Summit aims to color region as ‘mecca’ for leadership development

TRAVERSE CITY – Dominique Jaurola, Chandran Nair, Matthew Neagle. Who are these people? While their names may not be familiar to everyone, they are coming to Traverse City to share their stories, offer their insights and most importantly, talk and listen to you.

For two days in late October, seven "social and economic innovators" will lead the first annual Corporate Leadership and Sustainability Summit (CLASS). Buzzwords? Maybe. Big ideas? Definitely. In our own backyard? You bet.

The speakers bring global perspectives, with professions and projects that cross the globe – from Rwanda, Nepal and Hong Kong to Google, NASA and Nokia. Perhaps Doug Luciani said it best when asked how he would reply if one of his Chamber of Commerce members asked him why they should go. "If a person in business is interested in being around for the long-term, this is the kind of information they should be craving."

Presented by the Utopia Foundation in partnership with the Chamber and Northwestern Michigan College, the summit is designed to push people to think about where they want to be 5, 10, 20-plus years from now and what to do today to make that happen. Sustainability – it's not just about the environment anymore.

For Paul Sutherland, Utopia Foundation chairman, it's all about inspiration.

"Managing a successful business is about the future, " Sutherland said. "This is not an economic development plan, not a tax break. This is about inspiration, ideas and intentional action."

For local business leaders, heads of nonprofits, community leaders, social entrepreneurs and others, this summit offers a chance for them to think about their future by standing in it. It's an idea cultivated by Dominique Jaurola, a founding member of the Association of Professional Futurists (among many other things) and one of the summit's speakers. She and her co-presenters will talk about how to take good ideas and intentions and turn them into profitable solutions that support economic, social and environmental challenges and fit into the larger context of corporate values.

"The topics to be covered at the summit represent leadership characteristics and values that go beyond 'Leadership 101,'" said Luciani. "They are the fundamentals being practiced and honed by successful business leaders regardless of size."

Fundamentals that Sutherland promises will be delivered in the most practical of fashions.

"If participants don't walk away with 100 new ideas on their to-do list, then they should ask for a refund," he said.

Thinking sustainably is just common sense, according to Sutherland.

"We have an obligation to try to be successful, to try to make things sustainable. People have to be willing to completely re-look at the way they run their business and understand how to 'scenario out,' modifying today for five years from now."

Added Luciani, "This event provides a building block for leaders, as well as an opportunity for business people to surround themselves with others who are interested in more than just survival."

So what do these people know about Traverse City?

"They know the condition of Michigan's economy and the human drain in this state," said Program Director Marilyn Fitzgerald. "And human resources is part of sustainability. Michigan is in dire need of keeping people here."

Sutherland said the opportunity to network with both the speakers and other attendees is a key focus of the event.

"In Traverse City we don't network enough," he said. The summit is being marketed both statewide and nationally, so while it will be hosted in our hometown, it is designed to have a diverse flavor.

And for those who are wondering about the timing of the summit, when so many businesses are so focused on the day-to-day issues of staying afloat, organizers say the timing couldn't be better.

"This is exactly the time to come and understand there are other ways," said Fitzgerald.

The Corporate Leadership and Sustainability Summit takes place Oct. 23 and 24 at the Hagerty Center in Traverse City. For more information, visit www.utopiafound.org. BN

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