD TV8's holiday blooper roll this year. If viewers are lucky, it will include shots of esteemed, stoic and forthright anchor SuzanneGeha in her (non-typcast) role last week as "Susanne, Susannanadanna," in an SNL takeoff for the Coffee Dunkers of America charity show.

Those who were there say it was pee-your-pants funny, and it was nice to see Suzie let down her (fully black, piled-high curled wig) hair.

As long as the blooper roll is rolling, hopefully fellow 8er RickAlbin's "To The Pointless" skit is included, which offered an insightful look into the state's gubernatorial race between DickDeVos and JenniferGranholm. Funny stuff.

  • The ever-growing list of influential women now needs a roster of record (and we expect to publish it in March of 2006, as nominations for Grand Rapids Business Journal's Most Influential Women in West Michigan are due to the office Dec. 12). But for a senior moment last week, the "mothers" of the power list decades in the making, were almost accounted for. Plenty of people caught the mix up between former Grand Rapids Public Schools board member and President Judy Rose and former Kent County Commissioner Kathy Kuhn. No excuse, they don't even look alike.    

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