Economic Development, Manufacturing, and Nonprofits

Business Leaders for Michigan produces CEO Summit

November 11, 2014
| By Pete Daly |
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Wolverine Worldwide wins Company of the Year
Blake Krueger. Courtesy Wolverine Worldwide

There won’t be any shortage of West Michigan names and faces at the third-annual Michigan CEO Summit being put on Thursday in downtown Detroit by Business Leaders for Michigan.

The daylong summit reflects the mission of the BLM, which is comprised of 80 top business leaders organized to help Michigan become a “top 10” state for jobs, personal income and a healthy economy.

One of the first major presenters at the conference in the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit is Jeff Fettig, chairman/CEO of Whirlpool Corp. in Benton Harbor. Fettig will focus on “The Accelerated Pace of Change in the Marketplace: Surviving and Thriving.”

At mid-morning, Blake Krueger, CEO of the world’s largest business in the global brown shoe market — Wolverine World Wide in Rockford — will focus on “Growing Innovation Through Collaboration.”

Krueger said he is going to tell the statewide assemblage about the West Michigan CEOs who formed an informal group a few years ago called the What’s Next Committee, which soon led to the establishment of GRid70 in downtown Grand Rapids.

The What’s Next group is focused on ideas to enable Grand Rapids and West Michigan “to fight above its weight class,” quipped Krueger.

The GRid stands for Grand Rapids Innovation and Design — 70 is the address on Ionia Street — and it is an office building dedicated to a unique experiment in business collaboration.

Krueger said the furniture industry left Grand Rapids with “a deep heritage in design,” but all four of the original corporations that collaborate at GRid70 have teams of employees “focused on the future” in their own markets. The four are Wolverine, Steelcase, Amway and Meijer.

Wolverine, for example, has scores of employees “constantly involved in footwear design, the fashion component in its broadest context,” according to Krueger, so GRid70 has office space for 45 to 50 of those Wolverine creative types. The idea is that the planners and innovators from all four GRid70 companies can benefit from working every day in close proximity to each other.

BLM was organized in 2009 out of the group formerly called Detroit Renaissance, when it expanded to include business executives from throughout the state, with a broader focus.

The third annual CEO Summit “couldn’t be coming at a more opportune time, given the fact that Detroit is just coming out of bankruptcy,” said Krueger. “We are all Michiganders and for Michigan to do well, we need Detroit to do well.”

All Michigan business has to be aligned behind some common goals, said Krueger, because Michigan, as a state, is “competing in a pretty fierce competitive environment.”

The member corporations in BLM account for about 25 percent of the state’s economy, and more than 325,000 jobs, with a collective total of more than $1 trillion in revenue each year. It also includes representatives of the three major research universities in the state: University of Michigan, Michigan State, and Wayne State, which together account for half of all the college students in Michigan.

Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of BLM, will lead a discussion Thursday on “Where Does Michigan Rank?”

Keynote speaker will be Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of XPRIZE Foundation, asking, “Do You Know Who Your Competition Is?” XPRIZE is a nonprofit organization that designs and manages public competitions intended to encourage technological advances that could benefit mankind. Diamandis is also a founder of Singularity University in Silicon Valley.

A four-person panel presentation on “Getting Your Business Off the Ground” will feature two well-known entrepreneurs from West Michigan: Amy Proos, head of Proos Manufacturing; and Ryan Vaughn, co-founder and CEO of Varsity News Network.

There will be a Made in Michigan section at the Michigan CEO Summit. Two of the Grand Rapids companies on display there will be Uncle Goose wood alphabet blocks for children — available in 22 languages — and Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate.

Last year more than 400 people attended the summit, including business executives, nonprofit and community leaders, and policy makers. More information is available here.

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