Fari Nzinga, Ph.D.
Curatorial Fellow at Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA)
Why is the work that you’re doing so important? Why should people know about this?
I think what’s important about museums, or what’s great about them, is that they are a resource for a community and a resource that everyone feels that they share in common.
So, if you go into the KIA and you start to see all of its multiple dimensions and facets, then you can really learn about whatever it is that you’re curious about—whether that’s regional history, art history, or something about a culture or a group of people.
When you’re gathering art at the KIA, is there something about this region’s story that stands out?
What’s surprising for me is how internationally connected this place is, because it can seem, from the outside looking in, like it’s just a small area, very rural and idyllic in a way. I’m a city girl at heart. I grew up in Boston, and I just moved here from New Orleans. So, I’m really looking forward to delving into [the region’s history] and seeing how that will inform the research that I do, art collections, and also the courses that I teach at Kalamazoo College, which will use objects in the collection as anchors to punctuate the syllabus. So, it’s like, “Okay, we’re gonna read about such and such topic, and we’re going to take a look at something that represents that in a very physical, tangible, material way,” which I think is exciting.
What do you do to constantly improve yourself?
I ask a million questions and read as much as I can. I appear so young to people older than me, they’re like, “Oh, you’re a Millennial. You know all about the internet, and technology and stuff.” But the fact is, I’m just learning how to set Google Alerts for things, so that if there’s an author that I want to follow, whose name pops up in the news, I can know about it. Technology is amazing! You know, I’m just trying to learn how to take advantage of those things, those tools that are out there, so that I can stay on top of my game.
Partner at Bush Seyferth & Paige LLC
What specific daily steps do you take to intentionally move the firm forward?
I brought experience with banks and pharma that the firm didn’t have. I try to stay engaged in those areas. It’s as simple as reading the news or sending an email to someone in the pharma industry.
Also, I try to bring common courtesy to the job. [The industry] can be adversarial, but I appreciate and respect the work others do, whether it’s an administrative assistant or a paralegal or an attorney.
What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started your career?
Everything’s going to be okay. Lawyers tend to be a high-strung group. When you come out of law school, in particular, you have this great weight on your shoulders. You want to conquer the world and you carry a lot of worry. I’ve been surprised how the legal community here and elsewhere has been very supportive in general. People give you support. Things work out as long as you do good work and do right by your clients.
What TV show have you envisioned yourself a cast member of?
In a law office, I would have to say the Sam Waterson character on “Law & Order.” But more than that, every season of “The Office” I would identify with the Jim [Halpert] character. Hopefully not Michael Scott!
Executive Chef of Restaurants at Greenleaf Hospitality Group
What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started your career?
The number of hours that I work in a week—it’s definitely not a 40-hour week. You find ways to better the life-work balance, but it’s a struggle. Eventually I will get to that point. I don’t think I will ever be a 40-hour person; I’m more active than that.
What excites you about the future of Southwest Michigan?
We’ve seen over the last couple years a restaurant scene that has grown really quickly. There are new restaurants opening up, growing faster than the population. I hope the population catches up because that’s going to bring new talent to the area. I don’t go out to places as much as I want to but, when I do, I want to see and experience what others are doing.
What’s one place in Southwest Michigan that everyone should know about?
Palazzolo’s Artisan Gelato & Sorbetto. We feature their stuff at Zazios, but they have this tiny little stand in Fennville. Honestly, it’s smaller than the room we’re sitting in. There are two high school kids behind the counter and a room full of freezers with their delicious gelato.
President of Schupan Aluminum & Plastic Sales
How can emerging leaders get involved in making positive change happen in our region?
The last handful of years, I’ve been more involved on community boards and in our industry trade association. I have always tried to surround myself with people whom I admire and respect while getting involved in causes I care about. If it’s a compelling story and something I’m passionate about, it has been a win-win. Associating oneself with successful people who have different experiences broadens your wealth of knowledge. I don’t think I have ever been involved on a board or in a charity where I didn’t feel like I received at least as much as I gave—not to mention it feels really good to help people and make a difference.
What do you want to accomplish today? In one year? In ten years?
Big picture: Ultimately, I’m trying to build a sustainable company where people enjoy what they’re doing, love coming to work, and feel like they’re really building something. Being a family-owned business, you tend to have a longer view of things. At Schupan, the average tenure of our employees is 10 to 12 years. There are many situations where people’s children, parents, grandparents, or siblings have worked or are working here. That is really satisfying and has allowed us to build loyalty in countless ways.
What’s the best conference or training you have been to and would recommend?
Our trade association offered an executive MBA-style program where the only participants were suppliers or competitors in our industry. The program occurred over the course of a year and a half and hit on all aspects of business—leadership, sales, marketing, finance, and operations. It was an invaluable experience that not only allowed for a great educational experience but also fantastic networking. Southwest Michigan First’s Catalyst University has also been a tremendous educational opportunity to which our company has sent employees who have come back inspired with a different perspective than what they went in with.
Solutions Specialist at Armstrong International
Where did you go to school?
I’m originally from Colombia. I moved to Michigan about 16 years ago. I went to Western Michigan University and played for the varsity tennis team for four years while studying sales and marketing. Then, I did my MBA at Western as well.
You’ve been at Armstrong for six years. What has been the best decision you have made there?
I saw the potential of growing within the company. At the beginning, I was focused on just what I studied, which was business marketing. But it was comfortable, and when I feel comfortable, the next opportunity always comes. I have been able to take those opportunities and feel uncomfortable. I like that. I’m getting comfortable with my current job. It’s challenging, but I’m always striving for the next thing. So, my short-term goal is to be a project manager.
What’s your vision as a solutions specialist?
My vision is to get people on the same page and working together more effectively. I want to get them to work together so we can get the project done. We really don’t have project managers here. That’s the short-term goal—to show the value of the position and become a project manager. My long-term goal is to be a leader in the company.
How has the company’s culture helped you in your growth?
Seven years ago, I did an internship here with the marketing team. The culture made a huge impact on what I wanted to do. During those six months, I even had lunch with the CEO. That was something! Plus, I appreciate the family-oriented aspect of the culture. I have a wife and three kids, and being able to work 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with no weekends is big. Armstrong also has events for families and kids. That’s important, and so is its emphasis on the Christian faith. Our core values stress “Faith in God, Family, and Job,” in that order.
What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
Oh, gosh. That’s such a good question. Pain and discomfort are designed to propel you forward. It’s okay to be afraid of transitions, but when you go through those obstacles, you are going to find out who you are, and it’s only going to help you contribute.
What’s one of the biggest risks you’ve ever taken?
Saying no is tricky for me right now. It’s not that I feel I need to say yes to everything, but I guess the risk is trying to maintain relationships while not being able to do everything that everybody asks of you, yet still supporting people.
If you had your own podcast or blog, what would you call it and what would it be about?
“This Is Not a Solo,” because even if you’re in the spotlight, it’s not just your show. There’s a baton that people have passed on from before you that you’ll pass on after you. There are so many people in the community whom you can really impact on a small scale. There’s so many things you can do, including smile, that make a difference every single day. I’m thinking about relationships a whole lot because that’s how I see the world. I see the world from this standpoint of harmony as a philosophy, as a way of life. I myself want to be an instrument used by God. You know, just sing my notes.
Senior Project Manager at Miller-Davis Company
What change would you make at work if you had the resources?
Our company has been growing and adding a lot of new people from different backgrounds and with different levels of experience. Miller-Davis has a long history, and great culture, but because of our workload and project demands, one of our challenges is that we have people immediately involved in important roles before we are able to engage them fully into our culture. People learn it along the way, but it would be ideal if we could evolve our orientation and training to get people engaged early on—a kind of boot camp for new arrivals.
How do you provide motivation to your team?
What always helped me was when somebody made the effort to spend time with me while I was learning, and then gave me the opportunity to try it on my own. That’s the approach I’ve taken. It always helped me when somebody took the time to show me how to do things, but didn’t do them for me.
What is the most useful app on your phone?
Apple Music. For me, music playing in the background is a helpful thing—old school rock, classical, I don’t mind country or even news radio.
Producer at Rhino Media
What’s the project you’ve worked on that you thought was most exciting?
My first year, we started working on a documentary about the craft beer industry. I got to meet the people behind the beer, and they’re just an eclectic, wonderful family.
But also, my name was on the end credits, and, at 21, you’re like “Oh my gosh, this is a thing.” Aside from that project, I think once we started working pretty heavily with Western Michigan University, that hit a little button in me: Maybe I wasn’t a super student in college, but as an alumna, I’m so supportive and want to stay in Kalamazoo. It has been a big opportunity.
How do you approach new opportunities?
Honestly, I think it’s being coachable, knowing that I don’t know everything. Never in my life did I think people would pay me to shoot their wedding. I walked in, and I was like, “I don’t know anything, but I am so willing to just learn, and listen, and absorb whatever you have to throw at me.”
What would be something that you would like to see happen in the community?
It’s an easy one to answer, but a tough one to solve. Honestly, it’s [building more] affordable housing. Affordable housing is a huge issue, and I think the lack of it is why there’s a lower retention rate. Out of college you’re not being paid the income that would be needed to live in these beautiful apartments downtown.
Scott A. Lemons
Global Supply Chain Manager at Humphrey Products
How are you leaning on your mentors? How are you setting yourself up to be a mentor?
My boss, Dave Maurer, has really helped me realize that I can do this stuff and has empowered me to go do it. Dave has taught me a lot about being a good leader in the community, a good steward. And he has taught me how to navigate my business acumen.
What achievements—personal or professional—are you most proud of?
I finished my MBA this past December. That was very rewarding based on the time and effort I put in to achieve it on top of everything else.
What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
“When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel Pink. I’ve actually changed my habits because of that book. He talks about the cycle of the day for different people and when they’re at their peak. He talks about taking a nap, the length of it—30 minutes, no more. I wasn’t a nap taker, but I’ve done that.
Sheila M. Strong
Senior VP of Compliance and General Counsel at AmeriFirst Home Mortgage
Are you doing what you love and getting better at it? How does job satisfaction contribute to success?
Absolutely. I’m getting better every day. I’m constantly inspired by others in the industry and within my organization, different mentors and role models.
What’s important is that I live a life that falls completely in line with my beliefs, my morals, my character. My job allows me to be who I am and promotes my natural talents, yet challenges me in other areas. I have worked for other companies, but I’m most happy in this position because it gives me challenges to overcome while continually learning.
What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
I would say moving on my own to Southwest Michigan without ever having visited. I picked Western Michigan University without seeing it. Somebody who graduated from Western came to my school, and I found her very inspiring about the community as a whole. Based on her experience, I made my decision to move here. I packed everything up, and the first time I was here was at freshman orientation. And I’m still here.
What’s something hidden in your desk or briefcase that you can’t live without?
I cannot live without Yup Brands’ B-Up Protein Bars—sugar cookie flavor. I’ve called my daughter “Sugar Cookie” since she was very little. I have these at home, in my purse, everywhere I go.
Business Operations Director of Kalamazoo Wings
What are some of the day-to-day things you do to take your team to the next level?
I have six leadership pillars. The sixth one, which is most important, is to have fun and laugh. That’s how I take my team to the next level. I’ve worked in jobs where I have to be two different versions of myself, and I don’t really thrive in that environment. I just want to be my authentic self, and I want my team to be the same way.
What do you do to keep your team motivated?
One aspect is clear communication. We need to know what our goals are, what our targets are, and how we’re getting there. Recognition is another big piece. We do that weekly in our huddles on Fridays. I also take the team on what I call “field trips” in the hockey world. We’ll go visit other hockey franchises in other states and countries. We were in Toronto this year, and I took them to the Hockey Hall of Fame. So, we do neat, fun things like that. We travel together. We do professional development courses. We invest financially in our team members so that they can learn and grow.
What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken that paid off?
When I left banking, it was a career I had been in for 13 years. It was my first major career change, and I really just trusted my gut on it because I didn’t know much about what I was embarking on. That was a huge risk. I chose to leave because the way that I operate didn’t match the culture, and I left without knowing what was next. Because of the relationships I have in the community, I was able to land a job. I made less money and had no clue what I was doing, but it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. I could’ve sat in banking for the rest of my career, but I’m glad I didn’t.
Shareholder at Kreis, Enderle, Hudgins & Borsos P.C.
What do you find most challenging about your schedule?
The challenge as a litigator is that you always have court deadlines. Trying to fit new clients or even an existing client into your schedule can be hard. You have deadlines to meet, trying to service all these other clients. It’s not like any other profession.
What are your tips for life/work balance?
I try to leave the office in time for dinner every night with my family; I have a wife and two young kids. I’m going to a baseball game tonight. My family time is 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
What’s one hidden gem in Southwest Michigan?
Four Roses in Plainwell.
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