Family Business Forum


Spotlights Challenges, Benefits Follow the lineage of many businesses back to their beginnings and chances are there will be a family involved. According to Harvard Business School, half of all companies in the U.S. are family businesses. Closer to home, 45 percent of Northwood students report that their family owns a business and 34 percent of alumni report they own part or all of their own businesses. Without question, family-owned businesses are the legacies of more than a third of our students and alumni, as well as the backbone of our country’s free enterprise economy.

The reason for the proliferation of family-owned businesses is clear: they promote individual freedom while fulfilling market needs. Northwood’s appreciation for and commitment to family-owned businesses powered the Family Business Forum, hosted by the Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity & Enterprise in February.

The Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity & Enterprise integrates creativity and free enterprise through intentional and mindful cultivation to realize inventions, innovations, and new business opportunities in entrepreneurship and family enterprise. The Center focuses on four areas: Family-Owned Business, Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation, and New Business Development. For more information, visit

The Forum kicked off Northwood’s Family-Owned Business Days by highlighting the distinctive intersection of multi generational entrepreneurship. Sharing their views about the rewards and challenges of being part of a family business, four students described how truly “up close and personal” company success – or failure – is for many in the Northwood community.

With honesty and integrity, the exceptional student panel described similar challenges opportunities, and rewards despite their families’ very different businesses.



Peter Leonard Dazbog Coffee Castle Rock, Colorado

Peter Leonard and his father became equity partners with their purchase of a Dazbog Coffee franchise in 2011, which he ran during his last year of high school. When Leonard began attending Northwood a year later, he stayed deeply involved in the business even as he took classes 1,000 miles away from the young but robust franchise. Since 2011, their store sales have increased by 10 percent each year. Northwood also recognized Leonard’s efforts as a student business owner by awarding him the 2016 Entrepreneurship Award, which is presented to one senior each year who exemplifies exceptional entrepreneurial leadership and talent.

After graduation, Leonard returned to Dazbog Coffee, ready to brew continued growth. He believes business success will reflect what he learned at Northwood.

“What I learned in class, along with the professors’ personal experiences of family business successes and failures, are invaluable to my business,” said Leonard.



Benjamin Seago APM Mosquito Control Armada, Michigan

Benjamin Seago’s family business was started by his father in 1995. Today, Michigan’s largest privately owned mosquito control company serves a large part of southeastern and mid-Michigan. APM Mosquito Control may have been destined to pass from father to son, but the reality of that timing was definitely not part of the plans. Seago’s dad tragically passed away in 2010, leaving his mother and uncle to take over the business. The dream his father created is now partly Seago’s responsibility, even as he attends Northwood.

Seago’s dual “careers” of student and family business member present more challenges than many young people face. Yet because of Northwood’s focus on entrepreneurship and business, the two duties overlap in unexpectedly beneficial ways.

“As issues came up with the business, I had ‘counsel sessions’ with some of my professors. They offered ideas and insights that my mom then integrated into our operations,” said Seago. “Northwood’s student organization, Family Enterprise Alliance, is a big help, too. It gives us a chance to talk about the ups and downs of our very fortunate but uniquely challenging situations.”



Kennedy Shea Freeman Nursery Beaverton, Michigan

Kennedy Shea’s grandfather successfully employed a proven technique for starting his own business when he bought an established nursery in 1965. The 50-year-old Freeman Nursery is now under the skilled management of Shea’s parents, who have branched out in response to a changing market and intense competition. Focusing on clear differentiation, her mother introduced the nursery’s “we grow, we know” philosophy that highlights both their multigenerational expertise and healthy supply of Michigan-native and indigenous plants.

Shea’s parents are using the key principles for success that her grandfather planted but are not afraid to innovate. And, as the third generation in the company, neither is Shea, who uses an iPad to draw her landscape designs.

“Family businesses aren’t handed down like royalty, they are handed off like in a relay. Along with that hand-off comes the incredible responsibility to hold on to the baton and keep running toward success with all your might,” said Shea.



Griffin Williams Power Process Piping Plymouth, Michigan

The idea that family businesses are all small “mom and pop” shops is a far cry from the reality that the Williams’ family company exemplifies. Power  Process Piping, started by Griffin Williams’ grandfather in 1974, is a heavy industrial contractor that specializes in the fabrication and installation of piping systems. Now with his father as president and CEO, the company handles multimillion-dollar projects for a variety of industries in and around the Detroit-Metro area. Big products and big markets created a “big business” pipeline for the family.

Williams joined his father after graduating in May 2016. He is proud to continue the legacy that his grandfather started, but he believes his role goes beyond maintaining it. Williams intends to build on his grandfather’s and father’s successes for the generation that will follow him.

“I discovered something very important during a summer internship I had with another company. I loved the work and learned a lot,” noted Williams. “But I realized very quickly that I get much more satisfaction creating value for my family business, our employees, and our customers.”

The Forum and the Future


The Family Business Forum, held in February 2016, welcomed nearly 80 people, including Northwood students, their families, and the general public. The 100 percent student-focused Forum was conceived and developed by John Gustincic, Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity & Enterprise director and associate professor. DeVos Graduate School student Nick Langlois, who handled event logistics, also contributed to the evening’s success. A natural extension of the Center’s focus on developing and supporting family-owned business, the Forum gave voice to common concerns of families whose companies are integral to a free market’s diversity, vitality, and profitability.

“The Forum was a celebration of family-owned businesses and effectively countered the common perception that these students are handed jobs by their parents and walk into cushy careers when they graduate,” said Gustincic. “Like all of our students, they have to prove themselves. True, they will have opportunities that many people don’t have. But a big part of their reality is that they will ultimately be responsible for the success or failure of their families’ businesses.”

In addition to being educational and inspirational, the event kick-started Northwood’s new organization, the Family Enterprise Alliance. The group gives students from family businesses a comfortable setting in which to openly share, brainstorm, and even gripe with others who understand. As panel member Griffin Williams noted, “It’s a great sounding board for new ideas, concerns, and ways to handle problems like family dynamics.”

“At the Center, we envision expanding this support even further. We hope to develop a program that will connect family-owned business decision-makers with Northwood students who will objectively evaluate their problems and offer useful solutions as class projects,” said Gustincic. “And we are continuing to offer educational resources specifically targeted to this model that cover topics like innovation, entrepreneurship, international business, marketing, and accounting.”

Art and Business Partnership at Work Once Again


One of the most exciting times for a gallery occurs when a business in the community is interested in acquiring artwork.

It is exciting because a curator then feels like an artist as well, commissioned to suggest how to “paint” entire premises with just the right selection of art. For many years, the Northwood Gallery, a department of Northwood University - where the university’s belief in and commitment to the beneficial interaction between the arts and business is perhaps most visible - has been instrumental in supplying art to forward thinking  area corporations such as Dow Chemical Company, Dow Corning and Hemlock Semiconductors, all global industries headquartered in Michigan’s Great Lakes Bay region.


In summer 2014 another such opportunity presented itself. This time it involved furnishing the brand new Dow Corning building, in the brand new Uptown Bay City project on the Saginaw River bank. Being a part of this major project was exciting in so many ways: a 43 acre vacant brownfield site was to become a vibrant and sleek multipurpose urban area with commercial, residential, retail, hospitality, entertainment and medical contents. a plot by the river became the site of a beautiful, state-of-the-art new building with a curved façade reminiscent of ripples on the river. The architecturally enticing interior with many glass walls and amazing views of the water was to be turned into a stimulating and productive place of work. Original art by local artists was to a play a part in this fascinating transformation.

The Northwood Gallery was given clear and simple instructions: large canvases, contemporary and abstract style, most of it in bright and vibrant colors. It was an easy task because our area is extremely fortunate to be home to many very talented artists of national and international acclaim. A list of artists who “fit the bill” was immediately in the making. The works of Kathy Jones, Valerie Allen, Toni Swarthout, Michelle Courier, Zizelda Moreira immediately came to mind, each very accomplished, each deeply connected to this area. Only after the list was complete, did I realize that they were all women!


Kathy Jones, a doyen among them, holds an MFA degree from Central Michigan University, was born and raised in Bay City. Her first job after college was with Dow Corning where she helped design and implement the company’s first computerized payroll system. Nationally known Michelle Courier, whose work can be found in many galleries in California and Oregon, has a fine art degree from the University of Michigan and lives and works in her studio in Bay City. Valerie Allen, a true Mid-Westerner from southern Ohio, holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati and CMU, and is associated with the Midland Center for the Arts, has made Midland her permanent home. Toni Swarthout, a Midland native, still another gifted artist with a corporate experience in actuaries, was born in Midland, studied at Northern Michigan University in the Upper Peninsula, and made her career as an artist in Nashville, TN. Zizelda Moreira, a talented artist from Brazil, moved to Midland and made it her home after her husband was transferred to Dow’s Midland headquarters.

As successful corporations around the world, and reputable business schools in the U.S. know well, the role of art in business is crucial. Exposure to art promotes communication, opens people’s minds, spurs efficiency, productivity and creativity among employees; it sends the message that their employer cares to provide a vibrant and stimulating work environment. The same message is sent to customers and visitors and they know that they are dealing with an innovative business full of vitality. And it is important to note corporate art is not purchased with direct profits in mind. Rather, it is a sound investment into people’s well-being and motivation, which in turn promotes financial success. Hence, it is an indispensable asset.     

Shaheen Development and Dow Corning have made a number of thoughtful choices with this project. They requested original art created by local artists and acquired through a local gallery, confirming they had the best interests in mind for the growth of the entire community of which they are a vital part. Their actions build upon the companies’ positive image in the area.

The artists appreciate the underlying commitment as well. Kathy Jones says:

“It is an honor to be a part of a corporate collection. It is the recognition and affirmation of artists’ hard work…Art cannot survive without sponsorships like this.”

Toni agrees and adds: “It gives employees an opportunity to be exposed to original art which they may not have at home. It is a strong statement that the corporation cares.” 


The companies have also to be complimented on their choice of style. Here the riverside, the architecture of the building and the desired atmosphere suggested abstract over representational art. It is more thought provoking and open to viewers’ own interpretations. Colorist Kathy Jones sees her oil paintings as expressive abstractions of positive energy and motion that she wants her viewers to understand in their own ways; for Zizelda Moreira the most important mission of her acrylics is to awake people’s feelings; Valerie Allen’s multi-media work, inspired by Mid-Century modern architecture and the scenery of her native land, encourages viewers to recognize her interest in the passage of time, in processes and constant change. Toni Swarthout attempts to demonstrate in her representational abstract acrylic paintings a close, symbiotic, inhale/exhale relationship between the humans and the trees: “Art is …a conscious way of life”. Michelle Courier, also working in acrylics, is best known for her magnificent land-, sky- water- and other scapes through which she expresses her passion for light and nature. Her style is representational impressionism and her goal is to create an experience, to “allow the viewers to feel as if they had been there”. At the new Dow Corning Uptown Bay City building Michelle is represented by yet another of her styles, her organized, geometric abstractions which actually also play with the subject of trees sporadically interjected into planes of vibrant primary and secondary colors.    


What Dow Corning and Shaheen Development have done is a perfect illustration or our university’s long standing philosophy, “the arts make good business partners”. The project is commendable. Although the Northwood Gallery was not the only art supplier for this amazing and large building, we are very happy that we could act in our best consciousness and help place an admirable total of 26 canvases created by these five remarkable women artists. The arts and business partnership indeed is at work again, and we are ready to collaborate with more collectors and businesses large and small, to create inspiring environments.

- Mia Dvornic, Ph.D. 

  Northwood Gallery Director and Curator

Jazz Visits Northwood: A New Perspective on Business


Grammy Award Winning Jazz legend Bob James joined Northwood University’s Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity & Enterprise as its inaugural Creative Entrepreneur-in-Residence last spring. During this time, he worked with both undergraduate and graduate students at Northwood’s Midland, Michigan campus sharing his business experiences in the music industry. He discussed the challenges and business concepts he encountered in order to give students a different perspective on how relevant business is in all industries. Hands-on case studies, combined with lectures about his personal experiences, gave our students an invaluable and innovative learning experience.

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Bob James began his professional career in music with very little knowledge, experience, or interest in the commercial side of the industry. While he was very well-educated in music composition, learning about the business side of the industry wasn’t remotely on his radar of practicality when he began his career. His fundamental concern was, and still remains, making the best quality music he could while still staying competitive in the industry. “I guess you could say I was an idealist,” he said when discussing his early career endeavors. Essentially, he wasn’t in the industry for the money, he was following his passion—the same mantra which translated from his own experiences to the Northwood University student body.

As he gained more experience and success in the music industry, James’ idealism shifted toward a more business-oriented lifestyle. However, he still kept his priorities and values intact: the quality of his work always trumped the money he earned. 

Not surprisingly, James’ well-rounded experience in the arts and business, as well as his passion for music, flowed seamlessly into his passion for working with the students at Northwood. In his effort to provide NU students with a complete learning experience, he stressed the importance of focusing on the quality of one’s work over the income they receive because in the end the quality is where one will find self-satisfaction and success.

“If there is one basic premise that I tried to convey to the Northwood students,” emphasized James, “it is my belief that it is possible and desirable to keep your artistic standards high and still achieve financial success.” 

James’ focus on maintaining high standards for himself, and his ambition to grow personally, made a recognizable impact on students, faculty, and staff alike at Northwood, and in particular, a group of DeVos graduate students who had the good fortune to work with James on a new and unique alcohol-based product he is in the process of launching. The experience not only provided the DeVos students with hands-on experience but it also taught them the value of balancing the art of business and business of the arts.

- Northwood senior, Jennifer Hansen

LAB: Sparking the Entrepreneurial Spirit


Northwood University once again showed its commitment to igniting the entrepreneurial spirit as it welcomed the Learning About Business (LAB) Free-Enterprise camp June 22-27. 

Now in its 35th year of existence, LAB chose Northwood University’s scenic Midland, Michigan campus to host 45 high school sophomores and juniors who displayed a passion for business and a desire to get a head start on their professional futures. The six day program put students in a business simulation, where they learned about the challenges and decision making processes they are very likely to face in their careers.

Led by the Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity & Enterprise, students were placed into teams with the challenge of designing, manufacturing, and selling their own car. Participants engaged in a week-long competition which tested their teamwork, business acumen, and communication skills. The unique program honed in on a different business aspect each day, and teams had to make tough decisions in the computer simulated marketplace with the goal of besting their “competition.” Learning both business strategies and life skills, the simulation challenged the thought processes of the teams and helped them to think on their feet as they discovered all of the decisions which go into running a business. This experience gave these students a jump start into their future by introducing them to new opportunities and giving them the tools to create their own. 

Beyond the competition, participants had significant learning and networking opportunities with over thirty business professionals such as Kristin Wuerfel, Marketing Director, MCFTA and Scott Walker, CEO of Midland Tomorrow. Interactive activities and simulation decisions circulated around a different theme for each day: teambuilding & leadership, fundamentals of business, marketing, international business, management and entrepreneurship. Each topic came with its own seminars, experiential workshops, and presentations offering attendees an expanded worldview and a fundamental grasp of the concepts of our free enterprise system.

Designed for future business students as well as future decision makers and leaders, LAB gave young students a taste of how the world of business operates along with the opportunity to make lifelong friends and continue building and developing skills which will serve beneficial to them in college and beyond. In giving some of Michigan’s best and brightest high school students the tools to achieve success, the LAB Free-Enterprise camp is just one more example of Northwood University’s commitment to developing the future leaders of a global, free-enterprise society.

- Northwood senior, Kristin Hammond

Northwood Celebrates Global Entrepreneurship Week


Northwood University participated with business students and entrepreneurs across the world to celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week, November 18-22, 2013. Individuals were encouraged to generate new ideas and seek diverse, better ways of living – by developing or reengineering new businesses and/or products. For the third consecutive year, Northwood University has joined the initiative to inspire young people to embrace innovation, imagination, and creativity by giving them an opportunity to turn their dreams into reality. Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 5.07.17 PM

System-wide, across all three NU campuses, there were a variety of events fueling the free enterprise and entrepreneurial fire. One of these events was a roundtable discussion, where a hand selected group of students and local entrepreneurs collaborated, via virtual classroom, with other local students and entrepreneurs from each of our residential campuses: Florida, Michigan, and Texas.

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The Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity & Enterprise focuses on the crafting, planning of businesses, and sponsored the system-wide entrepreneurial events. Regardless of major, students are encouraged to develop unique ideas and are given opportunities to lead, manage, and grow their business while in school. Global Entrepreneurship Week mixes all aspects of the entrepreneurial journey into the souls of our students.

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Supported by the generosity of the Bauervic Foundation, the Center for Creativity and Enterprise, hosted their 5th Annual Pitch Competition. In this contest, young student entrepreneurs battle for their share of a $5,000 prize to advance their business. Of the 17 students who entered, the winners were: 1st place: MI Gardner, 2nd place: Michigan BBQ Cleaners, and 3rd place: Marshmallow Para-Shooters.

NU also hosted a Family Enterprise Forum open to the public. The special guests shared their unique stories, challenges, and successes in their family businesses with the students of Northwood University and several family enterprise participants from the region who either came to the forum in person or watched the presentation via a live video broadcast.


The West Palm Beach, Florida campus kicked off Global Entrepreneurship Week by participating in a community based Startup Weekend; a three day intensive business development cycle, built to breathe life to ideas through mentorship from industry leaders and volunteers.

In addition to the WPB Startup Weekend, the FL campus hosted an entrepreneurial roundtable luncheon with guest entrepreneur Freddie Laker, CEO and founder of Guide. Mr. Laker has spearheaded many diverse companies, and Northwood Florida was proud to honor him at the luncheon and invited NU students to hear his entrepreneurial story and startup advice.


The Texas campus announced their first entrepreneur in residence, Robert Hopkins. He will be involved with mentoring entrepreneurial students on the campus along with overseeing the entrepreneurial events and programs.

Guest Entrepreneurs Ugo Ginatta, founder and CEO of Pacuigo Gelato, and Don Wilks, founder and president of Global Community for Education, were invited to tell NU students their unique entrepreneurial stories.

The 2013 Global Entrepreneurship Week has been a success­—across all three campuses of Northwood University. If you would like to participate in future entrepreneurial endeavors, please contact Georgia Abbott, MBA at or (989) 837-4479.

- Northwood junior, Nicholas Langlois


Fashion Design Workshop Benefits Students, Those in Need


NU’s Tom’s Shoes University Chapter hosted a five part Fashion Design Workshop Series in which students learned to sew and design clothing while engaging in an entrepreneurial service project. Competition Winners

(with checks from right to left in above photo)


Lauren Moore (first place) - Alexandra Kuch (second place) - Valerie Anderson (third place)

Congratulations to these student designer entrepreneurs!

The Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity & Enterprise (ABDCCE) partnered with Tom’s Shoes University Chapter to grow and advance the creative design talents and entrepreneurial aspirations of the Fashion Marketing & Management majors. The ABDCCE was awarded a $3,000 entrepreneurial community engagement grant from the Mott Foundation and Prima Civitas Foundation. Once the grant was received, Jill Ouellette, Chair of the Fashion Marketing & Management Department in Midland, Mich., creatively combined this skillful, enterprising workshop with a service project to impact the lives of young children in Africa.

Students learned the basics of sewing, which included pattern design, sewing machine basics, spreading, and fitting. After some practice, the students completed an entrepreneurial service project sending unique ‘pillowcase’ dress creations to African girls in an orphanage. The brains behind the education and entrepreneurial coaching came from Sheree Schattenmann, local entrepreneur and owner of Sheree’s Alchemy in Midland, Michigan.

Under her guidance, students created a prototype fashion garment or accessory including sketches and samples of fabric plans for the Northwood Style Show coming up in April. “The Center is here to serve and support entrepreneurship in all majors,” said Georgia Abbott, director of the ABDCCE. “We see innovative and creative ideas in every corner of the university. We are an entrepreneurial University and this was a great way to celebrate the achievements of these student fashion designers!”

- Georgia Abbott

Build the Business Competition Drives Student Entrepreneurs to Success


For the first time in Northwood University’s history, the Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity & Enterprise hosted a Build the Business competition sponsored by Chris Turner (NU ’92, MI campus), president & CEO of the FC Mason Company. The competition, which launched in September 2012, began by challenging students to create a line of business and commercialize a patented product owned by the F.C. Mason Company. Chris Turner and fellow staff briefly discussed the product prototype and market considerations to student competitors at a kickoff event. For the first time in Northwood University’s history, the Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity & Enterprise hosted a Build the Business competition sponsored by Chris Turner, president & CEO of the FC Mason Company. The competition, which launched in September 2012, began by challenging students to create a line of business and commercialize a patented product owned by the F.C. Mason Company. Chris Turner and fellow staff briefly discussed the product prototype and market considerations to student competitors at a kickoff event.

In the first round, 27 NU students on nine, three-person teams pitched their unique capabilities, business school backgrounds, and expertise to advance to the work stage of the project. F.C. Mason Company chose five of the nine teams to move on to the second round and awarded each team $450. A month later, these five teams proposed a business model and an articulated value proposition for the product innovation. Many teams presented a brand and logo for the product, as well as product enhancements that might appeal to the market. Upon completion of the second round, two of the five teams received $1,200 moving them to the third round. 

At the end of February, the final round of competition required the last two teams to produce a detailed market plan including a financial component, details on the point of sale, and a price point recommendation.  The winning team took home a prize of $3,000 and the potential opportunity to gain a summer internship or employment with the F.C. Mason Company to launch the product and line of business. 

This competition generated an excellent opportunity for students to combine and fine-tune their Northwood University business acumen, creativity, and critical thinking skills while working for a real live company. Nick Kwasiborski, a Northwood junior and a member of the winning team along with juniors Shawn Mersino and Nick Schummer, said the competition challenged his team to “put classroom concepts into real world experience.” Schummer echoed that sentiment pointing out the importance and benefits of a team approach. “We enjoyed working together and utilized each other’s best skills to make the best team,” he explained.

The Build the Business competition has been a meaningful and valuable learning experience for all who participated. Georgia Abbott, executive director of the Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity & Enterprise commented, “Chris Turner was a great role model.  He supported all teams and although only two of the nine teams made it to the final round, Chris showed deep admiration and enthusiasm for all of the contestants during the competition.”

Looking ahead, this pilot provides a springboard for other companies with patents, technology, or intellectual property to become the next sponsor of Build the Business competition.  

“We are uniquely positioned to provide a competition aimed at the connection between innovation and its commercial potential,” noted Abbott. “Northwood University students can be challenged and successfully demonstrate an understanding of the commercialization process involved in developing a feasible plan for other companies like F.C. Mason,” she explained.      

- Northwood Junior, Victoria Julson