Newsmakers 2017-18

Tiffany Dowling

Founder and CEO of M3 Group – 2017

What was your or your organization’s biggest accomplishment in 2017?

We had a couple of fantastic things happen this year, and both involve location. Earlier this year, we opened our Detroit office, which was a long-time goal of mine. And then what I’d consider probably our biggest accomplishment — and the thing that almost killed me — was the renovation of the church on the corner of Seymour and Saginaw streets. So, those are two things I
would say professionally and personally were huge accomplishments.

I think that for both of those things, they are not what my day-to-day world is all about. When I go into projects, I like the feeling of having all the information I need to be successful. With the church especially, it felt like we did a lot of research, but there were ultimately a lot of nuances and happenings I was not necessarily prepared for. It was one of those things where I learned a lot about myself during the process.

At the end of the day, I think everything is a learning experience, and I learned a lot through that process! It was challenging yet satisfying

What’s the most notable change you foresee happening in 2018 for Greater Lansing?

For the Greater Lansing area, we are shifting to a new mayor and new administration. And although I don’t think there will be drastic changes, I do think the thought processes will start to shift on how Andy Schor wants to get things done. I think, from what I understand from the new mayor, he wants to build on the successes that have
happened thus far. Hopefully, he’ll come out swinging and make some remarkable things happen in our region.

I also think we’re going to start seeing some further development. We have the Center City project that’s coming up, the City Hall project that’s supposed to happen — these things are going to be important for the major areas in our region. These are exciting changes, and I have a huge love for Lansing, so I’m looking forward to these types of developments flourish.

I’m also working personally on some projects for 2018 as it relates to showing the love of this region from its residents and business community, to really hone in on the message we share as a community and want to express to the world

What would your friends or family describe as your greatest quirk?

I’m a little bit of a crazy fan for the 1980s! So, I am into everything ‘80s. I love the movies, and I love the music. When my son watches the Netflix series ‘Stranger Things,’ I make sure to tell him to pay attention to the set and all the things of that time going on. His response: “Got it, mom.”

Mindy Biladeau

Executive Director of Downtown Lansing Inc. – 2017

What was your or your organization’s biggest accomplishment in 2017?

Our new branding for downtown Lansing as a destination and the design, fabrication and installation of our new Wayfinding system has been a labor of love for us. Based on a 2016 analysis by Corbin Design, it was determined to evaluate exactly how visitors navigate Lansing based on distinct, individual sub-areas. 

From the Capital Complex and Washington Square to the Riverfront and Stadium districts, our capital city has been reinforced as a true hub for rich engagements and opportunity, for residents and visitors. Phase I of  Wayfinding, vehicular signs, are currently being installed and Phase II’s pedestrian signage will be installed in spring 2018.

None of our progress or the city’s progress would be possible without support from stakeholders of all kinds: property owners, business owners, education centers, arts institution, private and public organizations, and of course the residents of Lansing who keep our area vibrant and incredible. These partnerships include the City of Lansing, Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau, Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority, and more.

What industry trends did you see in 2017 and what trends do you foresee in the next year? 

I’ve seen two key trends that have developed over 2017, and they aren’t going away anytime soon from my estimation: urbanization and residential growth. Across the nation, urban areas have continued to increase in population density, people living and working in downtowns— Lansing is no exception, which is phenomenal. 

As people are further concentrated, expansion will follow demands, increasing the profile and significance of downtown Lansing as a cultural and education center, entertainment destination, business hub and even just a place to meet and start anew wherever you are in life.

A big part of urbanization is our residential growth. We want to continue gaining downtown residents with the opening of spaces such as the Outfield Lofts earlier in 2017. This demand for urban living has not been met quite yet, but as additional residential units enter the market, we’ll see it happen. Our downtown should have a minimum of 3,000 residential units.

What advice do you have for young professionals entering your industry?

I understand the feeling of wanting to take everything by the horns all at once, but you simply don’t have to be an all-out expert in one specific area of community and economic development in order to make a significant impact. When it comes to reinvigorating the spaces important to you, it’s more significant to know a little about a lot of things. It always takes a village, and that includes trusting in the ability of others when working toward the same goal and passions. 

Work-life balance is also important. Balancing work and family can be interesting for me, but we’re a family of tough cookies. With the addition of our daughter, Kailey, things can get especially crazy, as far as finding time for different things. But in all reality, it’s been a blast. Brendan is our 3-year-old son, and he’s had a ball becoming a big brother too; we’ll see how long that lasts!

Song Su Kim

Director of Operations of Ukai Hibachi Grill and Al Fusion Sushi & Grill – 2017

What was your or your organization’s biggest accomplishment in 2017?

We had a lot of new hires, and we’ve had a lot of great employees. People looking for a fresh start or just need some extra income — everyone has their reasons for coming and going. It’s always about the people for me, so, I’m proud that we’ve gotten to know and hired some immense talent. 

As far as finding these employees, it’s sometimes just the luck of the draw. But most of the employees we get are referred here through friends and family. Most people work out, but some don’t, and that’s okay. People graduate, relocate out of town or just go off to do bigger and better things. I always tell people to not take a step back, but take a step forward. We just want people to give us a bit of a notice in the event, which is always helpful

What industry trends did you see in 2017 and what trends do you foresee in the next year? 

A challenging trend can be distinguishing ourselves a little bit from other restaurants with similar menus. Distinguishing ourselves price-point wise or with unique food is important, but it is never really an issue. We treat people well, and we have such quality, loyal customers that it makes all the difference and is never a big deal.

There’s a lot of trendy stuff that has come up in general, especially in the take-out world. Nowadays, a lot of people will take the raw ingredients from an establishment to home and make their favorite dish:  to have dinner with family, friends or whoever. We understand that, because we understand the social aspect of restaurants. So, it’s a fun thing that people want to do — maybe not every night, but people want to.

We’ve been teaching some classes and doing more promos, like for wine tastings. In classes, a lot of people find it’s harder than they thought it was to prepare the food, which is always interesting. But that’s how we’re trying to stand out and leverage these trends, by bringing new experiences to households and accessible ways for folks to break bread. 

What advice do you have for young professionals entering your industry?

I’ve been asked by professors at Michigan State — I graduated from there — to share my experiences, so I think this is a great question with a simple answer: work your tail off. When I first got started, I knew my parents would catch me if I fell on my behind but going out and getting myself established was so important to map the rest of my path. I worked hard, told people about that same work ethic, and it showed at the end of the day

Understanding the value of demanding work and that sticking to it will get you far is important. My generation tends to label the younger generation as lazy or whatever, but every generation does that to their successors; it’s cyclical. So, to students, don’t worry about it but don’t be afraid of the work. That way, when you’re in your 40s, 50s, etc. you’ll get to work less with your hands and more with your mind. 

Traci Corey

Olivet College’s Director of Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) – 2017

What was your or your organization’s biggest accomplishment in 2017?

Just the launching of the Women’s Leadership Institute has been a real labor of love for so many of us on campus. Despite our rich history, which we continue to build upon, the struggles that women face today are still tough for young girls. While strides have been made, we can do better. And who better to do it than Olivet College?

The thing that I’m most excited about, and not just the launch of the institute, is our partnership with ATHENA international and this year-long women’s leadership program based on their model. It’s a proven success model not just for women but for men — we aren’t trying to exclude men, but we think women are facing some tougher challenges, so how can we help them become more successful?

Also, just to see the young ladies already in the program is great, and we’ve had some absolutely amazing women leaders from Michigan be our speakers or facilitators for each of these sessions. For these young women to be able to rub elbows with some of the women who have ‘been there, done that,’ is remarkable. It’s all been a phenomenal, grassroots growth. 

What was your organization’s biggest challenge in 2017?

My husband has a saying: You can want everything, but you can’t have everything. I think the biggest challenge that we’re most proud of as a college has been the strategic planning involved in WLI. We listened to the surveys, we listened to the focus groups, we listened to the women leaders and in a little over four months we were able to put together the strategic document and get it to some key people. We had it all in places but pulling it all together and really articulating it was a big accomplishment and something that I think we’re really proud of.

Another challenge has been fundraising. The college is in the middle of the largest capital campaign in its history, and we’re entering the public phase. So, balancing WLI within that has been a fun challenge because, without funds, there’s no programming. But it’s nice to be a part of something so much bigger than one person or a few people, and I believe this will all lead to women’s leadership development for years to come.

What advice do you have for young professionals entering your industry?

I think the biggest thing is to be true to yourself. Don’t stop striving to make an impact in a positive way and don’t stop advocating for yourself and those who can’t. It takes a village; you can’t do anything by yourself, so surround yourself with really good people who are passionate about what you’re passionate about, and you’ll be able to pull it together.

Also, let what stands out about you shine. I’m highly driven personally; I’m a driver, sometimes too intensely! When I see something, I dive into it like a dog on the bone, until I accomplish what I want to see happen, you know? That’s what people close to me might say about me, but it’s also what helped me develop, mold and focus — in order to get where I am today.

Andy Schor

Mayor of Lansing – 2018

What does your administration plan to accomplish in 2018?

In our campaign, we focused on four topics: strong neighborhoods; economic and community development; fixing infrastructures like roads and sidewalks; and relationships with our schools. So, those are the broad topics, and we’re going to be rolling out a variety of exciting plans while still working through many things that the previous administration was working on. 

We’ll have lots of specifics leading up to the State of the City, with lots to talk about and plenty of work ahead of us. We went through a nine-month campaign of knocking on 75,000 or so doors; putting together that plan for Lansing and discussing it with voters was a worthwhile effort to inform these ideas and develop progress moving forward. Now, as we’ve transitioned, we’ll continue to engage the community in public safety, citizen engagement and more to hit the ground running.   

What would your friends or family describe as your greatest quirk?

Well, you’d have to ask them! My wife would tell you that I love Lansing and get things done on behalf of the city, but I’m also someone that really enjoys staying home and reading a book. People have this concept of politicians as the most outgoing, engaging folks ever, but sometimes you need just to sit and relax. So, in the midst of going out and figuring out what people want and think to the benefit of our community, it’s important for me to spend time with my family and re-energize the brain.

What advice do you have for young professionals looking to become newsmakers and change agents with their own talents?

My advice is to know the most about your profession and what you want to do. Whether it’s interning while in college or getting involved at the ground level of the organization you want to be a part of, you need to work hard. It will be rewarded by the people who are already there.

Sometimes, change is hard, and there’s pushback in the face of new ideas. I think that when young people get in, whether you’re an entrepreneur or you’re working at General Motors, you get ahead by showing you’re a team player and working hard. For me, that meant interning and working up from there, allowing those already in place to help me get to where I want to go. Get ready to lead, and a way will be paved.

Suzy Merchant

empowHER, MSU Women’s Basketball Head Coach – 2018

What are you or your organization planning to accomplish in 2018?

With empowHER, I think my goal is to reach as many kids as possible. There’s a lot of pressure on them to be a certain way, look a certain way — I want to reach as many young girls as possible to help them build the skills and mindset needed that will translate into their careers and lives.

I came into this under the pretense of tragedy. I was recruiting a young woman out of Pennsylvania, and four days before Mother’s Day, in her junior year, she decided to end her own life. I couldn’t figure it out, and it really hit me hard. Me, being a mom, I struggled in general and then as a coach recruiting her. I thought over time I would be able to move on, but I couldn’t. So, I asked myself: What can I do?

There are so many young girls who struggle to cope with so much — not necessarily with taking their life but with a boy, school, alcohol and drugs. The coping skills just aren’t there. So, after the tragedy, I asked myself questions on how to help with these kinds of things. That sort of developed into this program where we can give these kids some skills and support so that when they leave, they’ll be even more equipped to handle tough situations.  

What would your friends or family describe as your greatest quirk?

I’ve got a lot of them! In the past, I was WWF fan growing up. I loved wrestling: seeing Jimmy Fly Snuka flying from the tightrope, practicing my piledrivers and figure-four leglocks! All of the excitement and energy associated with wrestling would just blow me away! So, for most of my childhood and I guess even now, I’m a huge fan of that.

Lately, I’ve had this obsession with turkey meatballs from Whole Foods. It’s bizarre, I know. But all I do is eat turkey meatballs for breakfast, lunch and dinner, on the road for games, etc. In fact, Whole Foods was going to discontinue them and — I’ve never done this before in my life — I actually had a meeting with the manager and begged him not to discontinue these turkey-based meatballs, and they had to go all the way to corporate to make my request happen. I couldn’t tell you where this obsession came from; they’re just easy to eat and delicious!

What will your organization bring to the Greater Lansing area in 2018?

I hope when these women within empowHER’s leave they’ll be able to cope, feel good about who they are and learn a little bit more about themselves. Hopefully, their self-esteem and self-confidence will be higher. We do different classes and programming based on ages; It’s fourth to ninth grade, so there are distinct levels of content, or if they’re close enough in age we slightly adjust. But it covers just about everything, including bullying, loving your body and loving yourself, and even what a healthy relationship looks like from a dating perspective for when they’re older.

So, when they’re walking out of here, we want them to walk out with their shoulders straight and head high. Our motto is,’ You got this!’ I think when they go off, they really believe that. We want them to feel good about who they are and that yes, they may need to rework some things, but they’re own confidence and self-esteem is sky high. We can only accomplish this from a facilitator perspective, as a team and when everyone believes in the same vision. 

Bill Beekman

Vice President and Secretary of MSU Board of Trustees – 2018 

What are you or your organization planning to accomplish in 2018?

Michigan State University has a lot on its plate for 2018. We’ve got a number of really exciting construction projects, new buildings, facilities and programming. We’re in the middle of building a new interdisciplinary science and technology building. We’re also putting a major addition to the Eli Broad College of Business. 

We are continuing to make enhancements to the Facility for Rare Isotype Beams’ — which is known as FRIB — civil construction, as well as to the machine that will do all the work. We’re also going to conclude the university’s largest capital campaign that will have raised over $1.4 billion — much of that is going toward student scholarships and faculty positions.

The final thing I’ll say is, with any luck in 2018, we hope to be playing basketball into April in the NCAA Final Four in San Antonio!

What has been your biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome?

When I think about the biggest hurdles that I’ve overcome over the last number of years — I’m in a job that is really a people person sort of role, connecting people to each other. I’m a real introverted sort of guy. So, one of my hurdles over the years has been overcoming my quieter, more introspective nature to most effectively interact with people of all kinds. 

I’ve been blessed over the years to have friends and mentors that have helped me mesh my personality traits with work — people like MSU President Simon and our Athletics Director Mark Hollis who have helped me, both through prodding and by example, to be a bit more extroverted.

Another thing I’d say, as people grow into leadership roles and this is certainly something I’ve worked on, is the simple question of work-life balance. I think, for most of us, our biggest hurdle tends to be focusing on the things that we don’t do instead of the things that we do. So, I try hard to live without regret and achieve work-life balance in a thoughtful way: to leave it all on the field when I’m at work but make sure I’m present when I’m home and spending time with my family.

What do you say about the power of a team effort and lifting our community up from within?

The Greater Lansing community and MSU community have always been huge parts of my life. I was born at Sparrow Hospital, I grew up in downtown Lansing and I have been roaming around campus for as long as I can remember. So, to me, lifting our community and becoming a stronger community are important things. I’ve been blessed in my career to work at the university because, its mission as a land-grant institution is to uplift the community. It’s easy to work for a place whose values you believe in passionately.

In one of my volunteer roles, I’m the chairperson of the board of the MSU Federal Credit Union. And that’s another organization whose mission is to fulfill the dreams of the community. They do that through loans and financial transactions, but they also give back millions and millions of dollars to the community. Many would be well-served to follow that example.

There’s always more we can do. I’m reminded of a Benjamin Franklin, quote something to the effect of,’ We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.’ I think it is critical we all hang together, and I just try to do my little part in that big tapestry.

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Kristopher Johnson

Kristopher Johnson

Kristopher Johnson is a Communications Specialist at M3 Group who earned his bachelor’s degree at Michigan State University in 2015. While currently residing in Lansing, Kristopher will always be a native of Detroit. He enjoys volunteering, listening to others and musing over contrasting insights. He is also fond of writing, keeping up with politics and watching too many story-driven anime.

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