Jumping Ship: Former Corporate Leaders Tell All
Join Michigan Nightlight this month in Detroit and Grand Rapids for a special speakers series event, Jumping Ship: Leaders Who Left the Corporate Sector for the Social Sector.
A group of dynamic nonprofit leaders, who formerly held positions in the for-profit sector, will share their thoughts and opinions on nonprofit work life in two upcoming speaker series events hosted by Michigan Nightlight, in collaboration with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
, Model D
and Rapid Growth
. Jumping Ship: Leaders Who Left the Corporate Sector for the Social Sector
will be held in Detroit on August 21 and in Grand Rapids on August 27.
Join one of our lively conversations to learn how these movers and shakers, who came from banking, sales, automotive marketing, public relations, human resources, and other industries, found their way – sometimes by happenstance and sometimes by choice – to nonprofit organizations.
Not surprisingly, the panelists have discovered incredible meaning in their work, where “bottom line” conjures up a whole different meaning when it comes to the education, health care, housing, and destiny of vulnerable children and families.
At our events, we’ll probe deeper into their transitions and look at why they left and why they’ve decided to stay. We’ll ask them about lessons learned in the business world that they’ve applied to social sector work; what they’ve learned as leaders in the nonprofit arena that could be practiced in corporations; and how nonprofit work contributes to building strong communities.
Details on the times and locations of our panels, along with a full list of panelists and moderators, are found at the end of this article. In the mean time, here is a teaser as to what you might hear later this month from some of our distinguished panelists.
Ann Kalass, Starfish Family Services, Inkster and Detroit
, CEO of Starfish Family Services
, has one word for what she enjoys most about working in the nonprofit arena that was lacking in the for-profit world: purpose.
“I see and experience every day why our work is critical to the community,” says Kalass. “I am lucky enough to work in a building that serves more than 200 children under five every day, and our hallways are bustling with engaged and caring parents who want to do well by their children.”
Before starting at Starfish in 2007, Kalass worked for 13 years in marketing and sales executive positions at Ford Motor Company.
Kalass admits that the first few months of her transition to Starfish were a little unsettling. She had run Lincoln-Mercury’s largest U.S. sales region and oversaw Lincoln-Mercury marketing communications with a $400 million annual budget. Starfish was a significantly smaller organization with limited infrastructure.
“But, I have to say that since then I have never looked back,” says Kalass. “The purposefulness of our work keeps me energized, and I truly enjoy and appreciate the people I work with – staff, board members, volunteers, donors, and other nonprofit colleagues.” She says that she also values the chance to get to know the families Starfish serves, seeing them grow and gain confidence in themselves.
Ellen Carpenter, Heart of West Michigan United Way, Grand Rapids
Ellen Carpenter has been with Heart of West Michigan United Way
as the vice president of product development and marketing for just over a year, having formerly led marketing efforts for Lake Michigan Financial Corporation.
She enjoys the diversity of the nonprofit workforce that she did not experience in the for-profit sector, working with people of all ethnicities, ages, and education levels, and from backgrounds ranging from corporate to collegiate to financial.
“I believe this increases creativity, communication, and problem solving because everyone brings a different perspective,” says Carpenter. “And, given the complexity in solving social issues, having this kind of brainstorming and problem solving available is critical.”
Alexander Sebastian, The Guidance Center, Southgate
After working in Corporate America for 20 years, including an eight-year stint at Ilitch Holdings in Detroit, Al Sebastian left it all
Likely not found in big business, a perk of Sebastian’s nonprofit job is found simply in its atmosphere: "You may leave an important board meeting and head down the hall to join a classroom of children where you have the privilege to read them a book or two. Pretty awesome."
behind in 2004, deciding to put his skills to use in the nonprofit industry.
He currently serves as director of communications and philanthropy for The Guidance Center
, the largest employer in Southgate, with 700 staff members and a $40 million budget.
Sebastian says that people who work in the nonprofit world are savvy, dedicated, and talented. “They know how to build relationships and successful partnerships, while affecting great change,” says Sebastian.
Likely not found in big business, a perk of Sebastian’s nonprofit job is found simply in its atmosphere: “You may leave an important board meeting and head down the hall to join a classroom of children where you have the privilege to read them a book or two. Pretty awesome.”
Mindy Ysasi, Spectrum Health, Grand Rapids
Serving in a variety of for-profit human resources roles, Mindy Ysasi recently accepted a position as HR consultant for the clinical areas at Spectrum Health
. Ysasi is impressed with the depth of collaboration among nonprofits.
“When you have less resources or are serving a common goal, like the health of our community, we figure out how to work together better,” says Ysasi. “Of course, that can’t always be the case in the for-profit world, but this trait of collaboration is something that I admire.”
Mike Kerkorian, Heart of West Michigan United Way, Grand Rapids
Mike Kerkorian has always strived for excellence professionally, and his work ethic hasn’t changed since moving from an east coast investment firm to directing workplace campaigns for Heart of West Michigan United Way. But, the responsibility feels greater.
"The funds we raise at United Way directly support a large number of social services in the local community, so failure feels worse,” says Kerkorian. “If we don't raise that money, local citizens are worse off, and that is a tough reality to stomach."
“The funds we raise at United Way directly support a large number of social services in the local community, so failure feels worse,” says Kerkorian. “If we don't raise that money, local citizens are worse off, and that is a tough reality to stomach.”
In terms of elevating social sector work in the eyes of funding sources, policymakers and the general public, Kerkorian would like to see a bit more spent on administrative costs. He meets successful, talented individuals each week who would be assets to the nonprofit community, but who are unable to make the transition without a reasonable compensation package.
“If we focused more on bringing in talent and retaining those individuals, we could really move the needle on community issues in a way not seen in the social service sector,” says Kerkorian.
Starla McDermott, Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes, Grand Rapids
Working sales within the natural food industry for 20 years and traveling multiple days each week with young children at home, Starla McDermott was ready for a change.
“It got to the point that I hated to be on the road. Changes were happening in my industry, and I was not enjoying my work. I knew something had to change,” says McDermott. “I read a lot. I wrote a lot, trying to figure out my next path. I met with a career coach a few times.”
Eventually, she quit her job and went back to school for public administration in nonprofit, learning to live minimally as a poor student. Today, she is development manager of special events for Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes
“Now, four years later, I am a pro at living simply. It is an adjustment switching to an income from sales to the nonprofit sector and much lower wages.” That said, she loves what she does and has no intention of returning to for-profit work.
Want to hear more? Join us for Jumping Ship: Leaders Who Left the Corporate Sector for the Social Sector.
Thursday, August 21, 5:00 p.m. networking, 6:00 p.m. start, at United Way for Southeastern Michigan, First National Building, 660 Woodward Ave.
, Suite 300.
PANELISTS: Tanya Heidelberg-Yopp, Linked Learning Detroit; Ann Kalass, Starfish Family Services; Alexander Sebastian, The Guidance Center; and Chris Uhl, The Skillman Foundation
Appetizers will be provided by FoodLab
-curated local food vendors, including:
Wednesday, August 27, 5:30 p.m. at WorkLab on the second floor of the 99 Monroe Building
Moderated by Valerie Lego
, health and community reporter at WZZM
PANELISTS: Mary Buikema, Habitat for Humanity; Ellen Carpenter, Heart of West Michigan United Way; Mike Kerkorian, Heart of West Michigan United Way; Starla McDermott, Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes; Stuart Ray, Guiding Light Mission; and Mindy Ysasi, Spectrum Health