Q&A: Cindy Brown


Cindy Brown. Courtesy Hello West Michigan

Editor’s note: Each Q&A in the Influential Women enewsletter will feature a woman from the region who’s influential, a rising face in her industry or doing interesting work. Submit tips on potential Q&A subjects to tgortsema at grbj dot com.

Cindy Brown serves as the executive director for Hello West Michigan, a talent attraction and retention organization promoting West Michigan as "a great place" to live and work.

Under Brown’s leadership, Hello West Michigan has grown its membership, programming and regional awareness, helping establish West Michigan as "a destination for top talent."

Through Hello West Michigan’s strategic partnership with The Right Place, Brown also serves as the vice president of talent initiatives and collaborates with other talent-related organizations to address regional talent pipeline challenges.

Biggest career break?

I was working my way up in in management at Enterprise Rent-A-Car when our general manager met with me to discuss a new opportunity — recruiting supervisor. I was great at sales and was moving up with the company at a quick pace. This opportunity was a step away from the management career path that I was on. The recruiting supervisor position was the start of my work in the talent field and workforce development. 

Proudest moment? 

I was awarded for the West Michigan Woman Brilliance Award in the Connector category this past May. I wasn’t expecting to win with two other fantastic women nominated in the category. To me, it was more of an award for Hello West Michigan and the impact it has on our community, connecting talent with companies. It validated the work that our member companies, board of directors, program manager and I have done the past few years to attract and retain talent in the region. 

Best advice you’ve ever received?

When I was in high school, I was a student athlete. Growing up with a very competitive brother and several guy friends, I was used to competing with both men and women. One day, a guy challenged me to a free-throw contest. He also happened to have asked me to homecoming previously, so the situation made me doubt whether I should give it my all. I asked my dad, and we talked for a bit. His advice was, “Don’t let up. Always give it your all no matter who is your opponent or what the challenge is.”

How did you make your first dollar (excluding babysitting)?

I worked a lot during my teenage years for family and friends and spent a lot of time volunteering for my athletic teams and church. My first official dollar was at Saginaw Harness Raceway as a teller. 

Most-treasured possession? 

The basketball from the game where I scored my 1,000th career point in high school. All of my teammates signed it, and it is still displayed at my house today. To me, it is a symbol of a goal achieved through teamwork, hard work, scrappiness and determination.

Dream job? 

My dream job has always been to be CEO of Disney. My parents took us there for the first time when I was eight years old. I was intrigued with Walt Disney and how he conceptualized his ideas for Disney World and created an environment for people to be happy. The reason I felt it would be a dream job is not to make everyone happy, but how to make the park the happiest place on earth. The CEO’s responsibility is to keep it the happiest place on earth — take care of challenges, think of innovative solutions to create an experience and cultivate a great group of cast members who ensure an awesome guest experience.

But lately, I believe that the position that I have now, executive director of Hello West Michigan, is a pretty cool dream job. We attract talent back to West Michigan, educate people on what West Michigan has to offer and connect candidates with employers who are looking for talent. Working with candidates who want to come back home is very rewarding, particularly after you hear how their lives and their families’ lives have changed since moving back to Michigan.

If you were president for a day, you would … ?

I would invite busloads of school kids to tour the White House, so I could sit and talk with them about what the job is like. Most kids are only exposed to the jobs of the people around them, like parents or relatives. I would want to expose them to all of the different types of jobs that are out there and talk to them about what it takes to get there. Being president for only a day isn’t much time, but in that short time, I’d want to teach children and inspire them to learn and open up their eyes to the possibilities. 

Last book you read?

This interview at a good time. Normally, I read books to take me away from the day-to-day situations I experience, but a book I just finished is titled “Fish! For Life: A Remarkable Way to Achieve Your Dreams.” Back when I was at Enterprise, we used the “Fish!” philosophy to train our employees on amazing customer service and positive attitudes. Once, when at a conference in Seattle, I had the opportunity to sit and observe the workers at the Pike Place Fish Market, on whom the “Fish!” philosophy is based, and those images have stuck. Over the years, I have continued to use the four ingredients of “Fish!” in each role I’ve had: play; make their day; be there; and choose your attitude. The book focuses in on how to use the “Fish!” philosophy outside of work with family and friends. 

Last search term you googled?

Joggers. Our nephew asked for these on his Christmas list. Come to find out, they are pants, not people. Funny enough, they remind me of the same style of sweatpants I wore as a student-athlete many moons ago.

Your worst habit? 

Not being able to say no. I came from an “always say yes” culture. Lately, I’ve really had to re-train myself to say no to things that don’t line up with my goals, so I have time to say yes to the right opportunities.

To unwind, you like to … ?

When the weather cooperates, I like to sit outside, with Birkenstocks, Kindle, baseball hat, Adirondack chair, Jimmy Buffet music, with my husband Dave and dog Charlie hanging out in the sun. During the winter, I move that indoors with a fire in the fireplace. 

Dream vacation? 

While I would love to take a trip to Hawaii, my husband and I met while interning at Walt Disney World. It has a special place in our hearts. 

Favorite food?

My favorite food is pierogi, the Polish potato dumpling. They were a regular staple in my 100-percent Polish household growing up. Right after we moved to Grand Rapids years ago, we came to realize that Grand Rapids is an area rich in Polish heritage, with many Polish halls and annual Pulaski Days celebration. Three years ago, I joined the Pulaski Days Board and am very proud to help continue the celebration of Polish heritage in Grand Rapids.

Person you most admire?

Narrowing it down to just one person is tough — the people I most admire are my parents. Twenty-nine years ago, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was teaching grade school at the time and continued as long as she physically could until the cancer compromised her immune system, and she had to retire. In the last 29 years, she has had over 30 procedures. Not only has she fought hard as a survivor, she has shown me how to be a great wife and partner. My dad worked at General Motors, and when my mom was diagnosed, he was her rock. In an age of no internet, information was hard to come by — he stayed by her side, and his strength helped her through a lot. They have encouraged my brother and I to dream big and follow through with hard work. My brother owns his own company and is the hardest-working person I know. Mom and dad, who have been married over 53 years, are role models for my brother and I on the importance of family, hard work and volunteerism.  

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