Blog: Michele Hodges

Michele joined the Troy Chamber as its president in 2001. The Troy Chamber is a dynamic organization comprised of nearly 700 of the Troy area's best companies. Its objectives are heavily oriented toward economic development, entrepreneurship, globalization, and leadership. Most recently, Michele has worked to advance the Troy Transit Center.

Prior to joining the Troy Chamber, Michele held a variety of positions with the Detroit Regional Chamber (DRC), including director of technology, senior director of new investment, and director of national investment.

Previously, Michele served as executive director of the DDA and business development team member for the city of Southfield, where she promoted economic health through the coordination of redevelopment efforts, marketing activities and a city-wide business retention/attraction program. She also spent several years with the city of Eastpointe, beginning as an intern and concluding as its director of economic development.

Michele is a recent graduate of the Michigan Political Leadership Program and the Institute for Organization Management, serving as class president for each. For four years, Michele served as president of the Oakland Chamber Network, a regional collaborative of nearly 30 chambers in the county.

In 2011, Michele was recognized as the Business Woman of the Year by the Troy Rotary and she is a member of the 2007 Crain's Detroit Business 40 under 40 class. She was also identified as a Leader/Innovator by the Great Lakes IT Report, one of Southeast Michigan's Most Influential Women by Inforum and Deloitte, and Michigan Chamber Professional of the Year by the Michigan Association of Chamber Professionals.

A graduate of Michigan State University, she holds a bachelor's degree in social science, with an emphasis in urban planning.

Michele has been married to Matthew for 21 years, and is the mother of 10-year-old Sylvia and eight-year-old Josephine.

Michele Hodges - Most Recent Posts:

We Solemnly Swear To...

We started the week with a transit related topic, right?  So why not end with it?  The Regional Transit Authority is advancing through the legislative process at this very moment, and a lot is at stake.  I won't suggest what one's disposition should be on the matter, but I will make a plea that we commit to these grounding principles.

1) Accept nothing less than scholarly, informed debate.  

2) Commit to data driven decision making, and source facts from credentialed bodies.

3) Be respectful at all times.

4) Seek common ground.

5) Pursue a mutually beneficial outcome.

6) View the matter through an apolitical lens, and direct the focus on what is best for the Detroit region, and the state of Michigan et al.

7) Ensure advocates and viewpoints originate from a diverse group of stakeholders. 

8) Maintain a AAA mindset.

9) Conduct thorough analysis, but be swift decision makers.  Don't bog the process down.

10) Possess "zero tolerance" for any entity that steps outside of these stated ground rules.

11) Remember, "The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; to be kind, but not weak; to be bold, but not a bully; to be thoughtful, but not lazy; to be humble, but not timid; to be proud, but not arrogant; to have humor, but without folly." Jim Rohn.

12) And, finally, don't ever forget the most important thing of all – our actions today will determine the future, and we must have deep respect for that responsibility.

Given the discussion we've had over the last week, I dare to hope we have strengthened our problem solving abilities, and that a more fertile future awaits.  If we can remember the importance of leveraging controversy, assuming a AAA mindset, and committing to a competitive spirit, we can expect nothing less than remarkable outcomes.  Let's go for it.

Important Resource to Highlight:  The purpose of the 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference (May 29-31) is to "Create a globally competitive, financially attractive business environment in Michigan to increase economic development through collaboration, visionary ideas and partnerships with business, government and philanthropy." The conference is a perfect venue for problem solvers and solution identification.

The AAA Mindset

In the last post, controversy in communities was positioned as a potentially positive matter, if in fact skilled leadership is in place.  A method such leaders can implement to build the foundation of trust, respect and credibility required for controversy to have a positive impact on communities comprises today's topic.

It is difficult to research initiatives impacting our communities in a highly charged political environment where neutral, scholarly debate is infrequent, and when accountability for sources contributing to the stream of information is lacking.   How does our Detroit region overcome this?  How can one take a more measured, scholarly approach to decision making?  What will lead to empowered voters, elected leaders, and any other stakeholders seeking to weigh in on matters that have the potential to propel a thriving marketplace?  How can they all become better decision makers?

I'd like to suggest one solution might lie within the context of three recognizable letters – AAA.  If communities invest in a "AAA mindset", the outcomes could be tremendous, for it is safe to assume jurisdictions with an AAA bond rating have excellent schools, quality housing, credentialed management, access to infrastructure, diverse neighborhoods, and top rankings in all other categories of significance.

Perhaps an initiative could be launched that seeks to measure initiatives within the context of AAA.  Simply put, is the initiative likely to positively or negatively impact the bond rating of the neighboring jurisdictions?   Is it of an "AAA mindset" or, put another way, can it be considered "AAA behavior"?  Having such insight would inspire more substantial outcomes.
Who could lead this analysis?  Clearly it would be critical to identify a credible, trusted, respected and, to the extent possible, neutral authority that has the capacity to manage the process.  Early suggestions would include university and/or foundation presidents that have a stake in our region, yet aren't as likely to be mired in the political process.

It would be difficult to debate the value of data driven decision making, and it is tantalizing to imagine a future that empowers us all to be the highest quality decision makers.  A "AAA mindset" is an opportunity to raise the bar, and to strengthen the advocacy process.  When data driven analysis is joined with the passion we all feel for our communities, suddenly we all become statesmen, yet we still have the freedom to be advocates for the viable future we all seek.  Doing so honors the future, and creates an environment wherein the word "controversy" suddenly sheds its negative connotation, and the Detroit region takes a healthy step forward.

Important Resource to Highlight – The Center for Michigan leads the "Michigan Truth Squad", which seeks to minimize the number of false and misleading statements sometimes made by candidates, or issues advocates.  Our communities are strengthened when accountability is enhanced.

Yes to Healthy Controversy

Transit.  My hunch is a multitude of readers just developed a rash, for the mere term causes some level of angst for just about everyone, no matter where on the spectrum one may lie.  There are those that are frustrated it continues to be discussed, and those discouraged that transit assets aren't satisfactorily in place.  Either way, not many would disagree if we were to label the topic "controversial".

I purport that controversy is a good thing if managed properly.  It serves the purpose of grounding the due diligence process with opposing points of view, which ultimately leads to higher quality outcomes when properly integrated into the decision making process.

Where controversy crosses the line and becomes destructive is when paralysis results and impedes economic health.  This is why it must be managed by highly skilled, respected leaders, and why our communities must be anchored with an inspired vision that has been created by a diversity of stakeholders, and built on a foundation of integrity.  Integrity is crucial, because it leads to trusting relationships, which are an important vehicle for action.

What we have striven for here in Troy, with respect to the Troy Transit Center, is a vision that speaks to a diversity of stakeholders.  For example, if one happens to be of a liberal ilk, there is comfort in knowing government has invested in infrastructure and, for those of a more conservative bent, the stepped approach to reducing the financial burden on the taxpayer is favorable.  By engaging a wide spectrum of stakeholders, Troy is moving forward as a result of the controversy, and paralysis has been avoided.

If communities embrace and manage controversy, it can be a positive.  Together we can reform the problem solving process and inspire an efficiency that doesn't damage the spirit of our Detroit region, and unites, rather than divides.  I look forward to discussing potential tools and tactics for achieving continued forward momentum in future posts.

Important Resource to Highlight – as the communities comprising our Detroit region seek an inspiring vision, the Michigan Municipal League can help.  It has identified the "Eight Essential Assets" of 21st Century Communities.  Transit happens to be one of them.  

Matching the Competition Via Transit

Now that we've discussed how controversy itself can actually enhance our communities if deftly managed by skilled leaders, followed by insight into a helpful tool for such leaders to implement, it makes sense to chat about the importance of a competitive spirit.

The Detroit region has great "bones", so to speak, and is well equipped to compete in the global marketplace with its rich history, strategic location, and a bevy of other highly desirable assets.  Troy is also positioned competitively, within that biosphere.  As we each work to advance the positioning of our respective communities, we are called upon to leverage the myriad economic development tools available to us.

Are these tools perfect?  Not always.  A good example for making this point transpired in Troy recently, and it hearkens back to the Troy Transit Center we've already discussed.  I refer specifically to the concern that accepting federal dollars to advance the center would contribute to the national debt.

Recognizing no rationally minded person would want to contribute to a debt crisis, that same person probably also understands the need for a level playing field.  So, I wonder, do we really understand the crux of the issue?   My sense is we are asking ourselves the wrong questions, omitting the opportunity for a stepped approach, and foregoing meaningful solutions in the process.  I can explain further.

When asked during the Troy Transit Center advocacy process if the Troy Chamber wanted to contribute to the national debt, the answer was "no".  Understandably, some felt the next logical step was to refuse the federal dollars that had already been assigned to the project.  Not wanting to relinquish an important opportunity, the Chamber sought a method for balancing the need for fiscal conservancy with the ability to compete on a level playing field.  Fortunately, we found it. 

The solution was to identify a business model capable of producing a revenue stream that covers the operating expenses of the facility, thereby reducing the impact on the taxpayer.

What was the end result?  It was a stepped approach to achieving fiscal conservancy/reform, while at the same time preserving the ability to utilize an important tool, and maintain a competitive advantage in the process.

To further the "competitive spirit" point, I'm going to use a metaphor that I expect will resonate in Hockey Town.  It came to me while I was helping my eight-year-old daughter suit up in the locker room.  As each teammate entered the room, the coach advised him/her to lean their hockey stick against the wall, just inside the door, to keep the sticks from getting in the way while the team dressed for the game.  Once the team was suited, and had their pep talk, the coach sent them out the door and reminded them to grab their sticks, just as I'm sure the coach for the opposing team was doing.  

Now what if the stick manufacturer was involved in behaviors deemed detrimental, much like our federal government has been irresponsible in managing its finances?  Should the coach be principled in demanding reform?  Absolutely, but, is the only answer to leave the sticks on the wall, knowing the other team will have theirs in hand?  Maybe not, and it is up to dedicated decision makers to figure out how to hold the manufacturer accountable, while preserving the team's ability to compete.

What are the learning points from all of this?  One, decision makers must find common ground and seek the solutions that preserve a competitive advantage.  Issues cannot be viewed through any single "lens" (e.g. Republican, Democrat, Tea Party, Progressive, liberal, conservative, etc.), for it clouds the solution identification process, and impedes the capacity to problem solve.  Leaders must be willing to have the right conversations, and to commit to orchestrating those conversations in a data driven, respectful fashion.   By abiding to such best practices, our communities will be solid competitors.

Managed controversy, a AAA mindset, and a competitive spirit - do we need anything more to ensure a prominent position in the global marketplace?  Yes, but, fortunately, it is completely within our power to make happen, and that is the will to do so.

And, finally, please consider this your invitation to celebrate the Troy Transit Center when it opens in October of 2013.  It is a symbol of not only smart investment in jobs creating infrastructure, but in the art of problem solving.

Important Resource to Highlight
Crucial Conversations has sold over two million copies, and is a New York Times best seller.  I have had the opportunity to work with the Crucial Conversations team, via Vital Skills International, and am now familiar with the need for "crucial conversations" when stakeholders and, in this case, communities, seek to problem solve.