GRAND RAPIDS — Following her graduation from Leadership Grand Rapids, Karen Wolf knew she was ready for a new challenge that met the needs of the region.
She found it in her new position as project manager for the Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development project that includes a three-year, $15 million grant for the seven-county West Michigan region.
“It opened my eyes up to so many things in my own community,” she said of Leadership Grand Rapids, a community leadership program connecting business, government and nonprofit leaders.
Wolf, who was previously vice president of The Right Place Inc. and regional director of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center for 17 counties in West Michigan, said her experience has prepared her for the new position, in which she will report to a 15-member policy council and will help guide the project through its 12 economic innovation initiatives.
“The knowledge I learned from that premier organization and its leadership prepared me very well to take on a leadership role in this economic opportunity,” she said.
Wolf has also been the president of Marine Specialties Group, a provider of soft-surface materials and design equipment to original equipment manufacturers and the president of Topdeq Corp., an international mail order and Internet distributor of European office furniture and accessories. During her time at Topdeq, she established Topdeq Holding GmbH in the United States. She has worked for Steelcase as president of Steelcase International and has earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in management from Aquinas College.
Wolf said working for those organizations gave her a diverse experience that working for one company would not have given her.
“Those things well prepared me to have a regional perspective and be collaborative,” she said.
Though her first day on the job was July 24, Wolf said she is already well into the project, working with the technical aspects and meeting with the policy council.
“I really started my first two days, not just at a jog, but at a full dash,” she said. “I feel incredibly responsible to the region and those who put their confidence in me to lead this project.”
Wolf said her goals are to keep the different “champions” of the initiatives working together and collaborating; getting to know the policy committee and their strengths; and helping people to understand that changes need to be made.
“My overriding theme in this is we’re at the moment in time where the status quo is not acceptable,” she said, which means there is a need to create awareness of the need to change, set up the infrastructure to facilitate change, and then start making the changes.
“I am 100 percent confident that we are going to achieve amazing things, that we will become a role model, not just for the region but … for the nation and the world.”
Greg Northrup, president of the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, which has facilitated the project, said Wolf was chosen from a field of 33 regional applicants.
“She’s demonstrated her ability to deal with creativity and innovation,” he said. “We’re really pleased to have her on board.”