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Sandy Pierce: A strong voice on Detroit’s changing image

Sandy Pierce

To fix Detroit region, women’s voices must be heard. So said Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley’s in a recent column. It was ironic that the story appeared the day after I attended the Marketing & Sales Executives of Detroit’s Annual Awards Gala where Sandy Pierce, president of Charter One Michigan one of the region’s leading women, was being honored with the Executive Leadership Award.

The passionate words she spoke about Detroit and Michigan in a 10-minute “keynote” certainly made Riley’s comments ring true. Detroit’s women leaders have strong voices and are passionate about transforming our region. “The winds are changing,” Pierce said.  “Not just because of our great Lions and Tigers, but also because the Big Three are selling more cars, they are investing, our home prices are headed up. And this is not a secret anymore.”

She pointed out that the Wall Street Journal and USA Today have done stories on Detroit’s Rising but at the same time reminded us that we still have challenges ahead. We need to help our students graduate from schools with competitive skills to fuel our economy. Neighborhoods are still in need of services, blight needs to be addressed and the auto companies need to continue their success.  We also need to feed our hungry neighbors, support struggling families and open doors for youth. Quoting Eleanor Roosevelt she reminded us that, “it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

Pierce has been lighting candles in Detroit for some time now. She started out as teller at the National Bank of Detroit while attending Wayne State University. She stayed with NBD and went into marketing with the bank after graduation. “I saw that banking was more than just transactions in a free market – it was about making people’s dreams a reality – helping to grow jobs, buy and keep homes, starting new companies and growing businesses,” she said.

She later joined Charter One and brought those beliefs with her.  Charter One supports many programs. Champions in Action in partnership with WXYZ Channel 7, which provides marketing and volunteerism support as well as an unrestricted grant to nonprofits who are addressing critical issues.  This past the bank convened several other corporate citizens in the Hunger Free Summer campaign and successfully raised $500,000 to provide two million meals to children who receive free meals during the school year, but would otherwise go hungry during the summer. “Working independently, these sectors can improve the economic climate in our region,” she said. “But by working together, they can have a far more effective and lasting impact on our communities. And it’s working together that has brought about the change we are feeling in Michigan.”

Pierce also shared some other ideas about what is success and how it can contribute to our communities and companies. Here are a few of the suggestions:

  • Do what you love.  People with passion can change the world for the better. This means give yourself time to figure out what you are really passionate about. Once you are passionate, you will accomplish many great things. Passion is everything.
  • Make Connections – Create a place to exchange ideas, to be at the forefront of trends and techniques and to keep your skills sharp.  Creativity is connecting things. People with a broad set of life experiences can often see things that others miss. Don’t live in a bubble. Connect ideas from different fields.
  • Say no to 1,000 things – It is not by saying yes to everything that we get to greatness. It is by putting our best into the most important things that we are able to make an impact.
  • Master the message – You can have the greatest idea or product in the world, but if you can’t communicate your ideas it doesn’t matter. Be the world’s greatest corporate storyteller.  Instead of simply delivering a presentation like most people, inform, educate, inspire and entertain all in the same presentation.
  • Sell dreams, not products – Understand your customer and capture his or her imagination. We’ve all heard of the KISS principle –– keep it simple – it works. Your customers don’t care about your product. They care about themselves, their hopes, their ambitions. If you help your customers reach their dreams, you’ll win them over.

Where’d she get these suggestions? Steve Jobs.

“Whether we are contributing from the board room or the mobile office, each of us has a role to play in strengthening our businesses, our economy and our communities,” she said. “The responsibility lies on all of us to think strategically and seriously about how we can continue to work together for positive change. Consider the community where you choose to live. The city where your business resides – the future of our state. I challenge each of you to let your concern drive you to action.”

She voiced the same opinion in Rochelle Riley’s column. “I get pretty irritated at my organization if we, as leaders, don’t step back and say, ‘Have we thought of all the constituencies that have an opinion on this, all the constituencies that should be considered? And I think as a leader, not a manager, but as a leader, we’re all accountable and responsible to be sure that we take that step back.”

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