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Celebrating Milestones: A Measure of Success

Saturday, June 1, 2019  
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The odds of success in business are low. Ninety-six percent of all start-ups fail to last 10 years. Rapid changes in technology and dramatic shifts in the competitive landscape, organizational culture and generational dynamics have made longevity in business more challenging than ever.

In 2019, eight members of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce (LRCC) celebrate milestone anniversaries that few organizations manage to achieve. The organizations reflect the diverse nature of our regional economy, covering sectors including commercial construction, insurance, healthcare, research, professional services and non-profit. Those celebrating business milestones including the Christman Company (125 years), Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan (100 years), Capital Area United Way (100 years), Granger Construction (60 years), Burcham Hills of East Lansing (45 years), Michigan Farm Bureau (100 years), The Plant Professionals (40 years) and Capitol Research Services (30 years).

“These organizations reflect the entrepreneurial spirit, drive and commitment that have been the hallmarks of the economy in the Lansing region,” said Tim Daman, LRCC president and CEO. “We celebrate their success and pay tribute to them in honor of their accomplishments and contributions they continue to make to their employees, customers and community.”

FOCUS asked each organization to share insights to the keys to their longevity, challenges they faced and their outlook for the future.

BURCHAM HILLS OF EAST LANSING
CEO: PAM DITRI


Community members gathered April 12, 2019 to celebrate Burcham Hills’ 45th anniversary.

Burcham Hills is located on 38 acres in East Lansing and is a nonprofit Life Plan Community, governed by a Board of Trustees and managed by Life Care Services. Burcham Hills includes lifestyle options of independent and assisted living, memory care, post-acute rehabilitation, long-term care and outpatient therapy services as well as 38 condominiums known as “The Clusters.”

FOCUS: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE KEYS TO YOUR LONGEVITY?

Burcham Hills’ consistency in responding to the needs of the community for care and their reputation. A culture within of quality and person-centered care are a priority. The people of Burcham Hills make Burcham Hills a special place now and into the future. 

FOCUS: WHAT ACCOMPLISHMENT(S) ARE YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?

As a nonprofit community, we focus on our mission of taking care of people and providing a Life Plan Community environment where residents can plan their own lifestyles. We are building 44 new, upscale independent living apartments for the active senior to enjoy - StoneBriar at Burcham Hills - at a construction cost of $29 million. Burcham Hills is well known as a retirement community but is so much more. We have specialized memory care services and early stage dementia care services called Assisted Living Connections. Our rehabilitation center offers inpatient post-acute care, a short-term service averaging a stay of 19 days after a hospitalization and supportive services when returning home, if needed. Our Outpatient Therapy Clinic provides therapy services for residents of Burcham Hills and external community members who need physical, occupational or speech therapy. Our long-term nursing care services, and lastly, we have privately-owned condominiums called The Clusters of Burcham Hills, with 38 condo homes, currently fully occupied with a wait list.

FOCUS: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST LESSONS LEARNED?

Never become stagnant in this business, never think you know it all as the environment changes constantly, use resources and networking, and always remain humble but confident.

FOCUS: WHAT ARE YOUR TOUGHEST CHALLENGE(S)?

The many changes within the industry all while adjusting to them and not taking our eye off the day-to-day services and how important it is to exceed customer expectations. Lastly, like most businesses, the challenge of recruiting and training top employees as well as developing long-range plans. Each takes creativity and involving employees in addressing challenges.

FOCUS: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TO START-UPS TODAY?

Making sure you are doing it for the right reasons, meaning you must have a passion for the type of business. Do your homework with market studies, focus groups of the local consumer and then some.

FOCUS: WHAT TRENDS DO YOU SEE IN THE NEXT THREE TO FIVE YEARS?

The baby boomers that are planners will be considering a Life Plan Community, such as Burcham Hills, where their care needs can be met from the independent level all the way through the aging process. We will need to keep in mind their unique needs, which are different from generations we have served in the past.

CAPITAL AREA UNITED WAY
CEO: TERESA KMETZ


UW volunteers tending gardens of fresh produce that will benefit local low-income families without access to nutritious foods.

Capital Area United Way is a local nonprofit that unites people in need with resources available to provide immediate assistance in health, education and financial stability while addressing the root causes of our community’s longstanding challenges and changing lives for the better.

FOCUS: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE KEYS TO YOUR LONGEVITY?

The key to United Way’s 100 years is that we focus on addressing the major issues facing local residents at that moment in time. The socio-economic, political and healthcare landscape informs our work and the resources needed by the community. 100 years ago, the region was facing a flu pandemic and skyrocketing coal and commodity prices, which led to widows unable to afford basic necessities and many children being orphaned. As societal issues changed over the years, so do the critical services needed by local residents. United Way monitors those needs and addresses them by harnessing local companies (for funding, volunteers and professional expertise) and nonprofits (for service delivery) to address the issues of today.

FOCUS: WHAT ACCOMPLISHMENT(S) ARE YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?

Investing $330 million into the community during the century. These investments are used to help our own local residents to uplift them and set them on a path to self-sustainability. In a given year, more than 120,000 people are helped through services, like the United Way 2-1-1 call center which directs people to the available resources in the tri-county.

FOCUS: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST LESSONS LEARNED?

Collaboration is key. With limited funding, person-power and time, nonprofits cannot be afraid to work together to solve key issues. Organizations should not try to be everything to everyone because they don’t have the expertise or necessary funding. Partnering with others allows wrap-around services to assist the entire person’s needs. United Way has become a convener for many initiatives to demonstrate this concept.

FOCUS: WHAT ARE YOUR TOUGHEST CHALLENGE(S)?

Helping people understand that United Way is not just a fundraising organization, it is an organization that provides services and connects people to available resources when they are in crisis.

FOCUS: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TO START-UPS TODAY?

More than 250 nonprofits already exist in the tri-county region and many will fail because they cannot find sustaining revenue. If you feel passionately about a mission or you have an idea for a nonprofit, first try to partner with an existing organization who does similar work so you can FOCUS on your passion and not on the paperwork, fundraising, marketing, financials and government reporting required to operate as a licensed nonprofit in good standing.

FOCUS: WHAT TRENDS DO YOU SEE IN THE NEXT THREE TO FIVE YEARS?

Society is moving to a completely electronic world with little face-to-face interaction. It is nearly impossible to serve people in need without physical interaction so delivering services is a challenge in an electronic age. Likewise, donors are seeking enhanced digital interaction with the organizations they support, making it harder to have a personal relationship with them. Digital communication does, however, make it easier to provide tailored communication directly related to an individual’s interests, so the digital world is both a challenge and an opportunity.

CAPITOL RESEARCH SERVICES, INC.
CEO: RACHELLE NEAL


The Capitol Research Services team, l-r: David Souser, II, Rachelle Neal and Nick Bruewer.

Capitol Research Services specializes in full-service research including customer satisfaction surveys, concept testing, new product and service testing, mock juries, issue research, market feasibility and website usability testing. Their years of experience, skilled consultants and advanced technology enable them achieve an in-depth understanding of consumer behavior.

FOCUS: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE KEYS TO YOUR LONGEVITY?

Hiring good people and the ability to quickly adapt to change. Changes come in all forms including cultural, economic and health changes. When I started Capitol Research Services there weren’t any focus group facilities in mid-Michigan. It was a bit of an education process when we first started because focus groups were almost completely unknown to the local market. I felt there was an opportunity to offer a full array of research services, so I built a sophisticated, non-intrusive focus group facility.

FOCUS: WHAT ACCOMPLISHMENT(S) ARE YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?

Raising my children by myself since they were nine and 10 years of age, following the death of their father. For a while my parents were alive and able to help, but they’ve also passed. It has been a struggle to balance everything.

They are now healthy productive adults and I take great pride in them. I have also received awards through the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. I was also honored to receive ATHENA International’s Leadership Award in 2008.

FOCUS: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST LESSONS LEARNED?

Don’t take anything for granted. The economy can be very volatile, and relationships can and will change.

FOCUS: WHAT ARE YOUR TOUGHEST CHALLENGE(S)?

Five years ago, I was diagnosed with two types of cancer including one form of invasive carcinoma. Recovery for most cancer patients is not easy and takes a toll on your ability to be productive. This was difficult for me because I have been extremely focused my entire life on being productive. Unfortunately, I was too ill for a while to accomplish much. My business struggled as a result. I am extremely grateful for some clients that stuck with me during this difficult time including MSU, LAFCU and Sparrow. In some ways, cancer has been a blessing because I truly appreciate each day and am cognizant of all the blessings in my life.

FOCUS: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TO STARTUPS TODAY?

I would tell them to get involved in the community. Join the Lansing Chamber or a service club like Rotary. Get to know people, get involved.

FOCUS: WHAT TRENDS DO YOU SEE IN THE NEXT THREE TO FIVE YEARS?

Changes in technology will continue to impact the speed in which we conduct business and research. One of the greatest opportunities facing our industry is the advancement of technology. This has cut costs as well as reduced time to collect, analyze, and distribute information. For more than five years, Capitol Research Services has offered focus group livestreaming. Our clients can instantaneously watch from anywhere in the world. Quantitative survey data is now collected 24-hours a day, digitally, without the use of telephone interviewers.

THE CHRISTMAN COMPANY
CEO AND PRESIDENT: STEVE ROZNOWSKI


Christman was construction manager for the Michigan State University Music Building.

Founded in 1894 by H.G. Christman in South Bend, Indiana, The Christman Company opened its Lansing, Michigan office in 1915. Christman is ranked #110 in the 2018 Engineering News-Record ENR 400 list of top contractors nationally, and 63 in the 2018 ENR 100 list of top construction managementat-risk firms. The company has annual revenues of more than $700 million, with over $3 billion in construction currently underway.

FOCUS: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE KEYS TO YOUR LONGEVITY?

Staying true to the values handed down right from the beginning has been our lodestar, including honoring commitments with integrity, building lasting relationships, having passion for our work and a competitive spirit, and being a great place to work. Not much has changed on that front in 125 years, and we have no plans to change it now.

FOCUS: WHAT ACCOMPLISHMENT(S) ARE YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?

I would have to say putting in place the talented team of nearly 500 experts, leaders and partners that we have on board, including a significant bench of both current and future leaders. They amaze me every day, and continuing to invest in everyone’s development and growth makes our long view of the future look pretty darn good. A significant related accomplishment was moving to a 100 percent management and employee-owned (ESOP) model in 2009, we are truly in this together.

FOCUS: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST LESSONS LEARNED?

Maintain bench strength. In our construction world, you can’t double-commit your people, and you can miss out on great new opportunities when you don’t have the experienced team members in place to pursue them.

Develop good processes and follow them religiously.

Strive to be proactive in all things. Be a worst-case scenario planner.

FOCUS: WHAT ARE YOUR TOUGHEST CHALLENGE(S)?

Probably the recession of 2007, which meant some distinctly dark days for the commercial construction market in general. Even though we did end up having to trim our workforce, we fortunately had some good work already in progress, and also some significant projects for which we were the developers, which allowed us to keep moving forward.

FOCUS: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TO STARTUPS TODAY?

Build solid partnerships based on mutual respect and honesty. Put together strong, complementary teams. Truly engage with your customers and seek to understand and solve their problems with what you do. Plan strategically but don’t be too rigid – revisit the plan as often as necessary to reflect changes in your business environment.

FOCUS: WHAT TRENDS DO YOU SEE IN THE NEXT THREE TO FIVE YEARS?

Continued significant technology advances, including more and better virtual and augmented reality for planning buildings and training on their use, automation on our construction project sites, e.g. autonomous construction vehicles and use of robotics for repetitive tasks; continual influx of the millennial generation in the work space calling for flexibility, digital engagement, clear career paths, etc.; and a ramp-up in sustainability not just in terms of “green building” methodology but a focus on business practices that make a positive impact on people and culture.

FARM BUREAU INSURANCE OF MICHIGAN
CEO: DON SIMON


Michigan Farm Bureau headquarters.

Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan was founded in 1949 by Michigan farmers who wanted an insurance company that worked as hard as they did. Those values still guide the company today and are a big reason why they are known as Michigan’s Insurance Company, dedicated to protecting the farms, families, and businesses of this great state. Farm Bureau Insurance agents across Michigan provide a full range of insurance services — life, home, auto, farm, business, retirement, Lake Estate®, and more — They protect Michigan residents with more than 660,000 insurance policies statewide.

FOCUS: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE KEYS TO YOUR LONGEVITY?

Our history. We were created by Michigan farmers who wanted an insurance company to work hard and care about Michigan. Their dreams and their values are ingrained in our company. We are incredibly thankful for their continued support.

Often, I like to remind folks that we’re a service company that just happens to provide insurance products. Our agents and our employees are devoted to delivering service that “goes above and beyond.”

Of course, a key ingredient is our agents. With nearly 450 agents across the state, we can offer protection to Michigan residents, families, and businesses.

FOCUS: WHAT ACCOMPLISHMENT(S) ARE YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?

I’m really proud of our founders and farmers. We’re Michigan-based and our organization is also recognized as one of the best in the nation. Not only as an insurance company, but as a grassroots organization and respected voice legislatively on industry and agricultural issues like food safety and fighting hunger in Michigan.

FOCUS: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST LESSONS LEARNED?

I am excited about the opportunity for innovation in the insurance industry — accessing and increasing the use of high-tech. Over the past 70 years, we’ve learned the value of networking. We’re headquartered in Lansing, a diverse area of educational institutions, a vibrant business community as well as government partners, and tech resources. Collaboration, inside and outside of our industry, actually helps us to better serve our customers and the state today and tomorrow.

FOCUS: WHAT ARE YOUR TOUGHEST CHALLENGE(S)?

One of the challenges is maintaining a continuous pipeline of talent. For many years, Farm Bureau Insurance has worked in collaboration with colleges, local high schools, and others to offer opportunities to students and make them aware of the career opportunities available in insurance, particularly here in Michigan.

FOCUS: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TO START-UPS TODAY?

Invest in talent. Every time you invest in talent and training it pays off 10-fold or better for everyone.

FOCUS: WHAT TRENDS DO YOU SEE IN THE NEXT THREE TO FIVE YEARS?

As technology changes, so do consumers’ needs. From driverless cars to new materials being used to build homes and fuel businesses — we continually review our products to make enhancements and ensure they are top of the line in insurance protection.

Another area of growth is customer service. At the end of the day, we are in the business of customer service. We want to enhance the customer experience. These include digital strategies, customized products, and engaging communications.

GRANGER CONSTRUCTION
CEO: GLENN GRANGER


Holocaust Memorial Center.

Founded in 1959, Granger Construction is an ENR Top 400 company headquartered in Lansing, Michigan, specializing in design-build, construction management, integrated project delivery and general contracting services for the commercial, industrial, K-12, higher education, healthcare and corrections market segments.

FOCUS: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE KEYS TO YOUR LONGEVITY?

We have always operated by the guiding principle of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” This approach has served us well when managing challenging situations and in maintaining our reputation for doing the right thing. I believe our longevity can also be attributed to the fact that we tend to attract excellent leaders in our industry. We have also focused on nurturing talent and growing leaders from within; we have senior leaders who began their careers as interns at Granger!

FOCUS: WHAT ACCOMPLISHMENT(S) ARE YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?

We’ve built several landmark projects in Michigan, such as the University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross Athletics South Competition and Performance Center, multiple data centers for Fortune 100 automotive corporations and the Holocaust Memorial Center. We’re currently building Michigan State University’s STEM Teaching and Learning Facility using sustainable mass timber, which is the first use of this innovative material in Michigan.

FOCUS: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST LESSONS LEARNED?

I’ve definitely grasped the importance of learning from mistakes; fail quickly and recalibrate. I’ve also realized the value of seeking alternative viewpoints and surrounding yourself with people to whose level of talent you aspire.

FOCUS: WHAT ARE YOUR TOUGHEST CHALLENGE(S)?

I think one of our biggest challenges has been growing the company’s size and geographic footprint while also maintaining a family-oriented culture. Taking on projects beyond our traditional radius sometimes means asking key staff members to take time away from their families. At the same time, winning construction projects in Ohio proved to be the springboard for our successful expansion into that geographic market.

FOCUS: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TO START-UPS TODAY?

There are so many support services and resources available to you – take advantage of them! Service clubs, local entrepreneurs; a lot can be gained by tapping into the talent in your local community. Seek the counsel of people who’ve accomplished the goals you aspire to achieve. I am blessed with three amazing role models, my dad and his brothers, who started Granger Construction 60 years ago and whose hard work and innovative mindsets have cultivated the success of both Granger Construction and one of Michigan’s top waste service providers.

FOCUS: WHAT TRENDS DO YOU SEE IN THE NEXT THREE TO FIVE YEARS?

We know that we’re going to be challenged with a shortage of talent in key positions from the skilled trades through senior leadership. Part of that will cause us to look toward innovation as it pertains to technology and modular construction. To positively impact this shortfall, in partnership with the Capital Area United Way, we’re committing both financial and educational resources to increasing awareness of and access to career opportunities in the skilled trades and construction industry.

MICHIGAN FARM BUREAU
PRESIDENT: CARL BEDNARSKI

Michigan Farm Bureau is the state’s largest farm organization, representing, protecting and enhancing the business, economic, social and educational interest of more than 42,000 farmer-members. Learn more about their programs at michfb.com.

FOCUS: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE KEYS TO YOUR LONGEVITY?

The grassroots process and always remembering who we represent – those involved in production agriculture - are keys to our success. County Farm Bureau members guide Michigan Farm Bureau policy and services. It’s our role to position members to successfully share their goals and values with legislators, educators, and consumers. Another key – valuing the input of organizations not directly tied to agriculture to find mutually beneficial solutions. As we celebrate our 100th anniversary, our staying power is unquestioned. We still respect and follow the guiding principles of our founding members when they organized in 1919 to address road funding in Michigan.

FOCUS: WHAT ACCOMPLISHMENT(S) ARE YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?

Since our beginning, advocating on behalf of Michigan’s farm families has been our FOCUS and our strength. So, it is no surprise our greatest accomplishments can be found in legislative successes like protecting our Right to Farm, preserving our farmland through the Farmland and Open Space Preservation Act, and the voluntary Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program, known as MAEAP, to name a few.

FOCUS: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST LESSONS LEARNED?

Never underestimate the leadership potential of members when addressing industry challenges. When members are given the opportunity to identify and debate policy recommendations, you’ll be amazed at the solutions they develop and the sense of pride and ownership they take in their organization.

FOCUS: WHAT ARE YOUR TOUGHEST CHALLENGE(S)?

Educating legislators, both on the state and national level, along with the public about the pride and responsibility farmers take seriously as environmental stewards of their farmland and caretakers of their livestock. Farmers care about the people that have entrusted them to provide a safe, abundant and affordable food supply every day. As a general farm organization, we strive to provide factual information on behalf of hard-working Michigan farmers, to help the public discern between what’s true and what’s not when it comes to their food supply.

FOCUS: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TO START-UPS TODAY?

As a non-profit organization, we often ask that same question of ourselves. Many of the business and communication practices have obviously evolved over the 100-year history of our organization — meaning the ability to stay nimble, responsive and relevant is absolutely critical.

FOCUS: WHAT TRENDS DO YOU SEE IN THE NEXT THREE TO FIVE YEARS?

We live in a data-driven world. The adoption of data-integrated technologies in agriculture, such as GPS-guided equipment, drone imagery, real-time soil and plant sensors, is moving faster than ever. Once considered an option, technology is now driving virtually every key management decision to precisely apply crop inputs, such as seed and fertilizers. Labor availability challenges will drive many segments of agriculture to become even more mechanized.

THE PLANT PROFESSIONALS
PRESIDENT: KATHY VALENTINE


Since 1979, Plant Professionals has been focused on improving the lives of people through the use of plants.

Plant Professionals began in 1979 as a one-person operation selling tropical indoor plants in baskets to businesses and caring for them. Kathy Valentine was hired as a plant care technician in 1980, became a partner in 1984 and the sole owner in 1990. Flowering plants were added, and then plant event rentals and holiday decorating. Soon they were designing floral arrangements for events and later added delivery services. By the 1990s, Plant Professionals added exterior color plantings, and then began to care for flower gardens and detailed landscapes, eventually adding design and construction services. Fountains and water features are offered now. Green roofs and green walls are the new frontier. In 2013, gift items were added to the floral shop, allowing corporate and personal clients to send gift baskets and pamper items as well as flowers within their delivery area.

FOCUS: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE KEYS TO YOUR LONGEVITY?

Longevity, success, happiness…all the same key! Finding products and services that there is a market for, doing them well, pricing them fairly, letting people know about what we can do for them. Being nimble and always looking for new opportunities to be better while keeping the offerings fresh.

FOCUS: WHAT ACCOMPLISHMENT(S) ARE YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?

Our contribution to the greater Lansing economy has been based on our ability to leverage knowledge and enthusiasm. We have been able to build the economies of our employee families and build our facilities along the way. Nothing makes me prouder than making a client look good, while seeing our people take joy in their contribution.

FOCUS: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST LESSONS LEARNED?

Stay lean, even in growth. We have weathered three recessions, each different, but all challenging. Be as careful of the clients’ money as of your own. I picked a profession (plants and flowers) that is based on offerings not needed; only desired. When the economy hums along, we are busy. When money gets tight, plants and flowers are one of the first budget reductions people make.

FOCUS: WHAT ARE YOUR TOUGHEST CHALLENGE(S)?

Learning to step back and let others do. Letting others learn by making a few mistakes, encouraging their analysis of cause and correction, supporting that process, all while insisting on high quality for the customer. If you believe you are the only one who can do it well enough, you will always be a one-person shop. If you recruit, hire, train, encourage or can find those who can, you can grow and keep growing.

FOCUS: WHAT TRENDS DO YOU SEE IN THE NEXT THREE TO FIVE YEARS?

In the plant world, green walls and green roofs are the trend I see that will have staying power. They allow us to benefit from the beauty of plants (and all they do for us) without taking up much space or time, when the right design is chosen, and the best technology is implemented.

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