Bill and Greta Hurst are the owners of Tabula Rasa Gallery in Baroda, Michigan. The community of Baroda is experiencing a moderately paced and purposeful transformation. In the last seven years, the village has enjoyed the addition of two wine tasting rooms (with a third on the way), a café, a restaurant, a brew pub, a B&B, and the Hurst’s art gallery. In the nearby countryside several wineries and other agri-tourism businesses have opened. Greta is a mosaicist and yoga teacher; Bill is an IT professional and photographer. While a member of the business community with their gallery, this couple were early contributors to the transformation of the area to an agri-tourism destination.

Steve: What does it mean to be a transformational leader?

Bill: The leader has a vision and can translate it to align people, resources, and actions to move that vision forward. Sometimes it’s looking at an old problem with new eyes and being adaptable to changes in the macro economy. In our case, we love Baroda and the rich history of the town. We wanted to leverage the legacy and bring more attention to the growth the area has enjoyed and continues to experience.

Steve: Tell me about a time when this was particularly challenging or rewarding for you. What was the situation, what did you do, how did it work out?

Greta: We focused our initial efforts on wayfinding to leverage the area’s historical focus on agri-tourism. We wanted signage to promote the area. To move this forward, we resurrected the Baroda Business Association (BBA) which had been dormant for a decade. We linked this with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to figure out ways to promote the area. We wanted to produce a video. To gain buy-in and commitment, we wanted community business and government leaders to support the project. This was our foray into the community, and it took nearly four years to build trust and gain support. In the end we were successful.

Steve: How did you clarify the purpose of the transformation?

Bill: Between the area’s agricultural history, and the village’s focus on tool and die shops, there were competing interests about where to take the community. Greta had many meetings with the DDA, helped initiate the Baroda Area Business Association (BABA), and attempted to hold a Harvest Feast Street Festival to celebrate Baroda area agri-tourism. While the Harvest Feast ran into roadblocks, BABA’s “Party on The Pavers” is now held annually on the vintage bricks of our downtown main street.

Steve: In what ways did you experience cross-functional dysfunction, and how did you address this?

Bill Greta: We had some of this early on. For the Wayfinding and Harvest Feasts, there were competing factions. We had to figure out how to pay for these projects and keep it equitable among the various sized entities. We wanted to include three communities; others wanted only to focus on two. Finally, we had all three aligned and ready to go, but because of these competing factions, we lost one of the communities. This also ultimately cost us a very important sponsor hence the morphing of Harvest Feast into Party on the Pavers.

Steve: How did you enroll others in the transformation?

Greta: We found early on that we needed to create an environment to attract businesses that brings in tourists. The new streetscape project was intended to help do this. We went door to door to speak with both business owners and elected officials about supporting this. We had to show them the math to win over their minds and share the rationale to win their hearts. One key business owner was resistant, but after we showed him a neighboring village’s streetscape and the benefits it brought to their community, we won him over.

Steve: Please comment on organizational challenges you faced, both structural and behavioral.

Greta: Structurally, we had to pull together the BBA, DDA and BABA into a cohesive group with a clear transformational purpose – agri-tourism. We were able to do this early on. Behaviorally, because most of us were volunteers, some of those who were paid participants didn’t realize the legitimacy of our leadership. With time and persistence, we established credibility.

Steve: How did you become more of a coach?

Bill: In this case, it is all about networking and alliance building. We knew where our support came from, and we knew where we needed to apply more finesse. We were also an example by owning several downtown properties. It’s easier to sell the idea of transformation if you have skin in the game.

Steve: If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

Greta: First, make sure your purpose is clear, and that the execution supports the achievement of that purpose. Identify the stakeholders up-front and enroll them by addressing their needs and concerns. Finally, make sure there is room to organically and dynamically modify the purpose as you embark on your journey.

Steve: Thank you for taking the time to share your story. Having been a resident of the community off and on across multiple decades, I’m impressed with what you’ve done, and look forward to seeing more productive growth and change in the area. Thank you also for all you have done for the community.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Steve

Note: In 2016, Bill published a photo book about Baroda’s dynamic businesses, “A Portrait of Baroda, Michigan Businesses”.  For more information about the book, go to www.tabularasaphotography.com

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