By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
July 31, 2015
To find Renee Erlich in her office at 1200 Woodward Heights in Ferndale, essentially you walk through her resumé. Literally. Today, Star Trax, pulse220 and Prosperi Leadership Coaching all share the same lively corridors and creative workspace and all three are companies which Renee has founded over the years.
“It’s true, all my life’s work is here in this building,” she says, “But first, can I tell you about my son?” How telling it is that Renee redirects the conversation at first meeting her to spotlight her son, Jonah? An incoming senior at Frankel Academy, Jonah, as we learn, is about to launch his own company called, HS101online.com. (But that’s a different story – one best saved for another time.)
As President and Founder of Prosperi Leadership Coaching, Renee describes her role as a catalyst, “My purpose is to inspire,” she says. “The goal of an executive coach is to pull the best out of people, to help them identify their purpose and their values in business and in life. I help my clients set, plan and achieve their goals.”
Renee was listed among Crain’s Detroit Business 40 under 40 at the age of 29. She always has been an entrepreneur at heart. Prior to Prosperi Leadership Coaching, she founded Girlfriend Consulting and Coaching, a company committed to help organizations strengthen their corporate cultures. Before that, she, along with her partners, built two multi-million-dollar event firms – Star Trax, an entertainment and event production company, and pulse220, a corporate meeting, event and live marketing firm.
Renee is a graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in Merchandising Management and holds an Executive Coaching Certification from the International Coaching Academy.
Beyond the workplace, both Renee and her husband are active volunteers in the community. Both serve on the board and numerous committees of the Detroit Federation. Additionally, Renee is a board member of the Frankel Jewish Academy. The Erlichs are the proud parents of three: Jonah, Sophie (a sophomore at Groves High School) and Molly (at Hillel Day School).
ON BACKGROUND AND EARLY INFLUENCES AND FAMILY LIFE
myJewishDetroit: Let’s start with a little about your family. How did you develop your community business sense?
R: I grew up here and have deep roots in the Jewish community. My community spirit came from my mom (Helene Cherrin) who has been volunteering her time ever since I can remember. She was President of the Sisterhood of Congregation Shaarey Zedek and always has been very active on numerous committees and boards.
My entrepreneurial spirit came from my dad (Marvin Cherrin) who was an attorney and a solo practitioner. He encouraged my independence in business and, in fact, set me up in the basement of his law firm to help me start up my first business – an event planning company I called Black Tie Optional. I was in that business just a few short months until Black Tie merged with Star Trax and its original founder, Marc Schechter.
myJewishDetroit: How did you and Craig meet?
Craig and I were high school sweethearts at Groves High School. We dated on and off for many years before we were married in 1992.
ON ENTREPRENEURISM AND CAREER MOVES
myJewishDetroit: What does it take to be an entrepreneur?
Creativity. Confidence. Action.
I’ve always been an idea person, but I am also a doer. The combination of creativity and action has allowed me to become an entrepreneur.
What do you like most about starting and running your own companies?
I love creating from scratch something I am passionate about. Then building a plan and following it with an A+ team is exhilarating. Star Trax is a perfect example of creating a business I was incredibly passionate about. The idea of developing something around celebrating life was beyond exciting to me. Then, building a plan with outrageously talented teammates and partners so the company could not only thrive but also give back to the community was an enormous win.
A few years ago, I sold my interest in Star Trax to one of my best friends and business partners Geoff Kretchmer. Watching Geoff take Star Trax to a new level has been gratifying and inspiring! My heart still skips a beat when I enter an event space and know Star Trax is there to help make the magic happen.
myJewishDetroit: When did pulse220 come into the picture?
As Star Trax grew, Marc Schechter and I envisioned a company that not only provided services for social events but one that did so for corporations where budgets were big – and the stage, even bigger. So, in 1995, we launched Star Trax Corporate Events which changed its name to pulse220 in 2007. Today, pulse220 plans meetings, events and live marketing activations for some of the largest brands in the world including GM, Pepsi, Ally and QuickenLoans.
ON EXECUTIVE COACHING
myJewishDetroit: How did you start?
Seven years ago, I decided to reinvent myself and to focus on the areas where I truly excelled: Motivating and helping people grow, working with my teammates and watching them prosper.
myJewishDetroit: Mentors? Who inspires you?
I would name four women in particular:
– My maternal grandmother (of blessed memory), Bertha Winitsky, from Sweden, She worked all her life, which was unusual for her time – headed her own bridal boutique. She inspired me because she was an entrepreneur, raised her children with strong Jewish values in Sweden where it was not easy to do so. She made it a priority to visit her grandchildren in Detroit every year. She was a positive person with great strength.
– My mom, Helene Cherrin, who not only gave her time to the community, but also built multiple businesses. At one time, she owned a woman’s boutique and also taught Scandinavian Cooking and Baking Classes.
– My mother-in-law, Linda Erlich, who I have known since I was 16 years old, was the CEO of her family business. It was a Direct Mail and Marketing Firm in Detroit called Quality Mailing. I’ve been fortunate to grow up with incredible women in business and in life in general.
– And my sixth grade Spanish teacher, another person who has been everlastingly influential in my life – and the one who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. I was a shy child, struggled in Spanish and in school in general, and to this day, I can remember her trying to help me, word-by-word through an assignment. She influenced me to find an alternative way to learn about language and suggested that I join her foreign festival music program. And the next thing I knew, I was up on stage in front of family, friends and community, singing solo with fellow students. And I realized that I loved being up there.
This teacher was a huge inspiration to me, so much so that I named my business after her. Her name, Mrs. Prosperi.
myJewishDetroit: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever heard or have given?
Love what you do, and the people you do it with. Set a plan and follow it.
ON FEDERATION AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
myJewishDetroit: How did you first get involved with Federation?
I’ve been involved in community work and with Federation since I was a young adult. One of my first roles in the community was to serve on the board of JVS, and since then I’ve served on the Board of Hillel Day School and several different committees for JFS and JVS. With Federation, I’ve gained great pleasure serving on the board and the strategic leadership committee. In past years, I’ve served on the marketing committee, participated in leadership mentoring and, along with Craig, led one of Federation’s Class of a Million Missions to Israel.
This past April, I participated in Federation’s Entrepreneur Mission to Israel, an initiative of Federation’s Mission Lab. The Mission was an extraordinary experience and an opportunity to build a cohort of entrepreneurs in our community as well as in Israel.
myJewishDetroit: In your experience over the years, has Federation changed? And how?
Every year I can see and feel the changes in spirit and culture. There’s a special camaraderie amongst the volunteers and JFMD team that drives the organization. I feel very fortunate to be a part of it.
myJewishDetroit: What do you tell young people considering moving back to the area or to Detroit for the first time?
Welcome home! Be prepared to be part of not only a community, but a movement of people who are doers, givers and embracers.
Restaurants: Social in Birmingham and Mario’s is an old-time favorite in Detroit.
Place to meet for coffee: My kitchen
Building in the Detroit skyline: One Detroit Center. I love its post-modern, Gothic architecture and that it was built in the 90s is very cool.
Place to take kids or visitors: The Eastern Market. And the Detroit RiverWalk. That’s where I’ll be taking my cousins visiting from Sweden this summer.
Vacation places: St. Martin and our favorite beach spot in Michigan, South Haven
Jewish Food: Matzo balls, my specialty
Jewish Expression: Oy-yoy-yoy-yoy-yoy-yoy! Not oy, not oy-yoy, but the way my grandfather used to say it with great pleasure with multiple yoys.
Guilty pleasures: Salty black licorice – from Sweden – also from the Netherlands.
Never leave home without: Water!
Rocket Fuel Book, by Gino Wickman