Mike’s Leadership Lesson

Posted in Blog on April 07, 2022

Mike’s Leadership Lesson

By Jennifer Owens, President Lakeshore Advantage

Always stay calm, keep up on the latest technology, and never stop innovating. These are a few of the many lessons shared by my mentor Mike Finney. Mike, CEO of the Miami-Dade Partnership and former CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), unexpectedly passed away last week from a sudden heart attack. His leadership lessons will live on in me and so many others.

Our working relationship goes back 20 years. We worked together in his first role at Michigan Economic Development Corporation and at Ann Arbor SPARK. Mike always had this calm, cool demeanor that made you want to work with him. I don’t think I ever once heard him raise his voice.

Mike loved to mentor up-and-coming talent. I remember Mike proudly sharing that five of his former employees went on to lead their own economic development organizations. I would be the sixth when I accepted my current position as President of Lakeshore Advantage seven years ago. My go-to when I faced a career opportunity or challenge, Mike was one of the first people I called when I got my job offer.

In his first MEDC role, he headed the technology development sector. Always making news, Mike created MEDC’s Life Sciences Corridor Initiative and developed innovative tools like the SmartZone program. At the time, I was the media gatekeeper charged with monitoring and coaching staff on all media engagement. Mike sometimes made that role a bit challenging. He was always giving the media his cell phone number to call him directly. Even if I wasn’t listening in or setting up his media calls, he always delivered great information. His innovative mind helped make MEDC one of the best economic development organizations in the country.

Even though he didn’t always follow the rules, I knew if I worked with Mike again, I would continue to grow. I jumped at the chance to lead the business development efforts at Ann Arbor SPARK as part of Mike’s team in 2009.

It was then I learned that Mike was a technology aficionado. He was always the first to get the newest iPhone, wearable device, or find some new app to save time. When I was having issues with my phone or Mac, he would say, “Bring it in here, I’ll fix it.” When Mike was in the office, it was like having our own Apple Genius Bar.

Mike taught me so much about leadership. He had a completely open-door policy in that his office literally didn’t have a door. He didn’t want one, as he preferred our team members talking to him when in the office versus sending internal emails. Even someone like Mike who embraced technology knew the tremendous importance of face-to-face communication.

This approach created a family-like environment amongst the SPARK team members. There was nothing we couldn’t do together. We attracted major wins like Barracuda Networks, a Google expansion, and launched a return home to Michigan talent attraction campaign, MICHAGAIN, which extended statewide.

In 2011, my heart broke a bit when Mike told me he was leaving Ann Arbor SPARK to head the MEDC. He made a hard press for me to come along with him, but my heart was in local economic development. Even though I declined his job offer, Mike always took my calls, consistently there for me personally and professionally.

We both have the privilege of having three boys. He regularly gave me advice on living in a house with three sons. One of the best was, “don’t buy new furniture until they are out of the house. They will just wreck it.” He loved his wife, Gina, and his boys with all his heart, even if it meant new furniture would have to wait.

When we last met up in September, he shared an update on his boys. They were all thriving which made him proud. He was loving his next great role as grandfather. He was starting to plan for what he and Gina would do in his retirement. He had plans to travel, work on his golf game, and spend as much time as possible with his grandkids.

Sadly, his retirement plans won’t become reality. I know Mike is looking down, so proud of the legacy he left behind. The lessons he imparted to me, and many others will continually be paid forward. The impact he made on the communities he helped to lead is lasting. Most importantly, the thriving family that he and Gina built together stands strong. Now it's up to us to support his family, embrace today, and carry Mike’s leadership lessons forward.