Focus on failure: Thursday program to highlight mistakes made on the road to success

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — An international movement showcasing personal stories of failure is coming to Southwest Michigan on Thursday.

Known as Failure:Lab, the unique format features a diverse blend of storytelling, music and audience interaction.

Failure:Lab Southwest Michigan will take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday on the campus of Lake Michigan College at the Hanson Theatre, 2755 E. Napier Ave. in Benton Township.

The event’s main draw is the focus on failure and the often harsh consequences that follow. There are no lessons or recycled mantras about overcoming adversity, said Cornerstone Alliance President Rob Cleveland.

“It’s a unique way of sharing failure and talking about how people can work through their failures on their way to success,” Cleveland said. “It’s not something that’s been done here before. We started with a large list of candidates to speak and found a diverse group of storytellers that could be relatable to just about anybody.”

This edition of Failure:Lab features a lineup of storytellers that includes Andrea Metes-Wilamowski, a former contestant on NBC’s “Biggest Loser”; Pysche Terry, owner of Urban Intimates; David Krock, founder of Sunset Coast Brands; and Jerry Price, founder of the Make Life Happen project.

Failure:Lab was founded in 2012 by a group of West Michigan professionals to try to help others manage fear of failure, and how to move past it.

The format allows each speaker to share a personal failure of what went wrong with no lessons learned. Between each speaker, a performance follows to sort of “clear the air” and allow the audience to recharge.

Speakers will bluntly present their darkest hours with confidence, while working to remove the stigma of failure.

“The Leadership Accelerator class is grateful this community invested in us and we wanted to offer something back to the community,” said Lisa Borre, chairperson of Failure:Lab Southwest Michigan. “Failure:Lab allows us to think about failure as an innovative way to resolve problems and encourage risk taking.”

The event hinges on audience engagement, which takes place during and after the event through social media and organic conversations within the audience.

During the musical breaks audience members will have time to reflect and share their thoughts with others in the audience and on Twitter with the hashtag #FailureLab. Performers during musical breaks will include Leah Tirado, Mike Koch, Char Jones and David Carlock, among others.

Tickets cost $25 per person and are available online at http://bit.ly/2dDQa1H. Seating is limited to 250.

For more information about Failure:Lab, visit: failurelab.com.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 25, 2016)
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Entering the Real Whirled: College grads live with appliances in Whirlpool program

From left, Rebekka Pace, Suyoon Lee and Breanne Wilson talk about their experiences living in Whirlpool Corp.'s Real Whirled condos in St. Joseph during an interview Wednesday afternoon. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

From left, Rebekka Pace, Suyoon Lee and Breanne Wilson talk about their experiences living in Whirlpool Corp.’s Real Whirled condos in St. Joseph during an interview Wednesday afternoon. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — For three times each year, a condo along Broad Street in St. Joseph is home to eight people and a special program that has benefited various Whirlpool Corp. employees.

Among those eight people this year is Suyoon Lee. The St. Louis native recently graduated from the University of Michigan and loves to cook.

He is in training to become a sales development representative at the home appliance maker. However, he is taking part in a special program called Real Whirled. Like the MTV show known as “Real World,” he is put in a home to live with seven other people for an extended period.

Unlike the show, an overwhelming majority of participants remain friends.

Through a hands-on learning approach, participants complete sales skills training and gain insight into Whirlpool products by using them every day in the condo apartment. All this comes before they are then assigned to a U.S. metropolitan sales territory as a sales development representative – or SDR.

Lee said he enjoys the program because it’s a way to learn with other people.

“We learn a lot within those 10 weeks,” Lee said. “The best part about this program is you get to learn about these appliances while meeting others who have gone through the same thing.”

Ashley Czubak runs the Real Whirled program, which was created in 1999.

Czubak, who is the early sales program manager, went through the same program as Lee did in 2007 and was part of its 25th class.

Whirlpool’s sales department was looking for a way to bring younger talent into the corporation when the MTV show was at its peak.

“The program itself was supposed to be a spinoff of the show,” Czubak said. “Eight young sales individuals come and live together and learn about the product.”

Over time, the program has developed and grown. The company has absorbed more brands since the turn of the 21st Century and has extended its reach to nearly every continent.

Whirlpool always brings in eight individuals for each group or “class” that stays in the condo for 10 weeks. There are three classes that inhabit the condo between January, June and September every year.

With about 24 participants each year, Czubak said they’ve had more than 400 workers cycle through the program.

By the beginning of 2017, Real Whirled will welcome its 57th class of participants.

New and old

The current class in Real Whirled is No. 56.

Joining Lee in the September class is Alyse Wilson.

Wilson, who recently graduated from Michigan State University, said a lot of her friends have become curious with what she does at the Real Whirled condo.

“Just from posting stuff that we’ve been doing on social media, a lot of our friends are asking us what we’re doing,” Wilson said. “We get to cook, use the washers and dishwasher. We make different smoothies with the blenders, we’re putting gross things on plates and putting them in the dishwasher and seeing how they turn out.

From left, Rebekka Pace, Suyoon Lee and Breanne Wilson talk about their experiences living in Whirlpool Corp.'s Real Whirled condos in St. Joseph. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Rebekka Pace, Suyoon Lee and Breanne Wilson talk about their experiences in Whirlpool Corp.’s Real Whirled condos in St. Joseph. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

“It’s a fun program. We’ve become junkies with these appliances.”

The candidate pool for the program’s participants normally includes former interns who have graduated college within the last three years.

Rebekka Pace, another SDR in training, said the program brings the appliances to life.

“It’s applicable to everyday life and people don’t really notice that a lot,” said Pace, a Grand Rapids native.

The bulk of the work comes when they move into the house. Czubak said communication skills and product study become an everyday practice.

Throughout their 10-week training program, participants check in with Czubak. She has ownership of recruitment hiring, curriculum development and management of the program.

“I have a weekly check-in with them,” Czubak said. “We have lunch for an informal opportunity to ask questions. We also have a formal assessment process.”

Fully equipped

Participants can bring as much stuff as they want to keep in the condo. However, much of it is already taken care of.

The condo is fully furnished and was retrofitted to include eight bedrooms and eight bathrooms on two floors. There are four kitchens and four laundry rooms scattered around a commons room for participants to hang out.

From granite countertops to stainless steel appliances, each kitchen is outfitted to any chef’s liking. All that’s needed is clothing and personal items – along with a few groceries.

Whirlpool worked with the condo association to refit multiple condos for these eight participants. The four kitchens and laundry rooms allow participants to use Whirlpool and Maytag products, along with a kitchen and laundry room that house a mixed-bag of appliances from assorted competitors.

“It allows us to see what we like and don’t like for comparison,” Pace said.

There’s also a classroom feel to the Real Whirled condo.

One of the kitchens in Whirlpool Corp.'s Real Whirled condos in St. Joseph is pictured Wednesday afternoon. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

One of the kitchens in Whirlpool Corp.’s Real Whirled condos in St. Joseph is pictured Wednesday afternoon. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

The walls on the second floor are tapered with large sheets of paper with contact information and calendars to mark significant events. There are even a few Post-It notes with expectations stuck along the walls.

Last week, participants traveled for a territorial visit. This was where they will move to as an SDR after completing the 10-week program.

Pace is moving to Atlanta and Wilson is heading to the northern region of Indianapolis, where both will cover nearly 40 different stores that range from Home Depot to Lowe’s.

Lee, who favors the east coast, is heading to Fairfield, Conn.

“I’m really excited to get to work there,” Lee said. “I liked how they took my suggestion under consideration. Everyone was so friendly on my visit.”

Wilson won’t move as far as the others, but she admitted she is hesitant to leave the shared condo.

“We’ve become a family here in a short amount of time,” she said. “Plus, I’m going to be moving to this one-bedroom apartment without all these appliances that we’ve become accustomed to.”

After the program, each participant will move into that role as sales development representatives for their region. But after that, there’s a chance they return to Benton Harbor and make their way up the corporate ladder.

“I think the program will continue to evolve as our sales organization evolves,” Czubak said when asked about the program’s future. “It will continue to be our talent pipeline for our sales organization. We have a 50 percent retention rate and many of the program’s alumni go on to do great things.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 23, 2016)

A collaboration for economic development

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

STEVENSVILLE — It was a meeting of the four pillars of business Thursday night.

Representatives from Cornerstone Chamber of Commerce, Kinexus, the Women’s Business Center at Cornerstone Alliance and SCORE were on hand at Watermark Brewing Co. to give tips to potential and current business owners.

The “Come See What’s Brewing” gathering gave the public an opportunity to listen to ideas on the planning, funding, education and networking that would help run a business in Southwest Michigan.

Among those in the crowd was Jeff Hannan, a business development manager with Kinexus.

Hannan said the event, which had been planned about six weeks prior, was a way to collaborate with the other business support organizations that serve Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties.

Hannan normally helps small businesses with their financial projections and business plans, but instead touched based on how much of an impact all four organizations could make together.

“This is about all of us getting together and collaborating with each other,” Hannan said. “This way we can use each other as resources. It can be confusing for a customer if they have to go to multiple places to talk to people. We tend to favor joint meetings with clients.”

One of the goals these groups are looking to complete in 2017 is to work together on workshops and come up with a calendar of events that each organization can contribute to in one way or another.

Hannan called it a “one-stop effort.”

Bob Kynast, a certified mentor with SCORE, said they were hoping to have an event where people could just mingle. The event was a way to explain what each organization’s strengths were in the business community.

Cornerstone Chamber of Commerce is best known as an advocate for local business owners that gives customers exposure through marketing and social media campaigns.

Kinexus does work beforehand by helping start businesses, while offering financial and marketing assistance.

The Women’s Business Center at Cornerstone Alliance operates as a business resource center that works to build financial independence for female entrepreneurs.

And SCORE has a mixed bag of volunteer mentors who work with small business owners and nonprofits with everyday problems. These volunteers have an assortment of skills that involve every job sector.

Kynast said the idea to hold it at the Stevensville brewery because the majority of the business organizations had been involved in getting Watermark started.

Each group had a table with information and a representative to talk to.

Outside of a few financial literacy workshops, there’s not much interaction between the four business organizations, said Women’s Business Center Manager Margaret Adams.

She said this gathering was an opportunity to network and make sure people knew what they did in a less-than-formal business setting.

“This is more of an informal setting, where people can get to know one another,” Adams said. “If they don’t need our services, at least they’re aware of us and can refer us to other individuals.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 21, 2016)

Libertarian Wenke throws hat into 6th District race

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

KALAMAZOO — A familiar face in Kalamazoo is running for the 6th District U.S. House race.

Lorence Wenke, 71, is the Libertarian candidate who previously served in the Michigan House of Representatives for six years until term limits ended his tenure.

Wenke was appointed chair of the Tax Policy Committee during his first term, chair of the Higher Education and Career Preparation Committee during his second term, and minority vice-chair of the Labor and Retiree Healthcare Committee in his final term.

Prior to his election to the State House, Wenke was a Kalamazoo County Commissioner for eight years and served as chairman for three years.

The Kalamazoo native was then defeated by Tonya Schuitmaker in the 2010 Republican Party primary election for the 20th district of the Michigan Senate.

Wenke then switched to the Libertarian Party over differences with the GOP on gay marriage and issues surrounding taxation.

“When I was in my first term in the Legislature, I was one of three Republican legislators out of 63 to vote against the addition of the Marriage Protection Amendment to Michigan’s Constitution,” Wenke recalled. “That one vote led me to somewhat be separated and punished by the Republican Party. It became what I was associated with. The more I got involved, the more I saw the amount of discrimination.”

He would go on to call representatives from the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, where he felt most connected to the latter.

Wenke, who announced his candidacy for the congressional race in June, said he stands for minimum government and maximum freedom.

“The national debt right now is the equivalent of stealing,” he said. “When you have the intention of borrowing money with no intention of paying back, that’s stealing. We’re addicted to debt as a nation. It’s going to take some strong-willed people to get past this.”

Wenke earned a business degree from Western Michigan University in 1967. Today he is owner and president of Wenke/Sunbelt Greenhouses.

When he was a legislator for the state, Wenke said he discovered a desire to introduce legislation and make laws that would benefit others.

“I would like to be in a position, as a congressman, where I can introduce legislation to the federal government that I think would solve some problems the nation faces that are critical to our future and our children’s future.”

To learn more about the Libertarian, voters can visit www.votewenke.com.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 20, 2016)

Benton Township left without a comptroller

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — After a few weeks of consideration, the candidate Benton Township had pegged to be its next comptroller declined the part-time job.

Superintendent Kelli Nelson said they received formal notice from Britni McDole on Oct. 13, that she would not accept he job as comptroller.

“She was definitely interested in it,” Nelson said Wednesday. “Basically, she decided she was happy with her employment at Plante Moran and thought that it would be a better fit for her.”

In a letter sent to township officials Oct. 13, McDole wrote she appreciated the offer but did not give a reason for her decision.

“I want to thank you for taking the time to meet with me at the board meeting,” McDole wrote. “However, after much thought and consideration, I will have to respectfully decline the offer.”

Nelson said there has been no decision made on the position of comptroller, as there are no candidates that would be able to make a seamless fit like McDole could.

“Based on her skill set, we felt she would be able to do it in that two-and-half-day equivalent,” Nelson said, referring to the comptroller’s part-time limitations. “We are taking some time to explore our options and make a plan moving forward. At this point we haven’t decided what that plan will be.”

Nelson served as comptroller this year, prior to being named superintendent toward the end of September for the retiring Elden Piontek.

A recommendation to hire McDole as comptroller was made and approved by a 5-1 vote during a September board meeting.

The contract that was approved would have paid McDole about $45,000 a year. The comptroller is expected to work an average of three days a week from September through May, and two days a week from June through August.

McDole anticipated starting in October as part of a three-year service agreement.

Piontek, who made the recommendation, told trustees this would have saved the township money because McDole is considered part-time and would not be paid benefits.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 20, 2016)

The business of government: Mitt Romney talks politics, business at Econ Club

Former presidential candidate and governor Mitt Romney speaks during a meeting of The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan Tuesday at Lake Michigan College's Mendel Center. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Former presidential candidate and governor Mitt Romney speaks during a meeting of The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan Tuesday at Lake Michigan College’s Mendel Center. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Mitt Romney was all business when it came to politics Tuesday night.

The former presidential candidate and past Massachusetts governor spoke at great length on both the current presidential election and America’s future economy as a guest of The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan’s speakers series.

Before a Mendel Center audience, Romney didn’t stray from talking about presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The Michigan native has made headlines during the 2016 presidential race by speaking out against his own party’s nominee.

It was no different Tuesday when Romney told audience members he would not be voting for either nominee. He even joked that he might choose his wife as a write-in.

“I can’t possibly explain what we’re seeing this year. It is a surreal experience to watch this campaign,” he said. “If the Republican (candidate) is the best person to be president, then I’ll support them. If not, then I won’t. He (Trump) has failings of a personal nature that has caused some Republicans to say they can’t support him. I’m one of them.”

But Romney didn’t stop there.

“By the way, Hillary Clinton has failings also. If you haven’t noticed, most people find that she lacks the kind of trustworthiness you want to see in a president. An overwhelming amount of people on both sides of the aisle are not happy with their nominees.”

Former presidential candidate and governor Mitt Romney says he’s not voting for either major party nominee for president Nov. 8. He joked he might write in his wife’s name. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Former presidential candidate and governor Mitt Romney says he’s not voting for either major party nominee for president Nov. 8. He joked he might write in his wife’s name. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Romney speaks from experience as he was the Republican presidential nominee in 2012. As governor of Massachusetts, he led a reversal of the state’s fortunes and sustained a period of economic expansion through an exercise in what he calls “finding common ground.”

He mentioned that during his presidential campaign, the country began to rebound from its economic collapse that began in 2008. The former governor said that had the unemployment level remained above 8 percent, he would have had a better chance of retaining the Oval Office for conservatives.

Romney addressed a few questions toward the end of his appearance in the Grand Upton Hall, one of which was why so many Republican legislators seemed to be giving up on their candidate.

He explained that it’s the voters who choose each party’s nominees and not the party organizers, which is why many of the legislators were not happy in the first place.

Asked why he lost the election himself, Romney quoted former Vice President Walter “Fritz” Mondale – a former presidential candidate who lost the 1984 election to Ronald Reagan.

“All my life I wanted to run for president in the worst way, and that’s just what I did,” Romney said to a room full of laughter.

A businessman first

Prior to serving as governor, Romney was president and CEO of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. He eradicated a $379 million operating deficit and organized thousands of volunteers months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He also had to overcome a controversy that involved officials bribing the Olympic committee.

Romney founded Bain Capital, one of the nation’s most successful venture capital and investment companies. Now the former politician serves as director of Marriott International and as an advisor for a private equity firm.

As a businessman whose career began by selling microphones in Kalamazoo, Romney touched base on the differences between business and politics.

He gave a brief slideshow presentation with statistics that showed how the U.S. is dealing with the trouble that comes with the national debt ceiling, stagnant CO2 emissions and the poverty level.

“Politics is far more forgiving than the business world,” Romney said. “… If the budget doesn’t work, you just take on more debt. In business, you can’t do that. If you mess up, you lose your job and your business.”

Through his experience in both worlds, Romney was adamantly optimistic in America’s ability to remain the innovation hub of the world.

He said he anticipates changes coming though technology in health care, transportation and entertainment.

Romney then told listeners that he is in favor of free enterprise and that “the American way works.”

“We face these enormous economic challenges from other parts of the world that are catching up in some respects,” Romney said. “But what’s happening in America is a transformation in the nature of enterprise in a way that we haven’t seen in our lifetimes.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 19, 2016)

30 days of pink: Real Men Wear Pink campaign reaches Whirlpool

Anthony Cobb, left, senior manager of Talent Management at Whirpool Corp., and R.J. Corning, senior director of Human Resources-North America, were nominated to take part in the Real Men Wear Pink campaign, which requires them to wear pink every day during the month of October. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Anthony Cobb, left, senior manager of Talent Management at Whirlpool Corp., and R.J. Corning, senior director of Human Resources-North America, were nominated to take part in the Real Men Wear Pink campaign, which requires them to wear pink every day during the month of October. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Anthony Cobb and R.J. Corning’s workplace attire has become more noticeably pink the past few weeks.

That’s because the two Whirlpool Corp. employees are among the 13 West Michigan participants in the Real Men Wear Pink campaign.

During the month of October, the two co-workers have encouraged the women in their lives to take action to battle breast cancer. In doing so, they have committed to wearing pink clothing and accessories everyday in October, while trying to raise a minimum of $2,500 each.

With a stretch target of $5,000 per person, the money goes toward the American Cancer Society. Throughout the country and different regions of each state, a small selection of men have dedicated themselves to the cause.

Cobb, senior manager of Talent Management at Whirlpool, has a special reason for participating in the fundraising program.

His wife is a two-time breast cancer survivor. Cobb said both times that the cancer was discovered, she had found it herself.

“Her tagline is women should take their health into their own hands,” Cobb said. “She is a big advocate for self exams.”

Halfway through October, Cobb has added incentives for any man within his social community. If they post a picture of themselves in pink clothing, Cobb has pledged to donate $5 on their behalf. He’s also agreed to pay $10 to anyone who posts a picture and donates money. Cobb said he plans to get creative for the tail-end of the campaign.

During these past few weeks, Cobb has found a large showing of support around the home appliance maker’s headquarters and through social media.

“I’ve been able to generate some good participation with folks,” Cobb said in reference to the Facebook posts. “A couple days after I did this, they got the message. They knew they didn’t have to post pictures after a while – I really just wanted the donation. I’m starting to get more and more of them offering up a few dollars toward the campaign.”

Anthony Cobb displays his shoes while showing his support for the Real Men Wear Pink campaign during the month of October. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Anthony Cobb displays his shoes while showing his support for the Real Men Wear Pink campaign during the month of October. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

When he was talking to a senior director in supply chain and referenced the campaign, Cobb was surprised by a coworker’s history with cancer as well.

“She went and gave a really nice contribution,” Cobb said. “But the storyline behind it was she had recently been affected with family members who were going through different types of cancer. People don’t always share what’s happening to them. You never know where people are coming from. What I’ve been appreciative of is when people always say, ‘you’re wearing a lot of pink.’ And that opens the door for why I’m wearing it. Then I can start to talk about the campaign.”

The campaign comes with a joint effort from Ryan Holland and the rest of the Health and Wellness Department, which has supported Cobb and Corning while also holding community events – like the Mammogram Event at Lakeland Health that granted various residents opportunities to get checked for breast cancer.

Corning, a senior director of Human Resources-North America, is the other Whirlpool employee taking part in Real Men Wear Pink. He was asked to do the campaign in the beginning of August.

Between Corning and Cobb, they’ve bought pink shirts, socks and shoes. Corning said the big thing is for women to be diligent about not only breast cancer, but overall health care.

“While October might end, the cause doesn’t end, the focus shouldn’t end,” Corning said. “We appreciate everyone’s support so far. We’re just looking forward to the ongoing support beyond this.”

Renee Burmeister, account manager for corporate relations at the American Cancer Society, said this is the inaugural group. The plan is for all 13 men to nominate 13 others for the 2017 campaign.

“There’s plenty of room for more men,” Burmeister said. “They’ve been a great source of inspiration for all other men behind the campaign. We’re very fortunate to have their support for the campaign.”

Anyone who needs information regarding screenings or cancer diagnosis can visit www.cancer.org or call 1-800-227-2345.

To donate to Cobb and Corning’s campaigns, visit http://bit.ly/2dnsWws, or http://bit.ly/2ecwtlJ.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 18, 2016)