Brian Calley to succeed Rob Fowler as CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan



Fowler said SBAM looked at issues he could not have understood two decades ago and during a period when the organization “lobbied by press release.”

“It doesn’t work very well,” Fowler said with a chuckle. “But we tried it.”

SBAM approached small business advocacy through a ‘block and fight’ strategy that engaged the organization in multiple political issues to help build and maintain lasting relationships within the government of the State, Fowler said.

“If you had told me at the beginning that I would have been involved in matters of child care or transportation policy or education or even health policy in the same way that I have been, I don’t know if I would have seen that coming, “Fowler said.” But circumstances are dragging you into these things. “

Fowler’s year-end retirement crowns a 35-year small business advocacy career. He came to Michigan from the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce and before that he worked at the Indiana State Chamber of Commerce. He headed the small business defense division of each of these groups.

The last 15 months of the coronavirus pandemic have been among the most engaging, Fowler said.

During the pandemic, Fowler and Calley almost became TV presenters of sorts, running a twice-weekly Zoom Video call with SBAM members on Facebook Live known as the Small Business Briefing.

During the briefing, which began with a daily video chat, the two SBAM executives briefed viewers on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ever-changing executive orders, state and local agency public health ordinances, and labor regulations. Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

They invited business owners to talk about how they were coping and share tips, best practices and the occasional complaints about the government’s handling of the crisis.

“We still have a pretty big audience, which tells me there’s always a need,” Fowler said. “But it was all trying to be responsive and support small businesses.”

In the first days, weeks and months of last year’s pandemic, all SBAM employees shifted their work to answer questions and resolve issues faced by member companies, which ranged from vague definitions of a company essential to Whitmer’s initial stay. home in order to understand how to work within the limits of inner capacity.

“People have really looked to their association – whatever, professional associations and the like – for answers,” Fowler said. “It’s not as obvious during the good times. But the bad times make it really obvious.”

“And I don’t know if I’ve ever been through a more difficult time for small businesses,” Fowler later added.

In Lansing’s policy-making circles, the SBAM under Fowler’s leadership has historically been viewed as more bipartisan than some of the other business groups, such as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which leans steadfastly conservative in its political and republican advocacy in its policy.

Democratic Gov. Whitmer has summoned Calley to a handful of press conferences and current events with her since taking office. Calley forged a relationship with his successor, Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II.

In a statement provided to Crain’s, Whitmer congratulated Calley on becoming CEO of SBAM.

“We’ve worked together on issues like the census to encourage people to get vaccinated and to make sure we have policies that support small businesses,” Whitmer said. “I am happy to continue working with him in this new role as we work to rebuild Michigan’s economy stronger than ever.”

Calley, 44, who has already served two terms in the House of Representatives, said SBAM’s approach of being “strategically and intentionally bipartisan” had prompted him to pursue a career in the lobby and the association body. professional Lansing.

“It truly is one of the few places rooted in the political and policy-making process that I could see myself in,” Calley said. “… They are pros, these are people who have done a great job building an organization for a long time and I felt right at home right away. … So I could tell it was going to work early on. . “

Calley said the three-year transition as president of SBAM gave him time to learn how to manage a professional association, which has 27 staff working in policy development and member services.

Fowler, 61, said he had no plans for retirement at the moment.

“I’m going to finish strong and then figure it out,” he said.



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