• 800-232-LOWE (5693)
  • info@lowe.org
  • 58220 Decatur Road, Cassopolis, MI 49031

Outlook on Leadership

by Dan Wyant

Chairman & President

Small steps, significant progress

In the last few years, we’ve made a lot of major changes at the Edward Lowe Foundation, from moving to a flatter organization to introducing new programs. Yet it’s not just high-level initiatives that shape an organization. Smaller changes can be just as impactful in the long term. Indeed, as I was preparing for a recent board meeting, I realized how some decisions that didn’t seem earthshaking at the time are proving to have far-reaching influence:

Billieville Grill — Campfires are a traditional after-hours activity at our retreats, and in 2021 we built a new firepit based on those used in African safari lodges. This oval structure measures 5½ feet wide by 13 feet long, so it accommodates a lot of folks. The proximity to the fire and each other evokes what Dave Galbenski calls “insta-macy,” resulting in deeper conversations. What’s more, the comfortable deck chairs enable us to keep those conversations going a lot longer than at our old firepit where we sat on logs. This small thing has become a real game-changer because it helps ignite relationships faster among our retreat guests.

Billy Goat Tavern and Coffee Bar — About the same time, we revamped our Billy Goat Tavern. Although charming, this meeting place was underutilized — primarily because the antique furnishings weren’t very ergonomic, and guests were afraid of breaking them. Now, with upholstered seating, a library of business great reads, and a coffee and espresso machine that makes it easy to grab a jolt of caffeine, the tavern is seeing a lot more traffic.

Experience BRV — Spending time in nature is an important component of our retreats, and we felt guests weren’t getting enough time to enjoy Big Rock Valley. In response, we restructured our retreat agenda, building in a two-hour window dedicated to exploring our 2,000-acre property. Guests can go hiking, take a kayak out on Sharkey Lake or visit one of Ed’s favorite pondering spots. Our tech team has also developed an app, XBRV!, to help people navigate the property and learn more about its history.

BRV Recipes — Last year we created a cookbook to showcase the handiwork of Chef José Ruiz. We’ve always gotten rave reviews on our guest services department, and Chef José’s culinary magic elevates the BRV experience to an even higher level. He has a gift for pairing unexpected ingredients and creating meals that please the eye as much as the palate.

New strategic partner — In November 2022, Burton D. Morgan Foundation’s leadership team visited us to see what we could learn from each other. Since then, this partnership has evolved very quickly, and we’re very excited about working with them and their second-stage clients in Northeast Ohio. One of the interesting parallels is how much our two founders, Ed Lowe and Burt Morgan, had in common as entrepreneurs.

Fresh talent — We’ve also been bringing younger staffers into the organization in all of our departments. We want to go on forever, and achieving that goal means more than being good stewards of our endowment. We also need to nurture the next generation of leadership, prepare them to take over and give them opportunities to elevate their talent. With that in mind, I’ve developed an internal leadership program that I hope will have meaningful impact on their personal and professional growth.

Our founder, Ed Lowe, used to say, “A big deal isn’t a big deal until it’s a big deal.” And as I thought about these incremental changes — from the new firepit to our younger leaders — it struck me that these smaller things are, indeed, turning out to be big deals.

It’s important for leaders to be aware of how minor changes can morph into big successes. And when that happens, it’s important to recognize and celebrate them. Small things can lead to significant progress.