The Generation That Will Save Detroit

Amy Elliott Bragg, author of Hidden History of Detroit and MC/Toastmaster at #DetroitLove

Last week – July 24th, to be exact – was the 312th anniversary of the founding of the City of Detroit. Not too many people were paying much attention, because most people were  too busy discussing the recent bankruptcy filing by the city and offering their not-so-expert analysis, opinion, and insight, regardless of whether they have ever been anywhere near the intersection of  Woodward and Jefferson.

But there were some who cared about Founders Day, as it used to be called, and knew the importance of acknowledgement and celebration. So celebrations were arranged.

I attended one of those celebrations, called Detroit Love, which was sponsored by an organization called Forward Arts  (with assistance from other Detroit non-profits).


During that party – and it was a party – I was struck by the fact that almost all of the people in the room showing their love and concern for the City of Detroit were a lot younger than me. In fact, I was pretty sure that I was the only person over 50 in the whole restaurant, with maybe a handful of people over 35.

Almost all of the celebrants belonged to Generation Y.

This generation of young adults,- also called Millennials, Millenniums, or Echo Boomers – gets a pretty bad rap from some sociologists and scholars. They are derided as Generation “Me”, with experts claiming that they are narcissistic trophy kids with a sense of entitlement.

But when it comes to the City of Detroit, they are the generation that senses the need to do something to ensure that the city has the kind of future it deserves. They are entrepreneurs and educators, preservers and promoters, adventurers and optimists. Look at the list of organizations that Forward Arts gave thanks to in the picture above. Almost all were founded by, or are driven and staffed and nurtured by, Millennials.

The problems that face the City of Detroit, including its recent slide into bankruptcy, are complex. They have been decades, not months or years, in the making. They have been smoldering and festering before the Millennials were born.  Gen Y, like Billy Joel sings, didn’t start the fire.

But Baby Boomers and Gen Xers stand around arguing about how the fire started and the best way to put it out. In fact, on the very same anniversary day as the Detroit Love celebration, somewhere between 70 and 100 lawyers packed into a federal courtroom to attend a hearing and argue about whether or not the Detroit bankruptcy filing was legal. While there was no reporting of the generational makeup of those lawyers, I will lay big money that there were very few from Generation Y.

Instead of arguing over how to put out the fire, those kids are too busy dragging in their fire hoses and optimistically working to save what needs to be saved.

Detroit is not going to be fixed by lawyers in a courtroom or a professional financial manager. Detroit will ultimately be fixed by people who believe in her, and are willing to live, work, and play in her boundaries, investing in and promoting her historical and cultural richness.

Right now the only group that seems to be doing that is Generation Y.

The Start-up of You = My First (and Last?) Book Review

I have no idea why publishers send me business books.

I received my first one about 18 months ago, when my blog was around a year old. It came in the mail without note or explanation. I knew that other bloggers in the HR/workplace space got books to review, but I couldn’t understand why I was one of them. I had never appeared on a top 5, 10 or 25 list – and still haven’t.  I had (and still have) a comparatively small readership. I am not winning any awards, monetarily or otherwise, writing this blog.

What I like to do is tell stories. I start far too many sentences with the words “when I . . .” in my posts. So it’s obvious that the book publishers haven’t read my blog, or they wouldn’t waste their money sending me their books. What am I going to say?  ” When I read your book I . . .fell asleep?”

I don’t even like to read business books. Like most motivational books, I find them to be overly simplistic and over-generalized. Transformation, either personal or professional, rarely comes from reading a book or following 5 simple steps.

So why am I writing about The Start-up of You?

One reason is because the publishers actually sent me a email asking me if I would be interested in receiving a copy of the book. They may not have read my blog, but at least they took the initiative of actually finding my email and sending me a request. I was dazzled by the politeness of it all.

And author Reid Hoffman founded LinkedIn. I like LinkedIn. So I started reading his book.

I made it through the first chapter and stopped.

I stopped after that first chapter because a good chunk of the chapter is devoted to the domestic automobile industry and the city of Detroit. The author basically states that the decline of the auto industry caused the decline of the geographical region. He admits, in one whole sentence, that “there are other complicating factors” in that decline, and that “the story . . .isn’t simple.”

No kidding.

There are a lot of Detroiters who get really upset about this kind of bashing, but I’m not one of them. The region is very, very sick – and admitting it is the first step to recovery, right?  What bothers me is that this guy from California thinks he knows anything about Detroit and its ills, and that if you behave like Silicon Valley instead of Detroit, as he ultimately advocates, everything will be better.

Mr. Hoffman, I lived in metro Detroit in 1967 during the race riots. I watched our region suffer immensely in the 70’s as the now-polarized political and racial factions fought with each other over direction and control of the entire region. When the businesses that drove the regional economy, like the auto industry, began to suffer no one was paying attention because they were still fighting over turf. I could go on, but I hope you get the point. After living my first 57 years in Detroit, I know there are lots of reasons why the auto industry and Detroit declined and Silicon Valley – your hometown, by the way – succeeded.

So I quit reading after that, because anything else the book may have said wouldn’t be credible, in my opinion.

I guess that’s my story. 😉




Kwame and Compuware – A Perfect Match?

Everyone in the greater Detroit area is buzzing about Kwame Kilpatrick.  In case you don’t know who he is – here’s a short introduction from his (really long) Wikipedia entry :

Kwame Kilpatrick (born June 8, 1970) is the former mayor of Detroit, Michigan. When elected at the age of 31, he was the youngest mayor in the history of Detroit. Kilpatrick’s mayorship was plagued by numerous scandals and rampant accusations of corruption, with the mayor eventually resigning after being charged with ten felony counts, including perjury and obstruction of justice.  Kilpatrick was sentenced to four months in jail after pleading guilty to reduced charges, but with good time awarded to county jail inmates in Michigan, he was released on probation after serving ninety-nine days. On May 25, 2010, he was sentenced to 18 months to 5 years in prison for violating his probation.

Detroiters are buzzing  because of that last sentence.  Going to prison for a probation violation is newsworthy when the prisoner is Kwame Kilpatrick, and whether prison is too harsh a sentence for a probation violator is the topic du jour.

But no one is talking about Compuware, who is an interesting player in this whole drama.  For the uninformed, here’s what happened: Almost immediately after being released from his original jail sentence, in February 2009, Kwame Kilpatrick landed a 6-figure “account executive”  job (allegedly selling medical software) with Covisint,  a subsidiary of Compuware.  He had no experience, and was a convicted felon – convicted of lying in court. Under oath.  Just the skills needed for a sales executive job, right?

The CEO of Compuware, Peter Karmanos, Jr., was a supporter of Kwame and a financial contributor, so everyone just dismissed that job, and the fact that it was handed to Kwame on a silver platter, as business as usual. But what message is sent about the culture and corporate responsibility of Compuware?  Why wasn’t the judgment of Karmanos questioned more by the media and other observers at the time? Or is cronyism and political back-scratching just a fact of business life?  I find Compuware’s actions to be particularly shameful, given the economic downturn at the time, and the fact that Compuware employees were being  simultaneously terminated. Perhaps Kwame and Compuware are perfectly matched – both being corrupt, greedy, arrogant, and impossible to shame.

In case you hadn’t heard, Compuware/Covisint fired Kwame on Tuesday, about an hour after he was led away from court in handcuffs.  Their statement?

“It’s an unfortunate situation, and we feel bad for his family, but our hands are tied.”

I guess that Compuware’s hands weren’t tied until Kwame actually lost the ability to show up in Dallas (where he was based) once in a while. They are paying him until the end of the month, though.

So what do you think?  Is Compuware a poor corporate citizen with a bad CEO to boot?  Did they enable Kwame to misbehave by handing him an undeserved job and income?  Does everyone deserve a chance to overcome their past, including people like Kwame?  Your comments, please!

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Vendor Loyalty – Or Not?

novi to garden city

I live in the metro Detroit area of Michigan at Point A (the northern point) on this map.  Point B is where I used to live.  It’s a 30 minute/15 mile drive between the two, give or take a few miles and minutes. The metro Detroit area is the 11th largest in the country, densely packed, and almost any consumer service is nearby no matter where you live.  I can get to a CVS pharmacy in less than a minute. On foot.

But I still use businesses located in Point B to provide me services – specifically my hairdresser and my dentist – even though I haven’t lived there in over 20 years.

It was during a visit to the dentist a couple of weeks ago when the subject somehow got around to the frequency of my visits to Point B.  My dentist thought it was ludicrous that I go to Point B at least once a month to get my hair cut.

Him: “How many hairdressers do you think you pass before you get here?”

Me: “About the same number of dentists I pass.”

Him: “Yes, but they aren’t GOOD dentists.”

His point was, of course, that hairdressers are minor, unskilled functionaries who deserve no loyalty, and that he was in a different class.  In my book, though, both provide excellent service at a fair price, know me and my needs very well, and are friendly guys that I can talk to while they are performing their magic.  I’ve been using their services for over 20 years and I am loyal to both. Given those advantages, a longer-than-necessary drive seems a  minor inconvenience.

I can’t say I have afforded the same loyalty to business vendors.  In almost 10 years, I changed every vendor I had the power to change, and tried to change at least one other (and was overruled by my business partner).  I will argue that I had good reasons to do so (lower cost, more efficient, better product, etc.) and, after all (shades of Tom Hanks in “You’ve Got Mail”), it’s not PERSONAL, it’s BUSINESS.

But that comment by my dentist made me wonder if that is the right approach.  Would I have received better service and a better product from a vendor if I had showed more loyalty? Is there any reason to be loyal to a business vendor?  What’s your experience?

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