The 25 Most Influential People in Michigan
“Where are you from?”
Raises left hand, palm-side out, points with right index finger. Then they stare at you.
…”Umm, what are you doing?”
There are subtle nuances Michigan residents convey, foreign to non-Michiganders (yes, pointing to where you’re from on your hand is one of them). Also the fact you drink Vernors. Or the fact going on “vacation” means either taking a trip (a) up north, or (b) to Cedar Point. Or the fact you know what Euchre is.
Michigananders are funloving and passionate people who thrive in their communities — characteristics that make the Mitten State such a special place to live. As one massive entity of blue-collar and white-collar individuals, they pride themselves in their work ethic. Whether from Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Traverse City or the U.P., they thrive on persevering through the tough times, while uniting their communities in the process.
With every great community, there are great leaders; so with the help of former and current Michigan residents working at MyLife, we’ve compiled the 25 most influential people who help build the cities that advance Michigan. Some are obvious, some may be a surprise. But these 25 leaders are all, in one way or another, a shining light on the great state of Michigan.
1. Richard DeVos
Grand Rapids has benefited immensely from the DeVos family. Richard DeVos, co-founder of Amway, and owner of the Orlando Magic, has reinvested his profits into the Grand Rapids community since founding the company in 1959. Forbes lists Mr. Devos as the 60th most wealthy person in the United States, with an estimated net worth of $5 billion. He set his children up for gold, all of whom have given back to the Grand Rapids community. His son, Dan Devos, owns the Grand Rapids Griffins. The Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is named after his wife. And The DeVos Place Convention Center also holds Art Prize, an internationally-respected art event, founded by Richard’s son Rick DeVos. All in all, Grand Rapids is a thriving, safe city (named #1 city to raise a family) and owes much progress and respect to Richard DeVos and his family’s contributions.
2. Dan Gilbert
This man is rebuilding Detroit. He’s the founder of Quicken Loans, is rapidly buying real estate in downtown Detroit to revitalize the city, and is a principal in Detroit Venture Partners. He’s not only restructuring downtown through realty purchases, but he’s supplying jobs. Quicken Loans employs over 8,000 people in the downtown headquarters, many of whom are recent college graduates. Detroit Venture Partners is a venture capital company that funds start-ups and early-stage technology companies in Detroit. He’s not only creating jobs through his companies, but helping others create jobs through their own companies. When he’s not building Detroit, Gilbert is also the majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
3. Michael Illitch
This man is also rebuilding Detroit… through entertainment. Mr. Illitch co-founded Little Caesars Pizza in Garden City with his wife Marian, where it is now headquartered at The Fox Theatre building in Detroit. And if you couldn’t guess, he owns The Fox Theatre. And the Detroit Tigers. Oh yeah… and the Detroit Red Wings. In other words, Mike Illitch practically owns the entire entertainment industry in Detroit. He’s been at the center of downtown Detroit’s redevelopment efforts, but is also an active philanthropist, including the non-profit Illitch Charities.
4. Michael Moore
The renaissance man from Michigan. Michael Moore is an award-winning, outspoken documentary film maker from Flint. He’s produced successful documentaries, such as Fahrenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine, Roger & Me, Sicko, and Capitalism: A Love Story, which have led to him starting the Film Festival in Traverse City. The T.C. Film Festival is a charitable and non-profit organization that has helped the Traverse City economy, including Michael Moore’s help renovating the historic State Theatre in downtown. It has grown to become one of the largest film festivals in the Midwest, and one of the most respected in the country.
5. Nancy M. Schlichting
Nancy Schlichting is the CEO of Henry Ford Health Care, a nationally recognized $4 billion health care organization that employees over 23,000 people. She is credited with leading the health system through a dramatic financial turnaround and for award-winning patient safety, customer service and diversity initiatives. If you’ve ever known anyone in the Henry Ford Health System, tip your hat to Nancy, who is doing everything she can to keep Michigan residents healthy.
6. Tim Allen
The narrator of Pure Michigan commercials, Tim Allen has a voice that swoons tourists all over the country, particularly to Northern Michigan in the warmer months. The Pure Michigan ad campaign has undoubtedly been successful at driving tourism (and money!) to the state after Jennifer Granholm approved a $45 million advertising budget. He dominated the 90′s as Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear and star of Home Improvement, but as the Birmingham-raised resident, it can’t be denied his voiceovers are actually putting money in our state. Plus, we got these videos from it.
7. Rob Bell
Rob Bell is an American author and controversial pastor. He founded the Mars Hill Bible Church, located in Grandville, which was one of the fastest growing churches in America under his leadership. He wrote the New York Times Bestseller, Love Wins, that sparked much debate with Christians. Bell is nationally recognized for his unique views on modern Christianity, including his theory that Hell doesn’t exist. In 2011, he was named in Time Magazine 100 Most Influential People in the World.
8 / 9. Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers
Michigan’s craft beer industry is amongst the best in the country, rivaled by Oregon, Colorado, Washington and California. Co-founders Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers of Founders Brewing company may arguably be the ones leading the charge (sorry Larry Bell, it was a close call). Founders took two spots in the top 20 for best craft beers in the country, according to Beer Advocate, with Bell’s Brewery and Dark Horse Brewing Company close behind. Fun Fact: As of March 2014, Michigan has 123 breweries and brewpubs.
10. Ronda Stryker
Ronda Stryker is the granddaughter of Homer Stryker, founder of Stryker Corporation in Kalamazoo, who has taken her financial blessing from her grandfather to give back to her community. Ronda instills the value of serving others, helping those less fortunate and working every day to make the world a better place. She currently lives in Portage and has an estimated worth of $3.4 billion. MLive declared Ronda Stryker one of “Kalamazoo’s most influential residents” and she recently won the 2013 YWCA Lifetime Woman of Achievement award.
11. Tom Izzo
What would this list be without Tom Izzo? Originally a Uper from Iron Mountain, Izzo became the Spartans’ head coach in 1995. He turned down a five-year, $30 million contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers to stay in East Lansing. It doesn’t get more passionate about your state than that. After Izzo reported to the Michigan State University’s Board of Trustees that he would remain head coach in East Lansing instead of transitioning to the NBA, he stated he was “a Spartan for life.” Now that’s dedication.
12 / 13. Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig
Co-founders of Zingerman’s, Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig run a $40 million gourmet food business group headquartered in Ann Arbor. The company was founded as a single Ann Arbor deli in 1982, but is now the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses (ZCoB), expanded to nine locations around the area. Their unique management and vision got them featured in INC. Magazine and are currently running a management training program, Zingtrain, that helps businesses be more socially responsible leaders. They hope to help build businesses that give back to their community.
14. Calvin Johnson
The NFL was founded in 1920. 94 years of football later, no wide receiver has had more receiving yards in a single season than Calvin Johnson. Lions fan or not, that is astounding. Standing at 6’5″, 240lbs, with a 42.5″ vertical and a 4.35 second 40-yard-dash, Calvin Johnson is a freak of nature. It’s no wonder Michigan residents take pride in the astonishing Lion’s receiver, who’s not only influencing the state, but the entire NFL.
15. Tyree Guyton
Tyree Guyton is uniting the Detroit community through art. The Heidelberg Project, started by Tyree and his grandfather in 1986, is an effort to advance the art movement in Detroit, while unifying the art community. It started as a political protest to revitalize the deteriorating neighborhoods in eastside Detroit, but has expanded to more than that. The Heidelberg Project now has an emerging artist program, lectures and the ACE2 program – which supplements art education in Detroit public schools.
16. Stephen Ross
Born in Detroit and also attended University of Michigan, Stephen Ross is a commercial real estate developer, Miami Dolphins team owner and major benefactor to his alma mater. In his lifetime, Stephen Ross has given University of Michigan $313 million, the second largest amount any person has ever given a university (behind New York City major Michael Bloomberg, who has given John Hopkins University $1.1 billion). The Ross School of Business was renamed as U of M’s business college in 2004 after Mr. Ross donated his first amount at $100 million.
17 / 18. Bob Fish and Mary Roszel
If you’ve never been to a Biggby’s Coffee, founded by Bob Fish and Mary Roszel, you haven’t fully experienced life. Biggby’s Coffee, originally called “Beaner’s Coffee” until Bob changed it (he didn’t realize it was a derogatory term), has delicious coffee and lattes, often with a sweet twist. The company was founded in East Lansing, and began franchising in 1999. To no surprise, it is the fastest growing coffee chain in the United States.
19. Eli Broad
Dedicated to giving away at least 75% of his wealth, Eli Broad has graciously given back to the East Lansing community. He was the primary benefactor for both the MSU Eli Broad College of Business and recently constructed Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum. He is a role model for wealthy individuals, encouraging the wealthiest Americans to donate at least 50% of their wealth back to their communities. Eli and his wife, Edythe, also created the Broad Foundations to advance entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science and the arts. It currently has $2.4 billion in assets.
20. Meijer Family
Yes, we realize the “Meijer Family” consists of multiple people, but generations of the Meijer family have contributed to Michigan. Hendrik Meijer opened the first two Meijer stores in 1949, then was passed down to his son Frederik Meijer – after whom the Frederik Meijer Garden is named. Doug and Hank Meijer, grandchildren of Hendrik, are the current co-chairs of the Michigan-based supermarket. Meijer is headquartered in Walker, but was founded in Greenville, and is the 27th largest retailer in the United States.
21. Lou Anna K. Simon
Lou Anna Simon, president of Michigan State University, has expanded the university’s reach in the state and around the world by focusing MSU’s strengths on building a university that enhances and protects quality of life. This includes clean and affordable energy, access to education, safe and plentiful food, and health care. Simon’s commitment to advancing Michigan’s economic future has been a hallmark of her presidency through her selfless leadership. She declined a pay raise for 4 consecutive years, due to MSU’s challenging financial circumstances. Now that is passion.
22. Mary Sue Coleman
Mary Sue Coleman, president of University of Michigan, was named one of the nation’s “10 best college presidents” by Time Magazine in 2009. Coleman is accredited for leading fundraising efforts outside of the state, which provides less than 10% of funding. Coleman announced in April 2013 she will be retiring as the president, stepping down in June 2014.
23. Kid Rock
Love or hate his music, Kid Rock genuinely cares about Detroit. He’s made numerous philanthropic contributions, including a $50,000 donation to five Detroit-area nonprofits. He has also developed a brand, Made in Detroit, that represents his passion for the city, worn by people all over the state. He has funded a music exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum, a scholarship at Wayne State University and put on a performance to raise $1 million for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Rock also owns a restaurant in Clarkston partially popularized by its feature on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
24. Jalen Rose
Jalen Rose is a former member of the Fab Five, NBA player and current sports analyst on ESPN. But most importantly, he is known for his philanthropic efforts. Jalen puts forth extensive effort to help Detroit, where he started the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy – an open enrollment, public charter high school on the Northwest side of Detroit. The Academy began its first academic year in September 2011 and currently serves over 300 ninth through eleventh grade students from metro-Detroit; an additional freshman class will be added each subsequent year.
Last but not least, the citizens of Michigan are the ones who influence Michigan. All residents. Including you. Whether you’re from Detroit, Traverse City, Grand Rapids, Sault Ste. Marie, Escanaba, Kalamazoo or Flint… all residents are the collective influence that determines the future of Michigan. What you purchase at the grocery store. If you recycle. What you contribute to your community. Take a moment to ask yourself to following questions:
- Do I support Michigan businesses and Michigan farmers by purchasing their goods?
- Do I recycle or donate items I don’t need?
- Do I contribute to my community?
Support what drives our economy. Put others before yourself. Give back. Follow those rules and all citizens can progress Michigan to it’s full potential. Who knows, maybe someday you’ll make a list of Michigan’s most influential people.