Thursday, January 28, 2016

Top biz leaders advise second-stage execs in GR mentoring program

Todd Folkert needed a mentor, if only to have someone to talk to who understood what it’s like to run a growing business.

“You can’t talk to your employees,” said Folkert, the president and owner of Bold Cos., an office furniture manufacturer in Muskegon. “I used to try to talk to my wife. She would listen and say, ‘Todd, I am a nurse.’ ”

Folkert has that mentor now, thanks to the Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring program.

Some of the Grand Rapids area’s top business leaders are going to spend the next three years mentoring people like Folkert, owners and CEOs of second-stage businesses. The first class of the program graduated in August. Eight of the nine “students” graduated, while the ninth sold his business interest to a partner.

The next graduation ceremony, for a class of nine students or mentees, will be in 2014.

The program was founded in 2010 by Michael Jandernoa, former CEO of the nation’s largest manufacturer of over-the-counter drugs, Perrigo Co., at the time-based in Allegan.

The mentors in the Jandernoa program have experience running businesses with at least $5 million in annual revenue. They make a three-year commitment to meet at least twice a month the first year and once a month the second and third years with someone who has been running a $1 million, second-stage business for at least three years.

“Mentoring is very different from being the boss,” Jandernoa said. “When you are the boss, you make decisions. When you are a mentor, you sit back and ask questions, get answers, be encouraging, try to instill real accountability and offer real suggestions without telling them what to do.”

A mission to build business

Photo by Adam Bird Paul Boyer, left, is the vice chairman of Meijer Corp. and one of the mentors in the Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring program, founded by Michael Jandernoa. Paul Boyer, vice chairman of Walker-based Meijer Corp. and one of the mentors, said this program is not for companies trying to return to profitability.

“We’re attracting people into this program that want to build their business, that want to grow,” Boyer said. “These are solid businesses.”

Board members and staff meet with each of the applicants to make sure they fit that definition. Yet even if they want to get in for all the right reasons, they might lack the one attribute that Jandernoa considers critical.

“They have to have the internal passion that they see they can learn and grow as a leader and grow their business,” he said.

Kevin Haviland, another mentee, owns RHD Tire in Grand Rapids and Ferndale. He felt the same way as Folkert, even though he has a partner in the business. They both had someone to talk with but still needed someone else.

“Sometimes, we look at each other and don’t know what to do,” Haviland said.

Dave Fenske, another mentee, was running Unisource Office Furniture Parts in Grand Rapids as the office furniture industry was going through its post-Great Recession trauma. He had decided to start an import company to lower costs. Coincidentally, his mentor already had done that.

“It was so helpful to have a person who can say, ‘Here’s what I did,’ ” Fenske said. “There is so much to take in, it can be overwhelming. If a small-business owner can avoid making errors in judgment, it is huge.”

Jandernoa began his mission to “enhance the entrepreneurial culture in West Michigan” after seeing what the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Michigan did with its Entrepalooza seminar, which brought together beginning entrepreneurs and billionaires.

Jandernoa investigated business and economic development programs in Israel and Ireland before settling on what he discovered in Kansas City, Mo. There he found the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program, started in 1995 by Barnett Helzberg Jr., former owner and president of Helzberg Diamonds.

Jandernoa sees this mission as being about more than building businesses.

“I felt if you could help the leader in the organization to become a better leader and help them become the best they could be, that would make a big difference in the organization and in the community,” he said.