Sunday, October 24, 2021

Six new CEOs reflect on coming to power during a pandemic

September 10, 2021
<p>The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, or LRCC, honored six women who came into executive positions during the pandemic on Sept. 8, 2021.  </p>

The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, or LRCC, honored six women who came into executive positions during the pandemic on Sept. 8, 2021.  

Photo by Raenu Charles | The State News

On Sept. 8, the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, or LRCC, gathered in person to congratulate six women who came into executive positions during the pandemic.   

The event, hosted by LRCC President Tim Damman and Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at Delta Dental Margaret Trimer, took place at the MSFCU headquarters. It was the first in-person meeting the Chamber has held since the start of the pandemic.

The six women recognized were: CEO of Sparrow Hospital Helen Johnson, CEO of Capital Area Manufacturing Council Cindy Kangas, CEO of the Greater Lansing Food Bank Michelle Lantz, CEO of the Capital Region Airport Authority and Visitors Bureau Nicole Noll-Williams, CEO of the Greater Lansing Convention Julie Pingston and CEO of Capital Area Michigan Works! Carrie Rosingana. 

All six women played vital roles in Lansing's leadership during the pandemic. 

Helen Johnson

In the 1970s, Johnson’s older sisters went to a march and bought Johnson a T-shirt that said, “No way First Lady, I want to be President.”

Today, Helen Johnson, RN, MSN, NEA-BU, FACHE is president of Sparrow Eaton Hospital.

Johnson held several leadership roles in her several years in the healthcare industry, and these roles prepared her for the challenge of leading a hospital during a pandemic. 

“I stumbled into leadership and it has been very, very good to me,” Johnson said.

To Johnson, leadership has brought her the opportunity to help people, from being an oncology nurse when she first joined the workforce to leading a hospital through the biggest public health crisis Sparrow has faced. 

She credited her older sisters, who she said were “complete hippies,” and other “fabulous women and gentleman” in her first years as a nurse in helping her succeed as a leader today. 

Going forward, Johnson said she wants to give back by mentoring young women in her field. 

“I’m excited by their passion,” Johnson said. “I’m excited by their confidence because these young people will not be stopped, and they have a voice and it will be heard.” 

Johnson said wants to be able to give the younger generation a platform to share their voices. 

Cindy Kangas

Kangas had a varied career before being appointed executive director of the Capital Area Manufacturing Council, though she worked in the Greater Lansing area for her whole career. 

Throughout her life, Kangas has searched for people to help her grow. She said she was determined to not only learn her job but to learn everyone’s job. While Kangas used to get in trouble for socializing as a child, she said her social skills were necessary tools in her success and in her job today.

Kangas said manufacturing was “the best kept secret.” She plans to work with the community to bring awareness to challenges faced by manufacturers in Lansing. 

“I’m hoping that you’ll help me advocate,” Kangas said.

She said she wants to inspire the next generation of workers to consider trade careers, science careers and manufacturing careers. 

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Michelle Lantz

Lantz, CEO of the Greater Lansing Food Bank, or GLFB, has devoted her life to feeding her community. Growing up on a farm, Lantz has a lifetime of experience doing just that.

”Fifty years later, it would come full circle,” Lantz said. 

Now, in the last year, Lantz and the GLFB not only built a new campus for the organization but also provided almost eight million meals to the community, even more in need due to the stresses caused by the pandemic. 

Lant said the phrase “farm to table” describes her life and career, and now she sits at a different table: “A table that gives voice to those in need.”

While the need for food in the community has always existed, Lantz says that it has escalated during the pandemic. 

“We’re back to where we were about 10 years ago in terms of food insecurity,” Lantz said.

Now that Lantz is sitting at “the CEO table,” she believes she can have more impact in the community.  

Nicole Noll-Williams

Noll-Williams started out her career in the aviation industry by studying dental hygienics at Lansing Community College. She said she never expected to work in the airport industry, but was influenced by a professor to study the topic.

Today, she is the president and CEO of the Capital Region Airport Authority after 25 years in the industry, including time working for Sen. Gary Peters. 

Noll-Williams described the airport as a small business and the different dynamics that go into a safe and efficient airport. She said she has several priorities during her time as CEO of the airport authority: to expand passenger service, expand charter service and increase cargo service and land utilization.

“I couldn’t be more excited … to be a part of the community and helping to make a difference down the road,” Noll-Williams said.

Julie Pingston

Julie Pingston, CDME, CMP, CTA, took office at the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau, or GLCVB, roughly one week before the nation shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March. Her entire task thus far has been to sustain the tourism industry in Lansing.

Pingston, who had worked at the organization for 28 years, said she had "lots of dreams and visions" about what she wanted to enact in her time as president. What had started out as Pingston’s “dream job” ended up being one of the biggest challenges of her career. 

During the pandemic, Pingston was forced to furlough most of her team in her first week of working, and her goal became “to keep the doors open." Pingston said the bureau relied on the “tight-knit” tourism industry to support itself during a time where tourism was essentially dead. 

Pingston said the GLBVB serves as a “catalyst and a stronghold for the community.” The GLCVB was able to promote what was happening in the city by sharing what businesses were open, which restaurants had igloo dining and what COVID-safe events were happening throughout the community.

Going forward, Pingston is working on a diversity and inclusion initiative for the organization to be a market Lansing uses to its fullest extent. 

Pingston joked how growing up, she learned that her zodiac sign was an Aries and that Aries was known for being a natural-born leader. From a young age, Pingston decided to embody this. 

“This has been a natural evolution, but a very profound one, and one I take extremely seriously,” Pingston said.

Carrie Rosingana

Rosingana, CEO for Capital Area Michigan Works!, is responsible for workforce development within the region. Additionally, she works to ensure equity within the organization. 

Rosingana, who grew up in a small town, said she came to Lansing to study at Michigan State University and fell in love with the city. Upon graduating, Rosingana started working at Capital Area Michigan Works!. 

As someone who identifies with the servant leadership model, Rosingana’s one goal with Capital Area Michigan Works! was to help people. During the pandemic, this goal became much harder to accomplish. 

Rosingana worked with families to address childcare issues, food shortage issues, housing, unemployment and many other issues. 

Despite coming to power before one of the challenges of COVID-19, these six women were able to lead their respective industries in assisting those struggling with the pandemic.

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