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Looking toward the future through the actions of 40 There can be no doubt West Michigan is home to participants actively engaged in creating new businesses, re-charting the course of existing businesses and assisting or creating philanthropic endeavors. This is given evidence by an incredible 279 nominations for the Grand Rapids Business Journal 40 Under Forty class of 2015. Each of these individuals was nominated by others who had been inspired in some way by their drive, skills, beneficence and influence as change makers. How does anyone consider this record number of nominees and select only 40? Each nominee is evaluated on business success, professional recognitions and awards, new endeavors, breaking stereotypes, or new industry emergence. The business evaluations consider the success of the business and the leadership provided by the individual. Additional emphasis is given to community involvement and leadership indications in that involvement. Repeating 40 Under Forty class members have a greater task and must also demonstrate new capabilities, acumen and involvement. The Greater Grand Rapids metropolitan region continues to diversify, create and recreate its economic footings with business leaders who invest in community. This annual spotlight of those who are in their 20s and 30s but already leading various industries and making community contributions is a look toward the future. In past decades serving on community and nonprofit boards was a manner of networking, but the under-40 class is increasingly creating those organizations or forming new alliances. Such endeavors create community energy and impact. This introduction to the future of West Michigan was created in 1995 and has served to connect young business leaders with one another and the larger business community. Grand Rapids Business Journal makes a point of remembering each class of the past 20 years and connecting with those individuals who remain active in West Michigan. This year the Business Journal honors U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Patrick Miles, a three-time recipient of 40 Under Forty honors. In 2007, Miles was the first partner of color in Varnum Law’s 110-year history. His career began in telecommunications law, participating in the 1990s in Federal Communications Commission rulemaking, which included the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The task of judging does not get easier. Judges review every one of the nominations and have a commitment to the process. They are advocates of the under-40 crowd. Judges included: Bob Thomas, executive director of Michigan Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which includes Leadership Michigan in Lansing; Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future, in Ann Arbor; and Bethany Rigg, executive career coach, MSU School of Business and now serving the state of Michigan as benefit plan designer and health care specialist for the Michigan Office of Retirement Services. The Business Journal offers congratulations to the Class of 2015 — and all 279 nominees — and is pleased to introduce them to West Michigan, and one another. —Carole Valade Editor
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40 Under Forty Distinguished Alumnus
Patrick Miles, this year’s distinguished alumnus, is a three-time recipient of the 40 Under Forty award. Miles, a winner in 2002, 2005 and 2007, earned the honor while serving as an attorney first at Grand Rapids law firm Varnum Law and later at Detroit’s Dickinson Wright. He worked out of Dickinson Wright’s Grand Rapids office. Since his time as a 40 Under Forty honoree, Miles has gone on to his current position as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan. He is the first AfricanAmerican to hold the U.S. attorney position for the Western District of Michigan, which he has held since President Barack Obama appointed him in 2012. As U.S. attorney, Miles immediately placed emphasis on preventing and prosecuting health care fraud, financial fraud and child exploitation, as well as reducing violent crimes in major urban areas through a more localized and focused approach. He also increased and supports efforts to reduce ex-offender recidivism. His accomplishments to date include restructuring the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office into four sections to streamline management and increase attorney specialization. The sections are: Organized Drug Crimes, Financial Crimes, National Security and Violent Crimes. Miles formed various units in the four criminal division sections and in the civil division for reactive cases and added more task forces to proactively collaborate with law enforcement and government agencies as well as to educate the public to prevent or detect crimes.
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In 2007, Miles became Varnum’s first partner of color in the firm’s 110-year history. During his time at Dickinson Wright, he took a leave of absence to run for an open Congressional seat in Michigan’s Third District. Miles began his career in the area of telecommunications law. During the early 1990s, he participated extensively in Federal Communications Commission rulemakings implementing the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 and the 1996 Telecommunications Act. He was an active participant and contributor in drafting Michigan’s 2002 Telecommunications Act and was the lead special outside telecommunications counsel to the city of Detroit from 1998 to 2006. Throughout his career, Miles has demonstrated his leadership through positions with professional and charitable organizations throughout the Grand Rapids community. He has served on more than two dozen charitable and professional boards and committees, including: the Aquinas College board of trustees for 18 years, with four years as chairman, four as vice chair, and six years as secretary; Spectrum Health Hospitals board for eight years, with four years as treasurer; Hope Network board for six years; and Inner City Christian Federation / Nonprofit Housing board for six years, with two years as chairman. He served as president of the Grand Rapids Bar Association from 2004 to 2005 and as a trustee from 1999 to 2002. In 2011, Miles became the first president of the Grand Rapids Black Chamber of Commerce.
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Best of 2012-13 Readers Poll
Jamon Alexander, 31
Nikeidra Battle-DeBarge, 33
Adult Program Director West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology
Community Group Specialist, Manasseh Project Coordinator Wedgwood Christian Services
For Jamon Alexander, making Grand Rapids a better place is personal. Alexander, adult program director for the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology, is a passionate and tireless worker and volunteer for the West Michigan community. He has received the Community Advocate Award from Grand Rapids Young Professionals and was named Young Alumni of the Year by Grand Valley State University in 2012. “Jamon is a great example of what dedicated and driven looks like. This year he made a career change where he could make direct change in the lives of our Grand Rapids community, and that is what he has been doing,” said Nicole Rodammer, director of development for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids. “As an adult program director, he continues to help our community gain more access to educational opportunity and a chance to change their current path.” Kim Dabbs, former executive director at WMCAT, called Alexander “a true Grand Rapidian,” saying he has devoted his professional career to empowering families in his hometown. “His career has taken him to the United Way, Spectrum Health Foundation, the YMCA, and now as a talented program director at WMCAT. I met Jamon in Leadership Grand Rapids and was inspired by his ability to collaborate,” she said. “Jamon’s thoughtful leadership extends into the community in his role as a youth basketball coach, weekly tutor and board member for the Urban League. He is committed to Grand Rapids and lives that commitment through professional and personal endeavors.”
Nikeidra Battle-DeBarge is a modern day abolitionist. As the Manasseh Project coordinator for Wedgwood Christian Services, she is on the front lines of some of the most brutal social work in West Michigan. During her 12-year tenure at Wedgwood Christian Services, Battle-DeBarge has served in residential services, prevention services and foster care/independent living. “All of these opportunities have prepared me to work in bigger capacities, furthering my education, empowering others, and collaborating with churches, local social groups, organizations, higher learning institutions and other businesses, building awareness of sex trafficking in the United States and in our local community,” she said. “This leadership position has afforded me the opportunity to build diverse relationships in many sectors of our community, all while allowing me to use my passion for people to make a difference.” An awarding-winning leader in the community, she also helped start the nonprofit New Destiny Pathways Inc., which provides affordable and supportive independentliving housing to young women in the foster care system. “Nikeidra works with a true passion and conviction that everyone deserves our help. She is an integral part of the (Wedgwood Manasseh Project), which is a groundbreaking program that continues to lead in this area of treatment,” said Vivian TerMaat, chief advancement officer at Wedgwood. “Nikeidra is sunshine. Her attitude is positive and she is a pleasure to work with and be around. Along with the girls she treats in WMP, she is a devoted mother and wife. She is transforming lives every day.”
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David Bolt, 37
Brian Burch, 37
President GMB Architecture & Engineering
Managing Partner Burch Partners
At 37, David Bolt is the youngest president in GMB AE’s history. He started working there as a 21-year-old college graduate and quickly moved into a project manager role, leading to one of GMB’s largest higher education projects: a $65 million field house complex, said friend and colleague Rob DenBesten, vice president at GMB. “Over the years, I have found David to be a caring and dedicated leader, yet humble in his success. He sees our employees not only as coworkers but as extended family,” DenBesten said. “David is a design professional who has the unique ability to empower, encourage and guide others to work collaboratively together.” Bolt said his wife of 16 years has been a constant influence for good in his life. He feels that living in Grand Rapids for the last 20 years but working in Holland has given him a great perspective on West Michigan. “My professional work has led me to participate with many different local school districts and collegiate institutions that help shape and influence the future generations of West Michigan,” he said. “I feel strongly passionate about the ties between generations, especially in our area of the world, and the ability to educate and transfer the knowledge gained from one generation to the next.” Bolt said his proudest accomplishment was working on Hudsonville Public Schools’ Georgetown Elementary School. “Nothing will ever compare to the look I witnessed on the students’ faces when they entered the building for the first time.”
Regularly landing his clients in national publications, it’s no wonder Brian Burch’s proudest accomplishment is Burch Partners, the public relations firm he started in 2013. In two years time, Burch Partners has grown from two clients — ArtPrize and Start Garden — to 26 clients across three states. Many of those clients are startup businesses, and Burch proudly states his firm is the “agency of choice for startups and organizations leading our new economy.” “We have worked with artists and eccentrics, entrepreneurs and captains of industry,” Burch said. “We turned their thoughts and ideas into messages with meaning. We told their story to the world and made a positive impact on the bottom line.” Burch also serves the community through his position on the Holland City Council, where he represents Holland’s Third Ward residents. His accomplishments as a councilman include six balanced budgets, securing $158.84 million in municipal revenue bonds to fund the Next Generation Energy Facility, and the development and launch of a new brand and identity platform for Holland. Burch also sits on the Holland Smart Zone board, is a committee member of the Holland Fiber Initiative and is a communications advisor to Failure Lab. He is also a father who works hard to instill three key traits in his young children: loyalty, honor and commitment. “Michigan is a state in extreme transition, and West Michigan is leading the way,” Burch said. “I am proud to be part of this changing cultural landscape, and for the most part, doing it behind the scenes.” 40 UNDER FORTY 2015 | Grand Rapids Business Journal 9
Keli Christopher, 39
Sin Chun, 36
President/Founder Mind Boggle
Founder Sin Republic Salon & Spa
Armed with a passion for entrepreneurism and a mission to spark students’ interest in STEM careers, Keli Christopher launched Mind Boggle in 2011, providing hands-on experiences in science, technology, math and engineering. Mind Boggle offers programs in STEM-related subjects such as chemistry, physics, engineering and biology through after-school programs and summer camps. While the focus is on fun, the hands-on activities also promote critical thinking, literacy and teamwork. “My business has grown steadily over the last five years, but I’m looking forward to getting the right connection to really grow my business and my nonprofit, the STEM Greenhouse, an organization dedicated to preparing minority and female youth for STEM careers,” she said. Christopher was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. in agricultural engineering from the School of Engineering at the University of Illinois in UrbanaChampaign. She pursued a career at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service in California before moving to Michigan. “Minorities are under-represented in STEM careers, and I’m proud to be in a position to serve as a role model and work with others to change current trends,” said Christopher. “Very few people choose to be entrepreneurs, especially while raising two small children. I’ve gone out on a limb, so to speak, professionally, and created the career that I desired.” She received the Milo Brown Business Award at the 2015 Giants Awards earlier this year and received the 2015 Elite Educator Award from the local Historical Black College Tour Experience organization.
When Sin Chun came to the United States from Korea when he was 10, he spoke no English and had difficulty in believing he belonged here. He never felt he belonged in Korea, either, as he was one quarter American. Those feelings of isolation now are reflected in how he runs his hair salon business, Sin Republic. “To compare working or living in another culture when I never belonged to one to begin with is nearly impossible,” he said. “I have set up my salon to be a culture defined by itself. So every day I come to work, I experience a different culture.” The Grand Rapids hair salon does its best to cater to individuals, and the mobile stations are conducive to any environment, Chun said. Sin Republic has evolved from when Chun returned to Grand Rapids after seeing salons across the globe charge exorbitant amounts for the same haircuts for everybody. He was inspired to create a way of styling hair that fits each individual, something he calls vortex sculpting. Despite growing his business, he doesn’t feel he is an accomplished businessperson. “I have not yet reached my destination, and though I am proud of my team, I cannot say I am proud of a professional accomplishment. I am not done achieving. This is only the beginning.” The North Monroe Avenue business was nominated for Outstanding New Business by the Neighborhood Business Alliance and Neighborhood Ventures in 2014. Chun is a board member of the Grand Rapids North Quarter Corridor Improvement District Authority.
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to the 2015
40 Under Forty business leaders! Thank you for your inspired leadership in our community.
Derek Coppess, 32
Janean Couch, 32
Founder and CEO 616 Development and 616 Lofts
Assistant Director of the Career Center Grand Valley State University
Derek Coppess is only in his early 30s, but he’s already reshaping the Grand Rapids real estate landscape. Coppess, the founder and CEO of 616 Development and 616 Lofts, said that much of his success has come because of the love and support of others. “When I was broken and down on my knees six years ago in the bowels of the recession, my dream to become ‘rich’ was fading away quickly. Dr. Andy Atwood, Jeffrey Baker, Jeremy Frost and my beautiful wife, Amanda, saw something in me that even I had lost sight of,” he said. “They each began investing in me when there was no worldly purpose to do so. This form of unconditional love broke me and helped me find my true and unique self.” Coppess said his whole mentality of forming 616’s wellknown “tribe leadership” came from his mentor, Dr. Andy Atwood. “Dr. Andy taught me about a different kind of leadership called tribal leadership — leadership where you choose the leaders, and the leader protects the tribe from danger and leads them into opportunity,” he said. “I view The Tribe as an accomplishment because they have helped me become a leader, one person at a time. Beginning with Monica Steimle and her leap of faith to join me as my first follower, 14 people later, we form a united front led by an inspired purpose, not a paycheck. “Today, I am a true believer that people make their life.”
Janean Couch’s professional career reflects a drive to encourage, inspire and motivate others. As assistant director of the Career Center at GVSU, she has the opportunity to advise young professionals and connect them with people, companies and resources. Couch is a founding member of BL2END, an organization where young professionals of color can connect, network and contribute to the community. She views her role with BL2END as her biggest professional break. “Being the co-founder and eventually president of BL2END introduced me to the Grand Rapids community and developed me as a leader,” said Couch. “As a young professional it really catapulted me into the community networking arena and increased my confidence in two areas: my personal leadership capabilities, and Grand Rapids truly wanted an organization like BL2END to help make this community more welcoming and diverse.” Couch has served as an activities committee member for the GVSU Alumni Association, and was a mentor with Big Brothers/Big Sisters for seven years. In 2014, she received the Finer Womanhood Community Service Award from Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, was nominated for the “DoGooder” Award by Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Greater Grand Rapids, and was a finalist for the Athena Young Professional award. “I credit all of my growth and success to (my sister) because of her commitment and her maturity to ensure I would become everything I had the potential to,” said Couch.
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West Michigan Works! congratulates this year’s “40 under Forty” Business Leaders!
The name is new, but our commitment to creating a qualified workforce for West Michigan hasn’t changed.
More in Four. More in a Lifetime.
LEADERS, CREATING A DIFFERENT PATH
congratulates Class of 2002 Alumnus Joshua Gibbs, Community President of Commercial Bank Corporation in Greenville, Michigan, a 2015 “40 Under Forty”
Honoree. 40 UNDER FORTY 2015 | Grand Rapids Business Journal 13
Spencer Covey, 34
Shawn Crowley, 37
Owner/Entrepreneur in Residence Greetology/GVSU
Vice President, Managing Partner Atomic Object
Having been involved with six startups in Grand Rapids, plus his marketing consulting business, Greetology, it’s no wonder Spencer Covey was chosen to serve as the current entrepreneur in residence at Grand Valley State University’s Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. As entrepreneur in residence, Covey aids the center as it reviews business plans and coaches student entrepreneurs, and he helps build its programming. The position demonstrates his commitment to building the entrepreneurial environment in Grand Rapids. Covey founded creative agency Greetology in 2011. He since has worked with an impressive roster of West Michigan-headquartered clients including Spectrum Health, Perrigo, Meijer and Wolverine Worldwide. He also serves as an advisory member on the Mobile Technology Association of Michigan mHealth Advisory Council, leading workshops and meetings. He is a member of the Venture Vetting (V2) investor council, where he assists in connecting resources for various venture capital investor groups in Grand Rapids, and he is an advisor to startup accelerator Xcelerate, a role that involves assisting startups in their growth and development. His community-focused volunteer activities include sitting on the Habitat for Humanity finance committee and Grand Rapids Young Professionals outreach committee, and serving as an advisor to the Grandwich initiative, an event he helped found. He also hosts creative camps for adults at his lakefront farm in Saugatuck. Of all of his accomplishments, Covey said he is most proud of being selected to be a speaker at Stanford’s MedX conference in 2014.
Shawn Crowley admits his career path has been a rather unusual one. After four years of working as a tattoo artist, Crowley, vice president and managing partner of Atomic Object, decided to pursue his interest in computer programming. He began working as a software developer for Atomic Object in 2004. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but being a tattooist set me up for success in the software world. Tattooing gave me a love of craft. I gained experience iteratively and collaboratively creating custom solutions for clients,” he said. “I had the experience of starting and growing a small business with my friends. I helped another friend launch a tattooing equipment manufacturing business.” He’s most proud of helping open Atomic Object’s Ann Arbor office in 2013. Although a few senior people in the Grand Rapids office were against the opening, Crowley firmly believed in the project and refused to give up. “Today we have a successful office in Ann Arbor that is 12 employees strong and growing. I am mentoring our managing partner in Ann Arbor and helping drive sales in the Ann Arbor office,” he said. Co-worker and friend Michael Marsiglia called Crowley “one of the most intelligent problem-solvers” he’d ever met, and praised him for the volunteer work he does in the community outside of the office. “He has a magnetic personality and is an expert at creating win-win scenarios for people and organizations,” he said. “Grand Rapids is lucky to have Shawn Crowley.
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Congratulations KIMBERLY LOOMIS ON BEING RECOGNIZED AS ONE OF THE 2015 GRBJ 40 UNDER FORTY BUSINESS LEADERS. WE ARE PROUD OF YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND APPRECIATE EVERYTHING YOU DO FOR SOURCIT AND THE WEST MICHIGAN COMMUNITY.
SourcIT Technologies is committed to providing honest, reliable and scalable solutions tailored to our clientsâ€™ needs. Through teamwork and open communication, we deliver innovative solutions to benefit the growth and stability of our customers. www.sourcit.net
Todd Custer, 35
Jenelle Marie Davis, 33
Chief Operating Officer Custer
Founder The STD Project
In January, Todd Custer was appointed COO of Custer, a contract furniture business that serves as West Michigan’s Steelcase dealer. “As COO of Custer, I have responsibility for all of our divisions, which total 125 employees and $50 million in annual revenue,” Custer said. “It’s a lot of responsibility and an enormous amount of pressure.” Custer is a family-owned business that is in the process of transitioning from first-generation ownership to second-generation ownership. “It’s my responsibility to work with all our people to make sure our culture is intact as we transition from my dad to myself and my two brothers, who also work in the business,” he said. Custer has risen through the ranks to his current position. Since joining Custer nine years ago, he has launched several new ventures for the company. In 2006, he started the Custer HealthWorks division; in 2009, he launched Custer Technology; and in 2010, he started Custer Interior Architectural Products. The HealthWorks division, which now makes up nearly a third of Custer’s business, earns $7 million to $8 million in yearly revenue, while Custer Technology is earning $5 million in sales and Custer Interior Architectural Products earns $6 million. In addition to helping grow the family business, Custer is committed to the West Michigan community, which is demonstrated by an extensive list of professional and volunteer activities. He is a trustee with the Clark Retirement Foundation board, a representative on the Family Business Alliance board, and an advisor to Inc. 500 West Michigan Business Owners Council.
Jenelle Marie Davis says the biggest influence in her life is the people who didn’t believe in her. “I’m a fighter,” said Davis. “I am willing to use my energy, my work and my life as an example to anyone who might discount someone for any reason, so others know they too are not defined by labels, and they can achieve whatever their hearts desire.” As founder of The STD Project, a website and movement to eradicate the stigma of sexually transmitted diseases, Davis’ work has been featured in a number of media outlets. The website has received numerous awards since its establishment in 2012, growing to more than 1 million views in its first year and reaching readers from roughly 200 countries. “The STD Project gained reputability and now, I’m proud to say, is self-sustaining,” said Davis. “I’m so honored to do this work.” Davis has served as tri-chair of the Communications Action Group for the National Coalition for Sexual Health, is a member of the International Union Against Sexually Transmitted Diseases, and of the American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association. She has also been a member of the National Coalition of STD Directors and the National Hepatitis Roundtable for two years. She is in the process of establishing the Michigan Viral Hepatitis Coalition and a National Herpes Awareness Network. “I’m proof that someone can be successfully entrepreneurial by thinking outside of the corporate box. An education is just the beginning to what someone can achieve,” she said.
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CONGRATULATIONS to our very own, David Bolt.
The GMB team is inspired by your creativity, leadership and determination.
Thank you to all of the 40 Under Forty recipients for making West Michigan an even better place to live, work, play and learn.
HO LLAND / G R A N D R A P I DS / I N D I A N A P O L I S 616.79 6.020 0 / w w w.gmb.com
The entire Warner Norcross & Judd team proudly congratulates
Ian Kennedy 2015 40 Under Forty
A Better PArtnershiP 速 By providing discerning and proactive legal counsel, we build a better partnership with clients.
WNJ.com 40 UNDER FORTY 2015 | Grand Rapids Business Journal 17
Heather Duffy, 32
Kristin Ekkens, 35
Exhibitions Curator Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts
Manager of Inclusion and Diversity, Center of Expertise; Founder/CEO Spectrum Health; C3 Consulting LLC
Mentorship is important to Heather Duffy. It’s so important that Duffy wrote, proposed and built the ArtPrize Fellowship for Emerging Curators, a grant program that gives up-and-coming curators the opportunity to work alongside established curators during ArtPrize. This year, which is the program’s first, there are four partner institutions: Grand Rapids Art Museum, SiTE:LAB, Kendall College of Art and Design, and Duffy’s employer, UICA. “The intention was to support and retain our local emerging curators through professional development,” she said. Retaining talented curators is important in Grand Rapids as it continues to develop into an arts-driven city, she said. Duffy studied pre-medical biology at University of Mississippi, then went on to earn a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting from the University of South Alabama and a Master of Fine Arts in studio art from Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, as well as a certificate of completion from the Node Center for Curatorial Studies in Berlin, Germany. Now in a role where her work is highly visible in the city, she feels it is good to have an arts professional recognized among the business leaders of Grand Rapids. “It is especially important that the business community recognizes the arts industry in Grand Rapids as a core component of the success of our city as a whole,” Duffy said. “The creative economy, which is growing stronger every year, produces jobs, is fueled by entrepreneurs and plays an integral role in attracting and retaining talent in West Michigan.” 18 Grand Rapids Business Journal | 40 UNDER FORTY 2015
Kristin Ekkens says her biggest professional break was in 2003 when the Literacy Center of West Michigan offered her a position as program coordinator, after having finished her AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer service there. Shortly thereafter, she was named the center’s program director of the Customized Workplace English Program. “The executive director took a chance on me, which gave me the confidence and motivation I needed to excel in that role,” said Ekkens. Currently, Ekkens is not only manager of inclusion and diversity of Spectrum Health’s Center of Expertise, but also founder and CEO of C3 Consulting LLC, which provides cross-cultural consulting and workforce inclusion strategies for businesses. “As an inclusiveness advocate, my goal is to help people change what they do, not just what they know. I help organizations move beyond words into action,” said Ekkens. “I enjoy creating momentum and bringing a sense of urgency, and I have a passion for representing voices that are not usually heard.” Ekkens has volunteered as a mentor, facilitator and program designer for Ferris State University’s Latino Talent Initiative since 2013. She served as the former chair for TESOL International’s English for Specific Purposes Interest Section and is an advanced certified cultural intelligence facilitator through the Cultural Intelligence Center. “My personal mission is to connect with others to think differently and build more globally minded, inclusive communities,” said Ekkens. “I’m inspired by culturally intelligent leaders, ones who can lead and function effectively across cultural contexts.”
Christy Ennis-Kloote, 36
Joshua Gibbs, 36
UX Design Director Visualhero
Community President Commercial Bank
Christy Ennis-Kloote wants to be an example of how to help promote those looking to grow in their respective fields. So far, she’s accomplished that brilliantly. Ennis-Kloote, who is the senior UX (user experience) designer at Grand Rapids-based Visualhero and an adjunct instructor at Kendall College of Art and Design, has been involved in a number of organizations and projects. She co-founded the group Ladies That UX Grand Rapids, is a board member of IxDA Grand Rapids, and has served as volunteer chair for MidWestUX and as sponsorship chair for AIGA West Michigan. “My biggest professional break was the IxDA board nomination, which started opening doors and broke down barriers by providing a new agnostic platform to promote advancing interaction design,” she said. “I am most proud of leading and working with the team designing the 2014 Corvette. The end product was a multimode digital instrument cluster in the dashboard. Also, I am most proud of managing and delivering projects up to $150K. Those require skilled teams, great communication and strong relationships.” Ennis-Kloote also has been involved with West Michigan Design Week and Design for Good – Weekend Blitz. “My biggest influence in my life is from previous women mentors in leadership roles as well as international friends in life that continue to teach me empathy for others,” she said. “The choice to elect me into GRBJ’s 40 Under Forty class should be because of my achievements and drive to be an example of a professional woman in a technical design field.”
Joshua Gibbs likes little moments. Gibbs once received a phone call informing him the wife one of his customers was pregnant. Those tight-knit relationships are what drive Gibbs day-to-day. “He told me I was the first call made outside of his family,” Gibbs said. “Those sorts of moments and relationships are what I’m most proud of. It’s also enjoyable to see the successes of many people that I’ve worked with over the years.” His success and community connectivity don’t go unnoticed, including his biggest break: becoming a president less than five months into his tenure at Commercial Bank. He was nominated for 40 Under Forty by several community members, including Commercial Bank’s President and CEO Kevin Collison. “Josh is a very dedicated employee,” Collison said. “He has worked hard to build a network of business associates in the Grand Rapids market to build business relationships for the bank and his customers.” Gibbs has worked his way up the banking ladder, from credit analyst to community president in less than 10 years, yet he still believes there are far better candidates for 40 Under Forty than he. “All I am trying to do is make the world around me better by trying to contribute positively in whatever way I can,” he said. “Professionally, I strive to be a great banker who understands my business. As a father I strive to be the best dad I can by staying involved in my son’s activities. “I try to be a good man in the world by being honest and contributing to the community around me.”
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Linsey Gleason, 33
Mike Goorhouse, 29
Partner/Attorney Varnum LLP
President and CEO Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area
Linsey Gleason has been named a Michigan Rising Star by the Super Lawyers publication for the past three years, an honor bestowed on less than 2.5 percent of lawyers in the state who are under 40 and have practiced law for less than 10 years. Her accomplishments as a young lawyer were acknowledged last year when she was made a partner at Varnum. The accolades Gleason has received recognize her work as an attorney, specializing in estate planning and administration, elder law and special needs law, as well as her work with professional organizations. Gleason is a member of Women Lawyers of Michigan Western Region and has served as its vice president (2010-2011) and president (2011-2012). WLMA earned statewide recognition for its work, which includes handson volunteering and fundraising, during Gleason’s tenure as president. She also served as chairperson for the Grand Rapids Bar Association Probate Section, reviving the section that had been inactive for many years. “I was able to form a steering committee, update the bylaws and bring the section back to active status,” she said. She is also a member of the West Michigan Estate Planning Council. Gleason’s community involvement includes being named chairperson of the Senior Neighbors board after having served as its vice chairperson. She is a board member and Community Involvement Committee chairperson for Holland Home Foundation and a community cabinet member for Gilda’s Club LaughFest Council. “I feel so fortunate to be a part of this community, and I’m committed to doing what I can to engage and give back,” she said.
Mike Goorhouse, one of the youngest community foundation presidents and CEOs in the country, views one of his greatest accomplishments as establishing the vision for the “Today. Tomorrow. Forever” campaign the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area launched in September to build its community endowment. “It will be the largest campaign in our organization’s history and is drawing national attention amongst the community foundation field,” said Goorhouse. “I’m also proud of the fundraising success CFHZ has experienced during my first three years here. We have received $18 million in gifts over three years, including the best fundraising year in our 63-year history.” He has served as a board member, development committee co-chair and governance committee member for Kids’ Food Basket; as co-founder and co-chair of the Michigan Chapter for Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy; and as chair of the Independent Sector’s NGen. Goorhouse attributes his success at such a young age to Rob Collier, president and CEO of the Council of Michigan Foundations. “He empowered me and invested in me by providing me leadership opportunities both locally and nationally. I learned about relationship building and servant leadership.” His community involvement also includes serving as director of the Association for a More Just Society and a member of Project Clarity Advisory Board. He was recently featured as a keynote speaker at the Council of Michigan Foundations annual conference, and has facilitated more than 85 grant-making and philanthropy trainings and workshops.
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With 30 years in Grand Rapids, we have been inspired by the innovation of our cityâ€™s future leaders. Congratulations, Matt Slagle, for continuing to grow our legacy in architectural design, and congratulations to all of the 40 Under 40 award recipients.
Graci Harkema, 30
Alvin J. Hills, 26
Account Recruiting Manager TEKsystems
Executive Director/Co-Founder Endless Opportunities
Graci Harkema has faced and overcome adversity since the day she was born prematurely in the Congo, Africa. “I put my heart and soul into everything I do. I came from nothing — a mud hut in the jungle and I wasn’t expected to live. My life is a gift,” said Harkema. “One person and one movement can make an unspeakable difference.” She entered the corporate world at the age of 19, working as an assistant at Varnum Law, and earned a bachelor’s degree in communications in 2010 from GVSU. Now serving as account recruiting manager at TEKsystems and leading the West Michigan TEKsystems Multi-Cultural Employee Resource Group initiative, Harkema views her biggest professional break as being the first person in the office’s 20-year history to break a performance record. “I was blessed with an opportunity of a lifetime to work at TEKsystems,” said Harkema. “I woke up every day with a vision to give it everything I had, work as hard as I could, keep my faith and help change people’s lives.” Harkema also is a member of the Pride@TEK Employee Resource Group, was the public relations director at Arena District for two years, and serves as social networking chair on the board of directors for BL2END. “It was a tough transition to move from Africa to a non-diverse area of Grand Rapids as a kid. BL2END was the first place where I could professionally develop in an inclusive environment,” said Harkema. “My mission is to give back to the community, grow professionally and help develop others.”
In September, Endless Opportunities held its fifth annual Back to School Celebration, an event that helps prepare young male African-American and Latino students for the start of the school year by providing them with haircuts and school supplies as well as inspiration to succeed. Alvin J. Hills IV is proud of the work of the nonprofit that he co-founded and for which he serves as executive director. “My organization has built a rapport with our community as one of the go-to organizations that provides quality youth services for families,” he said. Hills noted a lot of young people don’t receive the opportunities he did growing up, which is why the organization seeks to provide “meaningful and life-changing opportunities” to youth. Endless Opportunities works specifically with AfricanAmerican and Latino youth ages 13-17 through the Educated Male Support Network program, which focuses on providing young men with mentorship to help them succeed in school and prepare for their future. In a video about the program, Hills said, “The Educated Male Support Network focuses on education, service, leadership, entrepreneurship and brotherhood.” Hills also sits on the To College Through College board, is a member of the Wedgwood Next Generation advisory board and is an advisory board member for Urban Youth for Africa. He’s been involved in volunteer activities with the Paul I. Phillips Boys and Girls Club, United Methodist Community House and the Fifth Third River Bank Run. He has participated in the Mayor’s River Clean Up and as a mentor through Grand Rapids Public Schools.
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OPERA GRAND RAPIDS 2015–2016 SEASON REQUIEM
ROMEO AND JULIET
ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE
THE STUDENT PRINCE
by Giuseppe Verdi October 30, 2015 DeVos Performance Hall
by Charles Gounod April 29 & 30, 2016 DeVos Performance Hall
by Christoph Willibald Gluck April 8 & 9, 2016 DeVos Center for Arts and Worship
January 14 | March 3 April 14 | May 20 & 22 Betty Van Andel Opera Center
by Sigmund Romberg June 9, 10 & 12, 2016 St. Cecilia Music Center
2015–2016 season tickets now on sale. Contact the Box Office at 616.451.2741 or Ticketmaster. Student “Passport to the Opera” is just $5 for any performance. Learn more at operagr.org.
40 under 40 Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University congratulates alumni
Salvador Jiménez (‘14, MFA Drawing) Heather Duffy (‘12, MFA Painting) and all Grand Rapids Business Journal 40 Under Forty nominees!
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Heather Jangraw, 35
Salvador Jiménez-Flores, 30
Management Consultant Advisa
Independent artist/artist-in-residence Harvard University
Heather Jangraw came to Grand Rapids three years ago and immediately began making her mark in the community. As a management consultant with Advisa, Jangraw has partnered with 40 companies to help them achieve their business goals. She joined the Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan, achieving the role of vice president during her first year on the board. She facilitated a new strategic plan for the organization, helped identify barriers to employment for people with Down syndrome and helped develop a plan to mitigate those barriers. She also joined the Legacy Trust Award Collection board, sitting on the 2015 steering committee charged with the facilitation of the annual artist event. Jangraw started her own organization, Team Red, White and Blue Grand Rapids, to connect veterans to the community. As a West Point graduate who spent the first part of her career in the military, Jangraw said her proudest achievement was leading soldiers during her deployment in Iraq. “I worked with the most incredible men and women this country has to offer,” Jangraw said. “The months I spent in Baghdad were the most challenging and rewarding of my professional career.” Her commitment to helping people with disabilities comes through her personal connection of having a daughter diagnosed with Down syndrome. “Heather is an incredibly driven individual who is making Grand Rapids a better place to live, especially for people with disabilities,” said Jarrod Allerding, who cofounded Team Red, White and Blue with Jangraw.
Salvador Jiménez-Flores doesn’t think he’s had his career break yet, but he already has art in the permanent collection of the Grand Rapids Art Museum. The art came from his “I Am Not Who You Think I Am” installation as part of the thesis for his Master of Fine Arts from Kendall College of Art and Design. Now he’s in a year-long residency at the Office of the Arts at Harvard University. The position is just the latest in a variety of similar positions he’s held in Trieste, Italy; Harrington, Maine; the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago; and the Robert Morris Art Fellowship in Chicago. Until last June he was the community arts advocate at Kendall. But his advocacy doesn’t stop there; he’s also been part of Grand Rapids Art Museum’s Community Outreach Taskforce, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of AIGA West Michigan, West Michigan President’s Compact Committee and the Latino Community Commission. Jiménez-Flores said his selection to the 40 Under Forty class helps recognize art as an important component of the community. “To be an artist, you have to work hard, just like any profession,” he said. “Just like any other professional, we should be compensated and acknowledged for our work and time.” “Salvador is incredibly connected within the arts community,” said Kara Peltier, a financial aid specialist at Kendall. “He is active in Avenue for the Arts, curates multiple shows every year, leads regular diversity events/ discussions. … He is also very passionate about his Latino heritage and uses art to tell a story about his experiences.”
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Adam Kail, 30
Ian Kennedy, 36
CEO/Founder Brothers Leather Supply Co. and Harrison Gray Search & Consulting
Partner Warner Norcross & Judd
For most people, starting a company would be a big challenge, but Adam Kail started two new businesses in the first quarter of 2014. He said both businesses, Harrison Gray Search & Consulting and Brothers Leather Supply, are growing, achieving 40 percent growth month over month. “Since starting them, we’ve moved into a large office off Hall Street, have seven employees, and have done over a half a million dollars in revenue combined,” he said. Brothers Leather Supply launched a retail store on Division Avenue this year. With two thriving companies, Kail has been able to donate more than $30,000 to various charities, including here in Grand Rapids. He said his past experiences are what have prepared him to lead two companies and create an atmosphere where his employees can thrive. “My biggest accomplishment was at Jones International in Denver, where I was responsible for $40 million in revenue and had a team of close to 75 people reporting to me,” he said. He also credits a mentor early on in his career who prepared him for leadership. “I’ve never been more stretched or challenged in any other time in my life, and all the while he was promoting me through the organization,” Kail said. “I learned about business management, operations, people management and emotional intelligence.” A native of Detroit, Kail said spending three hours in Grand Rapids convinced him to make the move from Denver, and he’s been in love with the city ever since.
Thanks to Ian Kennedy, earlier this year Warner Norcross introduced a new practice group to its clients. Kennedy recognized a growing roster of craft breweries on the firm’s client list and realized those clients could be better served by having a dedicated practice group within the firm. Today, Kennedy chairs the craft brewery practice group, leading a team of 20 attorneys and paralegals who provide legal guidance to craft breweries. “We created the craft brewery group so local brewers and the businesses that support them can access a single source of experienced law professionals to assist in navigating state and federal regulations as well as identifying and obtaining tax abatements and incentives for development and manufacturing, and managing the startup or expansion of their business,” he said. In addition to leading the craft brewery group, Kennedy had been instrumental in helping Warner Norcross launch its Kalamazoo office. Working out of that office, Kennedy is credited with helping the firm grow its presence in the area. Kennedy also gives back to the community through pro bono services. For 10 years, he has participated in free legal aid clinics coordinated by the Kalamazoo County Bar Association, which provides legal advice to those in need. “Through these clinics I have helped Kalamazoo residents navigate landlord/tenant, business, debt collection and other issues,” he said. He is a board member for the Community Advocates Pooled Trust Committee, and formerly sat on the boards of Friends of Parks and Recreation and Michigan Works Kalamazoo and St. Joseph. 40 UNDER FORTY 2015 | Grand Rapids Business Journal 25
Brad Laackman, 39
Jeremy Latchaw, 38
Director of Interior Construction Services Custer Inc.
Owner/Consultant/Army Major Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt; JML Capital, Booz Allen Hamilton; U.S. Army
After serving in the U.S. Navy for eight years, Brad Laackman began building his career in construction management, and today, he has been recognized with a fouryear appointment by Gov. Rick Snyder to the Michigan Residential Builders and Contractors board. Laackman’s journey to his current role as director of interior construction services with Custer included a great deal of dedication. After leaving the Navy, Laackman spent two years as an environmental health and safety consultant, while he completed his bachelor’s degree in construction management and architecture from Ferris State University. In 2009, he launched his first business, Honor Professional Management, to provide owner representation construction management consulting. In 2010, he launched Case Systems Solutions, an architectural casework dealership for the state of Michigan. In 2012, Laackman joined Custer, and in 2013, launched the firm’s architectural products division and Custer’s construction and facility management firm, 217 Management. He also serves as partner for Custer subsidiary C&S Electric Service, and continues to direct Honor Professional Management. Laackman said the professional accomplishment of which he is most proud is the “ability to mentor and lead so many amazing teammates over the last 15 years.” Laackman is also committed to giving back. He is a community trustee with Leadership Grand Rapids, sits on the Associated Builders and Contractors board and Wedgwood Christian Services Next Gen board, and participates with Folds of Honor Foundation, which provides scholarships and other assistance to the spouses and children of soldiers who were killed or disabled in service. 26 Grand Rapids Business Journal | 40 UNDER FORTY 2015
Jeremy Latchaw has managed to do a lot in the 15 years following his graduation from Hope College. He joined the U.S. Army and made his way up the ladder through two tours of duty in Iraq and Kuwait in ’03-’04 and ’07-’08. He was awarded a Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal and several others, and was promoted to major. In 2008, he received his MBA from Baker College while working for Boy Scouts of America in Kansas. In 2009, he joined Booz Allen Hamilton, a management and consulting firm, as he was a technical writer for U.S. Forces Command developing training gap analysis, training design and integration. Joining Booz Allen Hamilton was his biggest career break, he said, as he learned “how to be an effective consultant in a high-profile and talented firm.” Latchaw released an award-winning book in 2009, “American Patriotism Through the Eyes of an Eagle,” using both his Army and Boy Scout experiences to reflect on what it means to be a patriot. His proudest achievement, however, is being owner with his wife of Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt franchises and investment properties. “I love how my wife and I were able to create 20 jobs and find ways to leverage the business to help community activities,” he said. Latchaw is also vice president of training at Cultivate Holland and a committee member for the Holland for a Lifetime Steering Committee.
Be inspired. Ferris State University is proud of its alumni who have received 40 Under Forty recognition from the Grand Rapids Business Journal for 2015.
Ferris State University is an equal opportunity institution. For information on the University’s Policy on NonDiscrimination, visit ferris.edu/non-discrimination.
A 2015 “40 Under Forty” Business Leader ■
Counseling in the most sophisticated estate plans as well as basic estate plans. Tax planning, business succession planning, charitable gift planning, and estate and trust administration services.
www.varnumlaw.com Contact Linsey Gleason at 616/336-6528 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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Michael Lomonaco, 35
Kimberly Loomis, 28
Director of Marketing and Communications Open Systems Technologies
Marketing Specialist SourcIT Technologies
Everyone who works with Michael Lomonaco in the tech industry seems to say the same thing: He’s a gamechanger. Since joining OST in 2011, Lomonaco, director of marketing and communications, has had a huge impact in bringing his company from $50 million to $165 million in revenue, said Dan Behm, founder of OST. “He’s been a game-changer for OST and our growth over the past four to five years,” he said. “Mike is passionate about West Michigan and serves in various capacities. At times, we just don’t even know how he does it at such a high level, yet never losing sight of the goal of service.” There’s also the valid question about when Lomonaco finds time to sleep, because the list of organizations with which Lomonaco serves is daunting. He’s currently involved with the XChange Advisory board of directors, The Right Place Tech Council, Grand Rapids Chamber – Business Matters Committee, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks board of directors, West Side CID Authority and John Ball Zoo board of directors. And that’s not counting his various volunteer activities. Lomonaco says it’s all about what he feels compelled to do as a family man. “My biggest influence is without a doubt my family,” Lomonaco said. “Every morning I get up and try to figure out what I can do to help give them the very best in life that they can have, and to try and set an example they would be proud of.”
Kimberly Loomis, a marketing specialist for SourcIT Technologies, said the biggest influence in her life has been her mother, a 10-year cancer survivor. “Seeing my mom battle cancer is also one of the reasons I have been so passionate with the medical research community and organizations that support patients currently battling cancer,” she said. “The professional accomplishment I am most proud of is receiving acceptance in the IT industry, which is predominantly male-dominated. As the only woman at SourcIT Technologies, I have gained the respect of my coworkers and have helped create a blended and cohesive team environment.” Loomis, a member of the West Michigan Public Relations Society, is a committed volunteer for a number of organizations, said Heather Halligan, marketing specialist at Hungerford Nichols CPAs + Advisors. “She is an active board member with the Forest Hills Business Association, West Michigan Transportation Club and West Michigan Technology Association. She is always the first to volunteer to help them manage events, market the organizations, help recruit new members and help in any way she can,” Halligan said. “She has volunteered every week with (United Way) Schools of Hope as a reading tutor for the past three years (nearly 120 hours). She is so thrilled to tell the stories of her young mentees and their successes. Kim also is an active committee member in helping Experience Pink – GR. Additionally, she helps raise money and promote the services of PAWS With a Cause.”
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Well done. Well deserved. Congratulations Josh and Kristin for being 2015 40 under Forty honorees. Spectrum Health is proud to have people like you who are dedicated to the health and well-being of our communities.
ÂŠSpectrum Health 10.15
Josh Meringa Nurse Educator and Academic Liaison Kristin Ekkens Manager, Inclusion & Diversity
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Quan Mac, 38
Evan Mathison, 36
Senior Vice President, Managing Director Legacy Trust
Principal and Owner Mathison|Mathison Architects
Quan Mac said she is living the American Dream. She is the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants who brought her to the United States when she was 20 months old. Between them, they had $50 in their pockets. Her father continues to be a strong influence in her life. “My father always believed in me, which gave me the confidence to take risks and pursue a male-dominated profession,” Mac said. Mac’s biggest career break was being selected for a minority summer internship at The Grand Rapids Press as a 15-year-old. That selection, she said, helped her get into Northwestern University — and be accepted by three other top-25 universities — and allowed her to hone skills she still uses. She also has her MBA from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. She’s also part of the by-invitation-only alumni association of Northwestern, the Council of 100. “Every one of my professional opportunities uses the writing and communication skills I learned those two summers and my senior year of high school working at The Grand Rapids Press,” she said. Mac is proud of her well-rounded career, which includes investment stints in the retail, institutional and family office sectors. Recently she was hired by Legacy Trust to build and run its full-service family office. “This will eventually grow into a multi-family office for assisting families with their investments, estate planning, foundation administration, bill payment, generational wealth education and other services,” she said.
When people talk about Grand Rapids’ young architecture talent, one person who comes to mind is Evan Mathison. Mathison, who co-founded Mathison|Mathison Architects with his father, Tom, in 2013, earned a bachelor of science in architecture from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. He returned to Grand Rapids two years ago after spending about 10 years in Boston working as an associate with Maryann Thompson Architects. “I believe Grand Rapids is in the midst of a dynamic period of design growth and is uniquely positioned to impact Michigan and the Midwest with its intellectual capital and young leadership,” he said. “I came to a crossroads in my career and decided to invest in Grand Rapids and its increasingly diverse community by forming Mathison|Mathison Architects.” Amanda Rogalski, of Rogo Marketing and Communications, said Mathison exemplifies the energy and commitment West Michigan needs to continue to grow. “His perception on architecture and design and respect for resources is the breath of fresh air West Michigan needs. He is committed to educating West Michigan about how homes can be living buildings using light, space and flow,” she said. “His work is beautiful. Not only that, but he immediately started providing his skills as a service to a couple building a home in the Baxter community of Grand Rapids who wanted a modern sustainable space for their home and community center. “He loves to teach, design and give his all with respect and thoughtfulness about space and place.”
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15459 GRBJ 40 under 40.indd 1
9/18/15 11:47 AM
Congratulations to our very own
Congratulations, Mike Goorhouse!
a 2015 “40 Under Forty” Business Leader
2015 40 under Forty Honoree
At Legacy Trust, we have three areas of interest—you, your family and the generations that will follow. Wealth management is complex, but it doesn’t have to be convoluted. Through this understanding, we provide more than answers for today. We provide answers for life.
Our community thanks you for the positive, lasting change you’re making today, tomorrow, and forever.
Quan Mac Managing Director, Family Office Services
Congratulations to all the
40 under Forty Honorees
cfhz.org 40 UNDER FORTY 2015 | Grand Rapids Business Journal 31
Joshua Meringa, 35
Mike Mraz, 34
Nurse Educator & Academic Liaison Spectrum Health
Partner, Real Estate Development Rockford Construction
As a professional in nursing, Joshua Meringa views his greatest accomplishment as contributing to Spectrum Health’s effort to receive Magnet status in 2009 and 2013. In his current role, Meringa manages nursing academic relations, plans continuing education programs and promotes a model of continuous learning. “There are some great things going on to advance and empower the profession of nursing at Spectrum Health, to enhance professional development in a variety of ways, as well as promote safe and high quality of care to the benefit of our patients,” he said. Meringa serves as a city council member for Grandville, and as chairperson for the Michigan Board of Nursing since 2013. He said it has been a great honor to serve as a public official and represent professional nurses and citizens. “When I was first elected to the Grandville City Council in 2007, I was a long-shot candidate who beat the odds and was the youngest elected city official in Grandville history at that time,” he said. Meringa is also involved in a number of associations, including Wisconsin Nurses Association Continuing Education Approval Program, National Nurses in Staff Development Organization, Brookside Christian Reformed Church and the Michigan Municipal League Elected Officials Academy Board. “My training and experience as a nurse have helped me both professionally and personally to be able to identify problems, develop and analyze a plan, implement a plan and evaluate successes,” said Meringa. “I have had great opportunities to serve others.”
The big break of Mike Mraz’s career was joining Rockford Construction. “I moved to Grand Rapids after visiting only one time and fell in love with the city. I’ve been involved in renovating many of Grand Rapids’ downtown buildings, and being hands-on in this effort has been very satisfying. “The Rockford team allowed me to act as an entrepreneur in my position and learn about real estate development and construction. Since becoming partner, I now get to lead a team of highly skilled employees that are excited about downtown’s future.” Mraz has managed many high-profile projects in downtown Grand Rapids, most recently The Morton. Mraz helped lead the renovation of the 13-story, 180,000-squarefoot building into market rate apartments, retail and restaurant spaces. “I have been serving as the lead developer of this project for three years, and seeing the work come together and provide such an impact to the Monroe Center area is very rewarding,” he said. “I also recently completed a 100,000-square-foot medical building on the campus of Metro Health. This will allow access to health care for many people.” Other projects he has been involved with include Blue Cross Blue Shield, Blue 35, New Holland Brewing, Fulton Place, GRid 70 and Front Row Condos. Although he is grateful to his team at Rockford, Mraz said his true inspiration is his mother. “Raising me as a single mother, she taught me life skills that I have carried with me my entire career.”
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Rachel Mraz, 34
Leah Nixon, 38
Wealth Management Advisor Merrill Lynch
Director of Communications Grand Rapids Community College
Rachel Mraz has plenty of degrees and designations. She cites those as her proudest accomplishments because of her career as a wealth advisor. She has a CFP, CIMA, CAP and CRPC designations, along with her bachelor of science from Cornell University and master’s degree from The American College. This is Mraz’s seventh 40 Under Forty recognition. She’s also a four-time Business Journal “50 Most Influential Women” honoree and was the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce’s Athena Young Professional in 2010. With her professional career moving forward, she gives credit to her husband, Mike Mraz, as an influence in all aspects of her life — professionally, personally and philanthropically. “I’m fortunate that we operate as a team in the various aspects of our lives,” she said. “We are able to discuss our professional goals and philanthropic intentions, and ultimately those two cornerstones of our ‘day jobs’ come together to help us focus on our personal life and ultimately what we want to accomplish.” In her philanthropic endeavors, Mraz has served on dozens of boards, currently including the John Ball Zoo board of directors, Saint Mary’s Doran Foundation board of trustees and the Davenport University Foundation board of trustees. In 2010, Mraz and her husband helped raise funds for an orphanage in Zimbabwe, but a majority of her philanthropic endeavors benefit West Michigan. “I love this community,” she said. “I’m proud to be an active participant in the business, philanthropy and social elements that it offers.”
When Leah Nixon joined Grand Rapids Community College as director of communications in 2013, she viewed it as her biggest professional break and the platform that has given her the opportunity to help others excel. Nixon has doubled the size of her department team and has overseen announcements of GRCC’s 100th anniversary year-long celebration. “Someone saw potential in me, encouraged me and gave me an opportunity to take my career to the next level,” said Nixon. “That is what inspires me in my work: seeing potential and nurturing it and encouraging it to grow.” She has served as the Young Women Strong Leaders program chair, on the Public Policy Task Force at the Michigan American Council on Education Women’s Network for five years, and collaborated with a number of organizations to hold a leadership development conference for collegiate women throughout the state. Nixon has been a board member of the Michigan Community College Marketing and Communications Association for two years, serving as president for one year. She identifies her mother as the biggest influence in her life for instilling a passion and tenacity to live life to the fullest and pursue her dreams. “Nothing in life comes free or without hard work. I learned by watching my mom raise three children, work full time and go back to school to earn her bachelor’s degree that anything is possible,” said Nixon. “I can say that gives my work purpose today: knowing that education can be the key to elevating your situation.”
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Jon O’Connor, 34
Amelea Pegman, 35
Owner/Co-Founder Long Road Distillers
Managing Director ArtPrize
Jon O’Connor has spent a lot of time, money and energy to make Grand Rapids a better place. That’s why his Long Road Distillers co-founder, Kyle VanStrien, nominated him for 40 Under Forty. “Jon has been a champion of his community, the west side in particular, for over 10 years,” VanStrien said. Prior to starting Long Road, the city’s first distillery, he started a real estate company in 2006, just as the market began to slip. Persevering during the Great Recession, he said, was his professional break. “This gave me the confidence to know I could start a distillery and with enough work could do something no one else had ever done in Grand Rapids,” he said. He served for four and a half years on the Grand Rapids School Board, where he worked on the GRPS Transformation Plan and helped re-open Stocking Elementary. He was a member of the Grand Rapids Housing Board of Appeals and was president of the West Grand Neighborhood Organization. In 2012, he won Local First’s Local Motion Award for Change Agent. Now, O’Connor is running unopposed for First Ward City Commissioner. “I love my city, my neighborhood and giving back however I can to try and make Grand Rapids a better place,” he said. “It is my hope I can continue to advocate for and invest in this city in the ways which I am able to make it better tomorrow than it is today.”
Amelea Pegman is thankful she’s been able to come back to Grand Rapids. She left for other opportunities, but Pegman said she is glad they didn’t turn out to be permanent. “I couldn’t be more thrilled that life has brought me back here to be a part of the spectacular growth happening here,” she said. Pegman worked as a volunteer during the inaugural ArtPrize. Her enthusiasm was noticed and a position was created with her in mind. Now, she’s managing director of the organization. “We are a group of people who love to dream about the work and take risks. Five years later I am still challenged and fulfilled by what I do here,” she said. Her contributions at ArtPrize seem to be endless. Pegman has helped create the summer internship program, ArtClub and ArtPrize on Tap. She’s also a leader in ArtPrize’s social equity, leading to a commitment from ArtPrize in year-round internal and external efforts addressing cultural intelligence and outreach. “This included a specific lens of work, questioning who our visitors were and who they were not,” she said. “In pursuit of understanding barriers to engagement, we have taken a close look at issues of disability, income and race and ethnicity.” Those efforts include ASL services, Spanish language resources, Rapid Rides to ArtPrize and AccessArt. “The work I have been given at ArtPrize in advocating for collective solutions to problems that our community at large is facing can only be more successful with the light that this story sheds,” she said of her selection.
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Jamiel Robinson, 32
Matt Slagle, 38
Founder/CEO Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses
Principal, Senior Design Architect TowerPinkster
Earlier this year, Jamiel Robinson was recognized as a dynamic individual sparking greatness in the community as one of the 2015 Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce Center for Community Leadership’s Extraordinary Leaders. Since starting his nonprofit Open Book Project at age 24, Robinson has been making an impact in the community. In 2010, he received the Edison Award from the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Grand Rapids, and in 2014 and 2015, respectively, was recognized with the Local Hero and Legacy awards by Local First. “I believe we are mosaics of everything we have learned and everyone we have come into contact with, physically, mentally and/or spiritually. Larger pieces of our mosaics reflect influences that have been more significant in our lives,” said Robinson. “I am influenced by people and ideas that have the power to transform us, individually and collectively.” As the founder of Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses, Robinson is committed to empowering marginalized families, neighborhoods and communities. His startup economic development organization advocates and promotes the development of black-owned businesses, raises the quality of life for impoverished families, and expands opportunities for black businesses in the area. He is a co-founder of Empower Michigan and has served as an executive board member for NAACP of Grand Rapids for two years. Other community involvement includes serving as an executive board member for Endless Opportunities, as a committee member for Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s Fred and Lena Meijer Scholarship, and as a member of the WKKF Family Economic Security Committee.
In 50 years of architecture, TowerPinkster CEO Arnie Mikon has seen few better professionals than Matt Slagle. “He is in the very top tier of creativity and aesthetic design,” Mikon said. Slagle’s architecture honors reflect his professional accomplishments. He was the American Institute of Architects’ national 2014 Young Architect of the Year. In 2013, he won the same honor for the Grand Rapids chapter of the American Institute of Architects. “I believe this award speaks to the creativity and talent that is cultivated in Grand Rapids,” Slagle said. “We are becoming thought leaders, not only in architecture, but in all areas of creative arts. We are truly a nationwide center for creativity.” His work in Grand Rapids goes far beyond architecture, however. Slagle organizes teams of volunteers for Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, works with ArtPrize’s venue committee, is a student reader at Hope Academy of West Michigan, and is an instructor and board member for Cannonsburg Challenged Ski Association. He also is a board member of Grand Rapids Public Schools Academy of Design and Construction. His selection to the 40 Under Forty class helps solidify the role of architects in the community, he said. “As part of the ownership group at TowerPinkster, I believe we have a responsibility to contribute to supporting growth in our community,” he said. “That belief has shaped my career and led to many successes. I love what I do and the city I do it in.”
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Congratulations TO THIS YEAR’S 40 UNDER FORTY HONOREES AND our Distinguished Alumnus, Patrick Miles Jr. We look forward to following your progress in the future!
THANK YOU TO THIS YEAR’S 40 UNDER FORTY SPONSORS, WE APPRECIATE YOUR SUPPORT!
Bridget Clark Whitney, 35
Amanda Winn, 27
Executive Director Kids’ Food Basket
Founder/Executive Director; Project Manager Children’s Healing Center; AMDG Architects
Bridget Clark Whitney was a college intern with Kids’ Food Basket when it was launched in 2001, and 15 years later, she is the executive director. When she started her internship, Kids’ Food Basket served 125 children in three Grand Rapids schools; today it serves 7,000 children every weekday at more than 35 locations in Grand Rapids, Holland and Muskegon. Clark Whitney has been responsible for the organization’s vision and growth as it transitioned from a startup to a much-lauded nonprofit. It has grown from $20,000 to a $4.2 million annual budget and has become the largest and most successful anti-childhood hunger program in Michigan and one of the largest in the country. “I have gone from leading a staff of one to a staff of 27, and from managing and inspiring 40 volunteers to more than 20,000,” she said. Kids’ Food Basket has become an example of social entrepreneurship, inclusiveness and community engagement in the nonprofit sector. “We are working to become national in scope by providing our model and toolkit to organizations that are interested in a direct response to fighting childhood hunger in their communities with the launch of our national network, Kids’ Supper Club,” she said. Her commitment goes back to lessons her parents instilled in her. “I remember asking my mother, ‘Why are we here?’ I’ll never forget what she said. ‘We are here for each other.’ That is the foundation on which I have lived my life; specifically, dedicated to working on social justice issues and society’s most pressing problems.”
Amanda Winn is proud of her perseverance to turn her dream of the Children’s Healing Center into reality. At 27, Winn has not only battled stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma after being diagnosed in 2009, but also successfully launched a roughly 7,000-square-foot recreational center designed for children with immune system disorders. “I transformed the most challenging experience of my life into the drive to create a place for love and healing for families struggling with the same isolation I did during treatment,” said Winn. “I worked with graceful determination for five years, leading boards, volunteers and a successful $1.8 million fundraising campaign, and navigating the progress and setbacks of launching a new organization.” Winn leveraged her experience as a project manager at AMDG Architects and a graduate of Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan to design the clean-environment facility. She credits a U-M professor for giving her the confidence to start CHC and opening her eyes in terms of the ability to create products that address real problems. “My roles at AMDG Architects and the Children’s Healing Center allow me to bridge the for-profit and nonprofit worlds. I strive to live in a way that integrates the two, bringing them closer together, leveraging the benefits of both and creating better collaboration,” said Winn. She has served as board chair for CHC for five years, is a member of Gilda’s Club Red Council, and volunteers with the Pediatric Oncology Resource Team at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
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A Film Production Company | 616-643-0599 wearegorilla.co | email@example.com Grand Rapids, MI | Los Angeles, CA 40 UNDER FORTY 2015 | Grand Rapids Business Journal 39
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