The 2022 class of 30 in Their Thirties oversees operations on multiple fronts, from building residential, commercial, and industrial developments to running major medical facilities to selling luxury cars. Join DBusiness magazine in honoring this year’s class at a special breakfast at the Daxton Hotel in downtown Birmingham on June 8 from 8:30-10:30 a.m. The keynote speaker will be past 30s honoree Linzie Venegas, vice president of Ideal Group in Detroit.
// Tarshena Armstrong // Gabriel Bedoya // David Berman // Joe Cauley // Dave Clifford //
// Chantal Cornfield // Andrew Dunlap // Marco Eadie // Chris Economeas //
// Jonathan Eyerman // Jonathon Feldotte // Eddie Hall III // Jesse Henry //
// Michelle Ilitch // Raymond Jonna // Ajay Kapoor // Blake Kolo // Jonathan LoPatin //
// Bailey Mattacola // Allisyn Mattice-Eskau // Dominic F. Moceri //
// Austin Niemiec // Milton Putman // Jacob Shapiro // Alex Simmons // Alex Simpson //
// Michael Tomey // Corey Welch // Loni Winkler // Mitchell Zajac //
Director of Diversity Marketing and Development, General Motors Co., Detroit
College: Wayne State University
Her parents met at Fisher Body and later worked at the Buick City factory in Flint, so Tarshena Armstrong has been part of the General Motors family her entire life. “My mom would take my sisters and me to ‘bring your daughter to work day,’ and I always wanted to work for GM,” says Armstrong, who started at the company 14 years ago as an internship student with the ACDelco marketing team.
Grateful that GM provided her with “stretch assignments” throughout her career, Armstrong recently completed her first year as director of diversity marketing and development, a newly created executive position.
“I like to say that I earn cultural capital for GM,” says Armstrong, who has spearheaded numerous multicultural initiatives to ensure that diversity is “woven into brand strategies for everything from media to analytics.”
In addition to building a new, modern marketing curriculum for 250 marketing employees in the U.S., and increasing the company’s competitive advantage, she was instrumental in the planning and execution of GM’s first Diverse Media Summit, which included more than 200 virtual attendees and led to the automaker securing greater relationships with Black and diverse-owned media.
“The minority today is the future majority of tomorrow, so the goal is to gain even greater cultural awareness and trust with these unique audiences,” Armstrong says. “I’m excited for the future of the electric auto industry, and also the huge shift to our multicultural audiences as we bring more customers to the GM family. Our talent will also be more reflective of the consumers we serve.”
Prior to stepping into her new position, for one year Armstrong was the business planning manager for Mary Barra, CEO and chair of GM.
“It was the best experience I could ever have hoped for because it gave me a 360-degree view of our organization. Mary is such a dynamic leader, and I learned from her to move quickly, test boundaries, and to not just look at things as they are but as they could be in our glide path to the future,” says Armstrong, who, as a Black female executive in a male-dominated industry, found it challenging at times as she rose up the corporate ladder.
“It took a while to feel comfortable in bringing my authentic self to work and to stop comparing myself to others, because even though I didn’t have the upbringing of some of my peers, I’ve brought a valuable diversity perspective,” she says. — Bill Dow
Partner, Honigman, Detroit
College: New York University School of Law
In 2016, after working at large New York law firms for several years, Gabriel Bedoya, a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from Paraguay in 1980, decided to move his young family to Michigan, where his wife had grown up.
Looking to continue his law career, Bedoya applied at Honigman, long known for its commitment to the Detroit community. “When you practice law at a big firm in New York, it’s hard to claim ownership of your career,” he says. “Honigman is incredibly entrepreneurial, and you can position yourself well through hard work and networking to develop the kind of practice you want.”
A litigation partner and a board member, Bedoya built a practice that centers on complex commercial litigation matters. He also serves as co-leader of Honigman’s Emerging Companies Group, which he helped form with fellow partner Alex Bowman in 2020.
“In my career, I’ve come across a handful of entrepreneurs in need of legal services who couldn’t afford an attorney,” Bedoya notes. “Our mission is to provide entrepreneurs with uniquely tailored, cost-effective, and high-quality legal services. It helps our community grow new businesses and provides our younger attorneys with the opportunity to develop their own clients.”
Along with Chauncey C. Mayfield II, Bedoya serves as assistant recruiting partner for associates and summer associates. “Having two minority attorneys in these positions proves that Honigman remains committed to diversity and hiring attorneys who look like America,” says Bedoya, who speaks Spanish and French and is global chair of the litigation group for Interlaw, a law firm network of more than 7,500 lawyers worldwide. “Our attorneys come from a variety of personal and professional backgrounds, ultimately ensuring that Honigman provides the best legal services to a diverse clientele.”
While he enjoys mentoring new attorneys, Bedoya says he appreciates the constructive nature of corporate law. “I listen to my clients to determine how best to help them. Resolving their issues through litigation isn’t always the most effective solution. Although disputes may end up in court, I also enjoy the fight.”
Unlike his experience in New York, Detroit has been a breath of fresh air. “Honigman’s leaders believe that we work to live, not live to work, and that, while we all work hard, there’s a whole lot more to life than billable hours.” — Bill Dow
Managing Partner, Lorient Capital, Birmingham
Assets Under Management: $900M
College: University of Maryland
“I don’t think I’ll ever retire,” says David Berman, managing partner at Lorient Capital in Birmingham. “I love what I do.”
What he does is oversee his firm’s continued growth by leading its investment activities, portfolio company initiatives, investor relations, and talent development, as well as all administrative, operational, and financial matters.
“I love partnering with these businesses,” says Berman, the father of near-year-old identical twin boys. “For me, it’s about growing and scaling what we’ve done so far, and doing the same thing with my business that I’ve helped other entrepreneurs do with their businesses.”
Berman’s journey began in the greater Boston area, where his parents were involved in public health. He graduated from the University of Maryland in 2009 and spent five years in investment banking on Wall Street for J.P. Morgan and the boutique firm Zeigler and Zeigler.
He moved to Michigan in 2013 to take a position with U.S. Medical Management, where he was involved in developing what he calls one of the most successful accountable care organizations in the country after helping sell USMM to Centene.
He established Lorient Capital in 2015 and has since made 13 platform investments and opened a second office in Miami.
Lorient focuses on investing in health care companies that offer better patient outcomes. It provides capital and expertise to founder-owned, mission-driven companies that are ready to grow to the next level. Lorient brings firsthand, real-world health care experience and creativity to the day-to-day challenges of scaling its clients’ businesses.
“We look for high-growth businesses that have found a product-market fit, provide a great service for their customers, and retain their employees but have struggled with that growth,” Berman explains. “They might have outgrown the people they started the business with, don’t have the right infrastructure in place, or they’re managing the business by gut instinct rather than through data.
“We empower those entrepreneurs by installing the systems, tools, processes, and the right people around them to be able to continue that growth.”
He credits his success with being given opportunities early in his career “to take a lot of ownership of decisions and make a lot of mistakes. That really provided the foundation for me to learn a lot and apply that moving forward.” — Tim Keenan
Co-owner, General Manager, Cauley Ferrari, West Bloomfield
College: Northwood University
Many young college graduates who are offered a position with their family’s business prefer to explore other pastures, at least for a while.
When Joe Cauley graduated from Northwood University in Midland with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, focused on automotive management and marketing, he had many options from which to choose — but he saw no reason to deny himself his passion for cars, and a career with the Cauley family of West Bloomfield-based dealerships. The most recognizable one at the time was Cauley Chevrolet, where Joe Cauley soon took over as used car manager.
There was one problem, though. When Cauley entered the business in 2009, General Motors was going through bankruptcy and cutting dealerships. “Literally, the day I started after college was the day we got the FedEx from General Motors saying we were winding down,” Cauley recalls. “It was completely out of left field. We were always among the top of the rankings, especially in Corvette sales.”
There was no sense lamenting what happened. As the family wound down its Chevrolet dealership operations, Cauley moved over to the very-much-alive Cauley Ferrari dealership — and it was there that he found his place as sales and marketing manager, and now general manager.
“Looking back on it, I’m happier with where (I am),” Cauley says. “The Ferrari brand is much more of a relationship business. It’s one-on-one. We’re selling dreams, not a monthly payment.”
As a result, Cauley has learned to foster relationships, sometimes over the long term, that he hopes will eventually result in lucrative sales. That might involve inviting people to special dinners and giving them the chance to drive a car.
“We have some people who will own a car for five or 10 years, but more than half of them are every three years,” Cauley says, “and we have a handful of clients who are getting something new every 12 to 18 months. The day they’re taking delivery on one, they’re sitting down and designing an order for the next car.”
Under Cauley’s growing leadership role, Cauley Ferrari, which he co-owns with his father, Jeff, has begun hitting record numbers on both the new and pre-owned sides of the business. It recently received Ferrari’s Cavallino Award, which is given to its top dealers. As 40 percent owner of the dealership, Cauley is on a track to become its primary owner over time. In the meantime, he just keeps selling those dreams. — Dan Calabrese
Vice President, Machine Learning, Cavnue, Arlington Va. and Detroit
College: George Washington University
It’s not often people get to live their childhood dreams. Dave Clifford, vice president of machine learning at advanced roadway technology developer Cavnue — which is working with Ford Motor Co. at Michigan Central in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood on connected road systems of the future — is one who does.
Clifford was an aficionado of science fiction while growing up in a small town in Connecticut, a passion that carried over to his early career when he worked on robotic prosthetics for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA) after graduating from the University of Maryland.
“As a sci-fi lover growing up, working at DARPA was the equivalent of being handed the keys to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory,” Clifford says. “At DARPA I had the good fortune to be able to give back to returning veterans by working on things like robotic prosthetics. A lot of that work was really rewarding.”
After seven years at DARPA and two years at Patients Like Me, a Washington, D.C.-based online social network for people with chronic health conditions, Clifford came to Michigan to work on General Motors Co.’s Machine Learning Center of Excellence.
In 2021, he joined Cavnue as head of strategic innovation, and he’s now vice president of machine learning. The company is developing roadway technology that’s expected to unlock the full potential of connected and autonomous vehicles. As the head of strategic innovation, Clifford was responsible for envisioning how the company’s technology would drive innovations in roadway operations.
Now he leads a team of machine learning engineers to create and advance sci-fi-like perception systems and algorithms designed to deliver near-real-time insights to automated driving systems, road operators, and the traveling public.
“Washington, D.C., and Michigan are both places where individuals who want to take on really big challenges can get their hooks into those challenges and make a difference in an organization,” Clifford explains. “One of my skills is figuring out the folks across the country who have interesting ideas that are relevant to the challenge we have in front of us and enrolling them in the mission. The challenge is transferring advanced technology into normal use.” — Tim Keenan
Regional Director of Operations, American House Senior Living Communities, Southfield
College: University of Detroit Mercy
Chantal Cornfield moved around a lot as a child, from her hometown in Limehouse, Ontario, to South Carolina, and from there to south Florida. As a result, she didn’t get to spend much time with her grandparents, who lived back in her hometown. Through this experience, she developed a desire to serve the senior community, believing they’re the foundation for future generations.
After a brief stint playing basketball for the University of Tampa, she decided to focus on her pre-med education by transferring to the University of South Florida, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in health science.
After an internship with a home-visit medical company, she found her current position at American House Senior Living Communities in Southfield, which owns and operates dozens of residence facilities in six states, including 30 locations in Michigan.
“Originally I started out in sales and made a name for myself for producing results,” Cornfield says. Through that process, she says she developed an “understanding of what the residents really desired, and investing in what our employees needed.”
She realized she wasn’t satisfied with sales, and recognized that to affect change on the level she wanted to, it had to be from the operations side of the business. Since being named regional director of operations at American House, Cornfield says she’s found what she’s looking for.
“If we’re truly going to serve the most important people that we’re here to serve, which is our residents first and employees second, I need to understand what their challenges are on a day-to-day basis,” she says. “I make it a priority to be in the communities and really understand what those challenges are, so they trust me and I can provide feedback on what type of process we need to put in place to fix (a problem).”
Cornfield readily admits that the COVID-19 pandemic put an incredible strain on both the residents and her team. With seniors at particular risk of contracting the virus, she and her team had to innovate to provide the two most anticipated and essential services residents needed: food and activities.
“I feel like, for us, it was getting back to the basics,” she says. “We would do the hallway activities; we would take residents one-on-one and just interact with them or do walks around the community. For us, it wasn’t anything over the top.” — Jake Bekemeyer
Vice President of Acquisitions and Investments, REDICO, Southfield
College: Bentley University
Some people just know what they’re going to be when they grow up. One of those people is Andrew Dunlap, vice president of acquisitions and investments at REDICO in Southfield.
While growing up in a suburb of Portland, Maine, Dunlap knew he would be involved in some kind of investing, since many members of his family and their friends were investors. “I just didn’t know what kind,” he recalls.
Then, while in college at Bentley University near Boston, he says, “I started leaning toward real estate and infrastructure finance.”
When a job offer from Wall Street didn’t pan out following his 2007 graduation, REDICO CEO Dale Watchowski invited Dunlap to intern at his commercial real estate agency. Watchowski has since become Dunlap’s mentor.
“I totally fell in love with real estate and have worked my way up ever since,” says Dunlap, who started in operations and leasing, moved to acquisitions and asset management, and in 2015 joined the acquisitions and investments department.
While on the asset management team, he guided a portfolio of assets valued at more than $300 million, and was responsible for leasing oversight, refinancing, recapitalizing, and dispositions.
“I’m super passionate about what I do,” Dunlap says, explaining his rapid career rise. “I surround myself with really good people that I lean on to help me a lot. It takes a lot of people to get deals done. It takes a lot of people to execute deals once you’ve actually bought them.”
As vice president of acquisitions and investments, Dunlap is responsible for sourcing, underwriting, and closing new investments, including acquisitions and developments. He also focuses on sourcing, securing, and managing REDICO’s relationships with institutional capital partners, lenders, operating partners, brokers, and other sources of deal flow.
According to the company, Dunlap has sourced, closed, or has under contract transactions valued at more than $1.5 billion.
He’s also active in industry associations including the Urban Land Institute and the International Council of Shopping Centers. “I’m a sponge. I love to learn. I love to engage with people and collaborate on teams to get projects done,” Dunlap says. “I’ve come a long way, but I feel like I have a lot of room to grow.” — Tim Keenan
Managing Director, O’Keefe, Bloomfield Hills
College: Wayne State University
Growing up in an entrepreneurial family — his father owned several restaurants in metro Detroit and Florida — Marco Eadie spent his free time during high school washing dishes, bussing tables, and helping out in the kitchen. He switched to valet-parking cars after enrolling at Wayne State University in Detroit, where he earned dual majors in business planning and public affairs.
His first “real job” was serving as a clerk for Hon. Daniel Patrick O’Brien at the 6th Circuit Court in Oakland County. “It was the most impactful experience of my life up until that time,” says Eadie, managing director of O’Keefe, a financial advisory, business consulting, and strategic planning firm in Bloomfield Hills.
“I was considering attending law school, and the clerk position was a good way to learn about how businesses worked. I also was an intern for DBusiness magazine, which really brought the business world into focus. After college, I co-founded Maverick Media in Detroit, where we did media planning, creative, and public relations.”
Over a period of three years, Eadie worked with such clients as the Melting Pot Restaurant Group and G-Star Denim. From there, he joined Paint Creek Capital Partners, a middle-market private equity firm in Troy. It was the start of a 15-year career focused on transaction advisory services including M&A, divestures, restructurings, and debt and equity capital raises.
Following two years at Paint Creek, Eadie became a principal at CoreCap Investments in Southfield, where he did M&A work for the firm’s private client group. In 2015, he left and co-launched Boulevard & Co., a middle-market boutique investment banking and direct investment firm in Royal Oak.
“We had Boulevard & Co. for five years, (and) in 2020 an opportunity came forward to join O’Keefe and develop a corporate finance group,” Eadie says. “We’re doing bankruptcy and investment banking services, and we’ve been busy from day one. The good thing is we have a platform that can be expanded around the country.”
Last year, he was honored with the Emerging Leaders Award from M&A Advisors, a professional industry group. “I’ve been fortunate to work across so many industries, from aerospace and defense to health care and manufacturing, and more,” Eadie says. “The one thing I learned is that if you work hard, good things will happen.” — R.J. King
Director of Community and Social Responsibility, Detroit Pistons, Detroit
College: Wayne State University
Chris Economeas grew up on Detroit’s east side, near Cadieux Road and East Warren Avenue. He spent time in the city’s parks and other youth activity centers, so the opportunity to identify community involvement opportunities for the Detroit Pistons fell to a person very familiar with the community’s character.
But Economeas took a challenging route to get to his current position as the Pistons’ director of community and social responsibility. After finishing school at Wayne State University in Detroit, he took a position with the Eisenhower Center, a rehabilitation facility for victims of brain injuries in Ann Arbor, where he served as a primary care associate. Some of his duties included assisting in day-to-day care, as well as taking patients on group outings. He says the job taught him empathy.
“They were regular people, just like us, who had happened to take a bad turn in life that wasn’t necessarily their fault,” Economeas says. “It put them in a position where they needed assistance. At the end of the day, I got to go home, but they were there — in some cases, long-term.”
When Economeas left Eisenhower Center, he says, he bounced between various positions while hoping to find something in sports. That led him to a moment in which he was able to choose between two new career choices: take a full-time job with Quicken Loans (now Rocket Mortgage) or work as a game-night intern with the Detroit Pistons. The former offered security and stability, but the latter provided an entry into the sports world, which was something Economeas really wanted.
“From day one, I understood (the internship) was temporary, so my goal was to meet as many people as I could in the organization,” Economeas says. “(I was hopeful that) they could find a role for me with the Pistons.”
He made a positive impression, and found a mentor in Erika Swilley, vice president of community and social responsibility. “She taught me how to build out programming and make an impact on the community,” Economeas says.
Today, he oversees the Pistons’ participation in the NBA Cares program, seeking out opportunities for the team to make an impact in the community. It’s a chance for Economeas to take his relationship with Detroit full circle. “Being able to go back into the city’s parks, YMCAs, and Lions Clubs, and make an impact and create change in a positive way, is what I’ve found to be most satisfying,” he says. — Dan Calabrese
Manager of Sales, Engineering, and Support, 123Net, Southfield
College: Purdue University Global
The desire to make a difference in peoples’ lives is what has propelled Jonathan Eyerman, manager of sales, engineering, and support at 123Net in Southfield, to help expand what is the largest fiber internet provider in Michigan.
“My passion is to help people,” says Eyerman, a product of Garden City High School and Purdue University Global. “You can have knowledge, you can have skills, but you need passion to drive. There’s obviously continuing education and things you do to support your career, but you can’t do it without that passion to help others.”
Eyerman took a bit of a nontraditional route to his current position. After graduating from high school he enrolled at Baker College, but a career in IT lured him away from academia to Crystal Clear Solutions (CCS) in Livonia, where he worked on servers, networks, and managed services.
After seven years at CCS, he moved to TDS Telecom, also in Livonia, where he was a sales engineer. He joined 123Net as a sales engineer in 2017, finished his degree with Purdue University Global, and was promoted to manager of sales, engineering, and support last September.
“Every day is different here at 123Net,” Eyerman relays. “I do a little bit of everything. I primarily work in sales, so I might be meeting with clients or working on product and service development and support. It’s all over the place. It’s nice coming to work. You just never know what you’re going to get.”
He attributes his rapid rise to the company’s culture. “When I came to 123Net they kind of let me do what I could do,” he explains. “The company believed in me — and when you’re in that place, it’s really easy to come along quickly because there are no borders on what you can achieve.”
Eyerman displays “decisive leadership and mentorship,” says Danielle Ross, marketing communications manager at 123Net. “He’s able to understand the scope of a situation, decipher what needs to be done, and choose the course of action that’s best for the company, not just individualistic gain.”
While Eyerman says he does plan to retire one day, he also says he “might be one of those people who will always work. I think an executive-level position is something I would really enjoy doing.” — Tim Keenan
Vice President of Work Acquisition, Barton Malow Co., Southfield
College: Michigan State University
Saginaw native Jonathon Feldotte used the first several years of his career, which he spent working in Chicago, to catapult himself to vice president of work acquisition at Barton Malow Co., a large contractor in Southfield.
First as an assistant project manager and field manager at Wolgast Corp., then as a project engineer at Berglund Construction, followed by a similar post at Barton Malow’s Windy City office, Feldotte gathered a lot of experience that paid off later.
“I was exposed to a lot right out of the gate,” Feldotte says. “The time I spent in Chicago had me wearing every single hat. I had to play the role of a superintendent, a project manager, scheduler and estimator, the safety guy, and quality guy day in and day out.”
When he returned to Michigan in 2012, he was assigned a completely different role on a large DTE Energy project that added to his experience profile.
“I was looking at things like production, forecasting, profit and loss, (and) dealing with the client on higher-level estimating for the future of the program,” Feldotte says. “That experience started to open my eyes to the broader scheme of what we’re doing.”
His next challenge, spending two years working on a job in west Michigan that was fraught with problems, led to his current role.
“A lot of our breakdowns on that job happened before we ever stuck a shovel in the ground,” Feldotte explains. “It happened during the pre-construction time frame, where we left a lot to be desired on how to plan a job and price a job. When I came out of that, I was asked to take a role that didn’t exist at the time, a heavy planning role, building processes to do things like manage the design of a project.”
In the last three years, he’s developed new companywide processes that have created jobs, lowered operating costs, and achieved project timeline certainty. The innovations have helped increase customer satisfaction and win new work.
In addition to his impact on the business, Feldotte says employee development and community engagement are other personal achievements. “I’ve had incredible mentors at Barton Malow. I would like to think it’s been a win-win relationship.” — Tim Keenan
Partner, General Manager, CFO, Hall Automotive Group, Royal Oak
College: University of Michigan
Ever since Eddie Hall III was in elementary school and began doing odd jobs on Saturdays at his father’s Briarwood Ford dealership in Ann Arbor, it was assumed that he was destined to continue the family legacy.
Prior to his graduation from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Hall had worked as a receptionist and a cashier, and ran the internet department for his father, Eddie Hall Jr., who at 17 had been a porter at a used car dealership he eventually purchased.
“At business school there was an allure to Wall Street, and I had great job offers, but I had seen my father build his business and I knew in my heart that I wanted to be a part of it and continue his legacy,” Hall says.
Today, Hall has taken on multiple responsibilities as a partner, general manager, and CFO of Hall Automotive Group, which is comprised of Briarwood Ford, Royal Oak Ford, Northland Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram (the only Black-owned Chrysler dealership in metro Detroit), and the recently acquired Feldman Ford, the lone minority-owned Ford dealership in Detroit.
In addition, Hall has been an important advocate in the auto industry for expanding minority dealership representation. He has served on Ford and Chrysler dealership committees, and as vice president of the NextGen board for the National Association of Minority Auto Dealers. “The biggest obstacle has been access to capital,” Hall says of the challenges facing prospective minority dealership owners. “The OEMs recognize it’s an issue, so I’m working to come up with creative ways to get more minorities in the dealer network.”
While overseeing the day-to-day operations of the dealerships, Hall directs strategy and planning, works directly with manufacturers, and pursues expansion opportunities. “I’m very excited about helping the transition to electric vehicles and the digital age,” he says. “Our industry has been one of the slowest to adapt to online sales.”
Hall says the biggest challenge of late has been dealing with global supply shortages, an inventory crisis that has driven up prices, and a switch to a new OEM ordering model. “Consumers are often waiting three to four months to pick up their vehicle, instead of leaving the same day with one. There are pluses to this new model, but it’s been a tough switch for many. There’s a happy medium that we have to get to.” — Bill Dow
Co-founder and CEO, Heartland, Ann Arbor
College: Florida State University
Jesse Henry’s life journey to Ann Arbor — where he’s co-founder of advanced biomaterials developer Heartland — began with his birth in Boston; a move to Florida, where he was raised; and then a journey to the West Coast, where his career began in earnest.
Trying to make his way in the Midwest manufacturing industry was the furthest thing from his mind as a youngster playing hockey and volleyball, and running track and cross country at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Entrepreneurship, however, was always on his radar. He studied business along with sales at Florida State University, and started an entrepreneur organization and an entrepreneurial bureau of student government at the school.
While in Tallahassee, Henry interned at an insurance company, and launched a koozie company and a video production company. After college, he gave a TED talk that led to speaking with Tony Robbins, a life and business strategist, at corporate training events.
Fighting boredom, he wrote a book about young people in the workplace called “Millennial Merger.” From there, he went to work for Intersection Capital, an investment bank in San Diego. Boredom ensued once again, and he moved to Phoenix, where he met his business partner, Tim Almond.
Together, the pair started focusing on making military technology useful for commercial markets. One example was an explosives sensor that they tweaked to detect impurities in agricultural products.
That led Henry to Ann Arbor — where, long story short, he and Almond founded Heartland and began selling hemp-based bioplastics. “We were advised to find a way to align with the pre-existing supply chain,” Henry recalls, so Heartland decided to sell hemp oil as an additive to plastics to make them stronger, lighter, cheaper, and more sustainable.
“That inflection point is what allowed us to really start penetrating these Fortune 500 manufacturing supply chains,” he says. “I think what Heartland can become over the next three decades could really make a massive impact on the world and take our planet into the sustainable future that it needs and deserves.” — Tim Keenan
Vice President of Network Solutions and Value-based Programs, Priority Health, Southfield
College: University of Washington
One might expect to find someone with the last name of Ilitch working in the family pizza business, but Michelle Ilitch has chosen to make her way in the health care industry.
Ilitch is the great-niece of legendary Little Caesar’s pizza magnate and Detroit Tigers and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch. Her father, Matt, was president of Blue Line Distribution, an Ilitch Holdings company.
“I was so fortunate, while growing up in a business family, to have been in the room well before I was old enough to contribute,” says Ilitch, who got an early taste of the health care industry while attending Mercy High School in Farmington Hills and working for the EHIM pharmacy benefits management company in Southfield.
After graduating from Albion College, she went back to EHIM to start her career — filing, working in the call center, and setting up new groups for pharmacy benefits. “I literally grew up there,” Ilitch says.
She earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of Washington in Seattle, after which she joined the value partnership division at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. She left Blue Cross in 2013 in favor of a position at Trinity Health in Livonia. After seven years with Trinity, Ilitch landed at Priority Health.
“I was attracted to Priority Health because I thought it would be the best environment to accomplish my curiosity in complex problem-solving,” says Ilitch, who oversees contracting statewide for Priority Health.
“The smartest person in the room is the room,” she says, explaining her problem-solving philosophy. “What I do at Priority Health is create rooms for people to discuss problems and solve them; (I bring) physicians, hospitals, ancillary providers, plans, and delivery systems together.”
In her position, she secures and maintains provider contracts, leads value-based programming, and streamlines communication between providers and Priority Health.
She’s credited with guiding the provider contracting and data strategy for the integration with Total Health Care and setting up the company’s first external facing provider network management tool.
“I feel so alive in health care because it’s an industry that needs a lot of continuous innovation and re-engineering, and it’s very complicated to untangle — and I love untangling things.” —Tim Keenan
Senior Vice President, The Jonna Group/Colliers International, Birmingham
College: University of Michigan
Raymond Jonna has wrestled his way to success in the real estate investment arena, literally. A star high school wrestler in the San Diego area, where he grew up, Jonna says he took many lessons from the mat to college and on to his career as senior vice president of The Jonna Group of Colliers International in Birmingham.
“I think wrestling was instrumental for me in growing up and maturing,” says Jonna, who gave up the sport when he enrolled in the University of Michigan. Following graduation in 2008, he joined his older brother, Simon, at the Marcus and Millichap real estate investment firm in Southfield. Simon Jonna had already distinguished himself in the real estate business.
“I said to myself, I don’t know exactly what I want to do yet, but let me join Simon for a year or two and then make a decision,” Jonna recalls. “I started doing really well.”
He remained at Marcus and Millichap until 2020, and won the company’s Pacesetter Award in his first year. Then, Colliers International recruited the brothers. “We couldn’t say no to the sweetheart deal they put together for us,” Jonna says. “We had one of our best years ever last year and have several hundred million (dollars) under contract.”
Jonna credits his brother for helping him get off to a running start in the business. “Simon has been an instrumental mentor for me. He’s a genius in the industry. One of the best in the country. I watched and learned from him in my early years, and molded my own style and approach, and I’ve built long-lasting, fruitful, successful relationships with clients all over the country. That’s the main thing — the relationships.”
As senior vice president and principal partner at The Jonna Group of Colliers International, Jonna has transacted real estate investment sales in 46 states. He and his team handle all investment sales product types, from net-leased to multifamily to industrial and beyond.
The future looks bright for the former high school wrestler. “I want to keep expanding our business here. I want to keep expanding our team. Real estate is an endless world of opportunity.” — Tim Keenan
Global Director, Performance Driven Marketing, General Motors Co., Detroit
College: University of Michigan
Upon graduating from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Ajay Kapoor applied to medical school and law school. But deep down inside, the Livonia native realized he was “entrepreneurial by heart.”
After co-founding three startups over a seven-year period, Kapoor led Procter & Gamble’s brand management into the digital age, and later landed top-tier global marketing positions at SharkNinja and Helen of Troy.
“It was very motivating and rewarding to participate in the innovative startup community, but then to be able to transfer that passion to bring modern, best-of-world thinking to large corporations, where you touch billions of people, has been phenomenal,” says Kapoor, who in 2011 co-founded the highly successful nonprofit Grow Detroit, which has spurred startups in the region.
In January 2021, Kapoor was named global director of performance driven marketing at General Motors, where his mandate is to “build the best-of-world modern marketing ecosystem.”
His responsibilities include implementing analytical marketing storytelling, driving analytics for investments, targeting audiences, orchestrating modern marketing technology to drive the best personalized consumer experiences, and creating robust internal and external marketing data.
At the same time, Kapoor and his team are far more conscientious about customer privacy and content space as a way to further trust and create marketing content for GM’s recently launched digital business team. Kapoor is especially focused on the changes in customer expectations regarding how they receive communications.
“We moved from linear TV and being forced to watched ads to Netflix and how brands show up,” Kapoor says. “GM already created a good foundation in that arena, but as the world has grown, we’re looking deeper into seeing that our marketing has communicated well with our customers and that we’re speaking to them where they prefer — whether it’s TV, TikTok, or somewhere else.
“We’re trying to take it to the next level by leveraging all of the technologies that are out there. In the end, it’s about driving sales.”
Working at GM is a dream come true for Kapoor. “I’m a kid from Detroit. To be here as a leader at GM, at the precipice of our industry going through a very sizable change over the next few years, is amazing. I feel lucky, privileged, and proud to be back in Detroit, and I’m excited for the impact GM is bringing to our region and community through our strategy and work.” — Bill Dow
Executive Vice President, Chief Business Officer, Head of Investor Relations, United Wholesale Mortgage, Pontiac
College: Michigan State University
Blake Kolo has made it a point, since his first internship at the business advisory firm of Ernst & Young in Detroit, to keep in touch with everyone he’s worked with, because he believes in the importance of building a strong network.
After earning two degrees — a bachelor’s in finance and a master’s in accounting — from Michigan State University in East Lansing, Kolo started his career at Ernst & Young, where he had interned the previous two summers. He eventually joined United Wholesale Mortgage in Pontiac, after having spent a period of time with other consulting firms.
“It’s very rare to get an opportunity like this,” he says. “Working for a CEO who’s as entrepreneurial and as much of a vibrant leader as Mat Ishbia — the energy that he brings, the passion he brings, is contagious. And I’d like to think I’m the same way in terms of that spreading to me, and me spreading it to everyone I come into contact with.”
Kolo was part of a small group that led the company’s public stock offering in January of 2021. Today, he leads United Wholesale Mortgage’s investor relations team, handling everything from filing the proper forms to communicating with current and potential investors.
Despite holding four certifications — as a public accountant, a valuation analyst, a fraud examiner, and in financial forensics — his accreditations don’t come into play much these days, but he knows they got him to where he is. “It helps to open up doors. Everything that you work toward builds to the next thing,” he says.
He faced a unique challenge during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the numbers of people working from home rose and UWM saw its biggest year of growth ever, hiring more than 4,000 people. Throughout that time period, a major challenge was making up for the company’s lively office environment.
“Trying to figure out how we (could) make it so people understood what we really have here while working remotely (was a challenge),” he says. “We have a unique environment. When we’re together as a team, we’re truly better.” — Jake Bekemeyer
Vice President, LoPatin and Co., Farmington Hills
College: Michigan State University
Although his grandfather and father worked in the development business starting in 1950, Jonathan LoPatin always had his eye on the construction industry. At a young age, production jobs didn’t faze him, and he made pizzas for Little Caesars and set bricks as a mason, building an AutoZone store in Chesterfield Township.
After earning a graduate degree in construction management from Michigan State University in East Lansing and working as an intern for Taubman Centers Inc. in Bloomfield Hills — at the time, the nation’s largest developer of luxury shopping malls — LoPatin was tempted to join the family business, LoPatin & Co. in Farmington Hills, but opted to join a construction firm in California.
“The people from Taubman would call from time to time while I was in California, and they asked if I would like to work with them in Florida, but I wasn’t interested,” LoPatin says. “But one day they called and said they had a project in Hawaii, and I said, ‘Where do I sign up?’ ”
In 2013, LoPatin was off to Honolulu, where over the next three years he helped oversee the construction of the International Market Place mall. It was unlike any building project he had ever seen. For starters, by law, excavation couldn’t commence without the presence of an archeologist.
“Along with the archeologist were native representatives, and we wound up uncovering 22 burial sites,” LoPatin says. “Each one had to be addressed differently and be approved by the Oahu Burial Council. They could shut the project down if things weren’t done properly, so everyone was very mindful of what we were doing.”
From there, LoPatin moved to Nashville, where he helped renovate and expand another Taubman center, The Mall at Green Hills, before being transferred to the developer’s headquarters. “I was with Taubman for almost seven years, and when COVID-19 hit I decided it was time to join my dad,” LoPatin says.
Today, LoPatin and his father, Mark, are working with St. Louis-based NorthPoint Development to build industrial projects throughout metro Detroit, including demolishing the former Cadillac Stamping Plant south of Detroit City Airport and replacing it with a 684,000-square-foot building, two-thirds of which has been leased to Lear Corp. in Southfield.
Other projects with NorthPoint include replacing Eastland Mall in Harper Woods and the former AMC headquarters in Detroit with industrial developments, along with building the Romulus Commerce Park in Romulus.
“I thought it would be great to work alongside my dad one day, and now that I am, it’s been an incredible experience; he has so much knowledge,” LoPatin says. “I also think back to my days as a laborer, and it really makes me appreciate what I have today.” — R.J. King
Vice President of Operations, Shinola, Detroit
College: University of Michigan
Shinola is a brand that has become tied to Detroit, a city known for its manufacturing capability. So it’s fitting that its vice president of operations would share that passion for making things. Bailey Zurawski Mattacola grew up in Dearborn and knew from a young age she had a knack for math and science.
That led her to study engineering in college, and to spending time at places like Walt Disney World and GE Healthcare. She was scared to do both — and to accept her current role — but she’s stuck with her gut: “I’ve always wanted to challenge myself to do what felt scariest at that moment in my career,” Mattacola says.
She wears a lot of different hats, overseeing distribution, production, quality, materials, and supply chain — something that has become drastically more challenging over the past two years. Her team, she says, pushes through even the most difficult times.
“It’s about prioritizing what we’re going to tackle as one team,” she says. “There are so many different things we could tackle; if we all went at it one at a time, we wouldn’t make any progress. We just try to get all our efforts on solving one problem.”
Her core responsibility, she says, is to support some 150 people who work in operations, and that includes walking the production line nearly every day and having one-on-one meetings with her colleagues to get a sense of where the team is at any given moment.
It also includes the larger goal of supporting that team as the company sets its sights on growth. Mattacola says Shinola prides itself on promoting people from within the operation and doing things themselves, which means not leaving anyone behind.
“How can we develop as a team? We have big training going on right now, and we’re always looking at what opportunities we have to send people to other (manufacturing) plants to learn or build capabilities in-house, so we keep growing,” she says. “We want to make sure the team can come with us. And as roles get bigger, we (want to be) ready for them.” — Jake Bekemeyer
Director of Government Relations, McLaren Health Care Corp., Grand Blanc
College: Michigan State University
Allisyn Mattice-Eskau is likely in the perfect job for someone who’s passionate “about public policy and could read public policy every single day and never get bored.”
She’s director of government relations for Grand Blanc-based McLaren Health Care Corp., and has an office in Lansing with a view of the state capitol dome.
A native of rural Bad Axe, located toward the tip of Michigan’s thumb region, Mattice-Eskau discovered her passion for public policy after earning degrees in economics and psychology from Michigan State University in East Lansing. At the time, she was also working in the office of a state representative and found she enjoyed diving into policy matters.
Pursuing a law degree from MSU ensued, as did a three-year hitch in the Michigan House Republican Policy Office, where she was a policy adviser and deputy budget director. While working in that office, Mattice-Eskau was exposed to health care policy matters for the first time.
She joined McLaren as manager of corporate government relations days before pandemic shutdowns started in March 2020. Since then, according to colleagues, she has become an “integral part of the government relations team” and was promoted to director in early 2022.
As a registered lobbyist, Mattice-Eskau analyzes legislation and advocates for McLaren in the halls of Michigan government.
During the 2020 legislative cycle, when very little was able to be accomplished on the policy front due to the pandemic, Mattice-Eskau led an effort to establish legislation on swing beds for Michigan’s rural hospitals. Additionally, she has helped secure millions of dollars in appropriations for McLaren, to aid the system during a difficult time in health care.
“With facilities in places like Bad Axe and Petoskey, and in Macomb and Oakland counties, we have a unique ability to advocate for both the urban and rural communities,” she says.
“My father instilled a hard work ethic into (my siblings and I), and we were raised by a strong woman who provided me with values to allow others to put their trust, respect, and opportunities with me,” she says, explaining her rapid ascent in the business world. “I’ve been surrounded by other females who knocked down some barriers and offered encouragement, and allowed me to explore my passion for policy and be self-motivated.”
— Tim Keenan
Executive Project Manager, Moceri Co., Auburn Hills
College: Northwood University
At 8 years old, Dominic F. Moceri was sweeping up sawdust in the basements of homes under construction by Moceri Cos., a residential development and building company in Auburn Hills started by his grandfather, the late Dominic Moceri, in the 1950s.
Since its inception, the company has built some 60,000 residences, ranging from multifamily properties to single-family subdivisions. The patriarch referred to the developments as communities, where families could age in place and enjoy recreational offerings and nearby shopping and entertainment venues.
“When I was really young, I would walk around with the trim carpenters on the job sites and help them any way I could,” says Moceri, executive project manager of Moceri Cos. “Building those relationships at a young age came full circle because I’m working with some of those same carpenters today.”
After graduating from Northwood University in Midland, Moceri started working for the family firm full time, first on a multifamily project in Orion Township, before building luxury town-homes at Iron Gate of Birmingham. In his 20s, Moceri built some 600 luxury apartments and dozens of luxury homes priced from $1.8 million to more than $5 million.
In 2021, he received the “Young Builder of the Year” award from the Home Builders Association of Michigan, in recognition of his accomplishments in custom home-building and new developments.
“I tend to favor custom home-building because you really develop a nice relationship with the client, and it’s way more involved than luxury multifamily projects,” Moceri says. “Now I’m building new residences for some of those same clients.”
It’s a long way from the west side of Detroit, where his great-grandfather, Sebastian “Buster” Moceri, immigrated from Sicily and established a grocery store called Your Market. “We’re a fourth-generation family business, which is fairly rare and something we’re very proud of,” Moceri says.
Currently in the planning stages of $100 million in new developments in communities from Clinton Township to Lake Orion, Moceri has started to work with his uncle, Dominic J. Moceri, on master planning and land acquisition.
“I’m getting more experience now, which will be good for the future,” Moceri says. “My grandfather gave all of us a lot of advice, which we still follow — strive to be better, be modest, keep your head down, and work hard.” — R.J. King
Executive Vice President, Rocket Pro TPO, Detroit
Loan Volume: $120B
College: Hillsdale College
The transition from Hillsdale College to Rocket Mortgage couldn’t have been more natural for Austin Niemiec. Upon the 2008 completion of his bachelor’s degree in business management and marketing, Niemiec quickly landed a position as a loan officer. It checked all his most important boxes: It was a reputable company in metro Detroit at which he could build a career.
And he took to the work right away.
“I was young — 22 years old — and I was able to help American families buy houses and save a bunch of money on refinancing,” Niemiec recalls. “I was speaking to American families all day long, helping people, learning a lot about finance and psychology, and how people make decisions.”
That early success got the attention of the company, and after a few years his boss asked him to lead the team that was building the business-to-business wholesale channel that would become Rocket Pro TPO (third-party originator).
According to Niemiec, the new venture has grown into the nation’s second-largest business-to-business wholesale channel, closing nearly $120 billion in volume in 2021. The key to that success, Niemiec says, is understanding the needs of the brokers who work with Rocket Pro TPO each day.
“Business is pretty easy when you break it down to the basics,” Niemiec says. “Know who you’re serving and go talk to them, and become obsessed with them. Ask them what they love about our product and about working with us. Ask them what they hate, and what they need more of.”
On the leadership side, Niemiec says the main lesson that’s helped him succeed is realizing that leaders don’t have to have all the answers.
“As a leader, your responsibility is to understand where you’re ultimately trying to go, and to paint a very clear and specific vision,” he says. “Then you lean on your team members who are in the trenches — either building the product, selling the product, or moving the product through our operations team — and listen to them, and let them figure out how to get there.”
A key philosophy for Niemiec is this: “Numbers and money follow. They don’t lead.” Rather, he encourages his team to put their focus on the things that move money and numbers, including people, culture, innovation, and creativity. — Dan Calabrese
President and CEO, Complete Image Manufacturing, Detroit
After working in the retail sector for two years while attending the Academy of Michigan high school in Oak Park, Milton Putman began a 10-year career at Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant on Detroit’s east side. But one day, after working his way up the ladder to become a team leader and an alternate union steward, he had a revelation.
“I woke up and realized there was more to life than getting up every day and working the same job,” says Putman, president and CEO of Complete Image Manufacturing in Detroit. “I wanted to build a legacy for myself, my family, and others, so I quit my job and started Complete Dominance Athletics.
“Today, with my different companies, we’re supplying goods to the fashion and sportswear industries, and raising the profile of Detroit and Michigan as a hub of the fashion industry. The good thing about Detroit is you have access to so many different manufacturers — but we need to grow the fashion industry here and create more jobs.”
A native Detroiter, Putman, a graduate and certified entrepreneur through the Harvard Business School, started producing clothes and accessories in April 2021. He and his team create blueprints, or so-called tech packs, that contain the materials and instructions required for manufacturing clothes at volume.
The company, which recently signed a partnership deal to produce fan apparel like shirts and hoodies for Detroit City FC, a professional soccer club in Detroit, also performs pattern grading, where a suit jacket, for example, can properly fit a pattern to a range of sizes. Putman also was recently named executive manager of the Detroit store for Taylor-based Tayion Collections.
“We do everything from design, pattern-making, sew-and-cut manufacturing, product development, and retail placement,” says Putman, a member of the National Entrepreneurs Association and a board member of The Young Entrepreneurs. “Getting your fashion line in stores across the country is no easy task, so in addition to making the clothes, we can assist with distribution.”
A certified personal trainer, Putman says he initially launched Complete Dominance Athletics to help others better manage their health. “As I was training people, I wasn’t too happy with the sportswear collections I was seeing, so I decided to produce my own,” he says. “Now I’m building on that platform with Complete Image Manufacturing. My dream would be to see Detroit become a fashion mecca.” — R.J. King
Vice President, Ivanhoe Cos., West Bloomfield
College: University of Illinois Chicago School of Law
Balancing two businesses is no easy feat. As vice president of Ivanhoe Cos. in West Bloomfield, Jacob Shapiro — together with his father, Gary — acquires, entitles, and develops single-family and multifamily parcels before selling all or portions of the land to builders.
At the same time, Shapiro is a founding partner of Shapiro Strane, a law firm in Chicago that represents developers and individual real estate transactions. “I worked with my dad as a kid, but as I got older, I wanted to find my own path and do my own thing,” Shapiro says. “That led to Chicago. Before law school, I started negotiating and implementing federal leases for the General Services Administration.”
In 2017, he began working more with Ivanhoe Cos., a client of his law firm. “The more I got into it, I decided to move home and work full time developing land,” Shapiro says. “I started focusing on the trends of what my generation was looking for in housing projects, such as smart home technology, sustainability, and integrating new technology in our multifamily portfolio.”
Every deal and project are unique, Shapiro says, and there’s no set formula as to how many sites the company will develop each year for either single-family homes or apartments. “We also manage apartments, so we stay ahead of the trends by offering Energy Star-rated appliances, EV charging stations, and open spaces,” he says.
In recent years, Shapiro has been the catalyst, from inception through execution, of the development of multiple residential and multifamily communities. As Ivanhoe Cos. acquires land, it must maintain a strong relationship with builders.
“Two years ago, we really focused on providing land for single-family homes and condominiums, but today we have more of a focus on multifamily projects,” Shapiro says. “When new land becomes available for acquisition, we ask who the end customers will be — retirees, empty nesters, growing families, or younger people?”
For his work with the law firm, Shapiro, an experienced litigator, represents both residential and commercial clients. “We do everything from foreclosures to code violations,” he says. “When I graduated from Michigan State University, I didn’t set out to work two jobs, and while it can get busy, I enjoy the work and the positive outcomes we deliver.” — R.J. King
Co-founder and CEO, Boon Health, Birmingham
College: University of Michigan
A career in finance was supposed to be the direction for Alex Simmons. Upon completing his MBA at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Simmons earned his CPA and moved straight into a position with Huron Capital, a lower-middle-market private equity firm in downtown Detroit.
From there he moved on to Mesirow Capital, a middle-market investment bank in Chicago. Along the way, he recognized something: He was stressed out. And it wasn’t just him.
“All of my colleagues were miserable and burned out,” Simmons recalls. “And from a personal and professional mental health perspective, all they had to take care of that was an antiquated employee assistance program.”
The longer he worked 80 to 100 hours a week in finance, the more convinced he became that he could offer the professional world something better. That came in the form of Boon Health, which makes a network of 150 coaches available to employees of the more than 50 companies that contract with Boon for the service.
Simmons says an average of 30 percent of the employees at client companies are making use of the coaching service, which he emphasizes isn’t the same as therapy.
“When you think about therapy, you’re talking about the past — understanding your childhood thoughts and behaviors, and how that shaped you into the person you are today,” says Simmons, co-founder and CEO of Boon Health. “When you think about coaching, which we think is the much better modality for the workplace — here’s the challenge I’m dealing with today, here’s the game plan we’ve put together to overcome the challenge — it’s very much future-oriented.”
Simmons launched the business with Robin Axelrod, Boon’s chief clinical officer, who earned a master of social work degree from U-M and is accredited by the International Coaching Federation. Axelrod put together the clinical structure, while Simmons leads the business operations.
Clients see Boon as a professional development tool as well as a mental health resource. So far, Simmons can point to a major return on investment for client companies: Boon users are 50 percent less likely to turn over than non-Boon users. “We see ourselves being the future of how businesses approach mental well-being and professional development in the workplace,” Simmons says. — Dan Calabrese
Lead Attorney for Midwest Region and U.S. Automotive Business, Microsoft Corp., Southfield
College: Indiana University Maurer School of Law
Alex Simpson didn’t always want to be a lawyer. In fact, with no attorneys in his family to counteract television depictions, the profession seemed rather grueling to him.
His mother was a social worker, and he started out doing foster care casework after college. But while working with attorneys as part of the nonprofit work, he decided to change course.
After starting out in the Highland Park School District, Simpson moved on to Eastern Michigan University for his undergraduate degree. He then obtained his master’s degree from the University of Michigan. Soon after, he attended Maurer School of Law at Indiana University, where he earned his Juris doctor and interned at Bodman, a Detroit-based law firm.
While at Bodman, Simpson decided to switch course again to focus on business and commercial law. He found the work interesting and challenging, and the office environment proved to be the opposite of what he saw on TV. After earning his degree, he joined Bodman and learned he could count pro bono work toward his billable hours.
“I felt like I was able to give back to my community, (and) leverage the law firm’s resources to do (the) kind of things that I was passionate about,” he says. “Ultimately, I was able to make a greater impact than if I would have become an attorney in the child welfare space, as I originally planned.”
In his current role for Microsoft, in Southfield (he joined the company in January 2018), he’s responsible for negotiating contracts for the various partnerships — IT, intellectual property, and more — the technology giant has in the Midwest and in the automotive market.
He also handles day-to-day questions and concerns regarding the agreements. He thinks of his work as a creative outlet.
“My business partners will describe to me what arrangement they’ve come to with our partner or customer,” he says.
“I have to take the blank canvas — that blank Word document — and craft an agreement (with enough detail) so that if someone picks it up five years from now, they’ll understand (the arrangement). When it comes to that, I’m like Picasso.” — Jake Bekemeyer
Co-owner, CFO, Tomey Group, Farmington Hills
College: Eastern Michigan University
A Tomey family trip to a 2003 Eastern Michigan University baseball game wasn’t intended to set the stage for the establishment of a family business. And while a post-game stop at a local Jimmy John’s didn’t look promising at first glance — the line extended well out the door — the Tomeys were amazed at the speed and efficiency with which they were served, and ultimately decided to become Jimmy John’s franchise owners.
For 13-year-old Michael, that meant a job doing dishes and cleaning bathrooms — at least until he turned 16 and could drive delivery cars.
Today, Tomey is CFO for Tomey Group in Farmington Hills, but he says his family made it clear from the start that he was going to have to earn a role in the business.
“They told me, ‘You need to go to school. This isn’t a gift to you,’ ” he recalls. “I actually (was general manager of) a store when I was in college, and once I graduated from college I took over the financial duties.”
Tomey took business finance classes at EMU as part of his business degree program, but he says he’s learned more about business finance from doing the job and from his father, who served as CFO of a large auto supplier before the family went into franchising.
The learning curve has been steep, as the company has grown from three stores in the early years to its current 50 locations throughout the region, including locations in Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Clarkston, Detroit, Ferndale, and Royal Oak.
“The fact that it was my brother, my uncle, my sister, and myself working in the stores every day — that’s what helped us to grow,” Tomey says. “We’re not owners who can’t make a sandwich.”
Tomey says the growth is sometimes just a matter of “doing the same thing, but with bigger numbers.” Being CFO is also a matter of working with larger bank loans and more sophisticated financial concepts, he explains.
And yet, as recently as November 2021, he was still helping the business by making deliveries. It’s part of the culture of the company, he asserts.
“If somebody calls and says, ‘We’re getting (busy) over here,’ we’ll be there,” Tomey says. “I can’t sit in front of a computer all day. And we all feel that way.” — Dan Calabrese
Head of Direct Acquisition, Rapid Finance, Royal Oak
College: Eastern Michigan University
Corey Welch’s journey to being head of direct acquisition at Rapid Finance started back when he was an All-State wrestler and football player in his native Akron, Ohio.
An athletic scholarship to Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti continued leading Welch down the road to both athletic and business success in the Great Lakes State.
“A kid from Ohio doesn’t typically think of going to Michigan for college, but I looked at the opportunity when (I was) given a football and wrestling scholarship at Eastern,” says Welch, who ultimately focused on the gridiron and played four years for EMU as a running back, slot receiver, and kick returner.
Once he graduated from college, fellow EMU football alumnus Pat McInnis, then president of Quicken Loans and eventually CEO of Fathead, advised Welch to stay in Michigan — specifically in Dan Gilbert’s orbit.
When Gilbert, founder and chairman of what is now Rocket Cos. in Detroit, acquired Maryland-based small business lender Rapid Finance in 2015, Welch grabbed the opportunity and ran with it. They moved the company’s headquarters to Detroit, took five Quicken Loans interns, and in six years Rapid Finance went from practically zero in loans to $1 billion. The five interns have blossomed into a staff of 150 employees.
Sitting now as the nation’s No. 3 small business lender, Welch has his eyes on the No. 1 spot, which he figures will take getting to $3 billion in loans.
“I’m a competitor. I’m an athlete,” Welch says. “I don’t like to lose. I have an obsessive personality, so when I set my mind on something, I go and get it,” he says.
What is Welch’s plan to get Rapid Finance to the top of the small business lending mountain?
“Technology and marketing are the two biggest elements to growing volume,” he explains. “It still takes us 24 hours to 48 hours to close a business loan, which is the fastest in the space, but we have to get this down to seconds and minutes. We can do that, but it’s going to take a lot of investment in technology. And we’re starting to mobilize our technology with the help of Rocket.”
The keys to his success so far, Welch says, are “building relationships and getting clients to trust, like, and want to work with (us), and being able to motivate and inspire leaders and team members.” — Tim Keenan
Managing Director/Partner, UHY Advisory/UHY LLP, Farmington Hills
College: Eastern Michigan University
Accounting always came naturally to Loni Winkler, who earned both her master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti after growing up in the downriver city of Woodhaven.
An internship at the former firm of Southfield-based Follmer Rudzewicz, one of seven firms that became UHY, got her into the industry. “I didn’t want to stay in public work, that wasn’t the plan,” Winkler says. “I did the internship to fill out my resume and so I had an ‘in’ somewhere else. And then, in a dorky kind of way, I liked public accounting. I liked the sense of accomplishment and the fast pace and crossing things off the list.”
UHY has become Winkler’s second home. Over the past 18 years there, she’s gotten married, had kids, and risen through the ranks. Initially, the company planned for her to lead the Farmington Hills tax department. After two years, she was charged with leading UHY’s entire tax department.
As a result, she spends less time these days checking tax returns and more on advising and consulting clients on tax strategies. This has led her to believe, perhaps challenging generalized perceptions of accountants, that the core of the business is built on people and relationships.
“I like talking to people. You wouldn’t think that accountants do a lot of talking, but one of the most important things we do is advising and consulting with our clients,” she says.
Winkler often finds herself in Sterling Heights or Ann Arbor — away from her Farmington Hills base — building relationships with those she hasn’t worked with day-in and day-out. She also finds herself coordinating training activities, sitting in on performance reviews, and setting up Sunday lunches during the busy season. “Running the gamut,” as she calls it.
“I think the people here have great pride in what they do. I see it in my clients and that resonates with me. I enjoy watching them be successful and being part of that.”
— Jake Bekemeyer
Shareholder, Butzel, Detroit
College: Western Michigan University – Cooley School of Law
After joining the Butzel law firm in 2017 as a summer associate, patent attorney Mitchell Zajac achieved shareholder status in less than the standard time while serving in the litigation and dispute resolution practice group. The Holt native has always been a high achiever.
At Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Zajac earned bachelor’s degrees in German and mechanical engineering, and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. He obtained his law degree at Western Michigan University – Cooley Law School.
He also was a four-year starting linebacker and team captain his senior season, and became a Rhodes Scholar finalist with a cumulative 3.95 grade-point average. Before joining Butzel, Zajac was an engineer at Fiat Chrysler, where he led the international engineering team producing the Ram ProMaster City and had a leading role in FCA’s corporate audit group.
Today, his law practice includes counseling automotive and transportation companies, developing IP portfolios, assisting startup company capitalization development, and helping multimillion-dollar global automotive companies navigating international trade issues.
“I like to think of myself as a bit of a translator because I was in the automotive engineering industry in a variety of roles, from production to program management internationally,” he says. “It’s rewarding to help colleagues at work, and to sit down with clients to help them understand issues and map out their business strategic path forward, in view of all the potential risks and benefits along the way.”
Beyond his busy practice, Zajac enjoys volunteering in the community. In addition to providing pro bono legal services for the Eastern District of Michigan’s Access to Justice program, he serves as finance chair of the Livingston County Board of Commissioners, is a board member of the Western Michigan University – Cooley Law School, and is president of the Association for Child Development, a nonprofit organization that provides healthy meals to children. He also is a football and track coach in Howell.
“My attitude is there’s not a task too tall to meet,” he says. “I get fired up trying to solve problems, and I love working with people. I had a lot of great mentors growing up, including my parents, various coaches, and family friends. I was lucky. It shaped me to want to pass that on.” — Bill Dow