Archive for the Icon-versation Category

An Icon-versation with Ann Delisi of WDET Radio

Icon-versations is an ongoing interview series conducted by RBD Creative’s president, Dorothy Miller Twinney, featuring some of Greater Detroit’s biggest, brightest, and most-influential stars. Today’s Icon-versation is with Ann Delisi, host of Ann Delisi Essential Music on WDET Radio and an influential part of Detroit media for more than 20 years

Ann Delisi and Dorothy Miller TwinneyWe had the most wonderful visitor to RBD Creative’s office in Plymouth last week. Ann Delisi of WDET Radio stopped by to chat with Mo and me about social media and all things wonderful about Detroit. I first met Ann when we helped Emery King with a fresh new website for his video production company. She was integral in helping us convey just the right message. It remains one of my all-time favorite sites we have ever built. So when Ann came to visit, I knew it was going to be a great meeting. Here’s how it went…

We started off by addressing some of her concerns about social media. Here’s the thing. These are the SAME concerns we hear from so many savvy, successful business professionals. Let’s face it; most of you are running at least one business. You don’t have time to figure out social media. It changes every day. We discussed the social media platforms she should be using, posting dos and don’ts and introduced to her the very wonderful tool known as HootSuite. Do you use HootSuite? If not, you should think about it. It makes posting to multiple social media platforms much easier and something you can do once a month or so for the entire month. Yeah, it’s a time saver. It’s also free for up to three social media platforms.

But here’s where the conversation turned into an icon-versation …

You see, Ann has lived in Detroit since 1999. Not in Midtown or Rivertown, but in a regular Detroit neighborhood, complete with challenges and urban beauty. She has a beautiful double lot that is planted chock full of lilies, flowers and vegetables. In fact, she and her husband even built a hoop house which would allow them to grow food over the winter months. They haven’t yet tried winter gardening but while she did not mean to do so, she grew a forgotten crop of lettuce all winter and discovered it this spring. “It was a little bitter,” she told us. But it grew…all winter. I found this to be a wonderful analogy to Detroit’s growth these days.

Now that you know that, it won’t surprise you that Ann is the Marketing Chair for the Greening of Detroit organization. These are the awesome people who have planted 89,000 trees since 1989 all over Detroit. They have also supported the starts of 1,617 gardens since 2003. But it gets better: they have trained 675 adults in green careers since 2010. Ann is passionate about this organization and her passion is contagious.

That led us to chat about the amazing tiny house initiative Cass Community Foundation has undertaken this year. Do you know about this? Cass Community is building 25 tiny houses for low-income people. 25! On multiple vacant lots south of Highland Park. We love this and we love Ann’s enthusiasm for Detroit. It’s honest; she lives in the middle of it and it is pure passion she has for it.

But the best part of the afternoon? Absolutely her amazing hugs and then this little tangent: yes, those are cats grocery shopping in Germany. What’s not to love about that? And what’s not to love about the amazing Ann Delisi? Check out her show on WDET Saturdays and Sundays from 11-2 . You’ll have a skip in your step all weekend!

Dorothy’s One-on-One with Aretha Franklin’s Former Paperboy, Mark S. Lee

Icon-versations is an ongoing interview series conducted by RBD Creative’s president, Dorothy Miller Twinney, featuring some of Greater Detroit’s biggest, brightest, and most-influential stars. This month’s Iconversation is with Mark S. Lee, who is President and CEO of the Lee Group as well as the unofficial voice of small business in Detroit.

Mark S. Lee

Mark S. Lee, President and CEO of the Lee Group

A Man with a Passion

I interviewed my dear friend, Mark S. Lee, on a very cold Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day over cups of hot tea. I’ve known Mark for well over a decade now, and I’ve watched him transition from a very successful corporate executive into the passionate presiding voice of small business in Metro Detroit. Despite his professional success, newspaper column, Crain’s Detroit blog, radio show, frequent television contributions and numerous public speaking engagements, Mark is surprisingly down to earth and accessible.

Mark is the President and CEO of the Lee Group, a consultancy organization focused on strategic marketing, planning, branding, integrated communications, and training and development. Check it out here: When not consulting with his clients, Mark is an adjunct at Eastern Michigan University, public speaker and the successful voice of CBS Radio’s Small Talk with Mark S. Lee. Add a weekly blog for Crain’s Detroit Business and an avid golfing pastime, and you may wonder when Mark sleeps.

I asked Mark if he could have foreseen where he is now 10 years ago when he was Senior Vice President of Marketing for ABN AMRO. “I made the decision to walk away from the corporate world when the company wanted to move me (professionally and physically) into an area that was not my sweet spot,” he told me. It was 2012 and the Lee Group had already been in business for four years at that point, but he decided to turn his attention 100% to full-time entrepreneurialism. He told me the transition was not scary as he had been trained in his corporate career for every different situation imaginable. “That was the nice thing about corporate; I had experienced just about everything possible.” His biggest challenge? Finding clients.

So he did what any small business owner with an incredible network of friends and colleagues should do. He started talking about his company to everyone he knew, and sure enough his first client came from that network. And then the second and the third, and so on. He credits networking and word of mouth for all his early and continuing success.

Mark consults with a lot of companies – new companies as well as established companies. His advice to anyone looking to start a new business is as follows:

  • Find out what your passion is. Build a business plan around your passion.
  • Make sure you have a plan. 80% of small businesses fail in their first 28 months (Bloomberg, 2013). What will you do to mitigate this?
  • Research. Even if you can’t afford full market research, talk to your friends and colleagues and get a sense for whether or not there is interest in what you will be offering.

Becoming the Voice of Detroit Small Business

Mark S. Lee on WWJ Radio

Mark S. Lee speaks with Mark Wallace of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy on WWJ Radio

Mark was approached by the Michigan Chronicle to write a column focusing on entrepreneurialism and small business development. Michigan Chronicle is the nation’s oldest and largest African American paper. Mark wrote Small Talk with Mark S. Lee for three years. He highlighted numerous Detroit businesses and gave small businesses a real platform for their stories. His enthusiasm for the city and the folks starting businesses in the city was contagious. Yours truly was in one of his columns years ago when I started RBD Creative in Detroit.

He made the decision to expand upon his audience in 2013 when Crain’s Detroit Business asked him to write a nine-week trial of a blog that would focus on the small business community. That was three years ago. Read his latest blog interview with Ron Bartell of Kuzzo’s Chicken and Waffles.

While at a meeting at CBS Detroit, Mark quipped, “You guys owe me a radio show!” They all laughed a bit and then CBS Detroit said, “Ok. How do you want to do this?” Mark’s vision was to host a one-hour show with four segments in which local businesses shared their stories and provided tips and ideas to small business start-ups. “Think of my Crain’s articles as a radio show,” he told them. That was in June 2014. You can hear Mark Sunday mornings on Small Talk with Mark S. Lee on CBS Radio (WWJ 950 AM).

It was at this point in our conversation that we began talking about the man behind the national holiday we were celebrating. Dr. Martin Luther King’s first time giving his powerful “I have a dream” speech was in Detroit at Cobo Hall on June 23, 1963. We sat, mesmerized by the screen on Mark’s iPhone watching and listening to this incredible man, sipping our tea and both realizing the power of the orator we were listening to. Mark then posted the speech to Facebook and we continued our conversation.

Television came next for Mark. He had become the face and voice of the small business community in Metro Detroit, and Chuck Stokes invited him to participate on his television show Spotlight in January of 2015. One of his recent appearances was a summary of the big stories of 2015 with Mark’s expectations for 2016. You might wonder what those expectations are:

  • Continued investment in entrepreneurship and continued growth in the region.
  • Sustainability will be the biggest challenge in 2016. Small businesses need to start infiltrating the neighborhoods beyond the 7.2 miles that makes up Midtown to Downtown. “There’s 132 miles left that need businesses fanning out within.” Resources also need to be made available to new businesses to reduce failure rates.
  • The Detroit educational system needs to improve. “There will not be a full renaissance until it does.” It’s great that young people are moving downtown, but once they have a kindergartener, they may move out to the suburbs.

I asked Mark what his favorite part of the renaissance of Detroit has been. “All the attention (national and international) that is rallying behind Detroit. But what makes me smile the most is how people are hugging Detroit. National media is taking a different twist now.”

Mark S. Lee

Mark S. Lee, President and CEO of the Lee Group

“Is now a good time to start a business?” I asked him next.

“Yes. I encourage people if they’re thinking about it. It’s still relatively inexpensive in Detroit, and there are a lot of good, talented people with great work ethics in Detroit. If you have a business opportunity, the right plan, you know where you want to be in three to five years, I encourage people to work with their network and with their mentors.”

Mark was born in the heart of Detroit and was raised in Northwest Detroit. He got his first job at 10 years old as a paperboy delivering The Detroit News. Each day after school, he would take his little red wagon to the distribution center and collect his papers. He would unbundle them and secure them in his shoulder bag before delivering them by foot or bike to his route. Little known facts about Mark S. Lee? He was Aretha Franklin’s paperboy, and lived next door to Lawrence Payton of The Four Tops! Soupy Sales lived down the street and Paul Williams of the Temptations lived several blocks away.

Mark has always been positive when it comes to doing business in the City of Detroit and its surrounding areas. Even at the height of the recession, Mark was optimistic. He was right. We have a lot to be proud of these days. Mark is also one of the most dedicated professionals I know in this area. So I asked him, last but certainly not least, if he would share his “Principles for Doing Business”:

  • Love what you do.
  • Even in this technological world, it’s still important to have face-to-face interaction.
  • Return phone calls within 24 hours.
  • Surround yourself with good people. Not everyone is an expert in everything, but if you surround yourself with good people, it helps you to elevate yourself in the minds of your clients. Just as important, share the credit and recognize your team.
  • Be an excellent leader.
  • Don’t overpromise and under deliver.
  • Treat people with dignity and respect. Do everything with integrity all the time.
  • Remember that people will help you. All you have to do is ask.

At the end of our conversation, he looked me square in the eyes and told me, “I’m just Mark. This is who I am and what I do.”

Indeed he is.

Check out Mark S. Lee on his website (, and get ready for his Small Business Workshop coming again in May 2016. Hope to see you there! RBD Creative is proud to be one of the sponsors of this workshop.

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RBD Creative is a great design and marketing agency located in Plymouth, Michigan and serving Metro Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Southeast Michigan. We specialize in print and web design, tradeshow and event planning, and social media management.

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