MARCH 4, 2020
JW Marriott Grand Rapids
A F e e - O n l y We a l t h M a n a g e m e n t G r o u p
Congratulations Lynn Chen-Zhang! One Of The 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan for 2020
CONGRATULATIONS BIRGIT KLOHS For being named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan! Thank you for your invaluable contributions and dedication to the advancement of West Michiganâ€™s economy! The Right Place Team
Birgit Klohs President & CEO The Right Place, Inc.
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â€œWest Michigan is overflowing with brilliant and accomplished women, and I am humbled to have my name among them. As a community we can remove barriers and bring honest change to inspire the next generation of influential women.â€?
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T ITS MOST BASIC LEVEL, journalism is about telling a story. Yes, there are other important factors: accuracy, spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, etc. More often than not, however, errors in the latter areas (except accuracy!) are overlooked when the story itself is interesting. When done right, stories capture the attention and imagination of readers. They invite readers along for a ride that comes to a satisfying conclusion. They impart information, knowledge and a sense of understanding that previously the reader may not have had. Inside this supplement are 50 such stories. They offer a glimpse into the lives of some of the most powerful and influential women in West Michigan. Even more importantly, they offer insight into how those women rose to such a position. While each story is different, readers who follow closely will identify a theme that runs throughout them. West Michigan’s most influential women work together. It’s interesting to note that many serve on boards or committees affiliated with their peers in this publication. But any good journalist will tell you trends are where it’s at. This publication identifies a few new trends important to our women leaders that were not as apparent even two years ago, the last time the Business Journal published profiles of the 50 most influential women. Philanthropy is becoming increasingly important among these women, as are social justice issues and food insecurity. Mentoring, however, is the new hot-button issue. Almost every profile mentions mentoring and
networking — both the giving of and receiving — as being vitally important to strengthening the West Michigan business community. Holly Johnson, president of the Frey Foundation, probably has the best advice for young women following in her footsteps. “Don’t look for the easy way; take the hard road,” she said. “You will be better suited for the right job when it comes along.” That encouragement is augmented by another member of the 50. “I think by recognizing women who seek to lead, we encourage other women to take leadership roles in nontraditional fields,” said Michelle LaJoye-Young, Kent County Sheriff, herself a leader in a very nontraditional field. What it really comes down to is leadership is about doing. It’s about identifying a problem and producing a viable solution to that problem. For the last several years, workforce development (otherwise known as talent attraction and retention) has been a major topic of discussion in the West Michigan business community. Many organizations, committees and workgroups are focused on the problem and are coming up with ways to address it. “Of all my career accomplishments, the one I am most proud of is that we have hired over 1,000 people from poverty or prison and have thus jumpstarted their career trajectory toward growth,” said Christina Keller, president and CEO Cascade Engineering. It’s also evident actions, at least among these 50 women, speak louder than words. Tim Gortsema
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50 MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 5
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IN THEIR OWN WORDS: HONOREE VIDEO PART 1
11:50 a.m.–12:20 p.m.
Our 2020 Inﬂuential Women honorees discuss inﬂuence, involvement and inspiration in West Michigan
Jenn Maksimowski Advertising Director Grand Rapids Business Journal
IN THEIR OWN WORDS: HONOREE VIDEO PART 2
Our 2020 Inﬂuential Women honorees discuss inﬂuence, involvement and inspiration in West Michigan
Rachel Watson Senior Reporter Grand Rapids Business Journal
KEYNOTE ADDRESS: OVERCOMING ADVERSITY AND LIVING YOUR TRUTH Graci Harkema Owner Graci LLC
Rachel Watson Senior Reporter Grand Rapids Business Journal
Director Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Grand Valley State University
AFTER WITNESSING her father’s challenges running a farm and two restaurants while she was growing up in Amman, Jordan, Shorouq Almallah wanted nothing to do with entrepreneurship. Fast forward a few decades, and Almallah is now the director of the Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CEI) at Grand Valley State University. “While I ran away from entrepreneurship in my youth, I ended up as an intrapreneur and social innovator,” she said. She is responsible for resource facilitation to entrepreneurs, program development, curriculum development, project management, organizational processes and grant solicitation and management. After completing a master’s degree in information science, she became knowledge resource manager for the Family Owned Business Institute at GVSU, managing the website, databases, and helping faculty conduct research and surveys in the field to create best practices for legacy and family-owned businesses. From there, she hopped over to the CEI and has spent the past nearly nine years helping entrepreneurs reach their dreams. Her accomplishments at CEI have included creating the MWest Challenge student venture creation competition, the 77 IdeaLab student accelerator, an innovation hub for students on campus, and the Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur (MVE) Lab, a three-month accelerator to provide entrepreneurial training for veterans and military families. Almallah is a member of the Michigan Women Forward West Michigan Advisory Council.
Group vice president of public affairs and communication/executive director Meijer/The Meijer Foundation
STACIE BEHLER said when she commits to an organization, she gives it her all — a claim shored up by her current roles not only as a vice president for the largest retailer based in West Michigan but as the executive director of its charitable arm. Stacie Behler joined Meijer as senior legal counsel in 2001, directly handling or managing the company’s state and federal litigation matters. Since then, she has risen to the role of group vice president of public affairs and communication while also overseeing the Meijer Foundation, including its five political action committees and its community and philanthropic work. Through the foundation, 6% of Meijer’s annual net profits are reinvested in the Midwest communities where its retail stores are located, with a specific focus on the arts, education, health and economic development. “I am grateful to be able to influence our community, our leaders and our citizens in the roles I play and look to inspire other women to develop skills and networks to influence, as well,” Behler said. Behler is board chair of the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, executive committee member and strategic planning committee chair for the Economic Club of Grand Rapids and a board member of the Grand Rapids Art Museum. She was honored as one of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan by the Business Journal in 2012 and 2014. In 2018, she was named one of the Michigan Women’s Foundation’s Women of Courage and Achievement.
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HANNAH BERRY Owner Lions & Rabbits
HANNAH BERRY is an example of how creativity can change people’s lives. During the three-plus years since she opened Lions & Rabbits — her art gallery, boutique, event and workshop space in the Creston neighborhood that features the work of about 120 artists — Berry’s involvement in the community has blossomed both at the artistic and neighborhood economic development levels. Her nominator, Abigail Bruins, describes Berry as an advocate “for equity in payment and business practices for artists.” This passion led Berry, as the curator for the Rad American Women walking tour/public art initiative installed on electrical boxes throughout downtown Grand Rapids in partnership with Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., to make sure each and every artist in the project received fair payment for their work. Since the Rad American Women project was installed, several walking tours, educational events for children and other programming surrounding the project have taken place. As vice chair of the North Quarter Corridor Improvement Authority, Berry also is the organizer of Creston. After Dark, an annual street fair and festival with a variety of activities that brings business to the Creston neighborhood. The project started as the kickoff to a neighborhood beautification project she worked on with Experience Live Art. In January, Berry announced she will be expanding After. Dark to four additional neighborhoods in the city in 2020. Berry also is co-chair of the GR Forward Goal 5 Alliance that advises DGRI on placemaking projects to make a more “inviting, welcoming and inclusive downtown.”
TASHA BLACKMON CEO Cherry Health
TASHA BLACKMON said she has used her platform as CEO of Cherry Health to draw attention to the plight of over 75,000 underserved individuals in the state of Michigan. Rising from the position of facility manager at Cherry Health in 2005 to her current role as its CEO beginning in 2018, Blackmon brings more than 20 years of business operations experience to the 20-location federally qualified health center that offers integrated care services in Barry, Eaton, Kent, Montcalm, Muskegon, Ottawa and Wayne counties. She oversees 900 employees and more than 60 physicians and midlevel providers with “outstanding” leadership, according to her nominator. Blackmon said she values the opportunity to be a mentor at Cherry Health. “I am honored to provide time and a safe space to current and future leaders as they navigate the uncertainty of their professional careers while being a sounding board for pivotal educational and career decisions,” she said. “Being what I didn’t have to someone else gives me profound satisfaction and joy.” Blackmon is executive committee member and personnel chair for the Michigan Primary Care Association, a board member at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and an executive committee member at the Children’s Advocacy Center of Kent County. In 2019, she was named to the Business Journal’s inaugural class of the Grand Rapids 200 Most Powerful Business Leaders in West Michigan, as well as receiving Corp! Magazine’s Diversity Business Leader Award. She also received a YWCA Women of Achievement award in 2016.
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ROSALYNN BLISS Mayor City of Grand Rapids
ROSALYNN BLISS approaches her part-time job as mayor of Grand Rapids with full-time gusto. Re-elected for her second and final term in 2019, Bliss is an advocate for complex issues such as racial equity, affordable housing and policecommunity relations, while also carrying forward the city’s longtime priorities surrounding sustainability. Bliss said one of her top goals as mayor is to be “a strong role model for women and girls throughout our community,” and she strives to accomplish this through meeting with and speaking to groups about the importance of women in leadership, mentoring women running for office and working on campaigns to increase female representation. Besides serving her own community, Bliss lends her voice at the state and national level, advocating for policies and funding that support cities. She oversees a budget of $536 million and four appointed officials, who in turn oversee a city government of about 1,600 employees. Bliss is a board member of the Downtown Development Authority, Convention Arena Authority and chair of the Urban Core Mayors group consisting of the leaders of the 13 largest cities in the state of Michigan. In 2019, Bliss received the National Leadership Award from the National Forum for Black Public Administrators. She was a 2018 recipient of the Business Journal’s 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan recognition and a five-time 40 Under 40 honoree. In September, she was named the Frederik Meijer Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Grand Valley State University’s Frederik Meijer Honors College.
Vice president and general manager WOOD-TV/Nexstar Broadcasting Inc.
JULIE BRINKS has worked in radio and television organizations for over 30 years, starting out at WOOD-TV in 1981 as a rookie account executive. She led the launch of seven new television stations across the country from 1999-2003, which included site and staff selection, and strategic and business planning for each market, as well as holding general and regional television management positions in Michigan, Illinois, Arizona and Oregon. Brinks returned to West Michigan to tackle her current role in 2017. “I am honored to be leading one of the most influential media organizations in the region,” Brinks said. “The commitment of the WOOD-TV team members in serving the residents of West Michigan by delivering breaking news and weather, exceptional investigative journalism, outstanding advertising options both online and on-air, and a deep commitment to nonprofit partners is unsurpassed.” Brinks said she considers it a privilege to hold a position not usually occupied by women in the industry. She gives back as board chair of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Foundation; executive leadership committee member for the American Heart Association in Grand Rapids and Tucson, Arizona; and as a member of Rotary International District 5500, where she has held leadership roles during the past 15 years. Brinks also is a past board member of Junior Achievement, where she also was a business club adviser. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in broadcasting and cinematic arts from Central Michigan University and completed Master of Business Administration coursework at Baker College Center for Graduate Studies.
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MEREDITH BRONK President and CEO Open Systems Technologies
MEREDITH BRONK has spent her career breaking down barriers as a woman in the technology industry. Starting at Grand Rapids-based OST as a project manager in 1998, Bronk worked her way up through the ranks, becoming its president and CEO in 2015. She oversees a team of 260 employees at the employee-owned company, which has annual revenue of $130 million. Her nominator, Danielle Haskins, OST marketing manager, described Bronk as a “strong woman leader in the male-dominated tech industry” who got to where she is today because of her “empathy, compassion and drive” and her dedication to fostering a positive culture at OST. “She once told me that when she first became CEO, she didn’t consider the fact that she was a woman to be a big part of her story. But over time, she has come to realize the importance for men and women to see a woman in leadership roles. It shifts the way we all view what leadership should look like and allows us all to consider our own journeys as leaders differently. It is difficult to become what you do not see,” Haskins said. In addition to leading OST, Bronk serves on the board of directors for United Bank of Michigan, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Club of Grand Rapids. She was named the 2019 Woman of the Year by West Michigan Woman Magazine and was one of the Business Journal’s 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan in 2018.
Partner, COO and chief compliance officer Zhang Financial
BORN IN SHANGHAI, China, Lynn Chen-Zhang came to Kalamazoo when she was 22 to pursue her master’s degree in accountancy from Western Michigan University. She helped her husband, Charles Zhang, found Portage-based Zhang Financial in 1991. The firm is now one of the top fee-only wealth management groups in the nation, with locations in Portage; Battle Creek; Troy; Ann Arbor; and Naples, Florida. It now has 40 employees, over $3 billion assets under management and generates more than $14 million in annual revenue. Chen-Zhang is a CFP and CPA and has been ranked as one of the nation’s Top Women Financial Advisors by Barron’s and Financial Times. Rather than just making money, she said she and her husband believe in giving back to the community. She is vice president of WMU’s board of trustees, president of the WMU Foundation and a board member and investment committee chair of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. The Zhangs are financial supporters of the Portage Senior Center, Kalamazoo College, the University of Michigan, Ministry with Community and many others. They funded the 11,000-square-foot Charles and Lynn Zhang Animal Care and Resource Center, which is under construction and will be the home of the Kalamazoo Humane Society when it opens in August. Elizabeth Edgerton, an assistant manager for Zhang Financial, nominated Chen-Zhang for this award, saying Chen-Zhang is “devoted to her family, her career and her community” and is “an inspiration to everyone she meets.”
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one woman’s success can only help another woman’s success.” r b i lt e d n a V a i r lo �G
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President Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce
JANE CLARK’S tenure at the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce dates back 30 years to when it was the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce. Described by her nominator, Mike Hill of Coldbrook Insurance Group, as a “very strong advocate for women in business,” Clark oversees a team of eight with an annual budget of $1.3 million. After the merger of the Holland and Zeeland chambers of commerce and the rebranding in 2012, Clark led the chamber through five-star accreditation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2014 and reaccreditation in 2019; implemented the entrepreneurial operating system (EOS) in 2015, which is a framework for running a business championed by author Gino Wickman in the book, “Traction”; and launched the West Coast Way consulting service in 2019, which has given Clark and the organization visibility on the national chamber stage “as a thought leader, national conference speaker and organizational consultant,” she said. Her efforts during the past eight years resulted in the chamber winning the Michigan Association of Chamber Professionals (MACP) Chamber of the Year Award in 2018 and the 2019 MACP Michigan Chamber Professional Award. Clark said she is most proud of her work “as a catalyst for business growth and development” on the lakeshore, as well as her role as “a convener of leaders and influencers, and as a champion for our thriving community.” She is a board member of Lakeshore Advantage, Housing Next and treasurer/chair elect of the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives Foundation.
BRIDGET CLARK WHITNEY Founding CEO Kids’ Food Basket
SINCE BEGINNING AS an intern at Kids’ Food Basket in 2002, Bridget Clark Whitney has grown the organization started by Mary K. Hoodhood from serving 80,000 meals a year to 125 school children to 8,800 meals each weekday in 2019, or 1 million meals per year, to children in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties. The hunger relief nonprofit, which has 39 employees and is funded solely through charitable giving, opened its new 27,000-square-foot, LEED-certified headquarters at 1300 Plymouth Ave. NE in August, after raising $7.5 million for the project. The new facility, which is on a 10-acre farm, allows the organization to grow fruits and vegetables for its Sack Supper program, as well as provide learning and volunteer opportunities for over 1,000 people. Clark Whitney and her team also are investing $2.5 million to renovate a 7,000-square-foot facility in Holland, at 652 Hastings Ave., so services can be expanded in Ottawa and Allegan counties. The capital campaign, dubbed Feeding Our Future, is co-chaired by Anne Nemschoff and Pamela VanderKamp. “There are six schools on our immediate waiting list for services (in Ottawa and Allegan), but unfortunately, we’re out of space. That’s why Kids’ Food Basket is committed to expanding. We believe that it’s irresponsible not to grow,” Clark Whitney said. Clark Whitney is a board member of the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Michigan Women Forward, as well as a founding member of the Board Governance Ecosystem Board through Grand Valley State University’s Johnson Center for Philanthropy.
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SHANNON COHEN Founder and principal Shannon Cohen Inc.
SHANNON COHEN’S guiding principle is, “Strength is for service, not status.” As founder of Shannon Cohen Inc., Cohen has created, managed and scaled several movements, initiatives and incubator efforts designed to foster community renewal and stem public health ills. She has advised entities, including the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the city of Grand Rapids, Henry Ford Health System, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Michigan Public Health Institute, Mercantile Bank, Kent County, Gentex, Steelcase, Kids’ Food Basket, network180, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, Inforum, Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Way. She is creator of the Tough Skin, Soft Heart community that specializes in empowering and encouraging overextended leaders and author of a 2018 book by the same title, as well as an accompanying greeting card and affirmation product line that is sold in 35 shops across Michigan, including the JW Marriott, Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, Schuler Books & Music and Bridge Street Market. Cohen is co-founder of Sisters Who Lead, formed out of a study she conducted with Patricia Sosa VerDuin entitled, “Invisible Walls, Ceilings and Floors: Championing the Voices and Inclusion of Female Leaders of Color in West Michigan.” Sisters Who Lead is an affinity group designed to advance the wellness and career mobility of women of color to executive leadership. She is a board member of Project GREEN, the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at GVSU, and Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW).
LORI “MARANDA” COOK
Children and family services manager/TV personality WOOD-TV 8/WOTV 4/WXSP-TV
LORI “MARANDA” COOK joined WOOD-TV 8, WOTV 4 and WXSPTV in January 2001 as children and family services manager. As the WOTV 4 women, kids and family expert, she hosts a daily segment, “Where You Live,” featuring information, inspiration and insights for West Michigan parents. “I love the new challenges every day and connecting people with services they want and need,” Cook said. In her role, Cook oversees the development of station projects on-air, online and in the community. She is co-author of “Maranda’s Guide to Family Fun in West Michigan,” a book for parents and children. Cook also offers weekly family fun updates on STAR 105.7 and Daybreak on WOOD-TV 8 and has been hosting her free outdoor Park Parties event for 25 years. Cook serves on several boards, including the John Ball Zoological Society, Wedgwood Christian Services, Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding, Careforce International and Cornerstone University. Cook is the recipient of three Gracie Allen Awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Women in Radio and Television West Michigan Chapter, an Emmy nomination, the Hope College Distinguished Alumni Award, a 2011 YWCA Tribute! Award, the 2014 Van Andel Institute Angel of Excellence Award and 2019 Education Advocacy Award from Kent Intermediate Association of School Boards. Her nominator, Kori Thompson from Wedgwood, said Cook “focuses on what matters.” “Maranda is dedicated to using her platform to share kindness,” she said.
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JAMIE COOPER Founder Cannabiz Connection
JAMIE COOPER moved to Grand Haven from Colorado in 2014, the same year Colorado legalized cannabis for recreational use. She quickly began advocating for adult recreational use in Michigan, as well. Cooper founded Cannabiz Connection, a business-to-business marketing and networking organization, in 2018. “Never in my life have I had a job where I have helped so many people,” Cooper said. “I help people build businesses by teaching them what I have learned in my own journey. ... In the big picture, I am helping build a thriving new industry in Michigan that everyone is finally talking about. … Even county leaders and law enforcement in my community have discreetly approached me, asking for my help. This has been the most fulfilling job I have ever had.” Cooper also is publisher of Sensi Magazine, a cannabis lifestyle magazine that launched in Michigan in October 2019. She is a current member of the West Michigan Cannabis Guild, which has more than 100 members, and the Grand Haven Musical Fountain Committee, and she was a part of the Smart & Safe GR Committee, an initiative to authorize licensed medical marijuana businesses in Grand Rapids. In 2018, the Business Journal named Cooper one of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan and she was a 40 Under 40 Business Leaders honoree in 2019. She also was named to the publication’s inaugural class of the Grand Rapids 200 Most Powerful Business Leaders in West Michigan in 2019.
SANDY DETTMANN Addiction medicine specialist Mercy Health Physician Partners
SANDRA DETTMANN’S story is the story of a woman devastated in every realm of her life, financially, emotionally, physically and intellectually, but it also is a story of healing and renewal. Before she became an addiction specialist, Dettmann served as director of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Butterworth Hospital. But everything fell through in 2003 when she fell ill and was permanently disabled. Her medical license expired in 2008, and by 2011, everyone who knew her expected her to die. “Through a series of sinister events, I was left homeless, eating at shelters and relearning simple math,” Dettmann said. “Having survived horrific abuse as well as a brain injury from lack of oxygen to my brain after a cardiac arrest, I began to rebuild my life.” Miraculously, Dettmann survived, renewed her medical license and ultimately opened her own medical practice. She became board-certified by the American Board of Addiction Medicine and the American Board of Preventive Medicine. “I chose to take care of patients that no one else ‘wanted,’” Dettmann said. “I made a decision to practice medicine ‘differently,’ and to live my life ‘differently’ than most other doctors.” Dettmann said she gives her cell phone number to all her patients and allows them to contact her 24/7. “The reason I did this is simple,” she said. “I knew all too well what it was like to have nothing, be hated and to have no one on the other end of my cell phone.”
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BETSY DEVOS Secretary of Education U.S. Government
AS A MEMBER of one of Grand Rapids’ most powerful philanthropic families, Betsy DeVos has spent the past three years in the public sector influencing education policy and advocating for children and parents. DeVos said her interest in education was sparked at an early age by her mother, who was a public school teacher. When she sent her own children to school, she realized not every child in America is granted an equal opportunity to access a quality education. DeVos spent 15 years as an in-school mentor to at-risk children in Grand Rapids Public Schools. She said her interactions with students, families and teachers “changed my life and perspective about education forever.” “I had the opportunity to mentor two at-risk girls over an extended period of time, one starting in second grade and the other in first grade,” DeVos said. “I still regularly meet with the second young lady. Granted, my plate is currently full of objectives that I hope will result in a positive impact for students and families on a much larger scale, but when you have a personal role in the formation of a young person, it’s formative for oneself and is rewarding beyond measure.” Prior to her confirmation, DeVos served as chair of the Windquest Group, an enterprise and investment management firm. In addition to her leadership in education, she also has served on the boards of multiple national and local charitable and civic organizations. As secretary of education, DeVos oversaw a budget of around $70.5 billion and 3,600 employees in 2018.
Vice president of commercial loans United Bank of Michigan
DORIS DRAIN said she has been afforded many great opportunities through her career, and she feels it’s her responsibility as a commercial lender to ensure others have access to great opportunities, as well. Drain began her career at United Bank of Michigan in 1986 as a loan review clerk but was quickly promoted to credit analyst and was named an officer a few years later. “I still learn new things and face new challenges, even after 33 years,” Drain said. “I have a great deal of satisfaction knowing that I helped a business customer achieve their business goals and growing the relationship with them.” Prior to her career at United Bank, Drain had worked for three years at the Grand Rapids office of Dun & Bradstreet. “I became disillusioned because you were expected to produce in excess of 100%, and if you weren’t a top producer, you weren’t considered for advancement, plus you had to keep moving locations in order to be promoted,” Drain said. In 1978, during the summer between her junior and senior years of high school, Drain was selected by the local American Field Service chapter to represent her town as a foreign exchange student in Spain, even though she knew no Spanish. “While it was not a study program, it gave me the opportunity to explore the wonderful culture and country of Spain and to find new ways to communicate as I learned the Spanish language,” she said. “This experience helped me to cultivate curiosity and an appreciation of diversity.”
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KATIE FERRIS Tax office managing partner BDO USA
JUST OVER A year ago, BDO promoted Katie Ferris from tax partner to West Michigan tax office managing partner at its Grand Rapids office. “It was an honor to be admitted into the partnership and to be recognized for a significant amount of hard work,” Ferris said. “I was, and still am, proud to be a partner in an organization that I love.” Ferris joined BDO five years ago, early in terms of industry experience, and remarkable considering she also was 34 weeks pregnant with her second child at the time. Her recent appointment to office managing partner made her BDO’s first woman tax managing partner in the tax practice’s 100-year history, she said. “I am fortunate to have this position as BDO embarks on our 100year anniversary in Grand Rapids, and (I will) help lead us into the beginning of our next 100 years,” Ferris said. Ferris has more than 10 years of experience in public accounting, advising both public and private multinational companies. She serves clients in the following industries: manufacturing, distribution, technology, telecommunications and construction. Her primary focus is on federal, state and international tax planning, consulting and compliance for closely held businesses and their owners. She oversees an annual revenue of $31 million and 110 employees. Outside of BDO, Ferris serves as treasurer on the board of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, and she is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and Michigan Society of Certified Public Accountants.
AMANDA FIELDER Partner Warner Norcross + Judd
AMANDA FIELDER has established a reputation for defending employer interests in employment-related issues. Her practice covers all aspects of employment law, and she has successfully defended employers against claims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation and wrongful discharge. “I strive to serve as a role model for other young female professionals within and outside of the legal industry,” Fielder said. Fielder also was tapped to chair the committee responsible for designing Warner’s new downtown office, which opened in November. She said leading the design effort on the Warner Building gave her the opportunity to affect virtually every aspect of the firm, from client service to parking. “I have had the chance to interact with attorneys and staff at all levels to determine working space needs while driving the overall efficiency and cooperative atmosphere of our future physical workplace,” Fielder said. While successfully leading the building and design committee and maintaining a full-time growing legal practice, Fielder also is a wife and mother of three young children. “Juggling these is, at times, challenging, but I believe it is possible to develop a successful work-life balance,” Fielder said. “As they grow into adults, I hope my leadership will inspire my children to commit to staying in West Michigan and becoming successful contributors.” Outside of Warner, Fielder is the board chair for Solutions to End Exploitation, a new nonprofit organization that focuses on human and sex trafficking in West Michigan.
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KRISTA FLYNN Regional president Chemical Bank
KRISTA FLYNN kicked off her career in banking when it still largely was a boys club. Despite the isolation and unfairness she at times experienced, Flynn is grateful for the mentors she had who encouraged her. “They were honest with me and told me what I needed to do to get to the next level and how to improve perceived flaws,” she said. “They were positively encouraging but didn’t hold back and tell me just what I wanted to hear. They were challenging me to do more than what I was comfortable with.” With 25 years of prior experience in the banking industry, including long-term jobs at JPMorgan Chase and PNC Bank, Flynn was hired as West Michigan regional president for Chemical Bank in July 2018. As a member of Chemical Bank’s senior leadership team, Flynn oversees an annual revenue of around $75 million and 500 employees. Flynn also is part of the currently named Chemical Bank Network of Women, which is a “grassroots movement” that will include mentorship, networking and development internally at the bank. She said she hopes more initiatives like cbNOW spring up, which will help the bank with recruiting, training, career coaching and talent development, adding last year’s merger between Chemical Bank and TCF Financial won’t change plans for the movement, but the name might change. Outside of Chemical Bank, Flynn sits on the board of directors for The Right Place and Junior Achievement West Michigan, and is the chair of the audit and governance committee for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
TINA FREESE DECKER President and CEO Spectrum Health
SINCE TAKING THE helm as president and CEO in September 2018, Tina Freese Decker has continued to challenge Spectrum Health to disrupt health care and coverage. Examples of changes under her leadership include eliminating the disparity between Black and Caucasian women enrolled in the Spectrum Health maternal infant health programs, launched a telemedicine service in 2015 that offers lower-cost health care options for consumers and transitioning Spectrum to a single electronic health record and financial platform. “At Spectrum Health, I am committed to building a culture that celebrates and reinforces values of diversity and inclusion — both for our employees as well as our patients, families and members — and to delivering health care services that recognize cultural differences and eliminate disparities,” Freese Decker said. “Since becoming president and CEO, we have created a diversity officer role within the organization’s senior leadership and launched professional education and awareness initiatives to address racial bias among physicians and other health care professionals.” Freese Decker said she also has worked to eliminate health disparities among LGBTQ patients by adding several documentation tools in Spectrum’s electronic health record to help staff document more complete information on patients’ sexual orientation and gender identity. Freese Decker has received numerous awards and honors, including Modern Healthcare Top 25 COOs in 2018; Crain’s Detroit Business Most Notable Women in Health Care, 2018; and Managed Healthcare 10 Emerging Healthcare Industry Leaders, 2018.
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Congratulations, Tina 174 years of influential women and counting ...
Tina Freese Decker, President & CEO, Spectrum Health System
In 1846, a small group of women came together to form West Michiganâ€™s first charitable association. This organization was created to help the poor and sick, and eventually grew into Spectrum Health. Today, women represent 80% of our team and 65% of leadership. We are thankful to our 31,000 dedicated team members, who continue to lead our mission to improve health, inspire hope and save lives in this amazing community we call home.
Improve health, inspire hope and save lives.â„˘
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ELLIE FREY ZAGEL President Successful Generations
ELLIE FREY ZAGEL, the third-generation vice chair of the Frey Foundation, uses her media skills to ensure successful generations of family business ownership. As a leadership coach, Frey Zagel said she spends her days supporting women and men in the community to lead strong and modeling what “leading strong” means to her. “It means understanding yourself, the things you like and those things you want to develop further, growing each day into the person you want to become, living and leading by your priorities, staying healthy by managing your stress and creating margin in your life, supporting others in their growth, leading how you would like to be led, taking responsibility and allowing others to take their responsibility and being authentic and vulnerable with those around you,” she said. Frey Zagel actively promotes “leading strong” through her Successful Generations podcast, which she launched in 2017 and now has over 70 episodes. She received her life coach certification in 2018. She also travels the country speaking at conferences on “leading strong.” Frey Zagel previously served as executive director of the Family Business Alliance, a local nonprofit helping West Michigan family businesses succeed generation to generation. Under her leadership, the group grew its membership by over 100%, she said. Prior to that, she was the executive director of Local First West Michigan from 2005 to 2006, where she facilitated the official startup process, including incorporation, bylaws and tax-exempt status.
SANDRA GADDY CEO Women’s Resource Center
SANDRA GADDY said life came full circle for her when several female friends encouraged her to apply for the CEO role at Women’s Resource Center in 2017. As CEO of the women-focused nonprofit, Gaddy brings her experience helping organizations restructure, strengthen and grow to a place with a mission she cares about. Being at a place with a long history of helping women has been fulfilling for Gaddy, she said. “It is my hope that my voice and my passion make it possible for other women of color to advance and be recognized for the many achievements they are currently bringing to this community,” Gaddy said. “I am simply walking in the shoes of the role models and trailblazing women of color who came before me — who helped make it possible for women like me who came behind them to find their voice to positively impact our communities.” Gaddy said she firmly believes in a quote from Nigerian-born political scientist Ndukwe Kalu: “The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy.” WRC offers career coaching, skills training and certifications, access to job-search tools, wardrobe assistance via the Working Women’s Clothing Closet and a workforce re-entry program for incarcerated women and former inmates called New Beginnings. Prior to WRC, Gaddy served as vice president of advancement for the Inner City Christian Federation and previously had a career in banking at Chase Bank, PNC Bank and Comerica Bank.
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EMMA GARCIA Co-executive director Access of West Michigan
AS A YOUNG LEADER, Emma Garcia said she has experienced many people in the last few years who have disregarded her because of her age. “It is something I’ve gotten used to — older leaders who do not care to invest time or energy into getting to know me or regarding my input, or even brush past me,” she said. “I have also experienced older leaders who, although they have better things to do with their time, have invested in me, sought me out, challenged and pushed me into new things, and believed in me.” Through her role at Access of West Michigan, Garcia has secured funding for five area pantries to implement a new model of food service in their buildings. The Farm Stand model requires locally grown food to be purchased at full price to support local growers and then sold at half price to people struggling to meet basic needs. “She is fighting for social justice and recognition that food isn’t just a basic need; good food is a right of all people,” said Karrie Brown, development director of United Christian Outreach Ministry. “Through the Access Walk For Good Food, Access is raising awareness, engaging the community and raising funds for area organizations.” In 2014, Access underwent a tumultuous transition in executive leadership, which led to high amounts of staff turnover, inactivity of the board and mission stagnation. During this time, Garcia was able to facilitate the creation of a staff proposal to embark on a shared leadership model.
FLORIZA GENAUTIS CEO Management Business Solutions
FLORIZA GENAUTIS migrated to the U.S. from the Philippines in 1990 after graduating college with a degree in mathematics specializing in computer application. Genautis said she comes from a patriarchal society, and men in the Philippines are widely regarded as the decision-makers and hold positions of power and prestige. “However, my mom early on showed us — my sister and I — that women have a voice, we can have degrees and be educated and run/ open-up their business,” Genautis said. “My mother was an entrepreneur who made great sacrifices to bring our family to America from the Philippines.” Genautis said her mother set an example for her not to accept working for someone else if the situation was not ideal. She founded Management Business Solutions in 2006, which is now a certified womenowned business enterprise and a minority-owned business enterprise. “I feel that the key to the company’s success has been the collaboration of the dedicated and empowered team that I have assembled,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that we hire not just employees but future owners of the organization.” Management Business Solutions offers clients personalized and relationship-driven solutions specializing in placing candidates in the areas of accounting, finance, human resource, information technology, sales and marketing, government and engineering. Genautis said 85% of Management Business Solutions’ staff are women and/or minority workers.
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LINSEY GLEASON Partner Varnum LLP
LINSEY GLEASON is dedicated to promoting diversity, not just at her firm, but in the West Michigan community as a whole. Gleason was appointed as co-chair of Varnum’s diversity and inclusion advisory council and internal diversity committee in 2018. The council is comprised of up to 20 members diverse in age, race, gender, orientation, professional expertise and community involvement. “Varnum is committed to leadership in the area of diversity and inclusion, and we hold ourselves accountable to our team members, our clients and our community for momentum and progress on these values,” Gleason said. Gleason joined Varnum as an associate in 2008 and was promoted to partner in 2015. She specializes in estate planning and administration, business succession, elder law, special needs planning and probate litigation. She oversees annual revenue of about $1 million in personal production and direct legal billing supervision. As an attorney, Gleason’s work is not centered in the nonprofit sector, but she chooses to volunteer her time and legal knowledge in the community to help organizations with limited resources, she said. “I’m also committed to improving the local legal community and the community at large by making West Michigan a more inclusive and welcoming place to live and work,” she said. Outside of Varnum, Gleason serves on the Grand Rapids Whitewater Inc. campaign cabinet, is the former chair of the Probate and Estate Planning Section of the Grand Rapids Bar Association and one of Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s 100 New Philanthropists.
RHONDA HUISMANN Office managing partner Crowe
RHONDA HUISMANN was promoted to office managing partner in January 2017, making her the third office managing partner for Crowe’s Grand Rapids office, which was established in 1984. “I had the wonderful opportunity to grow up professionally in the firm with Bob Herr, managing partner from 1984-2005, and Chuck Frayer, managing partner from 2006-17, both who served as mentors and coaches to me and still are today,” Huismann said. Huismann said she also is fortunate Crowe designates a generous budget for her to invest back into organizations serving the local community, along with support and encouragement for staff at all levels of the firm to invest time volunteering with organizations they are passionate about. Her primary responsibilities include management of the Grand Rapids office, as well as client relationship management and team supervision related to the delivery of tax compliance and consulting services. She has extensive experience working with privately held clients in construction and real estate both in West Michigan and nationwide, many with complex multistate and global operations. Huismann has been with Crowe since 1997, previously serving as senior tax manager and federal tax partner in her time with the firm. In her current role, she oversees 205 employees and annual revenue of around $45 million. Outside of Crowe, Huismann serves on the board of directors for Grand Rapids Symphony, Talent 2025 and the Better Business Bureau Serving West Michigan, The Right Place strategic action committee and GVSU accounting advisory board.
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50 MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 25
HOLLY JOHNSON President Frey Foundation
AS PRESIDENT OF the Frey Foundation, Holly Johnson builds relationships for the foundation she believes has played a big role in the changes Grand Rapids has experienced over the past couple of decades. Prior, she was president of the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation. Under her leadership, the foundation’s assets nearly doubled. “I feel fortunate to be able to have a position where I can positively impact the community that I love,” Johnson said. “I get to do well while also doing good.” Johnson got her start in the philanthropy arena later in her career. After spending some time in sales and staffing, she chose to stay home to raise children. During that time, she began volunteering for the YMCA in Grand Haven, and that’s how she was bitten by the philanthropy bug. Like many women, Johnson said she pursued a master’s degree while working, parenting, and being a wife and engaged community member. She took night classes at GVSU for five years to obtain an MPA. “While this pushed me and tested me, it also grew my confidence and my commitment to my career,” Johnson said. “Don’t look for the easy way; take the hard road. You will be better suited for the right job when it comes along.” Johnson is on the boards for Lakeshore Advantage and the Grand Valley University Foundation. She’s a member of the Spectrum Health finance oversight committee. She’s also been on the boards for Lakeshore Nonprofit Alliance, Association of Fundraising Professionals and West Michigan Planned Giving Group.
CHRISTINA KELLER President and CEO Cascade Engineering
AS PRESIDENT and CEO of Cascade Engineering, Christina Keller leads 1,800 employees that create $350 million in revenue. Cascade has made considerable strides in corporate responsibility, leading to a B Corp certification with increasing scores. As a trustee for the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Keller has led initiatives toward investing in socially responsible companies, known as impact investing. She also has provided direction for the foundation’s One Hundred New Philanthropists project, meant to engage the next generation of donors. Keller’s nominator, Spectrum Health President and CEO Tina Freese Decker, said: “She is making decisions about sustainability and economic stability that will impact our state in years to come.” After working for several years for companies in Washington, D.C., and New York, Keller started at Cascade Engineering as business unit leader of Triple Quest, followed by her role as president of CK Technologies and then president of Cascade Business Team, which consists of four of the company’s nine business units. Keller also is a board member of Independent Bank, during which time it acquired Traverse City State Bank. Keller also has considerable experience with international development work. In Uganda, she installed solar panels on schools and hospitals with Uganda’s first lady. “Of all of my career accomplishments, the one I am most proud of is that we have hired over 1,000 people from poverty or prison and have thus jump-started their career trajectory toward growth,” Keller said.
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BIRGIT KLOHS President and CEO The Right Place
DURING HER 33-year tenure as president and CEO of The Right Place, Birgit Klohs has led projects that created and retained more than 44,000 jobs and over $4.5 billion in investment. Through its business development services, the organization invests countless hours to retain, expand and attract companies throughout West Michigan. “When we announce a project, all you see is the tip of the iceberg,” Klohs said. “But nobody knows what went on under the water before that.” The ripple effect of that work extends through the entire region. When Klohs started, The Right Place had four employees. Now, it has nearly 40 employees and covers six counties. In 2018, the organization became accredited by the International Economic Development Council, one of 67 accredited agencies in the country. “My passion for the work The Right Place does and the results it has shown is what drives me each and every day,” she said. “To be able to see the progress this community has made — the jobs and businesses we have assisted and continue to assist to grow — is a daily reminder of the importance of our work.” Klohs is a board member for ADAC Automotive; Gerald R. Ford International Airport; International Crossing Authority, working on the Gordie Howe International Bridge; Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce; Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.; Priority Health; Macatawa Bank; Kent County-Grand Rapids Convention Arena Authority; and MichiganIsrael Business Accelerator. She previously was a board member for Spectrum Health, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Grand Action.
MICHELLE LAJOYE-YOUNG Sheriff Kent County
AFTER RISING through the ranks of the Kent County Sheriff’s Office since 1989, Michelle LaJoye-Young became the county’s first woman sheriff in 2018, now overseeing a $60 million budget and 700 employees. Numerous accomplishments throughout her time in every department include implementing technology solutions for computer-aided dispatch; in-car reporting, ticketing and accident reporting; and jail management solutions and performance measurements. She implemented information-based decision-making throughout the department, tracking key performance indicators to optimize resource deployment. She also helped implement a 911 surcharge and public safety radio. In her 31-year career with the county, LaJoye-Young said she has met people of many cultures and heritages. “I have worked to deliver informed, empathetic and appropriate services to everyone I come into contact with.” A veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves, LaJoye-Young spent 12 years in various assignments and ranks, ending as a captain in 1997. All that, and she’s a “proud mother of two boys.” “I have worked very hard to be a leader in an industry where women are underrepresented and can provide a perspective that would take law enforcement in a more positive direction,” LaJoye-Young said. “I think by recognizing women who seek to lead, we encourage other women to take leadership roles in nontraditional fields.” LaJoye-Young is a board member for the Children’s Advocacy Center of Kent County, Boys and Girls Club of Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Community College Criminal Justice advisory board.
50 MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 27
President Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce
AS PRESIDENT OF the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, Cindy Larsen has been integral in the continued reconstruction of 20 acres of downtown. What started as a pile of rubble left from a defunct mall now is a growing downtown full of new businesses, housing and tourism. Most recently, Larsen said she has been instrumental in bringing cruise ships to the Great Lakes. She traveled to other ports, assisted with international marketing and attended international conferences in Toronto and Florida. This work led to Muskegon helping to create the service infrastructure needed for growing this tourism industry. “This was not an easy task, as many did not believe in this effort nor did they believe it was possible. I was fortunate to find professional allies on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes who supported Muskegon and welcomed us onto their team,” Larsen said. “It was a calculated risk that paid off for our community and for Michigan.” This year, Muskegon will host 34 cruise ship stops with reservations for 50 ships in 2022. Larsen is a board member for the Downtown Muskegon Development Corporation and Muskegon Area Promise. She also has spent time on the boards for Great Lakes Cruise Ship Coalition, Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives and Visit Muskegon, the county’s convention and visitors bureau. “I have served on many boards and committees over the years for the community and economic development of West Michigan and Michigan,” Larsen said.
President and COO DP Fox Ventures and Fox Motors
NOT MANY people can say they oversee a company that creates over $1 billion in revenue, but Diane Maher can. Now the president and COO of both DP Fox Ventures and Fox Motors overseeing 1,625 employees, Maher, a first-generation college student, began her career in finance and worked her way up over the past 26 years. She started at her current company in 1993 as the firm’s vice president of finance. The former is a diversified management company with interests in real estate, transportation, fashion, sports and entertainment. Fox Motors is a retail automotive and powersports group representing 48 brands at 50 locations from Chicago to Grand Rapids to Marquette. “I never dreamed that I could be leading a company of this size when I was a 22-year-old accountant at Deloitte,” Maher said. “It is amazing what a good attitude and work ethic can do for a person in their career and in their life.” She says she strives to create a work environment that allows people to thrive. “We invest in our people, our communities and our customers. We believe this is the right thing to do, and the golden rule applies in all cases. If we treat people right and with respect, many good things can happen,” Maher said. “My hope is that my work will have and has had an impact on my community in a positive way.” Maher is a board member for Our Daily Bread Ministries, the West Michigan Policy Forum and Mercantile Bank.
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Impact. Congratulations to our alumni and faculty and staff members named to the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s “50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan” list. Like West Michigan itself, their positive impact is far reaching. That’s the Laker Effect. Sharouq Almallah, Staff Rosalynn Bliss, Faculty Shannon Cohen, ‘00 & ‘11 Katie Ferris, ‘04 & ‘05 Rhonda Huismann, ‘04 Holly Johnson, ‘10 Jean Nagelkerk, Staff Monica Steimle-App, ‘01 Milinda Ysasi, ‘03
Real solutions are born from real leadership. Congratulations to Meredith Bronk, United Bank Board Director and President and Meredith Bronk United Bank Board Director President & CEO of OST
CEO of OST and Doris Drain, Vice President Commercial Lending, United Bank. Our company and our community are lucky to have you.
Doris Drain VP, Commercial Lender United Bank
50 MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 29
Executive director West Michigan Asian American Association
AFTER A NEARLY 30-year career at the U.S. Social Security Administration, Minerva Morey began a second career helping others. This time, the local Asian community. Even though Morey says she’s “retired,” she has spent the past 14 years as executive director of the West Michigan Asian American Association. “It gives me a purpose to continue to do the work that I’m passionate about, to help others who are less fortunate,” Morey said. “I’ve got the skills and the experience; I need to share that.” In her role, she has established connections with diverse Asian leaders, coordinated major fundraising events, established health care programs to support Asian communities, established ESL and citizenship classes, and supervises eight bilingual interpreters. From the beginning, Morey’s job has been to act as the “connector” between all Asian communities in the Grand Rapids area. In addition, she is working with a team to expand the presence of the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce in West Michigan. Morey is a board member of the Grand Rapids Chinese Language School and is on the Community Inclusion Group for the Grand RapidsKent County Convention/Arena Authority. She also participates in organizing Asian-focused events in Grand Rapids. She spent eight years on the board for Arbor Circle. Morey won the APACC Community Leadership Award in 2018. “My accomplishments as an Asian leader has increased awareness of the needs of Asian communities, especially new immigrants and refugees in West Michigan,” Morey said.
RACHEL MRAZ Wealth management adviser Merrill Lynch
RACHEL MRAZ is someone whose work goes well beyond her day job. In addition to her career as a wealth management adviser for Merrill Lynch, for which she has received national attention, she has dedicated herself to making change locally. Mraz has been recognized on top wealth manager lists in Forbes Magazine five times. “I love my career and my team, and this recognition validated that passion on a national scale,” Mraz said. One of her most recent accomplishments is setting up her late mother’s foundation, the Eileen DeVries Family Foundation, and succeeding as its president after her mother died. “She was a passionate advocate for many organizations in our community, and while I hate that she doesn’t get to physically see the impact her life’s work is having on our community, I am incredibly passionate about and proud to be fulfilling her legacy,” Mraz said. She is board president for the Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding and a board member for Family Business Alliance, Davenport University Foundation, YMCA Association, Economic Club of Grand Rapids, John Ball Zoo and Van Andel Institute’s J Board. She also has spent time on the boards for Saint Mary’s Hospital Foundation, Council of Michigan Foundations, the YWCA West Central Michigan and more. “Needless to say, I feel strongly about women in leadership roles in philanthropic boards and want to work to set examples for future business and philanthropic leaders,” Mraz said.
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JEAN NAGELKERK Vice provost for health Grand Valley State University
AS VICE PROVOST for health at Grand Valley State University, Jean Nagelkerk has been integral in the planning and expansion of the school’s presence on Medical Mile. Scheduled to open in 2021, the Daniel and Pamella DeVos Center for Interprofessional Health is the third and main building of GVSU’s downtown medical education campus. With a long background in nursing, she also teaches and has done significant work in elevating GVSU’s health education offerings. “Driven by a deeply embedded dedication to ensuring that the next generation of health care professionals is provided with innovative, interprofessional and relevant experiences stemming from my own experience as a nurse, I consistently work to identify ways to improve the experiential learning experiences of students,” Nagelkerk said. “I am proud that GVSU is the main provider of health professionals in the region with over 9,000 of our 24,033 students enrolled in one of our 65 health-related programs.” She is a board member for Trinity Health Michigan and Holland Home. She has worked on the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute board since 2011. “This work has provided me the opportunity to learn about the impact of health disparities in our community and opportunities to seek ways to improve the diversity of the health care workforce.” She also has spent time on the boards for David D. Hunting YMCA, American Interprofessional Health Collaborative and the Midwest Interprofessional Practice, Education, and Research Center.
CEO Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women
BONNIE NAWARA calls the opportunity to become the CEO of Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women her best career achievement. After owning and operating her own business for over 15 years, then working as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, she took her current role to help other businesswomen succeed. GROW started 30 years ago to provide training and resources for women looking to start businesses. Since Nawara started 10 years ago, the nonprofit added a microlending program, expanded programs and services, doubled revenue and added a full-time staff on the lakeshore. She also is launching a virtual training platform this year. “This is a true labor of love but also one that I thank my staff for, as I could not have done it alone,” Nawara said. For the past few years, GROW also has engaged women with longestablished businesses, offering training on leadership skills. Some of these more experienced business owners also mentor some younger clients. “I like to say we’ve come full circle, from grassroots to grasstops,” Nawara said. She said the secret behind GROW’s success is that it’s based on relationships. Businesses that worked with GROW in the very beginning are engaged now. Besides GROW, Nawara has been involved with the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, the Association of Women’s Business Centers, the National Women’s Business Council and more. She is a five-time winner of the Business Journal’s 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan award (2020, 2018, 2016, 2014, 2012).
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JENNIFER OWENS President Lakeshore Advantage
AS PRESIDENT of the economic development organization Lakeshore Advantage, Jennifer Owens works to attract business investment in West Michigan. “One of my greatest passions is to make our community a great place where we can all live, work, play and learn,” Owens said. “With a fantastic team at my side, we work every day to do this. The goals are lofty and the tasks are challenging, but with hard work and vision, we rise to meet and accomplish them.” A big win for Lakeshore Advantage over the past couple of years was the $100 million investment and creation of 250 jobs by Zeeland-based Gentex. Lakeshore Advantage also landed the $50 million investment by dairy producer fairlife and the $30 million investment by office furniture manufacturer Herman Miller. Owens said one of the most significant achievements in the role has been replenishing the Now for the Next Fund, the 10-year endowment for Lakeshore Advantage. “Refunding an endowment that was nearly depleted with support from many business and community leaders in less than six months is a significant milestone in my professional career,” Owens said. Owens is an executive committee board member for Spectrum Health. “I am a fierce advocate for female representation in the economic development and business arenas, leading an all-female leadership team here at Lakeshore Advantage, as well as launching a women’s group at the West Coast Chamber of Commerce to support emerging female leaders,” Owens said.
JENNIFER REMONDINO Partner Warner Norcross + Judd
IN ADDITION TO serving as the Holland leader for the Warner Norcross + Judd law firm, Jennifer Remondino said she has made an effort to build relationships and pursue activities that help grow the community. Being in her position has allowed her a leadership platform to make changes in the industry and the greater business community, she said. “I think influence is about building relationships, helping others and allowing others to help you,” Remondino said. As chair of the firm’s trust and estates group, she often works with people looking to transition their wealth to the next generation of their families. “The ‘toolkit’ that I use to help my clients run a family business or pass on a family legacy is transferrable to helping others in my community,” Remondino said. “This has allowed me to develop skills that can assist organizations to develop our business community and shape the future of our region.” As board chair for the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce, Remondino is helping organize its first leadership summit. She also is on the board for Lakeshore Advantage and is a steering committee member for Foundations Endowments Family Offices. She also has been on the boards for Lakeshore Habitat for Humanity and the Ottawa County Bar Association. “Most significantly, my work with the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce and with Lakeshore Advantage has given me a unique window into what it takes to build a strong community that is an attractive place to live, work and raise a family,” Remondino said.
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Owner Art of the Table/Aperitivo
AMY RUIS’ name always has been closely associated with Wealthy Street. She has helped to revitalize the business district since she became part of it, opening Art of the Table in 2003. Ten years later, she opened Aperitivo in the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. Art of the Table is known for its craft beverages, specialty foods, and home and host products. “Opening Art of the Table in 2003 was a dream for me to open my own business, and the details all came together in crazy ways that set me on the path for this journey of retail I’m now deep in the thick of,” she said. Aperitivo is a wine bar and retailer that offers imported and domestic cheeses, charcuterie, wine, beer and cider. The retail stores have had an economic impact in Grand Rapids, bringing in $2 million in revenue annually and are a source of employment for 24 full-time and part-time individuals. “I feel I continue to resonate with fellow business owners — men and women alike — in Grand Rapids, creating relevant spaces with and for others through my vocation of food and wine, and retail in general,” she said. Ruis also has been involved with local organizations, currently serving on the boards of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Wealthy Street Business Alliance and Slow Food International. Among the accolades Ruis has collected over the years, she was one of the Business Journal’s Top Women Owned Businesses in 2018 and the publication’s 40 Under 40 Distinguished Alumnus in 2016.
Former president Local First West Michigan/Local First Educational Foundation
ELISSA SANGALLI recently left Local First, and her successor has big shoes to fill. She announced her decision to step down as the president of Local First West Michigan and Local First Educational Foundation in January after spending 13 years with the organization she helped build. “I’ve been incredibly humbled by the opportunity to lead our staff, board and business community toward the development of a regenerative, equitable economy that values local ownership and puts people first,” she said. Sangalli became the first full-time executive at Local First after it was founded in 2003. During her tenure, the organization has grown over 700% to more than 800 member businesses and organizations throughout West Michigan. Under her leadership, Local First hosted the 2012 BALLE Conference and completed the 2008 “Local Works!” study, which makes the business case for locally based economies. She created the Measure What Matters campaign and Quick Impact Assessment tool in partnership with B Lab, the creator of the Certified B Corporation standard. The campaign allows Main Street businesses to quantify and benchmark their impact on their employees, community and environment. More than 300 West Michigan businesses and 50,000 others worldwide have used the assessment to measure their impacts. Sangalli is a member of the National Social Venture Circle board, where she equips entrepreneurs, impact investors and capacity-builders with connections, money and expertise.
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PHOTO BY MATTHEW PROVOAST PHOTOGRAPHY
President and founder Health 4 Hire Inc.
WENDY SELLERS is taking health education head-on. She founded Health 4 Hire Inc. in an effort to provide health education, consultation and resources to schools, businesses and organizations throughout the world. In 2002, she developed a curriculum called Puberty: The Wonder Years, which was published by the Educational Materials Center at Central Michigan University. However, after the EMC closed in 2015, Sellers was determined to make Puberty: The Wonder Years available again. “I completely revised the curriculum and self-published it with personal investment and a successful $25,000 Kickstarter campaign,” Sellers said. “I was compelled to learn new skills in business development, sales and marketing, communications, inventory management, vendor relations, distribution and operations.” Since 2015, she was able to create and publish the curriculum for teachers to educate their fourth, fifth and sixth graders around the world, including Australia, Canada, Ecuador, Iran, Morocco, Nicaragua, South Africa and Thailand. She also developed an online training course and presents workshops at several conferences each year to advance puberty education and related topics. “Puberty education is protecting (students) from ignorance, shame, and potential exploitation and supporting them in reaching their full potential,” she said. Sellers also co-authored Michigan’s model school health education curriculum, the Michigan Model for Health. It is a voluntarily used K-12 health education program that is utilized by about 80% of Michigan schools and across the country.
President Grand Rapids Community Foundation
OVER HER 33-YEAR tenure as president of Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Diana Sieger has raised the assets of the foundation from $35 million to more than $360 million. But she said that is not the most important achievement. The greatest success for the foundation, Sieger said, started almost a decade ago. “A key achievement by far is our Challenge Scholars program, which we launched in 2011,” she said. “Focusing on a pipeline of schools on the west side of Grand Rapids, we are providing support such as college/career coordinators; the Kent School Services Network, providing health and human services in all schools; standing alongside families and students to raise achievement levels and catapult students to graduating high school; and removing the financial barriers of continuing their education beyond high school, college and/or learning a trade.” The Challenge Scholars program will offer students who stay on track and graduate from Union High School in 2020 the opportunity to attend college or technical training institutions with last-dollar scholarships. GRCF has a budget of $5 million each year, but the funds raised for endowment exceed $14 million each year. Along with leading the community foundation, Sieger serves on a number of boards in the city, including the Downtown Development Authority, the governor-appointed Office of Foundation Liaison and KConnect. Sieger made the Business Journal’s inaugural Grand Rapids 200 Most Powerful Business Leaders list last year and was a Crain’s Business Detroit’s 100 Most Influential Women in Michigan honoree in 2016.
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MONICA STEIMLE-APP Executive vice president Rockford Construction
AS THE EXECUTIVE vice president of Rockford Construction, Monica Steimle-App has the unique opportunity to improve the lives of city residents and businesses. “Working in real estate development means that the values I believe in and the decisions I make have the power to impact people’s lives,” she said. “I’m confident that my work to date has not only improved the lives of the people I serve but set neighborhoods and communities up for continued success well into the future.” Steimle-App has joined city leaders in conversations about the community as a whole, regarding affordable housing, alternative transportation, environmental sustainability and supporting local businesses. She created the Rock Perks program, which gives special discounts and offers at local businesses throughout Grand Rapids to residents of Rockford Property Management properties. The commercial participants include HopCat, Uccello’s Ristorante, YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, John Ball Zoo, the NOMAD Gallery by Richard App and others. “I feel like we’re helping the businesses and also the residents, so together, they’re helping to support each other,” she said. Steimle-App is a member of three community boards. She is the board president of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks. For the third consecutive year, Steimle-App is serving as a board member of the Hispanic Center of West Michigan to carry out strategic planning. Steimle-App has been serving as a commissioner for the Grand Rapids Housing Commission for three years. She works with the executive director to develop and build strategic partnerships with Grand Rapids.
SUE TELLIER President JetCo Federal
SUE TELLIER took a leap of faith in 2007, when she decided to start her own business, JetCo Federal, just five months into her marriage. And just two years after starting one company, Tellier and her husband decided to start another business. “The good news is it worked,” she said. “We are still happily married and both companies are thriving. We separated the ownership and operation of the two companies in 2018, allowing each of us to focus and lead more effectively.” Teller said JetCo Federal, which has annual revenue of $6 million, is the national leader in defense warehouse supply and the second-largest provider of corrugated items to the Defense Logistics Agency. Tellier is sharing her success with other small businesses. She was presented the Small Business Advocate of the Year award for 2019 by the Small Business Association of Michigan, which has more than 27,000 small business owners in Michigan. “My role as an advocate on their behalf fulfills me,” she said. “I’m proud to be part of this important part of Michigan’s economy, both statewide and in West Michigan. “I serve as a formal and informal mentor to several women who recently started companies, giving them full attention and guidance, and hoping to help them avoid some of the failures I experienced in the last 12 years of running my own companies.” Tellier also is a board member of the Small Business Association of Michigan, Women in Defense and the Michigan Strategic Fund.
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PUSHING BOUNDARIES + PERSEVERING Congratulations on being one of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan.
Betsy DeVos Amy Ruis Tami Vanden Berg Michelle VanDyke Rachel VerWys
’79 ’93 ’97 ’00 ’00
50 MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 37
Celebrating 50 years in Grand Rapids
Thank You For Making a Difference in our Community. Congratulations to the 50 Most Influential Women. Your leadership makes our community stronger today and for future generations. Marsh is one of the Marsh & McLennan Companies, together with Guy Carpenter, Mercer, and Oliver Wyman. Copyright Â© 2020 Marsh LLC. All rights reserved. 456183878
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Congratulations! Crowe would like to congratulate all the Grand Rapids Business Journal 2020 Most Influential Women in West Michigan honorees, including our very own office managing partner, Rhonda Huismann. crowe.com
Smar t decisions today. Lasting value tomorrow.
Visit www.crowe.com/disclosure for more information about Crowe LLP, its subsidiaries, and Crowe Global. © 2020 Crowe LLP.
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE 50 MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN IN WEST MICHIGAN on behalf of Please join us April 23 at our WomanUp & Celebrate luncheon as we honor 2020 Women of Achievement & Courage Honorees Joan Budden and Meg Miller Willit, the Sister Survivors of MSU, USAG, and USOC, and the extraordinary women and girls of Michigan.
CELEBRATING 34 YEARS
For more information or to register, visit miwf.org or call 616.765.4230
OF TRANSFORMING MICHIGAN TO ACHIEVE EQUALITY AND EMPOWERMENT FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS 50 MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 39
ANNEMARIE VALDEZ President and CEO First Steps Kent
ALTHOUGH ANNEMARIE VALDEZ has been in Grand Rapids for just over four years, she has made an impact on the lives of children. She is the president and CEO of First Steps Kent, a nonprofit that works in partnership with the county to provide early childhood services. She led the effort to pass the Ready By Five Early Childhood millage, which provides funding for young children to receive services they need to be healthy and prepared for kindergarten. The program generates $5.7 million per year. “Kent County can be an extremely generous place when it comes to supporting work that has the potential to change the lives of young children,” she said. “My organization, First Steps Kent, has been generously supported by many stakeholders in our community. I have had the opportunity here to streamline our organization, work extensively with legislators, commissioners and other key figures and business leaders in our nonprofit landscape.” Valdez also supports other organizations that focus on education and families. She has been an advisory council member at the Literacy Center of West Michigan to improve access for families to literacy resources. She also is a member of the Accountable Health Communities task force, which improves health screenings and navigation for families. For the last four years, Valdez has served as a member of Talent 2025 Early Childhood Workgroup to improve child care resources and advocacy. She was selected as one of the Business Journal’s 200 Most Powerful Business Leaders last year and won the publication’s nonprofit Newsmaker of the Year in 2018.
TAMI VANDENBERG Co-founder and co-owner Meanwhile Bar/Pyramid Scheme
TAMI VANDENBERG’S entrepreneurial spirit is endless. She opened two businesses and is looking to open a third. She co-founded The Meanwhile Bar alongside her brother, Jeff VandenBerg, in 2007. Four years later, she teamed up with her brother again, as well as BarFly Ventures CEO Mark Sellers, to open The Pyramid Scheme. “My greatest achievement has been attracting excellent business partners and investors,” she said. “Everything I have built has been from the ground up, and bank financing was not always available.” As an advocate for legalizing recreational marijuana, she formed the West Michigan Cannabis Guild, which helps to work together on policies and ordinances regarding marijuana. Now, she is looking to dive into the retail side of marijuana. VandenBerg, along with her brother and Jeff Hanks, have applied to open a licensed medical marijuana dispensary in Grand Rapids. VandenBerg also is a member of MILegalize and the Grand Rapids Democracy Initiative. “I think that I have been willing to take some risks and take on topics that others have been reluctant to be a part of,” she said. “In my human rights work, I have always tried to focus on issues that others would not, such as HIV/AIDS, homelessness, drugs, returning citizens. “I have tried to leverage my voice, position and resources to increase the awareness and quality of life for those who have been stigmatized. I even ran for city commission to try and bring attention, resources and evidence-based interventions to our neighbors who have been left behind.”
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MICHELLE VAN DYKE President and CEO Heart of West Michigan United Way
MICHELLE VAN DYKE came out of retirement to start the next chapter of her professional life at Heart of West Michigan United Way. After 30 years in the banking industry, Van Dyke joined the nonprofit as its president and CEO in 2016. She is responsible for the leadership at United Way, which raises $11 million in annual workplace campaigns to improve education, financial stability and health of others. The nonprofit funds 52 partner agencies in the community. “I felt called to give back to the community where I have lived and worked most of my career,” she said. “Since I came to HWMUW in January 2016, we have honed our mission and our strategies, refined our funding priorities and are now changing our fundraising business model. It’s all necessary work to keep United Way relevant for this community.” Her business approach was generated by the three decades of finance experience she gained from Old Kent Financial Corporation and Fifth Third Bank, where she dealt with retail banking, mortgage banking, wholesale lending, strategic planning, sales and operational management on a national level. She was recognized as one of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking and as a Woman to Watch by American Banker four times each. “I have had a successful career in banking, and I am now giving back as part of the nonprofit sector,” Van Dyke said. “I have always been focused on outcomes, and we are seeing positive trends in our areas of focus at United Way.”
RACHEL VERWYS Executive director Solutions to End Exploitation
RACHEL VERWYS has become the face of a movement to draw more awareness to human trafficking. She is the executive director of Solutions to End Exploitation (SEE), which she co-created. “SEE started in 2018 and, in many ways, felt like braving the wilderness, yet I believed there was an opportunity to lead our community forward toward freedom,” she said. “And that belief is becoming a reality. We are creating a movement of business, education, health care, government, law enforcement, faith, nonprofit and neighbors to create a future free from human trafficking.” After a SEE collaborative study in 2018 revealed there is a $6 million economy based on exploitation in the illegal massage industry in greater Grand Rapids, VerWys started working with city government to combat the problem. SEE and Grand Rapids created and passed an accountability measure against exploitation in a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design ordinance eight months after releasing the data. “As the leader in this movement, I celebrate that the achievement is collective, it is a true collaboration, it is grit with grace and we will continue to catalyze increased strategy toward ending human trafficking,” she said. The study also was completed in Dallas, Texas, and SEE has been approached to co-lead the study in three other states. “My influence has united our community, developed trust and confidence between sectors and ignited the capability for something bigger and more impactful than each of us could do on our own,” VerWys said.
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ASHLEY WARD Owner Hire For Hope
ASHELY WARD is using her own experience to help others. She is the owner of Hire For Hope, a talent consulting firm in Grand Rapids that is focused on growing the workforce. Ward’s decision to quit her day job to start Hire For Hope was inspired by her own experience. Ward grew up in a low-income household, where she had to drop out of school at age 14 to work full time to help her single mother support the family. Her father, who suffered from alcoholism, did not help with support. Ward also was a victim of domestic violence, which impacted the trajectory of her life. She turned to Safe Haven Ministries, which provides help for abused women and children. Now that she is a business owner, Ward said she wants to ensure women are able to support themselves and create a better life. Ward has not forgotten the impact Safe Haven had on her life, so she gives 10% of all of her revenue to the nonprofit, supporting the organization that supported her during one of the worst periods of her life. “I want to do the same for other women who deserve the same opportunity that Safe Haven gave to me,” she said. “Now look where I am. Think about where these other women can go if they only have the chance. I am part of a new generation of leadership in our community and excited to help pave the path for young leaders in the years to come.” Ward is the corporate impact committee chair for Safe Haven Ministries, the marketing committee member for the Mayor’s Next Gen Advisory Board and a delegation member for Grand Rapids Sister Cities International. Last year, she won Entrepreneur of the Year from Grand Rapids Young Professionals.
MILINDA YSASI Executive director The SOURCE
OVER THE YEARS, Milinda Ysasi has been focused on making sure other people feel like they belong in different sectors of the workforce by helping employers. She is the executive director of The SOURCE and is tasked with helping employers improve their business relationship with their employees in an effort to retain and recruit workers. She helps employers create best practices to drive employee engagement and talent differentiation while being responsible for a $700,000 operating budget that includes grants from national foundation donors. Ysasi also has been involved in the West Michigan educational sector. She has designed a curriculum with local colleges and universities for employee retention and is a facilitator for the Ferris State University Leaders program. “(I) work to ensure the growth and development of Latinx leaders in West Michigan,” she said. “I facilitate the professional development segment of the class. This year, The SOURCE has a grant with Mercy Health Saint Mary’s and West Michigan Works! to develop an on-site career development center.” In November, the Grand Rapids native also was elected as second ward city commissioner of Grand Rapids. Ysasi co-founded the Latina Network of West Michigan, which serves to build and develop personal and professional relationships in the community. She is a member of the West Michigan Works! Legislative Committee, which advocates for continued investment in Going Pro dollars for employers to invest in their training needs.
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Named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan for 2020
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Warner Norcross + Judd congratulates Amanda Fielder and Jennifer Remondino â€” named among 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan.
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