CEO mentoring group marks impacts

Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring celebrates success, sets new diversity goals.
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Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring (JEM) is heading into its second decade with an expansion into nonprofit mentoring and a stronger focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Since its inception in 2010, JEM has graduated 77 CEOs from its three-year mentoring program that aims to strengthen the next generation of leaders in the community.

JEM recently celebrated its 10th and 11th years of the program, due to last year’s COVID-19 constraints, recognizing two graduating classes and their mentors.

Mike Jandernoa said he believes developing better leaders results in stronger businesses. Courtesy Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring

“Our goal has always been to develop better leaders that would in turn build stronger businesses,” said Mike Jandernoa, JEM founder and former CEO of Perrigo. “Because if we have stronger businesses and leaders, it will benefit West Michigan community members for generations to come.”

The program pairs an average of 10 mentees per year who run a business with at least $1 million in revenue with mentors who are currently at the helm or retired from successful companies with at least $5 million in revenue. The mentees must have a strong desire to grow personally and professionally and have a minimum of four full-time employees.

Initially, Jandernoa tapped former Meijer CEO Paul Boyer and former Etna Supply President Russ Visner as mentors. Over the past 11 years, the list of mentors grew to include over 50 CEOs from various industries, including banking, health care, manufacturing and technology.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to take what we’ve learned in our career and use our experience to help another business executive,” said Visner, who has worked as a mentor with Brad Playford since 2010. “Many newer CEOs have the talent and the drive to grow their business but just need a little help to put the pieces together.”

Playford was one of the first mentees to join JEM. He is CEO of AvaSure, a telehealth company he founded in 2008, which received a sizable equity investment from New York-based Goldman Sachs and Nashville, Tennessee-based Heritage Group earlier this year. Playford also is the first mentee to become a mentor, a commitment JEM sees as contributing to the program’s long-term sustainability.

“It’s hard to express all the benefits I’ve received from being a part of JEM, but the most important, perhaps, is the friendship I’ve developed with Russ, who has been a constant sounding board for me as we talked through decisions that helped me grow my company,” Playford said. “I’m excited to be able to give some of that wisdom back to my community by serving as a mentor for an incoming applicant.”

While a new mentor is required to commit for three years, many are willing to sign up for additional time because of the experience, personal relationships and success of the mentees, JEM said. For example, Visner and others on the founding board just started working with their fourth mentee. 

Meredith Bronk is president and CEO of OST, a technology business in Grand Rapids. She has been a part of the JEM program since August 2015, when she was matched with her mentor, Dave Killoran, former president of ODL Inc.

“JEM’s leadership program recognizes that each company’s situation is unique, and every mentee brings a different skill set to their new leadership position,” Killoran said.

Bronk said being Killoran’s mentee was “the single-biggest contributor” to her growth in her first few years as a CEO.

“He demonstrated care for me personally and provided clarity, guidance, challenge and an experienced perspective that I didn’t even realize I needed,” Bronk said. “I knew I could count on him to ask great questions, to point out things that I hadn’t considered and to get me thinking like a CEO.”

Bronk joined the JEM board this fall.

Scott Lewis is president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids and one of the first nonprofit leaders to work with JEM in its nonprofit pilot program, which was developed in consultation with Michelle Van Dyke, of Heart of West Michigan United Way, and Kathy Crosby, of Goodwill of Greater Grand Rapids. Lewis’s mentor is Mark Murray, former president of Meijer and Grand Valley State University. Lewis is the first African American mentee in the group as JEM looks to diversify the program and make it more equitable and inclusive.

“Even with this being a very different year, it has still been a powerful experience for me,” Lewis said. “There is no playbook but having the experience and perspective from Mark has helped me navigate through complex issues, reaffirm my thinking and decisions and (has) pushed me to think about areas I would not have felt were necessary in the midst of a crisis.”

Murray said adding nonprofits to the mix has been an interesting challenge due to how different they are from for-profit businesses.

“At a certain scale, many of the issues are very similar — leadership, communication, strategic focus and financial stability are essential in both domains,” he said.

Jandernoa and Brandon Eisentrager, executive director of JEM, said the nonprofit pilot is in its second year and besides Lewis, the first group of mentees includes Dennis Van Kampen, president and CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries; Afton DeVos, president of Kids’ Food Basket; and Jessica Johns, co-founder and executive director of The StoreHouse, with likely two more joining in the coming year.

Eisentrager and Jandernoa said the nonprofits they take on need to have at least $2.5 million in revenue and be funded by a mix of sources other than pure fundraising, which eliminates many of the nonprofits in Grand Rapids.

“We want to finish this pilot with the nonprofits and hopefully that will be successful, so that will be a piece of our future going forward,” Jandernoa said. 

Moving forward, JEM is taking steps toward encouraging women and business leaders of color to join the program, including establishing relationships with the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Entrepreneur Support Organization, the Grand Rapids Chamber and Start Garden to stay engaged with those who are just starting businesses. It recently offered up its JEM Ambassador group to provide one-year mentorships to the winners of Start Garden’s 100 Ideas pitch competition. Eisentrager said through that, JEM hopes to create a strong pipeline of new and more diverse businesses that eventually make it to multimillion-dollar revenue goals and can enter the JEM program.

JEM also is in the process of diversifying its board — which has been the same since the beginning and now has some members preparing to step down. In addition, JEM is working to develop an advisory board made up of younger and more diverse talent from the business community, who are not necessarily CEOs but can help bring a DEI focus to the group.

Those interested in joining the JEM program can obtain more information at jandernoamentoring.com or by contacting Eisentrager at (616) 325-2112 or brandon@jandernoamentoring.org.

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