Even the most set-in-stone edifices can be reinvented. Just ask Thom Connors, Regional Vice President and General Manager SMG/Cobo Center. Thom sat down with Mike Bills to talk about Cobo Center’s five-year renovation project.

Thom shares really interesting details about the catalyst for change, some roadblocks along the way (like not getting a ballroom on the roof!) and how Cobo Center connects visitors and residents in a cool way.


“We just can’t replace what we have with the same thing.” (9:27)

“The transformation of Cobo mirrors the transformation of the City of Detroit.” (11:35)

“You will be successful when you have the right mix, mesh and mass of activity.” (22:03)


At 7:25 Thom talks about the major disruption that forced political leaders of the time to seek sustainable change for Cobo Center and how the plan was set in motion.

Mike asks Thom around the 15:20 mark to describe how ASAE 2015 participants can see and experience Cobo’s reinvention while they are attending the Annual Meeting.



Take Aways


1 - This is the second reinvention of the Cobo Center.  The first one was in post World War 2.  It was one of the first convention centers in the US and opened as Cobo Hall in 1960.


2 - Cobo Center is now run by a regional authority which is connecting state and regional governments as a unified governing body to run the center.


3 - This regional authority appointed SMG, a facility management company, to run Cobo Center and turn around the balance sheet.  By 2025 they plan to break even as opposed to a 20 million annual deficit they encountered when they took over.


4 -  Cobo Center has served as a major connector to downtown businesses.  


5 - The new Cobo Center has been remodeled using an “adaptive reuse” strategy.  They used what they had within the facility and updated it with new technology and a modern ballroom to meet changing needs.


6 -  The new 120’ by 30’ video board will help connect activities in the Center to the surrounding area.


Direct download: Thom_Connors_-_Final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00am EDT


“If we’re not going to talk positively about Detroit, why would anyone else?”

Detroit Zoological Society’s chief operating officer, Gerry Van Acker, has been driving change by asking simple questions and really listening to the feedback he’s getting from various and diverse entities.

In this episode, Mike Bills taps into Gerry’s wisdom on how to break down a seemingly gigantic undertaking like helping reinvent a major city into realistic, executable tasks. As you listen, ask yourself how you can apply some of what the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center have been doing to your own industry.


“When [Detroit] was struggling...it was pretty evident that the city needed to go through a process where they could hit the pause button and reset.” (3:15)

“A challenge in downtown Detroit [was] that there were individual assets in neighborhoods that were fantastic, but the connectivity wasn’t great...Now you’ll see connectivity.” (15:30)


Gerry makes an interesting point at 8:35 about the zoo as a gathering place. As you listen, consider how your organization connects people and serves as a gathering place. You may find inspiration in his story about collaborating with another major summer activity in Detroit instead of competing with it.

Gerry breaks down the zoo’s very simple core culture at 13:05, and his philosophy on why it’s important.

Stay tuned at 19:42 to hear Jerry’s message on why ASAE attendees will enjoy visiting Detroit and what they should be on the lookout for while they’re in the city that’s reinventing itself before their eyes.


1 - Simply asking your customers what they want is an effective way to improve your services and offerings.

2 - Cultural institutions and associations alike are undergoing changes that allow them to play an important role in providing an outlet for social engagement.

3 - Effectively incorporating multimedia and new technologies can enhance the user experience and improve customer interactions.

4 - Stick to the basics that you know you can do well, and look for opportunities to maximize that core.

5 - Finding ways to blend or leverage other established events can enhance value for all collaborators.

Direct download: Jerry_Van_Acker_-_Final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:00am EDT

PureReinvention Podcast 030

How are you getting your needs met? How are you meeting the needs of others? That's just a little food for thought brought to you by this week's guest, Julie Novak, CEO of the Michigan State Medical Society.

In this episode, Mike Bills talks with Julie about spanning generational gaps, decoding the need for change and how to keep it all moving in one direction.



"The changes in the world have caused a change in the need for a membership to connect to an organization.” (4:28)

"It’s hard work, it’s scary, I have to get out of my boundaries all of the time, but that’s caused me to grow as a person.” (10:45)



Julie explains around 14:10 that one of her roles is to act as a translator. She interprets data and metrics in different ways so she can fully understand it first, then to illustrate to staff and other key stakeholders the need for fundamental change in the organization.

Jump to 22:30 to hear Julie forecast how she will keep the momentum of change moving and what she thinks is an important asset for sustainable reinvention.



1 - Reinvention is state of mind, not a finite process.

2 - An outside navigator makes you accountable for working through the hard questions instead of bypassing them. They also tend to have an impartial point of view that reminds you take the all-important helicopter view.

3 - Embrace the signals the association is giving you. Collect and apply data about your membership needs and translate it to actionable change.

4 - Be aware of the realities of your board members, as a volunteer body they aren’t immersed in the day-to-day work. High-level summaries and timely recaps help them stay focused and strategic.

5 - Reach out and talk to others. The majority of industries are undergoing tremendous shifts and it’s important to know you’re not alone.

6 - Be intentional about carving out down-time to reflect and recharge. It makes you a more effective leader!

Direct download: Julie_Novak_Interview_-_Final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00am EDT

Innovation begins with why. In his book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek says, “All organizations start with WHY, but only the great ones keep their WHY clear year after year.”

Aaron Wolowiec, founder and president of Event Garde, helps organizations keep their why clear and execute their why through innovative learning experiences.


"Often times associations think about the benefits they offer but don't dig deeper past the surface level to really understand what their root cause is; what they're meant to do." (3: 50)

"It's incumbent upon us to research, to read books, to attend programs and to develop as learning professionals so that we can further understanding within our own associations." (14:09)


Listen in around 6:00 as Aaron recalls the turning point when he realized focusing on logistics wasn't enough to make an outstanding learning experience for conference attendees.

Aaron shares his predictions for the future of face-face meetings at 15:25.

At 25:30 get a preview of an innovative learning and networking activity Aaron is helping plan that connects ASAE 2015 participants to the host city – Detroit – in a different way.


1 – Sticking to the traditional approach that you have inherited isn't going to serve today's conference attendees demand for an authentic experience.

2 – Associations and individuals have many options for learning and networking opportunities, effective models are different and unique.

3 – Intentionally creating a loose structure around networking time helps conference goers focus and get more out of the face-to-face meeting time.

4 – True learning happens when attendees can apply the information they get in a conference setting back in their offices.

5 – Whether it is designing an impactful conference experience, seeking more depth in networking opportunities or leading change within your organization, you will be more effective when you understand and start with the why.

Direct download: Aaaron_Wolowiec_-final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00am EDT






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