The Inner Sanctum

The Greater Lansing Business Monthly is embarking on a series of articles to reveal for our readers the personal offices of many of our region’s executive leaders.

The executive office in any company is a unique place. It stands as the emblem of the company’s corporate culture, yet it’s often combined with the personal likes, memorabilia and the management style of the executive who inhabits it.

While sitting in a leader’s office, it’s always fun to scan the nooks and crannies of the shelves and the surfaces. You’ll be sure to discover little treasures hidden in the corners – family photos, gifts, mementos, books and other personal things, all supplying clues to the broader personality of the leader.

For a typical executive, he or she will spend more time in the office than he or she does at home. It’s truly a home away from home. Therefore, it must be a place where he or she feels comfortable, but it must also project the mission and vision of the company. 

In some cases, the executive office is a showpiece for the company. A lavish place to display corporate successes and achievements with expensive furniture, beautiful design, artwork and computer equipment. Sitting in the impressive offices of many Lansing businessmen or women, you might imagine yourself in New York or Chicago. 

We also find evidence that the workplace is changing. For some leaders, the office is a private place, meant for personal work only. When they meet with employees, customers or vendors, they do so in conference rooms which are outfitted with the appropriate communications and technology geared for slide presentations, video conferencing, group phone calls and the like. Few colleagues ever see their personal offices. Also, since electronic communications are so ubiquitous, executives see colleagues and customers far less frequently.

As photographer Mary Gajda and I met with our region’s top leaders, we saw a fascinating array of personal workplaces – each one different – filled with stories and unique artifacts.

So, travel with us to the inner sanctums of our corporate leaders in the mid-Michigan area. Learn about their styles and their interests. And if you have ideas for other executives that should be profiled, please let us know.

Kevin V.B. Schumacher

Managing Partner – Glasssen, Rhead, McLean, Campbell  & Schumacher, Attorneys-at-Law

Kevin Schumacher grew up in the upper peninsula of Michigan, amongst grand old Victorian houses. He’s a Yooper and proud of it – he even flaunts it now and then.

So, when he was looking for a suitable place to house his small law firm, those fond memories of the UP neighborhoods played a big role in his decision of where to settle.

Schumacher, a lanky, affable and independent guy, fell in love with a 140-year-old property in the Cherry Hill historic neighborhood on the south end of downtown Lansing 20 years ago. It seemed to fit his personal style and the needs of his company to a tee.

He and his family immediately dug in and began restoring the place. They hired a colorist to paint the building with a palette that was approved by the Lansing Historic Commission. And he lovingly restored the interior, making the most of the old wooden floors and the stunning staircase which dominates the view as you first walk into the office.

Antique area rugs cover the floors and imposing furniture, including a judge’s table with oversize chairs, fill the space. As Schumacher says, there’s a story behind every piece in the building. 

As an example, in his personal office is a cast iron pool table he bought in Saginaw, Mich. and underneath the table is an eye-catching zebra hide/rug that was given to him by a client that used the gift as a payment for law services. She shot the zebra herself.

Although Schumacher made a significant financial investment in this historic property, he feels that the real value of that investment is just that “I get to work here every day.” 

Why do you like your office?

I grew up in the UP among Victorian houses from the mining days. The firm needed to move, so I looked for a place to meet the firm’s needs. I didn’t want to be in a cubicle next to a 7-Eleven, with clients coming in with Slurpees in their hands. The law should be special. When you’re meeting with a lawyer, it should be an experience.

I like the fireplace. It keeps me warm. My clients feel comfortable here. If they haven’t been to a lawyer before, they notice that this is really a home, with the comforts of an office, but it’s really a home.

Did you have a role in designing this office?

I had help. When I bought the building, it was colored Pepto Bismol pink. Because it is a historic building, I had to hire a color consultant. All the colors we used had to be approved by the Lansing
Historic Commission. 

My daughter reminded me that we built this office before it was cool to be in downtown Lansing.

Are there personal items in your office?

That picture over the fireplace of two people in an old canoe on a lake at  sunset – that’s me at the helm and my wife, Myrtelisa, sailing on Lake Superior in a 1936 canoe that we restored, which had been my dad’s canoe. 

Early in my career, a senior partner told me, ‛Make sure your office has a picture of your family and put that picture across from where you work, so you look across the room and you know who you’re really working for. This is why you’re here. You have clients who you provide services to, but you work to support your family.’

How does this office help you in becoming a better leader?

I believe this office helps me to become a good civic leader. Many nonprofits have meetings here, some folks conduct interviews here and others have parties. 

April Clobes

President and CEO – MSU Federal Credit Union

When the MSU Federal Credit Union moved from its cramped space on Michigan State University’s campus 10 years ago into its gleaming headquarters on the north edge of East Lansing, the glass-covered building was almost empty. Employees complained that they were sitting in large empty areas, far from anyone else.

Since then, the growth of the credit union has been so strong that not only did they fill up that space, but they built a second headquarters a stone’s throw away from the first one.

April Clobes, president and CEO, was promoted to the top job at the credit union about three years ago, and her office is on the top floor of the older headquarters building. Nestled into one of the corners of the building, the office’s wall of windows looks over the spacious parking lot and all the lands beyond.

It’s a generous office, complete with a small conference table, a four-chair discussion area plus the executive desk facing the door. 

The office projects a corporate image and is tidy and organized. But if you look carefully, you can clearly see many objects that makes it April Clobes’ office; small mementos on the shelves, photos and, of course, the green baseball bat leaning against the wall with a story to tell.

Why do you like the office?

It’s a reflection of me. I didn’t pick the office, I inherited it from my predecessor, Patrick McPharlin. It’s open and inviting, so it’s conducive to a lot of different work. My work desk is good for me. I have a tack board next to my desk, so I can see things visually. That’s left over from my marketing days. There’s also a table for collaboration and for casual conversations. 

I love art. You can see the Chagall prints that are a copy of his stained-glass windows from the Chicago Art Institute that a friend bought for me. There’s a large picture that we got from the East Lansing Art Fair. 

There’s a funny story about that piece. A sponsors of the Art Fair, the credit union is given one work of art from the fair at its conclusion. As I was visiting the fair, I saw this work and bought it for myself. When the fair closed that year and they gave us the one work of art as sponsors, it was the same piece I bought earlier. Ironic.

I’m an avid reader, so I like books and book accessories — hence the book end sculpture of a bear reading a book. I also love watches and clocks, and I have this large clock shaped like a gear to remind me about the time during meetings – it makes me pay attention. I like old school kind of stuff like that.  

Did you design the office? 

As I said, I inherited it, but I changed things around. I moved everything around, so my desk faces the door and the collaboration areas are more open. My door is almost never closed. If I had my preference, I would be on a floor with more employees. At this point, we’re off the beaten path, so employees don’t walk past here unless they’re here for a special reason. 

What is special about this office?

It’s a conglomeration of things. The credit union is involved in lots of community activities and there are many mementos that remind me of the good community work that we’re doing. Also, I have family photos of places we’ve gone.

One really special aspect to the office is that shiny green Spartan baseball bat in the corner. When I got the CEO job, my brother bought that bat for me and etched the phrase Every day is an interview, into the wood. That is a phrase that I tell everyone as a key to career success. 

That’s special to me.

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