• Meet Nicki Polan, Making a Splash

     
    POSTED August 21, 2019
     

    Nicki Polan’s job truly floats her boat.

After Nicki Polan graduated from Michigan State University, one of her neighbors (on Brendal Lake in Oakland County), who, at the time, was president of the Michigan Boating Industries Association, suggested Polan interview for an open position there.

But her heart was set on living in Chicago. “More than a year later, while I was still living in Chicago, I learned of a different job available and went for it when home in Michigan for a visit. And I’ve never regretted that decision.”

Thirty-one years later and Polan, a White Lake Township resident married with two teen sons, is still with the association, now with 350 members and in its 61st year. For the past six years, Polan’s been the executive director. Members include everyone from boat dealers and marinas to boat stores, insurance companies, dock specialists and just about any business related to boating.

“Boating is a big deal here in Michigan,” says Polan, whose organization, based in Commerce Township, organizes three boat shows, including the big Detroit Boat Show in February at Cobo Center, which is “considered a top five in the country.” The other two are the Novi Boat Show and the Metro Boat Show. Michigan is ranked as the third largest marine market in the country behind Florida and Texas. Boating has an annual $7.4 billion impact on Michigan’s economy.

“We’re a nonprofit trade association, so all funds we receive go back to the industry through education programs, boating awareness programs, lobbying in Lansing for boaters’ rights and other things.”

Polan, an avid boater whose kids and husband enjoy fishing and water sports, shares that her favorite part of her job is the people.

“This industry is filled with friendly, motivated, upbeat and energized people who bring joy to other people. They love boating and the boating lifestyle.”

She also loves that her job is never dull. “I’ve learned how to tap kegs and how to lobby. On any given day, I could be meeting with a congressional leader or unloading items for a boat show.” And if it’s good weather, she might be in a boat. The owner of a fiberglass 15-foot Boston Whaler Montauk fishing boat, Polan says she and her family can haul their rig just about anywhere.

There’s no doubt Polan, who has a master’s degree in business management from Walsh College, is where she’s supposed to be.

“I love to be on or near the water. I’m an outside person. I’d say eight or 10 times a year we’re meeting at a member location or a regional gathering, and usually it’s on water, which is icing on the cake!”

Dorothy Hecht was just 16 years old in 1937 when she waited on her first table at what was then Fischer’s Restaurant in downtown Frankenmuth, and ecstatically earned her first 25-cent tip. When she met and eventually married William “Tiny” Zehnder, whose family owned Zehnder’s Restaurant across the street, her happiness continued, and a legacy began.

 

If you'd have told a young Larry Alexander, president and CEO of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau (DMCVB), that he’d spend his career making memories, he wouldn’t have believed you. 

 

Tony Michaels is no stranger to navigating choppy waters. The CEO and executive director of The Parade Company, which puts on traditions like America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Ford Fireworks, took the helm of the Detroit nonprofit during tough times, at the height of the financial crisis. “2008, 2009, are you kidding me?” says Michaels.