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Harvard Business School Club of Michigan honors the state’s best non-profit leaders with support, scholarships

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Like most, when you read the word “Harvard,” all you think of is East Coast and Ivy Leagues, right? But, like most things, there is a Detroit connection. And it’s kinda great.

3- HarvardOn Thursday, the Harvard Business School Club of Michigan will honor Dan Gilbert at its annual Business Leader of the Year event. That’s the first part of the news. Huzzah to the founder and chairman of Detroit-based Quicken Loans. We all know what he’s done and doing. Keep up the good work, sir.

Here’s the Detroit part. All of the funds raised at the event (tickets are $125 a pop) will go toward scholarships. And those scholarships will go to four Michigan non-profit leaders, who will then use the dough to attend a Harvard Business School training program in Boston.

Now, here’s why it’s great. The program, called the Strategic Perspective for Non-Profit Management, is a brain-busting six-day course. It helps these outstanding non-profit leaders learn new skills, bond with their national and international brethren and … best of all … bring it all back to Michigan.

This year’s scholarship recipients are: Sharlonda Buckman, CEO of the Detroit Parent Network; Cheryl Johnson, CEO of the Coalition on Temporary Shelter; Perry Ohren, CEO of Jewish Family Services of Metropolitan Detroit; and Alice Thompson, CEO of Black Family Development Inc.

They will soon join an illustrious group of other Michigan non-profit leaders who have participated in SPNM since scholarships were first presented by the Club in 1999. To participate, both Club members and these alumni nominate and then vote on potential candidates, who must show three main qualifications: Dedication, commitment and pursuit of excellence within the non-profit sector.

2- HarvardRichard Shapack, Harvard Business School Club of Michigan board chair, called this year’s recipients “exceptional,” and said he is thrilled to send them to Boston. While Dan Gilbert rightfully deserves his recognition, having those four in the room with him sends a powerful message – that whether you work for profit or not, you are changing Detroit in a way that profoundly affects us all.

Beyond Thursday’s event, the Club keeps the momentum going. On a regular basis, those program alumnai get together with Harvard Club members to talk, brainstorm and debate the issues they face as non-profit CEOs. Because if for-profit business types have these opportunities, so should those who give their lives and a part of the livelihoods to the good of us all.

Other Harvard B-School Clubs don’t do this next step – of bringing the leaders together on a regular basis – so Shapack recently met with the larger group to talk to them about why they SHOULD.

1 - Harvard“Someone said once that the loneliest job title at a company is the CEO. … We thought it would be helpful to bring them all together so they had resources and support,” Shapack said. “We meet about four times a year, and we have 38 people signed up for this quarter’s meeting.”

And other Clubs don’t send four leaders – they might send two. Detroit got that honor (for the sixth year in a row) because “Harvard has consistently complimented us on the quality of the CEOs we’ve sent to this program,” Shapack said.

Shapack, a business planning attorney, said that one of his pet peeves is when people think of non-profit leaders as just “do-gooders” who are not living up to their potential, so to speak. He said he’d take his program friends – all 42 of them – any day. (It’s 41 living individuals now after the bright Eleanor Josaitis of Focus:Hope passed away in 2011).

“They are very dedicated, very bright, very capable,” Shapack said. And to quote a quote, they’re the types of people who understand “We’re here to help others, not just to see how much we can put in our own pockets.”

Shapack hopes that such a night inspires the 40 or so members of the Harvard Club to participate more in non-profit activities. He indeed hopes that everyone in Detroit realizes the importance of these groups and what they bring to this great city.

“We’re trying to go ahead and really get the greatest amount of bang for the buck,” Shapack said. “We need to get people off the sidelines and get them involved.”

One of Shapack’s new inspirations came from an early encounter with Alice Thompson, CEO of Black Family Development Inc. She told the Club that she almost walked out of its meeting because people kept talking about the city’s “problems.” Thompson said she won’t let her staff talk that way; instead, they must pose their issues as opportunities and tell her how they’re going to solve them.

Every day in Detroit is not sunshine. Every CEO isn’t going to solve the city’s problems. But we can all look for opportunities and ways to if not fix at least improve the neighborhoods around us.

“I’ve got a whole new list of friends. One cannot but admire who they are, what they are and where they are going,” Shapack said.

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