Change Is In The Wind

August 22, 2008
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A familiar name for local business and consumer travelers has been altered to put a renewed emphasis on the status of the former Carson Wagonlit travel business, with six outlets in the greater Grand Rapids area. The business's new moniker: Travel Leaders.

Over the next year, each of the travel firm's 500 locations will go through the process of transitioning from the old name to the new.

The process to re-brand the business was initiated earlier this year when Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates, now a division of Minnesota-based The Travel Franchise Group, became independent from Carlson — the international hotel, marketing, restaurant and travel company — and Carlson Wagonlit Travel, specializing in business travel management. The Travel Franchise Group is a franchisor of travel agencies in North America and a unit of Travel Acquisitions Group, which was formed in January 2008 when Carlson sold its Carlson Leisure Group to its president, Michael Batt.

An extensive re-branding process was initiated to distinguish franchisees from Carlson Wagonlit Travel and culminated with the announced transformation into Travel Leaders.

Michigan's Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates' Kevin Geiser, who owns the locations in Benton Harbor and Portage, and Michael Malaney, who owns the location in Grand Rapids, were honored last week in New Orleans with the company's annual Award of Excellence. Each was singled out for this honor during the afternoon general session of the 2008 Carlson Wagonlit Travel National Meeting.

  • The billings will continue until morale improves. That may encompass the business world in general but it has special meaning at the Pen Club, which may or may not be open, depending upon whether members of the phantom club pay up. Those who have for decades been members in good standing (re: have answered every financial goal requested) are less likely to care, given the financial reports given and hidden.

As the summer draws to a close, that information is more widely discussed, as is ownership of the building itself. Some members "brought $20,000 checks to the (spring) meeting, called to discuss possible closing" but when the checks were not accepted, it became clear that closing was a foregone conclusion and only a formality. It must be said that all bow (out) to the power of one leader.

  • The Signature Chefs gala benefiting March of Dimes gives all the glory each year to the artisans of local restaurant kitchens, but this year the guys with big heads, err … hats, will get some help from local musician Brian Vander Ark, a West Michigan native son best known as lead singer for the band The Verve Pipe. The celebrity has agreed to play (schedule permitting), and allow his talents to be auctioned to the highest bidder for a concert of the private kind. Vander Ark recently entered parenthood with his wife, singer/celeb Lux Lund.

In fact, the entire event is star studded with local celebs. Fundraising director Tammy Kingma has drawn Jade Pig's Michael Mraz as event chair, and committee members include Pam and Dan DeVos, Sam and Janene Cummings, and the star of auctioneers, Scott Miedema.

The event will be held at DeVos Place Nov. 10.

This is a group with growing connections. What's next? The "Bikers for Babies" event on Sept. 14 could include Kid Rock.

  • Since 1999, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce has awarded more than $25,000 in scholarships to women over 30 who are working on their post-secondary education. The scholarships are one component of the annual ATHENA program, which celebrates those in the business community who inspire, mentor and advocate for women. The first ATHENA program to include a scholarship component, the Chamber's program has served as a model for others across the U.S.

Five women will receive ATHENA Scholarships this year: Amy Bittner, Grand Valley State University College of Health Professions; Jasmine Brewster, Ferris State University/Grand Rapids Community College 3-in-1 Program; Amy Carnes, Grand Valley State University; Lavonna Heard, Cornerstone University; and Judith Kievit, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.

"ATHENA Scholarship recipients can use their dollars for whatever helps them achieve their degree, from tuition and transportation to child care costs," said Jeanne Englehart, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids chamber. "This makes it very different from most scholarships."

Scholarship recipients will be honored at the annual ATHENA Award Luncheon, to be held Sept. 25. Funding for the scholarships comes through corporate sponsorship of the event; a portion of each sponsorship is added to the scholarship fund.

But this year, individuals have the opportunity to donate by attending a first-ever ATHENA Scholarship Fundraiser. In addition to the usual reception fare of hors d'oeuvres and drinks, this evening networking event will feature stress-relieving and beauty treatments from hand and arm massages to make-up consultations at the Douglas J Aveda Institute salon in cowntown Grand Rapids.

The minimum suggested donation of $15 will go directly to the ATHENA Scholarship fund. Each attendee will receive a gift from Douglas J, and may enter a drawing for two airline tickets good for travel within the continental U.S., courtesy of Activa Travel.

The ATHENA Scholarship Fundraiser will be held this Wednesday, from 5-8 p.m., at the  Douglas J Aveda Institute, 134 Commerce Ave. SW.

To attend, call (616) 771-0341 or e-mail

  • Three students "who have demonstrated a commitment to incorporate sustainable business concepts into their academic and professional careers" received $5,000 checks recently at the Third Annual Go Green Golf Outing hosted by the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum. Award winners include: Ann Earhardt, Aquinas College of Sustainable Business; Becky Brown, Aquinas College of Sustainable Business; and Cody Copus, Grand Valley State University.

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