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Third Chapter Curious, Vol. 6: Traverse City, Michigan

Updated: 4 days ago


“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” - Booker T. Washington


INTERVIEW VI

AL EVERETT | FOUNDER OF THRIVE TC, BUSINESS MENTOR

June 17, 2024


Success without the veil of artifice is the standard to which everyone should hold themselves. Your gains will be more meaningful when they have been won through acts of service to others, using your talents in hopes of seeing a spark that ignites their future success. 

Al Everett is a “construction concierge” by definition and has long operated with a resolve to disrupt industries via purpose-based innovation rooted in community betterment.


He has held titles in the realms of real estate, architectural design and construction, product design and sales, and that’s just scratching the surface. Al is a community catalyst by way of a business mentor with scores of experiences he draws from to encourage other entrepreneurs and creatives to break with tradition and find their path to disruption. 

He spoke of adventure, the self-driven and non-linear paths to dream scenarios, the seamy realities of entrepreneurship, and the ethos of mentorship.

Most importantly, He spoke of the exigency of finding and maintaining your “Why?” 


Interviewer:


[*sic] “You've had an extensive career spanning many decades in which you created your own lane. How did you follow the journey you set for yourself and how did you arrive at the destination you’re a part of now? Was there a singular mission you had in mind all along that's driving you or has your purpose changed over time?”


Al: 


[*sic] “I think the mission has, in general, in terms of a 10,000-foot view, has been pretty much the same. I have always been intentionally disruptive no matter what I'm doing whether it was sales or design—design is what I went to school for down at Western. And actually I was there on a football scholarship and was drafted to play for the Buffalo Bills and spent some time with them pre-season. Then my dream job came up in Chicago so of course I took it—I've been blessed in the sense that I've had some great opportunities, but more importantly I have been able to choose when it's time to go on to the next thing. A lot of people don't have that privilege.


I spent a number of years in Chicago with an architectural firm as an architectural [representative]. I’ve been a partner in architectural firms in Ann Arbor [Michigan], in Boulder [Colorado], and Fort Collins. Then the real estate part [of my career] became my next phase because I got tired of building, of being a custom builder, because it was seven days a week—all I did was work. Basically, I shifted the focus to the real estate side to help create inventory because today, most of my clients are realtors bringing me other clients who are struggling to find properties. 


That's how I’ve evolved in a nutshell. I've been disruptive with everything I do. 

As an example, I'm probably one of the few minorities that have raised draft horses and sold them to the Amish and Mennonites.”


Interviewer:


[*sic] “I was not expecting that, I’d like to hear more about that for our next interview.” 


Al:


[Laughs]


[*sic] “Yeah that came out of left field, didn't it? I've got photos of me with the horses. I had a chance to drive the Anheuser-Busch hitch and hitch [the horses] up at their Western hitch team out in Fort Collins.

I've been involved in so many different things—my wife says I make her tired.

Entrepreneurs are, I think, overall hard to be married to. Your mind's always working and you have to be really careful about your time with loved ones. I really regret that I didn't spend enough time with my kids. I was on planes going to Dubai for sales trips, then Dallas, California, Salt Lake City, or wherever I needed to go. And this was five, six days a week that I was gone. You know it's bad when you go through Denver airport and the skycaps know you—that means you're not home very much.


That's how it all evolved for me. A lot of different experiences. And I think it helps and bodes well when you can tie all those experiences together to help people which has been my mission. With [Northwestern Michigan University] I’ve been helping them with the construction trades program, and it’s so nice to see the eyes light up. There’s three interns working with us now on a project, and it's exciting to see them discovering things because once upon a time a long time ago, that was me.” 


Interviewer: 


[*sic] “What is very relevant in the world now is positioning ourselves to be accessible on the ground level—it's not only about what we've all done, what our title was, and we want to strip away archetypal accolades. 

What has become center stage is how we can all help each other to reach our success together.


A huge part of this project is wanting to know how and why all these innovators landed in the Traverse City area. Can you tell me how this place became your home when you certainly had options to live elsewhere?” 


Al:


[*sic] “My wife, Molly, had family that lived on Crystal Lake, and I used to come up here every once in a while for work with Herman Miller. Molly then got an offer she couldn’t refuse at Munson [Medical Center] as the marketing lead in the cardiology department, so we sold our house in Grand Rapids and bought a lot up in Leland and built a home. The timing was the catalyst and helped me to be even more disruptive and intentional in this market. So really, it’s family that got us up here, and I’m finding that for most of the people here, most of my clients, are here because of DNA. My mission is to see if we can get more families here.”


Interviewer: 


[*sic] “[Grand Traverse County] is such a dynamic place full of people who are doers, and we’re all mixed together within a large land area of small cities and towns with their own culture but there’s not as much separation between age groups and identities as one might assume, and it seems like most people are vibrant and active.


When you hear “Third Chapter”, can you define what that is representative of to you and is there any sort of plan you have set in place for your retirement?” 


Al: 


[*sic] “Well, it’s funny you bring that up, because I was listening to a talk recently with Bill Parcells, the head coach for the [New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, and the New England Patriots], and he said something along the lines of, ‘when you think about retirement you’re retired.’ And yes, I have thought about it. My plan is to back away from the construction and development part of my life and focus more on helping the community. For example, I’m one of the founders of OOPs [The Office of Possibilities at Northwestern Michigan Community College], and I’m going to keep the fire going there for sure. I’ve also thought about [doing] a little bit of instructional work at the college as an adjunct in some capacity, but my wife and I also just bought a new travel trailer—a fairly fancy one—and are already planning trips for next winter so we’ll see. Whatever I do, I plan to stay connected to the community. I find I’m more positive when I’m engaged. The glass goes to half-empty if I’m not engaged because I don’t have all the information about what’s happening in the community, so life becomes one-sided very quickly.” 


Interviewer: 


[*sic] “Staying active certainly helps counteract the tendency to isolate and become cut off from your immediate world and that’s a big problem across all age groups, particularly with those entering retirement age. As you’re aging you have to stay dialed in. I think it's wonderfully dauntless of you to hit the road and continue to have adventures.” 


Al: 


[*sic] “Yeah and when you travel, you get diverse options, opinions, cultures—we just got back from South Carolina and spent time amongst the Gullah, who come from the islands off the coast of the Hilton Head area and Beaufort and have their own unique culture, and that exists in our own country. So to have experiences like that just opens up your mind up to worlds outside yourself. 


As a home base, we can’t think of a better place than [Traverse City]. It's safe, it's manageable, and it's beautiful, and with all the negative things happening in the world it just feels good here compared to other places. I was frustrated a little while ago with Ann Arbor because it's the most expensive city in [Michigan]. I’m from Ann Arbor and so is a lot of my family. That city will probably have some major problems in the future because of the cost of living, but one thing it has abundantly is diversity. I don’t have to worry about being an oddball there. In Traverse City, it's a little less so as far as race is concerned, but what’s diverse here is the brainpower. There are a lot of intelligent people in greater Grand Traverse County. That’s why I like OOPs and all of the activity there because it's a challenge and I love to listen to the ideas that people bring to the table, it's kind of a think tank. I’m also a SCORE mentor, so I get to coach people through that process as well and hear their business ideas. That’s the diversity that I get. The ethnic diversity, I get from travel. That’s how [my wife and I] find balance in both worlds. 

I don’t want to say we’re approaching retirement, but we’re approaching reinvention. It’s time for us to go through a new passage.” 


Interviewer: 


[*sic] “That’s one of the best ways I’ve heard that concept described as taking everything that you've done in your life and funneling it into a new outlet and seeking things that are exceptionally meaningful. This time in life is not necessarily beholden to anything as it was in the past.


Speaking of which, I do want to hear more about your involvement with OOPs and how that came to be.”


Al: 


[*sic] “I got involved with OOPs during and after an event at the college that Will Kitchen, Steve Rice, Nick Beadleston, and a few other people were hosting, which was essentially a group helping startups as a new business idea initiative session. We started talking and they mentioned that on Thursdays they were going to start getting together regularly to do a similar type of meet-up. I started coming to those sessions and it morphed from there, into the community at [Commonplace Community Coworking]. I think the last meeting we had over 25 people there so it's really, really grown. 


I look at it like Pixar is to Disney. That's what OOPs is to NMC and what OOPs is to the community. We're like a Pixar for idea generation and nurturing. We're not going to do the work, but we'll facilitate the ideas to help them. We'll operate on a concierge level to get them to the next phase. I love OOPs, and a lot of the folks that I’ve met there have become good friends of mine. I love that almost everyone who participates has an open mind, and we try to check egos and agendas at the door as much as we can.


That's been my level of excitement here in town—a great way to meet people and it's not just about business. It's about the people. I've often said, not to use Lance Armstrong as an example, but he had a book out called, ‘It's Not About the Bike.” It's not just about the bike for us [at OOPs].


Interviewer: 


[*sic] “Let’s follow up on SCORE. I've heard a little bit about it, but I'm not super familiar with that group. Can you talk briefly about what they do?”


Al: 


[*sic] “Yes, SCORE used to be the ‘Service Corps Of Retired Executives’, but now it's evolved over the years because they didn't want to put the mentors in a box as not all of them are retired—many of them are still working. When I first got involved, I was still actively working, and Molly was a part of SCORE in Grand Rapids because she was a member of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce for a number of years, so she actually brought me into the fold and thought I would be a good fit. I was also affiliated with [startup development organizations] Start Garden in Grand Rapids and Spark in Ann Arbor. 


I can remember my first SCORE meeting in Traverse City and there were and are some really sharp people. I was looking around the room and I was humbled by all the talent there. I mean, there were people that were nothing short of being rocket engineers, major CEOs, patent attorneys, non-profit leaders, the whole nine yards. 


It's a very powerful group, and when I meet with a client acting as a concierge, I can direct them to people who have been there and done that, so our clients will always have the best possible advice.”


Interviewer:


[*sic] “One last question: what advice would you give to younger generations that are starting out in their careers or in their chosen industry that are struggling to find their way and navigate this world? Because it's such a volatile marketplace right now. And it's just a weird time in culture, so it's harder, I think, to follow a set path than it was before. Also, how are you navigating all of that as well? Because it's tough on everybody, regardless of age or experience.” 


Al: 


[*sic] “I would say for me, the most important thing, and a lot of younger people wonder about it, is asking, ‘What's my purpose? What's my why?’ I'm a huge fan of Simon Sinek and I have probably three or four of his books and ‘Start with Why’ is a standout. If you're the leader of a group you always need to know what problem you are solving because that's really the core for finding your why. I feel much more motivated when I'm working to solve a problem, especially if it's a problem that I believe in or something I feel can be resolved. For myself, everything is tailored to going back to the why—that's when I'm most successful because I have passion and fire which are hard to keep the longer you’re in a business. The longer that business exists, the further you get away from your why. Mergers, acquisitions, and new people coming in, and it's hard to go back to the ignition point. How do you keep fueling that fire when you have to consciously make an appointment with yourself to ask, ‘Are we still solving that problem?’ Don’t ever compromise your why. Stay disciplined. That's probably the best advice I can give anybody.”


©️Third Chapter Curious 

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