With women-owned businesses in Michigan continuing to increase in number, we asked our readers to nominate female business leaders in the region who are driving profits, adding employees, and opening new opportunities. View Party Pictures – Click Here
President and General Counsel, North America // Valeo Inc., Troy
Employees: 9,500 // Revenue: $2.2B (North America)
With a French-Canadian father and a Peruvian mother, Valeo North America President Francoise Colpron spent the early part of her life traveling between North America and South America, speaking French and Spanish. “My dad worked for the Canadian government, and I think I changed houses and schools almost every year until college,” she says.
After receiving a degree from the University of Montreal law school in 1992, she started as an intern at Canadian law firm Ogilvy Renault. After passing the Quebec Bar a year later, the firm put her on a team to develop business in Latin America. Three years later, because of her communication, legal, and language skills, she was sent to the Congo to be a negotiator between Hong Kong investors and the government.
In 1998, Colpron took a job in Paris as legal director for Valeo’s Climate Control branch. “When I arrived in Paris in the automotive world all of a sudden I was a woman in a man’s world — and the only woman on the staff.
“The first thing my boss said was that I needed to sharpen my teeth and be tough if I wanted to be successful. After about a year, at my annual appraisal, he acknowledged that I was results-oriented and had met all my objectives, but had done it in my own style. That was a great victory, to be able to demonstrate that you can achieve the same results in a different way without giving up who you are.”
In 2003 she became legal director of Valeo’s Motors and Actuators Branch in Troy and corporate counsel for Valeo Latin America. In 2008 she was elevated to president, just as the global financial crisis hit. “I work for a French company, I’m based in the U.S., and I work in three languages,” she says. “Embracing change and diversity is part of my DNA.”
She has had to be tough at times. “We had to reduce our workforce by 40 percent during the downturn, so I had to terminate people. Looking someone in the eye and telling them they no longer have a job is the toughest thing to do, but you can do it in a human way,” she says.
Two pieces of advice for women in business: “First, be yourself; don’t be encouraged to think or act differently. The benefit of diversity is a team of people who are different and bring their own experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives to the table. I believe that differences of opinion lead to progress and creativity, and that’s what I look for in my team.
“Second, use your time wisely. The life of a working mother and wife is a permanent balancing act. Find your own recipe to balance how you allocate your time among work, family, and other activities, while trying not to forget yourself.” — Gary Witzenburg
President // Beaumont Hospital, Troy
Employees: 2,810 // Net Operating Income: $40M
Mention the fact that she’s Beaumont Health System’s first female hospital president and Nancy Susick is quick to add she’s also the first nurse to rise so high in the organization. “Absolutely, it’s definitely a point of pride,” she says of breaking through the glass ceiling. “Being the first woman to lead is just so exciting for me. But I’ll always be a nurse at heart.”
Susick, who has a master’s of science in nursing, was promoted from vice president, COO, and chief nursing officer of Beaumont’s 418-bed Troy hospital in April 2012. She also chairs the Oakland University School of Nursing Advisory Board, and is a fellow of the American Council of Healthcare Executives.
After her latest appointment, success was quick to follow: The hospital had its best financial year in 2012, with net operating income of $40 million — $15 million ahead of budget; it recorded the highest patient satisfaction survey in its history; and it attained high employee satisfaction ratings — an annual survey regarding safety at work shot up 22 percent last year.
Additionally, the hospital is starting to see some progress in reducing hospital readmissions as mandated under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Today, readmissions are not reimbursed, which translates into lost revenue. To reduce readmissions, Susick says Beaumont Troy received a federal grant to hire health coaches to assist some of its costly revolving-door patients with follow-up medications and transportation.
A retired U.S. Navy captain in the Reserve, Susick enlisted in the military at the urging of her husband, Al, who is a retired Reservist after serving 28 years. Susick retired after 24 years of service.
In the Reserves, Susick learned how to set up a field hospital and received training on responding to chemical and biological warfare. “When nurses enlist in the military, you train so that if a conflict would occur you would serve as a nurse,” she explains. “If our team was called on, we’d take care of soldiers and sailors in the field.”
Susick actually was called on to serve during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and spent four months at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Although it was a worthwhile experience, it was tough going because her children were ages 6 and 8 at the time.
Susick says her military training helped her develop leadership, communication, and relationship-building skills at work, while her hospital experience has had a hand in her Naval Reserve achievements.
Now she’s trying to pass on the experience of success to a group that usually doesn’t get much positive feedback in the workplace. The hospital collaborates with several school districts in Project Search, a post-high school program for young adults age 18-26 with disabilities.
Participants spend part of their day in the classroom with job coaches, and then fan out to various hospital departments to work. Beaumont Troy hired four of the participants last year, and may hire up to four more in 2013. “We’ve taught those students a lot,” she says, “but it’s amazing what they’ve taught us.” — Ilene Wolff
President // Walsh College, Troy
Enrollment: 4,476 // Budget: NA
When thousands of metro Detroiters lost their jobs during the global financial crisis in 2008, Stephanie Bergeron teamed up with Ford Motor Co. to host nearly 100 employment-related workshops for displaced workers at Walsh College’s Troy and Novi campuses. “We saw our students suffering,” says Bergeron, president of the business college. “We just couldn’t stand still and not do anything.”
The majority of the 3,000 people who attended the “Take Charge” sessions were visiting Walsh for the first time, which helped boost future enrollment.
Working outside of the classroom, Bergeron and her academic team have developed a variety of entrepreneurial activities for students and alumni, including Blackstone LaunchPad, which offers one-on-one consulting to help students and alumni develop and grow their ideas into a business. Currently, there are 180 ventures in progress, and women power more than one-third of the enterprises.
Another project Bergeron helped spearhead is Entrepreneur-YOU. A collaborative effort by Walsh, the Michigan Women’s Foundation, Inforum, and Huntington Bank, E-YOU conducts an annual event for women business owners where they can learn how to start and grow a business, plan for succession, and network.
The program also sponsored a business plan competition that drew 125 applicants and rewarded three of them with cash and in-kind services to assist in developing their companies. The winning businesses included MEMStim LLC, which utilizes an automated nano-fabrication manufacturing method to replace hand-assembly of electrode leads; SurClean Inc., where laser technology selectively removes paint and other coatings from multiple types of surfaces; and Kids Kruiser LLC, which provides safe transportation services for children.
“It’s phenomenal for the presenters to share their stories,” says Bergeron, who is a board member of the Detroit Regional Chamber, serves on the Troy Local Development Finance Authority and Oakland County Workforce Development Committee, and is active in the Troy Chamber of Commerce and the Detroit Economic Club.
Farther from home, she’s on the Council on Competitiveness, a group that provides Congress with “thought leadership” on all things business — competitiveness, manufacturing, trade, investment, and immigration.
She also supports Challenge Detroit, a program designed to preserve talent in the local economy. The leadership and professional development effort provides 30 fellowships each year to tomorrow’s leaders who want to live, work, play, and give in and around the region. “If we can get people one step closer to their dream, that’s what we’re all about,” Bergeron says. — Ilene Wolff
Chairman and CEO // Ford Motor Land Development Corp., Dearborn
Employees: 2,000 // Portfolio: 275M Sq. Ft. (Global)
Donna Inch moved to Michigan at age 7 and went on to follow in her father’s footsteps at Ford Motor Co. Starting as an industrial relations analyst in 1978, she worked her way up through finance and management positions in the Customer Service Division, Marketing and Sales, Product Development, and other operations.
“I always felt passionate about this industry,” Inch says. “I thought cars were great and such a big part of our lives, and even though I’ve spent most of my career in finance functions, they were supporting automotive activities. I was fascinated to go to an assembly plant and see a car come off the end of the line because I knew the complexity it took to get it there. That’s just an incredible thing.”
As finance director for Ford Customer Service, Inch was responsible for financial analysis, budgeting, forecasting, long-range business planning, and internal control, as well as holding financial and operational duties for Ford’s Global Warranty Administration. She was appointed chairman and CEO of Ford Motor Land Development Corp. in 2010, with global responsibility for real estate, construction, and facility services.
Her leadership philosophy includes a passionate curiosity about what her team is dealing with and how to develop successful strategies. “Too often I have seen people in leadership positions who think they know what needs to be done, yet haven’t spent as much time as they should learning and listening,” she says.
Leadership also requires toughness and making hard decisions, along with respect for other people’s views and opinions. “If you’re not (respectful) … they won’t be a loyal team (member) and you’ll never get the best out of them,” she says. “If things go wrong, there is no way I’m ever going to throw a team member under the bus. It all comes back to respect. You want to respect your team members and gain respect from your team, so there has to be trust. Respect and trust are keys to working effectively.”
Inch says she learned an important philosophy from Ed Lundy, one of Ford’s original post-war “Whiz Kids,” early in her career: “When you get on a job, look around and see what’s not being done,” she recalls. “And if it’s something that will add significant value, find a way to get it done. It was a great lesson that has always worked for me.”
One other point for career women: “You don’t need to sacrifice having a family, if that is what you want,” she says. “Just keep a couple of things in mind: Find a way to develop a support network, and balance things out so you’re not missing key events in your children’s lives, because those will never come back around.
“When the decision of whether to have children was in front of me, it never seemed like a good time. How in the world (would) I manage that and get the career I wanted? It took lot of planning, sacrifice, and hard work, but I never have regretted a minute of it.” — Gary Witzenburg
Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer // Comerica Inc.
Employees: 9,000 // Net Income: $521M
Sometimes, Linda Forté’s career has zigged when her plan was to zag. Early on, she studied to be a teacher, earning her undergraduate degree in education and her certification in secondary education. But she never set foot in a classroom. Instead, she signed on as a management trainee at Comerica Bank.
Not that she’s wasted her academic credentials. Forté says her degree was “extremely instrumental” in helping her manage people. “A lot of management is, quite frankly, how you lead people,” she says. “And how you lead people is you educate them.”
Forté, who has spent more than 35 years at Comerica, was appointed senior vice president and chief diversity officer in 2004. Today, in addition to fostering diversity within the bank, she’s charged with overall management of philanthropy and community outreach.
“Those things were probably the furthest from my mind when I started as a management trainee for retail banking,” says Forté, who formalized the bank’s affinity groups for women and other minorities. The 13 affinity groups — referred to in-house as employee resource network groups — have identified missed opportunities for business development in the African-American community, among others. “I always say, when you focus on something, usually there will be results,” she says.
In addition to serving as a pipeline for delivering employee ideas to the bank’s top decision-makers, the affinity groups offer networking opportunities and professional development sessions with leaders.
Her efforts help Comerica consistently earn high marks from Diversity Inc. on its list of Top 50 Companies for Diversity. In 2011, Forté was named a Top Executive in Diversity by Black Enterprise magazine.
Last year, Comerica was No. 27 among the inaugural Civic 50, a national scorecard for civic-minded organizations sponsored by the Points of Light Foundation, National Conference on Citizenship, and Bloomberg LP. Comerica was also a 2011 finalist for the Michigan Governor’s Service Awards. “We set a foundation and culture that encourages people to do things to assist and to help,” Forté says.
Her message of community involvement is getting through to her colleagues. Comerica employees donated 71,000 hours of volunteer service last year to many groups and projects. If paid, they would have earned $1.5 million for their time.
One ongoing project melds two of Forté’s roles at Comerica. A disabled employee who is unable to participate in most fundraising endeavors likes to knit, so Forté approved a volunteer project where the knitter and other employees create blankets and caps to donate to hospitals. “I always use that as an example of how anyone can get involved,” she says. — Ilene Wolff
Executive Vice President // Bedrock Real Estate Services, Detroit
Employees: 100+ // Portfolio 3M+ Sq. Ft.
As urban pioneers, Tamara Knapp and her husband would spend select weekends in downtown Detroit long before the new stadiums, casinos, and nightlife emerged. “We would tell our friends we would take cabs from place to place, and some of them were surprised there actually were cabs operating in the city,” says Knapp, executive vice president of Bedrock Real Estate Services in downtown Detroit, a sister company to Quicken Loans Inc.
Knapp, who has spent more than 20 years in property management, says she could never have imagined the changes that have transpired in the last five years to the central business district. “And now I can’t imagine what the next five years will bring,” she says. Since 2010, Quicken Loans and its affiliates have moved nearly 10,000 workers downtown, while encouraging dozens of other companies to set their roots in the city.
But with the new arrivals come rising expectations. To enhance and enliven downtown, Knapp and more than 100 team members, including Quicken Loans Founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert, announced a long-term place-making strategy in late March that seeks to reactivate parks, sidewalks, alleys, and building lobbies. Over the past three years, Gilbert has acquired more than two dozen buildings, including such architectural gems as the First National, Federal Reserve, and the Dime Building (now Chrysler House).
Called Opportunity Detroit, the plan — created in conjunction with the city and the nonprofit Project for Public Spaces — seeks to establish the city center as a destination. Bedrock, joined by other property owners, is signing leases for new restaurants, stores, service operations, and entertainment offerings. Pop-up stores, food vendors, festivals, musicians, and artists are complementing the new entries.
“We’re always brainstorming ideas, and what I think makes us successful is that we listen to everyone,” Knapp says. “Listen to your team, and keep an open-door policy. How can things be done differently that will improve the overall experience? Be willing to listen to any idea or any criticism, and then act on it.”
Like a quilt crafted in sections, Knapp and her team are charged with knitting the many facets of downtown Detroit into a cohesive, seamless experience. That means better connecting Greektown Casino, where Gilbert recently acquired a majority interest, with Campus Martius Park, the stadium district, and Paradise Valley. It means bringing in established merchants like Papa Joe’s Gourmet Marketplace, and plugging them into the First National Building and Cadillac Square (Papa Joe’s is also opening a store in the Renaissance Center).
“That’s the next step,” Knapp says. “We have these great parks downtown — Capitol Park, Grand Circus Park, Campus Martius Park, and Hart Plaza — so how do you tie them all together with what’s happening inside the buildings and out on the streets? It’s a great challenge, and one that we embrace.” — R.J. King
Executive Director // Beyond Basics, Detroit
Employees: 35 // Volunteers: 2,500
For the past 14 years, Pamela Good has run a volunteer, donation-fueled nonprofit called Beyond Basics. One of its programs teaches students in Detroit-area schools to read — or read better — via one-on-one sessions for an hour a day with a certified tutor. After six weeks of daily tutoring, 90 percent of students achieve grade-level movement.
Along with learning to read better, students can also write their autobiographically based stories and then, once a week, visit an in-school publishing center. The students’ stories are edited and bound by volunteers into slim, hardcover books, complete with an “About the Author” page. So far, the students and volunteers have published more than 70,000 such books. “It’s a creative way to get kids excited about writing,” Good says.
In high schools, Beyond Basics volunteers work with students to publish a school newspaper. Another part of the program, called Art with the Masters, includes hands-on art projects plus field trips to the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Historical Museum, and other venues. “We’re working with kids who’ve never colored with crayons, (and now they) do pottery,” Good says.
In the 2012-2013, Beyond Basics offered daily reading activities in four schools, and teamed up with 10 schools to present Expanding Horizons, a cultural and professional experiences program offered through mentoring and partnerships. Good says her programs reach 6,000 students a year.
A graduate of the University of Michigan, Good started her first business, Farmington Computer Services, at 19. She turned the business over to a colleague after two years so she could attend the University of Michigan. She subsequently worked at EDS, and then she left to raise a family.
In 1999, she volunteered to help with a coat drive at her son’s school. The experience opened her eyes to what she saw were holes in the students’ art education, and she soon co-started Beyond Basics with Joanne Wagerson. In the early years, the program focused on liberal arts, but Good quickly became aware of the participants’ high illiteracy rate, and expanded the effort to include certified reading tutors. Her strategy is to pick the weakest schools, partner with the principals, and start working with the most needy students. “It’s life-changing,” she says. “I mean, kids go from Ds to Bs in one month.”
In May, during a personal visit, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, along with Gov. Rick Snyder, highlighted Thirkell Elementary in Detroit, where Beyond Basics has long operated a reading and arts program.
“We could have (students in) Detroit Public Schools literate in five years, and that changes everything,” she says. “When I heard the governor say he was going to concentrate on the lowest 5 to 10 percent (of schools) and then roll it out to the rest of the state, I said, ‘that’s a solution, in my mind.’”
Beyond Basics relies on private donations, along with foundation support and corporate sponsorships.
Supporting organizations include the Wayne and Joan Webber Foundation, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, PNC Bank, Art Van Furniture, and Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, among others.
“Education is broken, but we have so many kids who are living in unspeakable conditions, we should be giving them all we’ve got,” Good says. — Ilene Wolff
President and CEO // United Road Services Inc., Romulus
Employees: 1,000+ // Revenue: $300M+
From the first load in the morning to the last load in the evening, Kathleen McCann oversees a technology company that delivers new, used, classic, and concept vehicles throughout the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. The business, United Road Services Inc. in Romulus, is as complex as it is simple: Deliver cars and trucks safely, efficiently, and at the most competitive cost possible.
“We have between 1,400 and 1,500 car carriers on the road every day, so we need to maximize our loads to the point of delivery and seek out opportunities on the return trips,” says McCann, president and CEO of United Road. “Our IT department creates our technology platforms, some of which we sell to third parties. For example, we license our technology to auction houses in the United Kingdom, which they use to improve their productivity and maximize deliveries.”
Once a printer’s dream, United Road used to generate thousands of paper orders. But over the last nine years, the operation has become paperless. Today, as orders arrive electronically, they are fed into a system called Load Solver. Push a button, and Load Solver selects the most efficient routes and assigns the deliveries based on numerous factors including cost, mileage, availability, driver proximity, and dozens of other variables.
The system also utilizes phone apps to alert drivers. “We have a number of third-party drivers who have certain preferences,” McCann says. “A driver may like to take loads between Michigan and Kentucky, and once they register on our system, we’ll push freight their way as it becomes available.”
With more than 10,000 customers, the company meets a variety of delivery needs for automakers, dealerships, rental car agencies, auction dealers, finance companies, and individuals. A specialty division, Pilot Transport, provides enclosed trucks that protect and deliver rare and classic cars, as well as concept vehicles.
McCann, who served on United Road’s board of directors for more than 20 years and held various senior leadership positions at Soave Enterprises in Detroit, says one of the company’s most complicated tasks is loading. Since it can take as long as an hour and a half to fully load a car carrier, the logistics have to be just right.
“There are a lot of variables that go into loading a carrier — the height, width, and weight of individual vehicles all come into play,” she says. “Ideally, you want the last car loaded to be the first delivered. Our next project is to use advanced algorithms to create even more efficiencies.”
McCann says the company operates an integrated national network made up of 50 locations including ports, railroads, and manufacturing plants. “One thing that leads to success is to be open to what the opportunities are, and don’t get caught up in doing things the same way day after day,” she says. “You have to keep looking down the road for new ideas, instead of looking in the rearview mirror.” — R.J. King