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

Outlook on Leadership

by Dan Wyant

Chairman & President

The BRV experience

Our founders, Ed and Darlene Lowe, recognized that Big Rock Valley (BRV) was an exceptional place and wanted to share it with other entrepreneurs, so they could be inspired and recharged. And happily, we hear story after story about breakthroughs that our second-stage business owners have after visiting us at BRV.

It’s difficult to articulate what makes the BRV experience so transformational, because it’s not just one thing. But I’m going to take a shot at it…

Spectacular setting —Research has shown that spending time outdoors yields both physical and mental benefits. And with 2,000 acres of woodlands, prairies, ponds and streams, BRV offers a variety of ways to experience Mother Nature. Enhancing BRV’s natural beauty, are the aesthetics that Darlene has created for our property — everything from the design of the facilities to our signs and landscaping.

Unique educational content — Our retreats are geared specifically to second-stage entrepreneurs (business owners who have moved beyond the startup phase and have the aptitude and appetite for continued growth). Retreat curriculum focuses on the many challenges they face, such as effective leadership styles, building a management team, enhancing company culture and strategic thinking. Information is not delivered as lectures, but through facilitated discussions where participants share lessons learned. I think that Larry Kooiker of Agritek Industries nailed it when he says our staff has “a unique ability to understand the character of the entrepreneur, of being able to dig into issues and getting us to think differently.”

Relationship building — Being a business owner is lonely, and to say that friends and family don’t understand their challenges is a vast understatement. Ed believed that entrepreneurs learn best from each other, so peer learning is an integral part of our programs. The quality of peer groups at BRV elevates the retreat experience, and many of our guests have described it as like finding their long-lost tribe.

Culture of quality — Our Guest Services department’s mantra is “the relentless pursuit of excellence,” and they take care of everything. No one has to worry about reserving a hotel room, finding a parking place or making dinner reservations. (And speaking of food, Chef José’s meals are off the charts.) What’s more, our building maintenance, grounds maintenance and security teams  take care of small details that make a big impact, from removing sticks from roads to shoveling snow and cleaning windshields of guests’ cars. I’m an early riser, and yet I’m always amazed that after one of our campfires, when I return to Billieville the next morning the firepit has already been cleaned.

Encountering the unexpected — One of the many things Ed and Darlene shared was a keen sense of humor; they loved to collect antiques and repurpose them in surprising ways. For example, they converted vintage railroad boxcars into guest housing and used pickles barrels to create a golf course. Their intent was to create an environment that not only helped entrepreneurs relax, but also sparked their creativity. Our guests pick up on that, and Gregg Hammerman of Larky, a recent entrepreneur-in-residence, calls it a “welcome attitude of constant discovery.”

Pondering protocol — Ed was an advocate of “pondering,” which was his term for quiet reflection and something he believed to be a crucial element in the creative process. He had a variety of favorite ponderings spots at BRV, and we encourage guests to explore the property and use it the way he did. Guests frequently tell us they sense Ed’s presence here. Some even feel he is almost speaking to them, guiding their thoughts and pointing them to new ideas.

Many of our entrepreneurs have been to BRV multiple times. Among these “frequent fliers” is Ben Slocum of Beards Brewery, who speaks to the essence of the BRV experience:

“Every experience I’ve had with the Edward Lowe Foundation has led to personal and professional growth through getting to the core of who I am as an entrepreneur. When I pull up to the gate I am met with a sense of release and belonging and connecting with the foundation team and fellow entrepreneurs. I gain insight into who I am as a person, where my organization is going, and what steps I need to take on my path through life. I always leave the gates with a renewed sense of direction and belonging.” 

Granted, there are pieces of what we do here that can be replicated in other places. Yet the total BRV experience could not happen in a hotel ballroom. BRV has a variety of ingredients that are spectacular by themselves, and yet when simmered together, they create our distinctive secret sauce.