Executive Learned From the BestToday, Michaud is vice president of the Gillespie Group in East Lansing and one of only a handful of female executives to have reached such a milestone in the mid-Michigan area.
A graduate of Haslett High School and Western Michigan University, Michaud says her real education began in 1994 when she was hired right out of college as a leasing residential specialist. She soon realized that showing apartments was important to the process but there was so much more to learn, which became all too evident when the vice president of the company paid a visit to her rental property. “I didn’t understand the dynamics of what it took. They used all these acronyms I didn’t understand,” she remembers. “I started asking questions and I never stopped. I’m constantly asking ‘How did we get here?’ and ‘How can we make it better?’”
Although Michaud can lay claim to many successful developments, there are some that stand out in her mind. One of the largest is a multi-unit family and commercial retail center in Jackson, which includes a grocery store and a strip mall.
But it is the Stadium District project in Downtown Lansing—the mixed-use, 100,000-square-foot building across from Oldsmobile Park—that comes in first as the most complex. “I’ve had to find a way to work with the banks to structure a number of loans due to the different types of businesses and housing accounts.”
Michaud says financing is the most important aspect of her job but her input is required for design and marketing. “I work with my teams to determine needs and wants of prospective buyers along with ways to drive interest to get units absorbed as quickly as possible.” Michaud adds that finding ways to satisfy both the Master Association and the Homeowners’ Association for the Stadium District intensified the stress. However, the stress isn’t over.
The latest phase of the Stadium District will soon be under construction. It will house commercial office properties. The “headliner” will be the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau. It will sit in the center of not only the Stadium District, but also the entire business district. “It’ll showcase all the area has to offer, like a gateway to the capital city.”
Michaud admits the recent economic downturn has caused a financial loss of well into six figures. “We’ve got the energy and the commitment, but the lack of financing these days is hurting all of us.” Michaud says the losses are primarily due to stages of development not going forward.
The problem is most severe in East Lansing and Lansing. One project that has slowed involves the City Market development. “We’re in a holding pattern until the City of Lansing begins construction on the new City Market.” The Gillespie Market Place project, on the site of the old market, will eventually offer 100-120 residential units overlooking the Grand River. It is being patterned after a similar project that has an occupancy rate of between 95-97 percent.
Michaud credits successes to continued work on developing and offering what the consumer wants, when ready or able to buy. “We’re finding more and more interest in urban living—people wanting to be in the heart of the city with shops, restaurants and even a ballpark within walking distance.”
While The Gillespie Group does business as far away as Muskegon, Michaud says the initial goal was to be close enough to be hands-on. “When you’re involved from the vision to getting approvals to bidding and construction, you become personally involved,” she says. “I think I have a scar from every development.”
Michaud understands her field is male-dominated, especially in management, but says she doesn’t dwell on it. “I suppose a myth would be that a woman has to be stern and cold to do what I do,” she says. “I’ve found that honesty and compassion can go a long way. Being forthright doesn’t mean being cold, but rather offering information that will allow others to grow on their own, one way or the other.”
Michaud still refers to her father as a true entrepreneur and her parents as her personal mentors, teaching her the importance of family and a good work ethic. “My dad never gave up on anything,” she remembers. “My husband and children are always there as well, reminding me to be a better person each and every day.”
But while family is her priority, Michaud says her encounter with another man—Patrick Gillespie, owner of The Gillespie Group—provided the professional mentoring that helped in her rise to the top in the real estate industry. “He is truly a visionary and someone who is willing to push the levels of ‘industry standards’ beyond what most are willing to do,” she says. “He never compromises his commitment.”
Michaud says they make good partners because each brings something different to the table. “Pat always has the answers immediately and I’m more of a thinker,” she says. “I like to really get inside my head and think of all the options and he’s the guy who stands up and has the amazing vision.”
That vision has let to tremendous success and growth for the company over the years. Since Michaud’s hiring 13 years ago, the number of employees has gone from just an essential three to more than 60.
Michaud recommends exposing children to business early in life. “I grew up behind a desk at my dad’s dry cleaning business.” She says she would work after school adding up the tickets on an old adding machine and writing out the tallies. “I couldn’t stop until I came up with the same number three times in a row,” she remembers. “I do the same thing today.”
When asked for three words that would best describe her, Michaud opted for committed, positive and ambitious. “The latter the most important,” she notes. “It’s a survival skill today more than anything else.”
The Gillespie Group
Patrick Gillespie, CEO/President
Rachel Michaud, Vice President
2501 Coolidge Road, Suite 501