SPRING, 2014


Helping Make History in Detroit

by Chrysta Cherrie
photos by David Lewinski

As chief of staff for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Lisa Howze, BBA ’95, is boldly moving the Motor City toward a brighter future.

While the city faces massive challenges, including being the largest American city ever to declare bankruptcy, Howze stays focused on the future. Driven by the desire to be an example of what is possible, she lives life with a passion to help people — and her hometown — reach their greatest potential. Though Howze has always been inspired by the commitment, perseverance, and resilience of her native Detroit and its residents, she didn’t set out to become a public servant. After earning her BBA at Ross, followed by a master’s in finance from Walsh College, she started her career in public accounting. But as time went on, her priorities changed.

"I asked myself, ‘What is my purpose? What am I doing to help others?’ It was less about what’s good for me, and instead what’s good for a greater cause," she says. From there, her career evolved into public speaking, and then public service. In her role at the mayor’s office, Howze works with Duggan to further his message of hope, equality, and opportunity, as well as his mission to improve Detroit residents’ quality of life. Some of her many responsibilities include speaking on the mayor’s behalf, overseeing day-to-day operations, engaging with department heads to get them what they need, and helping to resolve issues so that all hands are on deck to turn Detroit around.

A former Michigan state representative, Howze also draws on her experiences in Lansing as she takes on new government affairs duties. She meets weekly with state legislators, as well as caucuses with members of the Obama administration working on federal initiatives to help Detroit, like securing funds to purchase 50 new city buses. As a BBA student, her classes laid a foundation that inform her work as a public servant. "I was able to use that background in the work that I did in the community around financial literacy and financial education," she says. "Often times, I'm able to share my story with young people so that they can prepare for college and a life beyond college, whether it's in starting your career, helping to understand the importance of saving and investments, or preparing for a financially sound future."

And, of course, there are plenty of opportunities for growth and entrepreneurship in Detroit. "If you want to own a home or open a business, this is where you get in at a very low price compared to other major metropolitan cities. You can actually acquire land or a home and start your own business at a low cost." One of her favorite examples of this revitalization is the Avenue of Fashion, a historic neighborhood in northwest Detroit dotted with retail shops, dining establishments, entertainment venues, and salons.

The catalyst for this kind of development is the same thing that inspires Howze to be a public servant: the spirit of the city. "Detroiters have a certain kind of drive that resonates with my personality. There’s a desire to show the world that you can succeed and be the pinnacle of success," Howze explains. And while Detroit’s hardships have made international headlines, she points out the big story that rarely makes the news: "Hardworking people are going to work every day to take care of their families. Students are achieving at a level of excellence, collectively earning millions of dollars in scholarships."

When Howze is older, what will stick with her most about this historical time in her life and career? "I think I’ll thank God for the courage to proceed unabashedly, to go after what I knew in my heart was the right thing to do, and to recognize that the motivation for doing it was to positively impact the lives of other people."

Slideshow: See Detroit through Lisa Howze's eyes

Let Lisa know that Ross supports her efforts to help revitalize the Motor City: Tweet her @LisaHowze and use the hashtag #RossAlum


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