MLIVE: Inspiration for leaders: Catalyst University gets underway in downtown Kalamazoo


KALAMAZOO — The 2012 Catalyst University gathering got underway this morning with a sell-out audience of 550 business people, professionals and those interested in leading, and with the admonition to “Get ready.”

Ron Kitchens, chief executive officer of host organization Southwest Michigan First, welcomed those in attendance inviting them to listen to a slate of speakers who are “inspiring, who have changed their organizations, changed the way people look at America, changed themselves, changed people's lives and saved people's lives.”

Catalyst University is a graduate-level experience that offers instruction in community visioning, global economics and executive management.

Saying, “You won't hear anyone here today say they waited until they had permission to lead,” Kitchens invited individuals to learn from the experience of the speakers “If we truly want to be the place that we say we want to be.”

Speakers at the Radisson Plaza Hotel & Suites started with Doc Henley, a self-described underachiever from a family of overachievers, who has become president and founder of Wine to Water, a nonprofit organization started in 2004 to provide clean water to needy people worldwide.

“When you find something that you're passionate about, it's not always easy,” Henley said, “Doors are not going to fling open for you. You're going to have to go through some difficult times.”

Henley said he was completing a degree in communications in 2003 when he discovered he had no idea what he really wanted to be. At about that time he learned that 1.1 billion of the world's people don't have access to clean drinking water.

“Water kills more people than anything,” he said.

Without any experience, he began raising money to help. His efforts grew from fundraisers at the bar in Raleigh, N.C., where he was a bartender, to become the leader of an international organization working in 12 countries.

He recounted a year he spent in Darfur, in Sub-Saharan Africa, working to right a water crisis in a war-torn nation. He said that when he started, “I was surprised and shocked to do something that worked.”

Ultimately he said, “Now my world has meaning and I feel like I'm accomplishing something greater than myself.”

He also said, “If you find something you are passionate about and take that first step, I promise you that you will have an impact.”

Other speakers are to include:

Joel Manby, on the topic “Leading with Love.” Manby is president and CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, the premier privately held theme park operator in the United States.

Donna Karlin, on communications, “Gaining Perspective.” Karlin is an internationally recognized pioneer in leadership coaching, known for her specialized practice of Shadow Coaching.

Chuck Jones, on “Breakthrough Solutions.” Jones is an internationally recognized design leader, and currently the senior vice president and chief design officer for global building products leader Masco Corp.

Josh Linkner, on marketing, “Disciplined Dreaming.” Linkner is founder, chairman and former CEO of the largest interactive promotion agency in the world, ePrize.

Peter van Stolk, on marketing “Branding for Attention." Van Stolk is founder of Jones Soda Co. and an entrepreneur with 25 years experience as a successful and unconventional leader in business creation, business innovation and development.

Tererai Trent, on entrepreneurism. Trent is principal evaluator, facilitator and motivational speaker at Tinogona Research & Evaluation Consulting LLC. Known for a never-give-up attitude that helped her rise from poverty and then give back to others, the Western Michigan University graduate was chosen by Oprah Winfrey as her all-time favorite guest.

Contact Al Jones at at 269-388-8556.