An Innovation Engine at Work:  the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation

by | Apr 24, 2022 | Extraordinary CEO Blog Archive, Uncategorized

Nonprofit and public organizations blessed with visionary, determined board and executive team members are capable of fashioning and implementing significant innovation initiatives, as you’ll learn from the video I recently recorded with Conrad Mallett, Board Chair, and Kevin Johnson, President & CEO, of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation.  In doing so, really innovative organizations like DEGC are beating the odds since significant, planned innovation tends not to happen, especially when we’re talking about a change initiative outside the “box” that’s defined by an organization’s current mission and existing programs and services.

The obstacles to fashioning and successfully implementing out of the box innovation initiatives can be quite formidable.  For one thing, the traditional comprehensive long-range planning process that many organizations continue to employ – with its obsessional focus on existing programs and services – can all too easily stop innovation in its tracks, blocking the generation of truly out of the box change initiatives.  And even if an organization is capable of generating change initiatives, there are powerful forces militating against their implementation. The inexorable pressures of mainstream day-to-day operations – punctuated by inevitable crises – often claim the bulk of board and executive team members’ time, attention, and energy.  And another hurdle you’re likely to encounter on the innovation and change road is the universal, quite normal human resistance to changing in important ways.

Surmounting these formidable barriers, Conrad Mallett and Kevin Johnson – backed by an influential and tremendously supportive DEGC Board – have spearheaded the development and implementation of a major innovation initiative:  Detroit Means Business.  Aimed at assisting Detroit small businesses to survive, thrive, and grow in tremendously challenging times, Detroit Means Business has mobilized a diverse coalition of stakeholder organizations to provide small businesses with the critical information and practical, hands-on technical assistance they need to access desperately needed financial resources and to update their managerial practices and systems.

As Conrad and Kevin explain in our interview, DEGC was guided by a vision far more expansive than launching a small business assistance program. The DEGC Board and Executive Team haves taken innovation to the next level by engaging in organization building – transforming the Detroit Means Business program into an independent nonprofit corporation with its own governing board, chief executive, and staff.  Putting this structure in place, DEGC has signaled to the wider Detroit community that small business assistance is a top economic development priority and has ensured that it receives the attention it deserves over the long run.

What struck me forcefully as I listened to Conrad and Kevin recount the Detroit Means Business story was the how critical their passionate, hands-on leadership – as a cohesive, visionary, dynamic board chair-CEO team – was to the ultimate success of Detroit Means Business.  Indeed, their leadership work together provides nonprofit and public organizations around the country of all shapes and sizes with a model of board chair-CEO collaboration.


About the Author: Doug Eadie

President & CEO of Doug Eadie & Company, Inc., Doug Eadie assists CEOs in building rock solid partnerships with their boards.

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