I’m still stunned.
I received a call at approximately 9:30 Monday morning from a friend. I didn’t give it a second thought because we talk all of the time; however, it was a bit unusual since we normally chat later in the day. And this call was relatively early.
“Did you hear?”
“Mike Finney died. Just Google the Miami Herald …”
And I did.
I was stunned and speechless upon hearing the news. I paused, collected myself and asked again about the news, in disbelief.
Mike and I were not lifelong friends. He grew up in Flint and I was born and raised in Detroit. But our paths crossed doing during our adult years doing what we both loved doing: supporting the business community in Detroit, across Michigan and beyond.
I first met Mike through mutual friends. We quickly developed a bond on the golf course, became golfing buddies and would play the sport anywhere and everywhere across metro Detroit.
At the time, he was president of Ann Arbor Spark, where he was charged with leading that community’s economic development arm focused on tech-based and other entrepreneurial-related businesses.
He would invite me to his Ann Arbor office and share with me his vision and thoughts on what needed to be done. He invited me to events and, quite frankly, to just exchange ideas.
Through rapid ascension, Mike later became CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., where he led the state’s economic development efforts for retaining and attracting new businesses.
Needless to say, Mike was fearless, and simply put, he was good. And he always looked out for others and had an affinity for small businesses.
To wit, Mike called me about about a business opportunity. I had just launched my business and was looking to attract new business during the economic recession of 2008.
I picked up the phone and on the other line was Mike’s voice. He said he had a business opportunity for my company, and went on to explain that he was asked to work with Detroit-based CEO’s in collaboration with SBA’s Detroit office, as part of an executive leadership, MBA-style program, if you will.
The concept was simple: Work with small business owners as part of an intense monthslong program during which they would develop strategy-based growth plans.
But because of his expanding responsibilities, he couldn’t do it and he recommended me for this effort.
It started out as “e-200” and has since evolved into the Emerging Leaders Program, which is still in existence.
Bottom line, Mike’s recommendation became my company’s first client. And without Mike’s support and confidence, I would not be in business 14 years later.
He and his wife Gina moved to Florida in 2017 to expand his horizons while continuing to focus on economic development opportunities in South Florida. We periodically kept in touch and recently exchanged text messages. I expressed how proud I was of all he was doing. And he replied in-kind.
While Mike moved to Florida, his heart always remained close to his beloved Flint and the state of Michigan. In fact, he attended the recent College Football Playoff game between Michigan and Georgia, which was played in Miami.
Rest well, my friend, rest well.
And thank you!
Mark S. Lee is founder, president and CEO of The Lee Group. He can be heard “In the Conference Room” at 11 a.m. Sundays on 910 AM. He also hosts the “Small Talk with Mark S. Lee” podcasts at leegroupinnovation.com.