Small Business Leaders Making Big Impacts
Genesis Consulting CEO Senita Lenear discusses how her event-planning business has been affected by the pandemic and how coordination and collaboration are still more important than ever in today’s climate.
0:00:06.8 Lynne Jarman-Johnson: Money, I’m Home! Welcome in, I’m Lynne Jarman-Johnson with Consumers Credit Union. From finance to fitness, we have it all. And today, we have a very special guest. We love to introduce you to community leaders. People who are making things happen in the West Michigan market, but not only in the business sense, but also personally, and really focusing on community. And Senita Lenear is the CEO of Genesis Consulting. Senita, I had the awesome job of working with you recently with the West Michigan Urban League and putting on the MLK Breakfast, which was awesome. And I was in, just awed and wowed by your work. You are an event planner like no other. Tell us a little bit about how you got started and what you’re doing now.
0:00:52.8 Senita Lenear: Great, well, thanks so much, Lynne, for inviting me. I’m excited to have this conversation and was excited to work with you on that MLK Breakfast. And you’re right, it was a whirlwind of fun. And you made a hit and star of the show as you were going back to your journalism days [chuckle], and you were reporting news in and out, that was great to watch. So, a little bit about my background. I have a corporate background, and I worked for the largest insurance company in the State of Michigan for quite a few… for 14 years in my corporate world. Just grew up in the company. Started out as a claim’s adjudicator; they probably don’t even have that title anymore. And from there, I worked in human resources, claims management as then, as well as community affairs. And I attribute community affairs of being the position for me that helped me to find my calling. And I think it came at a good time, I guess, in my life, to say, “Okay, what is it that you really have passion to do that you do for free?” And it was the work of community affairs, and I used to say, “I get to do what I have passion for with somebody else’s money.” [chuckle]
0:02:07.7 LJJ: I love it!
0:02:08.1 SL: I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed it. And so, when I had my last child back in 2008, that was a time of reflection and…
0:02:17.0 LJJ: Well, and wasn’t that also right when major drastic change happened with recession.
0:02:25.9 SL: Absolutely. And so, during times like that, you start reflecting on a lot of things. And for me, it was, “Okay, what is it that I want to do long-term?” And I’d always dibbled and dabbled in event planning, conducting weddings, and things of that nature. Been doing that on the side for a few years. Community affairs actually allowed me the privilege of doing corporate planning. And so, I just took the leap, I just thought, “Okay, I will have… I will do this work on my own terms.” And so that was how Genesis became an official organization. Is it allowed me to be able to do what I have passion for doing, which is making impact in the community, planning events, stay at home, and I had this thing in elected office that I like to dibble and dabble in, too. So, I needed the time to be able to do all of those things. And so that’s how I got started.
0:03:22.8 LJJ: Wow! And it brings back the knowledge of really listening to your heart when things are going on. And right now, we are in the middle of a pandemic. I wish we could say we’re at the end, but I truly do think we’re still in the middle. And, all of a sudden, that really does make you step back. And Senita, I was watching you with the event planning and the coordination for West Michigan Urban League. And what it brought to mind was last March, when everything closed down, and you are a small business entrepreneur, what started going through your head?
0:04:00.1 SL: It was an immediate jolt for us. We’re a small business, so we didn’t have a whole large team. So working from home, initially, was like, “This is doable because we’re small enough.” And any time someone needed to go to the office, if they were able to go alone, we were going to be fine. So initially, we thought, “Okay, we can coast through this.” I think the other piece is that we thought we would be coasting and done with it in a short period of time. Who knew that here we are at the end of January still working from home? So, we immediately saw an impact. We had probably our largest event that we planned with over 1,500 people involved, and it’s a six-week series. So, it’s not just a one-and-done, but there is this long, multiple components to the event. We thought we would postpone, and that’s what we were… Those were the conversations we were having, initially, is talking with clients, and all of them wanting to do what they typically do. Many of them utilize their events for fundraising. So needing to do what they want to do because it’s their bread and butter, and trying to figure out what was the best way to do it. And so, we had, last year in 2020, I think we had 70% of our events were cancelled.
0:05:21.3 LJJ: 70%! Wow! Now, that has to keep you up at night.
0:05:27.2 SL: It did. And so, for me, I recognize my privilege, and that financially, I personally was going to be okay. And so, I had to think about the vendors who we contract with. I had to think about the staff. I had to think about… We also bring on, we call an extended team. So, when we’re doing something extremely large, we may have a larger team that’s helping us, but they may not be there for everything we’re doing day-to-day. And so one of the things that we chose to do was, is we paid vendors and our extended staff, members and some of our staff members for a couple of our events, half of what they would have earned…
0:06:12.1 LJJ: Wow!
0:06:13.4 SL: Though we knew we were losing.
0:06:14.1 LJJ: What a culture moment, Senita.
0:06:17.9 SL: It truly was, and we’re small, and it was a small-scale, Lynne … But our budget was small in the scheme of things, and so it did mean something financially to us because we weren’t going to generate revenue, because how could we ask our clients to continue to contract work when they weren’t able to get the results that they were looking for? And so that was one of the things that we chose to do in that really trying time, and to be honest, Lynne, this is the first time I’m reflecting on it.
0:06:48.9 LJJ: Really?
0:06:49.4 SL: I think we had the discussion internally and made the decision and took the action and actually received a lot of positive feedback from those who were on the receiving side of it, but I guess this is the first time I’m reflecting on what that meant as a company and the culture of our company. So, thank you for helping me to see that.
0:07:07.6 LJJ: Well, to be honest with you, I’m just… I’m in awe of it. The fact that I think that many people will panic and look inward versus externally, “How can I help?” And that is just a testament to you and your team, Senita. When you look back and we talk about the closing of events, you also have another hat, and that hat is to really focus on the constituents that you serve as a Commissioner. How has that been going? I mean, there’s been so many ups and downs in the city. All of us, in any city that you live in, especially those that have been locked down for quite some time, there has got to be quite a lot of late-night phone calls.
0:07:49.0 SL: Yeah, it’s overwhelming at times. It has been challenging because we are trying to do something similar to what I did on this very small scale with my business. We’re trying to do that across a city of almost 200,000 people, and I’m not sure, countless businesses, and so it’s challenging to know exactly what to do in order to offer support. You’re not going to please everyone. And so, I think that’s been the challenge. And so, we’ve been trying to implement things to help businesses maintain. So, for example, with restaurants, because they’ve been hit so hard with in-person dining and things of that nature, we’ve tried to put things in place to extend their dining rooms outdoors because there’s flexibility outdoors. As a resident downtown Grand Rapids, you know first-hand that you’re seeing the igloos and the spaces that are moving into sidewalks and into streets to provide the expansion of the indoor space into the outdoors, so that we can hopefully see restaurants continue to serve people.
0:09:01.9 SL: We’ve also included heating sources, again, so that because we’re in a four-season state to help people that still want to come down and eat and dine outdoors, even when it’s cold outside and snow is on the ground, and so that’s just one thing that we’re trying to do. And on the people side of it, I think that’s been the most challenging, because we’re seeing influxes in homelessness, we’re seeing influxes in people who are losing their place to live, as well as seeing the challenging time with food insecurity and so many other issues. When the nation is going through something so traumatizing, I think you’re going to see that hit the most vulnerable because they’re already on the fringes trying to survive.
0:09:47.9 LJJ: Well, coordination and collaboration are what your key components are, so Senita, I’m really glad that you’re at the table, listening, and then also helping bring those ideas. I will smile though, because I’m kind of partial now to that outdoor seating. So, I’m hoping that nothing changes. Once we get to go all in, let’s keep some of that outdoor space. It brings the outdoors indoors, too, so that would be awesome.
0:10:14.1 SL: Absolutely, and I think it’s fun to be able to enjoy the place that we live because…
0:10:19.9 LJJ: Exactly.
0:10:20.6 SL: Many of us hibernate when it’s wintertime because it’s just so cold, but… And that’s one of the benefits I think, of going through this pandemic is I think a lot of organizations are pivoting and some of the ways that they have pivot[ed], they will on the other side of this, hopefully continue to do some of those things because we’re finding them to be better than or an enhancement to what we’re already doing.
0:10:46.7 LJJ: Thank you for doing so much. Senita Lenear, CEO of Genesis Consulting, what a wonderful talk we’ve had today. Thank you so much for joining us.
0:10:55.8 SL: My pleasure, thanks for having me.
0:10:57.8 LJJ: Money, I’m Home! With Consumers Credit Union. If you have a topic or someone like Senita, who is just so interesting, we’d love to hear from you. Let us share their story. I’m Lynne Jarman-Johnson. And thank you so much. Jake Esselink, who just coordinates us and makes us sound so good. I hope everybody has a wonderful week.