Inside Track: King engages heart for others in new role

As CEO of Gun Lake Investments, new leader embraces ‘seven grandfather teachings’ to put people first.
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Monica King said she was drawn to GLI by its mission of putting people first. Courtesy DWH

Although she does not have Indigenous heritage, Monica King has embraced the seven grandfather teachings of the Three Fires Confederacy — love, bravery, humility, respect, honesty, wisdom and truth — in her new role as CEO of Gun Lake Investments.

King started working in an advisory capacity for Grand Rapids-based Gun Lake Investments (GLI) — the economic development corporation (EDC) of the southwest Michigan-based Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, aka Gun Lake Tribe — in 2018 while she was in leadership at the consulting firm DWH in Grand Rapids.

Upon Kurt Trevan’s resignation from his role as GLI’s CEO in July 2021, King became interim CEO. The organization hired her as its permanent CEO, effective Jan. 1.

GLI is the tribally owned, nongaming investment arm of the Gun Lake Tribe. It manages a portfolio of equity and debt investments in real estate and operating companies and is focused on diversifying the tribal economy, ensuring the financial foundation for the tribe for generations to come. 

With more than 20 years of history in finance and operations at companies of varying size and scope, King brings to GLI experience in managing acquisitions, integrations, and infrastructure development and implementation.

She said she was drawn to the mission of GLI — “putting people first” — from day one.

“It’s so much more than just financial returns,” she said. “They really want to be good stewards of the community, and what really resonates with me is the ‘how.’ … Gun Lake and (the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi, which owns Waséyabek Development Company), they lead with the ‘seven grandfather teachings,’ (including) love, bravery, humility, respect. Those are openly talked about in business, and for me, that is amazing. I’m a real empath and empathy is so important — along with respecting and understanding and building relationships. For someone in business to talk about love, that’s normally just a foreign concept.”

King, whose paternal heritage is Chinese, grew up in Kalamazoo in a blue-collar family. Her father worked in various roles throughout his career at the automotive and aerospace supplier Parker Hannifin, and he and her mother emphasized the values of hard work and being a good person. She was the first individual on both sides of her family to graduate from college, earning a Bachelor of Business Administration in accounting with a minor in marketing from Western Michigan University after first earning an associate degree from Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

MONICA KING

Organization: Gun Lake Investments

Position: CEO

Age: 42

Birthplace: Kalamazoo

Residence: Schoolcraft

Family: Husband, Brad, and two kids, Nolan and Natalie

Business/community involvement: Junior Achievement of the Great Lakes board member; volunteer with Bronson Healthcare over the years, including serving on the patient family advisory committee, volunteering as a patient advocate, doing public speaking, sharing patient stories and helping with internal projects.

Biggest career break: Gaining discipline and experience in the automotive world at Eaton Corporation, starting her own consulting firm, then helping to diversify a turnaround firm, DWH, where she assisted with establishing a tribal practice that eventually led her to Gun Lake Investments.

“I ended up taking an accounting class in high school, and I really liked it. I also learned in high school that I was dyslexic … and I stuck with accounting because what resonated with me was always ‘balancing,’” King said. “… I was drawn to numbers, but I also found out pretty quickly in my career that I didn’t want to be a typical accountant (who) did book work all the time. I was a really big ‘people person’ and liked to be out and about.”

Channeling that love of people and being on the move, King gravitated to the operations side of the automotive industry in her work at Eaton Corporation, rising from collections specialist to financial planning manager for a division between 2001 and 2008, a job that involved travel and plenty of people interactions. She said although she gained “structure, discipline and experience” at Eaton, the wear-and-tear of being a woman in a corporate culture within a male-dominated industry took its toll, and she was ready for her next opportunity.

After a brief stint as a cost manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific, she moved on to become director of finance and human resources at Alliant Healthcare Products, a job she held until 2011.

Right around then, a pair of family health crises led King to pivot and begin her foray into consulting, first at Alliant, then on her own. Her mother had a massive brain hemorrhage, sending her into a coma, then six days later her nephew was born prematurely with two rare conditions. Her mom and nephew spent six months in the trauma department and neonatal intensive care unit, respectively, and by the year mark, they had undergone 38 separate surgeries racking up $1 million in insurance claims.

King began speaking out on her family’s experience within the health care system, becoming a vocal patient advocate at Bronson Healthcare and spending long hours at her family members’ bedsides, while also shifting her day job at Alliant into more of a turnaround consulting, project management role. 

On the other side of the table during that turnaround project was DWH, the firm at which she eventually would become managing partner and CEO.

In 2012, she left Alliant to start her own firm, M. King Consulting, which provided finance and operational guidance to many industries.

While she was in Grand Rapids working with other clients, she joined forces with DWH on a project, then the firm hired her in 2015 to help transform its operations. She entered as COO and helped diversify the staff, then concentrated on adding all types of transition services, not just turnaround, including growth planning, succession planning, performance improvement and financial advisory services, to expand DWH into a general management consulting firm.

As part of its evolution into growth planning services, DWH took on Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi (NHBP) as a client in the early years of it growing its EDC, Waséyabek Development Company.

“I was one of the first people out on the reservation discussing what was going on with Waséyabek, and that’s when we started working with them, and for me, that opened the relationship up,” King said. “I grew up fairly close to Pine Creek Reservation (home of the NHBP) and was really interested in what Nottawaseppi was doing, and so when we got the chance to help work with their EDC, that was really critical, too, and a pivotal mark in the history of the firm.”

In 2018, considering the fact DWH was working on strategic planning, M&A and other services for Waséyabek, the latter acquired the former, and King continued on as a minority owner and managing partner and CEO for DWH.

The acquisition launched DWH’s tribal practice, and during the past three years, DWH has worked with multiple tribes’ EDCs, King said. One of those was GLI, which was based only a couple buildings away from DWH on Monroe Avenue NW in downtown Grand Rapids. 

King met Trevan at this point, and he told her his trust in her grew when DWH became tribally owned.

“Jumping into the tribal practice, trust is huge, and that’s one of the things that I love with Gun Lake, is developing trusting relationships,” she said.

Two years into DWH’s new ownership, Waséyabek and GLI partnered to buy the McKay Tower in downtown Grand Rapids in June 2020.

By then, she had been working behind the scenes in operations for GLI as part of the tribal practice for a couple of years, but with DWH majority owned by Waséyabek, her colleagues teased her at the opening ceremony for McKay Tower, “You’re sitting on the wrong side.”

King continued helping GLI with the operations of its subsidiaries, staffing, and the implementation of systems and processes, until Trevan announced his departure in July, setting in motion her path to the firm’s top leadership role.

She said GLI has demonstrated since the very beginning that love toward all its stakeholders is “in its DNA.”

“We prioritize people. When we look at investment decisions, it’s like, how are we going to impact the community with this? Is this good for everybody? It’s incredible. We have meetings when we talk through our strategy, and everything is with the foundation of those (seven) teachings,” she said. “The goal is sustainability for the long term. Everything that’s done is with the vision of future generations; it’s not about the now so much.”

She said she appreciates GLI’s community investment, financially and through volunteerism, and especially the way it supports other tribes in the area.

King is proud of the fact GLI already closed two deals in the first quarter of the fiscal year that started in October, and it also has several development projects underway, and this month will begin updating its strategic plan for the next five to 10 years.

On a personal level, King said she will continue to be a lifelong learner, including attending the first-ever “Tribal Governance: Sovereignty through Self-determination,” course at WMU, which the university developed in partnership with members of the Pokagon, Gun Lake and NHBP tribes and which is being taught by Sam Morseau, a member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. The course will cover topics such as Indigenous leadership, the path to recognition, nation rebuilding and sustainable sovereignty.

“Over the years, from what I’ve seen, Native American history has not necessarily been presented the best in our schools, so to have a course like this at the college level is incredible,” King said.

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