Business leaders, meet your mentors

March 26, 2012
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It’s like a matchmaking service, but for business leaders.

Mike and Sue Jandernoa are looking for their 2012 class of emerging local business leaders to pair with veteran mentors as part of their Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring program.

The couple has a roster of 18 current or former CEOs and presidents of established companies on hand, including Paul Boyer (Meijer), Jerry Scott (GHSP) and Kathy Crosby (Goodwill).

“Small and medium-sized businesses play a critical role in growing West Michigan’s economy,” said Mike Jandernoa, a former CEO at Allegan-based Perrigo Co. who is also a JEM mentor. “Linking decision-makers at these businesses with veteran business mentors is one way we can help accelerate their growth and economic impact on our community.”

Persons interested in learning more about the program can attend a gathering set for 5-7 p.m., Wednesday, at the University Club, 111 Lyon St. NW, Suite 1025. Registration can be made at

JEM participants develop one-on-one relationships with mentors, in addition to connecting with other new leaders through monthly group discussions and other activities.

But does it work? The program, which started in December 2009, so far has matched 15 leaders with mentors over the past two years. Scott Crowley, owner of the advertising agency Highland Group, was one of the early participants, and he’s sold on the process.

“I wanted our agency to get to the next level, but we needed someone who could hold me accountable for that expectation of growth, as well as challenge our traditional methods. We needed someone who could make sure we were on strategy, validate or challenge the decision-making, and who could support our business goals as a coach and confidant,” he said.

“Our bottom line is healthier and so is the company. We really needed that extra set of eyes, ears, and a healthy dose of honesty and expertise.”

Jandernoa said program applicants have a deadline of May 4 and should be decision-makers at a for-profit business that has been in operation for at least three years and generated more than $1 million in revenue.

It’s getting hot in here

Talk about climate change! The unseasonably warm weather has nothing on The Small Business Foundation of Michigan’s eighth annual Entrepreneurship Score Card, which finds that Michigan has dramatically improved in the measure called Entrepreneurial Climate, rising to 15th in the nation in 2011 compared to 45th in 2010.

“We are especially pleased to see this improvement in Entrepreneurial Climate, because it’s a key measure of Michigan’s gain in the general business, capital access and technology/innovation qualities of our economy,” said Rob Fowler, president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan. “This is a strong indicator of healthier conditions for future small business and entrepreneurial activity.”

Fowler acknowledged that other measurements didn’t show nearly as dramatic a change, but took the slow continuation of positive economic trends as a good sign. Notably, Michigan’s five-year business survival rate, which had been underperforming since 2003, is now at the U.S. average, he said.

Riverboat gambler

Bob Sullivan knows a thing or two about entrepreneurial climate, and a thing or three about West Michigan. So it’s no surprise the owner of the former Radisson Hotel on Ann Street is crawling out from beneath the corporate blanket.

Sullivan decided to part ways with Radisson, a hotel franchise owned by Carlson Co. Inc. headquartered in Minnetonka, Minn., when Carlson’s rebranding strategy under its Ambition2015 plan didn’t provide the right fit for Sullivan’s Ann Street hotel location.

“We have had a mutually beneficial relationship with Carlson and Radisson for the past 10 years, and it is a well-run company with an excellent reputation,” said Sullivan, who has a long history of developing lodging properties in the city’s central business district. “But its strategic plan launched two years ago to provide high-end lodging is not in sync with our business plan.”

Now known as Riverfront Hotel-Grand Rapids, Sullivan said the 162-room facility is still a full-service, upscale motel, but it’s no longer tied to the Radisson corporate name — and pricing structure.

“Our guests appreciate our value-based approach of providing comfortable, contemporary accommodations less than two miles from the heart of Grand Rapids,” he said.

Regardless of its status as an independent, Riverfront Hotel-Grand Rapids will continue its capital improvements program that amounted to more than $500,000 last year and an equal amount this year, said GM Todd Roesler. He also did not rule out a possible association with another major hotel chain.

For now, however, Sullivan plans to rely on his West Michigan roots and push full speed ahead with the Riverfront Hotel-Grand Rapids brand.

“There are a tremendous number of exciting things on the drawing board for the city and the river,” he said. “As our name suggests, we intend to be a part of it.”

Bets are off

Sullivan’s gamble might be one West Michiganders would approve of, but another casino would be a bust locally, according to The Mellman Group.

The research and strategy organization recently polled 600 likely general election voters in Michigan who were asked about casinos in Michigan.

Overall, 26 percent said there were too many, 34 percent said there were the right amount, 12 percent said there were not enough and 28 percent didn’t know. In West Michigan, however, only 9 percent said there were not enough casinos in the state.

The purpose of the survey was to determine whether a gaming initiative that would allow up to eight additional casinos in Michigan had enough chips to pass a statewide vote.

If you weren’t lucky enough to have your dinner interrupted by Mellman’s telephone survey, you can always weigh in at, where this week’s poll question asks what downtown Grand Rapids needs most. One of the choices, of course, is a casino.

Safer bet

Gambling appears to be losing steam locally, but philanthropy remains through the roof. Heart of West Michigan United Way announced Thursday that its 2011 campaign goal of $12 million was exceeded by more than $33,000.

“We all pulled together, and the backing of the business community through the re-established Campaign Cabinet helped United Way reach its goal,” said George Aquino, United Way campaign chair and general manager of the JW Marriott. “The leadership of Nancy Ayres (general manager at Flexco) as Campaign Cabinet manager and the backing of honorary chairs Doug and Maria DeVos was the added boost we needed.”

Maureen Noe, president and CEO of United Way, said more than 30,000 donors participated in the campaign.

“I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of this community,” she said. “We always need to remember these are local dollars addressing local problems and helping local residents.”

Sounds like a better bet than hoping for three cherries.

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