Thomas Takes Care Of Business

April 16, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Although not a traditional entrepreneur, Kimberly L. Thomas has plenty of entrepreneurial experience to offer her corporate business clients as a partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP.

Thomas, who primarily handles mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance transactions and joint ventures, said her experience with area nonprofits — and her status as one of the two founding members of the Barnes & Thornburg office in Grand Rapids — gives her the unique perspective of knowing some of the challenges entrepreneurs encounter when starting and growing a businesses.

Thomas helped launch the Barnes & Thornburg Grand Rapids office in 2003 with managing partner Tracy Larsen. Both attorneys worked at Warner Norcross & Judd before leaving to open the new office, which is part of one of the 100 largest law firms in the U.S.

Thomas said her new venture has taught her about the challenges of starting a business, which helps her deal with issues her clients face. With seven offices throughout the Midwest, Thomas said the firm handles clients on a regional as well as local basis, adding that a larger firm makes more resources available.

"We had to think about where we wanted to be located and who we wanted to join us," she said. "The people we have here just have incredible practices. They've taken leadership roles throughout our firm."

Larsen said Thomas is a hard-working member of the firm's corporate group.

"Kim has been an important asset to us, not only in our West Michigan practice, but also our national merger and acquisition practice," he said. "She is a team player and an aggressive and staunch supporter of client interest."

Thomas is also a board member of the Women Owned Business Certification Committee of the Women's Business Enterprise.She became involved after helping a few clients through the certification process. Thomas said companies such as Herman Miller and Steelcase are making an effort to work with women-owned businesses.

"We're seeing a lot of people who are setting those (businesses) up specifically to work with the furniture companies," she said.

Larsen also noted Thomas' work in the community has made her a role model. Many times people will join causes or volunteer, Larsen said, but Thomas has done her part to further the causes that she works with, rather than just being a passive member of a group.

"I actually hold Kim out as the person for all of the young people to emulate in the firm," he said.

Active with Girl Scouts of Michigan Trails, Thomas is also a board member of Gilda's Club, where families of cancer patients often speak about their experiences during the club's board meetings. Thomas recounted one instance when the husband of a woman who died of cancer shared his story and perspective on what the club had meant to his wife and family. To hear the impact that the organization had on them was intense, Thomas said, and a way to see the importance of giving.

"It puts into perspective all the silly things I've got on my desk, compared to what people are going through," she said.

Thomas is also a founding board member of Kent County Girls on the Run, an organization that encourages young girls to be active and participate in athletic activities culminating in a 5K run. The program, for girls in third through fifth grades, takes place over 10-12 weeks during the school year. Girls participate in athletic activities while discussing issues such as peer pressure, healthy eating and self-esteem. Thomas said one objective of the "really incredible" program is to lower participants' chances of dropping out of school, getting pregnant or doing drugs.

Cost per student to take part in the program ranges from $100 to $150, but instead of allowing student from more affluent schools to participate by paying upfront, Thomas said it was decided that students from lower-income areas should be included as well through fundraising efforts. Since its inception in 2003, the program has grown to 30 teams of 12-15 girls who practice at their schools before meeting for the 5K at the end of the year.

"You can really see when they've crossed the finish line what it's done for them," Thomas said.

Thomas recalled the experience of seeing a female relative of a young girl who had struggled with weight problems cry as the young girl crossed the finish line, proud that the girl had found an activity to boost her health. Thomas said the program gives many girls self confidence and a new comfort level with themselves.

The University of Michigan graduate is also a runner herself. Completing the Chicago Marathon — beating her time of two hours in the Fifth Third River Bank Run — Thomas said that she still runs several shorter runs a year but no longer participates in longer races.

She also has recently started a ski club for Inforum as a way for members of the professional women's alliance to network on the ski slopes. Thomas said she enjoys being a part of Inforum and believes it provides an important outlet for area women.

"It gives people the ability to do what they like to do," she said.

That includes enjoying West Michigan's resources. The Coopersville native said while attending law school at Notre Dame she worked at Warner Norcross & Judd for a summer, reacquainting herself with Grand Rapids, which had developed a vibrant downtown in the time that she had been away. Instead of taking positions that she had applied for in Chicago, like many of her classmates, she came home to West Michigan to start her career.

Michigan's outdoor opportunities appealed to her, she said. She loves it that Lake Michigan is only 45 minutes away, and there are plenty of places to mountain bike and ski.

During her first few years as an attorney, Thomas said she was just trying to get used to the practice, but after she became more acclimated, she became more active in the community.

"It's just a nice feeling to kind of give back," she said.     

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