Street Talk: Leaders of the club
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The region will celebrate its business prowess this week while handing out some awards along the way.
The Economic Club of Grand Rapids will present Richard C. Breon, president and CEO of Spectrum Health, the Business Person of the Year Award, and David and Linda Mehney will receive the Slykhouse Community Leadership Award at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids’ 31st Annual Dinner on June 18.
The dinner’s keynote speaker will be Robert Gates, secretary of defense (2006-11), CIA director (1991-93) and New York Times best-selling author. Following Gates' keynote will be an on-stage interview with Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius.
Breon, who leads the largest integrated health system in West Michigan, joined Spectrum Health in 2000 soon after the merger of Grand Rapids’ two largest community hospitals — Butterworth Hospital and Blodgett Memorial Medical Center. The health system is now a $5.7-billion enterprise that includes 12 hospitals, 180 ambulatory and service sites, 3,600 physicians and advanced practice providers, including more than 1,500 members of the Spectrum Health Medical Group, and Priority Health, a health plan that served 996,000 members in fiscal year 2017.
Recent winners of the award include Birgit Klohs, Dan DeVos, Blake Krueger, Dick Haworth and Doug DeVos/Steve Van Andel.
David Mehney founded Kawasaki Midwest Motorcycles Inc. in 1966 as a Midwest distributor for Kawasaki. After using this experience of doing business with Japanese companies, he sold the distribution rights back to Kawasaki and founded KMW Inc. Today, KMW Inc. divisions include Skytron, Great Lakes Marine and Patterson Ice Center. He also is a managing partner of Thousand Oaks Golf Course. Linda Mehney, while busy raising their five boys, had her own entrepreneurial opportunity when she started Grand Arabian Horse Farms. She soon started winning national titles, and commanding gold list sales and stud fees with an impressive list of buyers.
The Business Person of the Year Award was instituted in 1988, and Richard DeVos, co-founder of Amway Corp., was the first recipient. Other recipients have included Jay Van Andel, L.V. Eberhard, Peter Cook, Fred Meijer, Peter Secchia and Jim Hackett.
The Slykhouse Community Leadership Award, formerly the Slykhouse Lifetime Achievement Award, was instituted in 2000 and George J. Slykhouse, attorney, Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey and the president and founder of The Economic Club of Grand Rapids, was the first recipient. Past Slykhouse Lifetime Achievement recipients have included Arend D. (Don) Lubbers, Peter Wege, Ralph Hauenstein, Kate Pew Wolters and Gerald R. Ford.
Holland-based Trendway marked more than one milestone at this year’s NeoCon design show in Chicago.
Don Heeringa, chair and CEO of the office furniture maker with 325 employees, celebrated being at his 40th NeoCon convention June 11-13 from the comfort of Trendway’s Chicago showroom.
The showroom is dwarfed by Merchandise Mart next door, a 4-million-square-foot commercial building where the show is held each year.
“We’re not in the way of the foot traffic in our showroom, but we get people who are serious about the business come see us during the show,” Heeringa said.
“We have a deck right on the Chicago River. We give two boat rides during NeoCon to showcase Chicago architecture, which has become quite popular.”
On June 12, Trendway threw a party at its showroom to mark its 50th year in business — coinciding with the 50th anniversary of NeoCon.
Heeringa said every man wore a gold tie, and every woman wore a gold sash.
The company put up a “pictorial history” of Trendway through the years, tracking the evolution of its products and people. Heeringa said it was a hit with partygoers.
Trendway was founded in 1968. When the Heeringa family purchased the company in 1973, the business was struggling financially.
Heeringa credits his time serving in the military as one of the factors that enabled him to lead and develop Trendway into a successful company. He served in the U.S. Army Transportation Corps in Germany for two years during the Vietnam War.
Mark Kinsler, president of Trendway, said Heeringa has paid that leadership and service mentality forward, and it shows in the company culture.
“One of Trendway’s special qualities that continues to support our success is not directly related to manufacturing office furniture,” he said. “We have an exceptional culture of caring and community outreach.”
Reflecting on his decades in the business — as well as year after year of watching competitors at NeoCon — Heeringa said the company’s “personal approach” still connects with people.
“The impression I left with (after NeoCon this year) is our personal approach is our appeal,” he said. “Last week, I bought a piece of property, and I had to change the electrical and gas service. It should be pretty simple, right? But it’s ‘punch one and punch two’ and it takes an hour to do it. We’re really personal and have real people to answer the phones at Trendway,” he said.
“The core of Trendway is its people.”
The Sweet House continues to stand as a living document to the history of Grand Rapids, and the Sweet House Foundation is hosting a public event to honor one of the city’s most prominent figures.
Hank Meijer, executive chairman of Meijer Inc., will speak about his new book, “Arthur Vandenberg: The Man in the Middle of the American Century,” on June 26 at the Sweet House, 254 E. Fulton St., Grand Rapids.
Meijer’s book is a biography of Arthur Vandenberg, a Grand Rapids-born Republican senator who served from 1928-51. The event will begin with a social gathering at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m.
According to the foundation, Meijer spent more than a quarter of a century researching and writing Vandenberg’s biography, tracing the senator’s transformation from a young isolationist politician to a proponent of internationalism that would define the new Republican Party.
Born in Grand Rapids in 1884, Vandenberg began a career as a newspaper editor before being appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1928. He is best known for helping form the United Nations and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
His wife, Hazel Vandenberg, also was a charter member of the Women’s City Club and remained active even after she moved to Washington D.C. The Hazel Whitaker Vandenberg Auditorium in the Sweet House is named in her honor.
Best known as the third generation to lead Meijer Inc., Meijer also had a short career as a journalist, spanning from 1973-79. He stepped down as CEO of the company that still bears his name in 2016 but still serves on the board of directors.
This event is open to the public. Reservations must be made before June 20 by calling the Sweet House Foundation at (616) 459-5484 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.